KAGWE: Let freedom ring and justice reign: Listen to the people

Our democratic gains over the years should not be compromised. We must jealously protect them

In Summary
  • Nothing captures the mood of the country better than the street protests by Kenyan youth, in a majority of the counties.
  • While the State has patronised the protesting youth with counterfeit praise and diverse verbal sweeteners, its violent response to their demonstrations brings out its true sinister character, as an intolerant entity.
  • Let us reason with each other and secure our peace and our democracy.
Former Health CS Mutahi Kagwe in Dagoretti at the Deputy County Commissioner's office on February 3, 2022.
Former Health CS Mutahi Kagwe in Dagoretti at the Deputy County Commissioner's office on February 3, 2022.
Image: FILE

We are in a critical season when our country Kenya is perched in a very fragile place.

Accordingly, I am now issuing this statement both as a parent and as a citizen who has been privileged to serve in several critical public offices.

As a parent, I have children in the Gen Z demographic, which is now the new voice of the people, and the conscience of the Nation.

Over the past two months, the debate has raged on, in our country, on the controversial Finance Bill (2024). The debate has culminated in the vote on the Bill in the National Assembly.

The civic happenings around the Bill, and especially the public outrage across the country, are clear indications that most Kenyans have rejected this Bill.

Nothing captures the mood of the country better than the street protests by Kenyan youth, in a majority of the counties.

These youth, generically categorised as Gen Z and Millennials, are speaking for the entire Kenyan Nation. But they are also, particularly, concerned about the kind of country the older generation is passing on to them, and to subsequent generations.

More immediately, they are concerned about the cost of living, high taxation, corruption in Government and State agencies, and the wheeler-dealer culture that now defines the Government in Kenya.

In distant purview, Kenyan youth are concerned about inheriting from older generations a troubled State. Their outcry, accordingly, is a timely intervention by young voices, keen to save the country from sinking into the abyss of failed states.

In doing this, they are only exercising their democratic right, as enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya (2010), and in various other instruments of our Law.

While the State has patronised the protesting youth with counterfeit praise and diverse verbal sweeteners, its violent response to their demonstrations brings out its true sinister character, as an intolerant entity.

Regrettably, youthful blood has been spilt, bones have been broken, and lives have been lost. I enjoin myself, in sympathy, with the grieving families, and with those nursing the maimed and the wounded.

In this moment of grief, therefore, I wish to convey my heartfelt condolences to all the bereaved families and the friends of the deceased. May the souls of our departed youth repose in eternal peace. I also wish the injured and the maimed speedy recovery.

Meanwhile, both our historical struggles for democracy and the present struggles should not be in vain. Our democratic gains over the years should not be compromised.

We must jealously protect them. Our departed youth have given their lives in protection of these gains. Their short sojourn in this life will be remembered as a journey of faith, courage, and patriotism.

For now, we have the duty and responsibility to recall ourselves to order. We must call the national leadership back to the listening space. Leaders must move away from the present casual approach to governance. They must refrain from chest-thumping and from self-serving brinkmanship. Cavalier approaches to grave public issues have impaired our leaders’ ability to anticipate crises, and to preempt them.

Wounded personal egos must give way to rational leadership. Tough and coercive responses to peaceful protest by our youth should be dropped. Compassionate engagement and logical discourse is the way to go.

The starting point is for this leadership to heed the voices that have rejected the Finance Bill (2024). To continue to force this Bill on Kenyans is to foment further unrest and chaos. Government must reconsider the wisdom of destroying in six days what has taken us sixty years to put together.

The President should not assent to the Finance Bill, whatever injury that may do to his personal estimation of his individuality. The country and the wider national good should be the focus.

The proposed bringing of the Military into civilian contestations should be thought through afresh. Our Military is very highly trained, qualified and disciplined for non-civilian environments and tasks.

We deploy these disciplined forces against the enemies of our country. Our Gen Z and Millennials are not our enemies. Let us not mobilise the Military against our peaceful children.

Civilian assignments must remain with the Kenya Police. To bring in the Military is to say that the Police are unable to handle the situation. It is instructive that Kenya has recently dispatched 400 police officers to Haiti, to bring to order armed gangsters.

If there is need for reinforcement of police efforts in Kenya, the 400 officers should be recalled to address this.

Finally, our institutions must each serve Kenyans. Parliament must reclaim its place as the conscience and watchdog of society. It must restore its image as the emblem of freedom and just governance. The police must do their duty diligently.

Gen Z have demonstrated very clearly that they are not violent. If any criminal elements have, therefore, infiltrated the otherwise peaceful protests, the police should be able to isolate them and deal with them in accordance with the Law. Arbitrary arrests, intimidation and muzzling of democratic voices should be resisted by all.

Those who have been arrested must be freed unconditionally. And the right to belong, and associate; the freedom to think; and the right to picket and to protest peacefully – all these – must be respected by all. And the State House must take the lead.

I wish to conclude by reminding His Excellency the President that Kenyans have over time demonstrated their ability to overcome challenging situations through listening to each other and reasoning together.

Let us reason with each other and secure our peace and our democracy.

Thank you.

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