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FREEDOM OF SPEECH?

The likes of Wahome must stop disrespecting Uhuru

Some of the charges Wahome lobbed were factually baseless, others simply ill-informed.

In Summary

• Kandara MP Alice Wahome accused Uhuru of being the “biggest existential threat to Kenya’s misfortunes, declining economy, freedom of expression and democracy, political affiliation and growth” because the President is “on the driver’s seat.”

• It can't be that politicians can openly and publicly disrespect the President without any fear of any repercussion.

Kandara MP Alice Wahome addressing journalists at Sea view Resort Malindi on January 2.
ALICE WAHOME: Kandara MP Alice Wahome addressing journalists at Sea view Resort Malindi on January 2.
Image: ALHONCE GARI:

When US President Donald Trump ordered the killing of an Iranian military general in what many believe was a reckless act to distract impeachment hearings, the question was not whether the general was evil, he was. Question is also not whether killing the general was justified, it was. Rather, the question is whether killing the general was wise, or makes the US safer. Most people believe the opposite is true and worse.

The lesson here is even where there is legal basis or justifiable basis to do something, one need not do it if doing so is unwise or prone to backfire.

In Kenyan politics, it has now become fashionable for politicians aligned to Deputy President William Ruto to openly and publicly embarrass or disrespect President Uhuru Kenyatta without fear of any repercussions.

This is an undesirable, if not dangerous trend that must be nixed.

More than five hundred years ago, the famed native of Florence, Italy and philosopher Nicollo Machiavelli advised that it was better to be feared than loved, if you can’t have both. However, shrewd leaders aspire to be loved and feared, with the even more shrewd, and crude preferring to be feared.

This is because it is widely believed — and it is often the case — a leader can only be loved by the citizenry or his or her subjects so long as it is beneficial to them. If the leader’s power weakens, the love dissipates and soon disappears.

On the other hand, if a leader is feared, that fear will act as a stronger guarantee of support for the leader. n other words, the leader who is feared will be supported out of fear of what the lack of support will result. This is the “jaribu na utaona cha mtema kuni” (try and you’ll see fire”) modi operandi Kenyans came to be accustomed to after independence and many paid the ultimate price for daring. Others suffered same fate even without trying because it was enough that they were perceived to be a threat.

We are long past those days, but the pendulum cannot swing to the other end of the extreme where politicians openly and publicly disrespect the President without any fear of any repercussion.

The most recent politician to wade into this undesired territory is Kandara MP Alice Wahome. She accused Uhuru of being the “biggest existential threat to Kenya’s misfortunes, declining economy, freedom of expression and democracy, political affiliation and growth” because the President is “on the driver’s seat.”

As in the case of Trump killing the general, the question is not whether the MP had a legal or justifiable basis to lob the charge against the President. Rather, the question is whether it was wise to do so where she may have had a point. It was not.

Yes, the President can and should be criticized but it must be constructive and respectful. It also must be grounded on some reality or facts, not just hacking away in efforts to tear him down while hoping to pop up your preferred candidate truth be damned.

Some of the charges Wahome lobbed were factually baseless, others simply ill-informed.

For example, Uhuru will not be doing anything unbecoming or against our democratic values were he to become a prime minister, when the position is created as expected. This will be a way of rewarding him to wising up and joining his older brother and buddy Raila Odinga in the handshake, which is clearly shaking things up, our best hope to repair and heal open wounds from the past.

Similarly, the BBI is no “special purpose vehicle” to ostensibly extend Uhuru’s term in office or help Raila get elected but this time sworn in as president. If it is a special purpose vehicle, it is expressly for the purpose of uniting Kenyans and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Wahome disrespecting the President without fear of repercussion is one thing, someone insulting and calling him names in the name of freedom of speech is quite another, which solicits no sympathy.

Samuel Omwenga is a legal analyst and political commentator