• Are our individual rights — either as elected leaders or common wananchi, to make independent choices regarding who governs us — being curtailed?
• Are we being forced to conform to a certain set of our politico’s personal preferences?
Procrustes was a cruel robber in Greek mythology. He owned a small estate in Corydalus in Attica, which was between Athens and Eleusis.
Procrustes had a peculiar sense of hospitality. Whenever travellers passed through his estate, he welcomed them into his house, gave them a generous dinner, and invited them to spend the night in a rather special bed. Tired from their travels, many travellers took him up on his seemingly friendly offer.
As soon as the travellers lay down to sleep, Procrustes tied their hands and feet on the special bed. If the traveller was taller than the bed, he would chop off their legs with a sharp hatchet until they fit. If they were shorter than the bed, he would stretch them on a rack until they were as long as the bed. He wanted the traveller to fit the bed to perfection. In either case, the traveller always died.
Going by recent developments across the country, one would not be mistaken to think that Kenya has become a Procrustean Bed. Brazen pronouncements and actions by certain politicos have implied that there is a certain special bed that all Wanjikus have to fit in. And if they do not conform, our various renditions of Procrustes either cut them down to size or stretch them to fit.
Are our individual rights, either as elected leaders or common wananchi, to make independent choices regarding who governs us, being curtailed? Are we being forced to conform to a certain set of our politicos' personal preferences?Susan Mugwe
By being a Procrustean Bed country, we have significantly deviated from what is known as settled law or black letter law. This refers to a law that is so well established that it is no longer subject to dispute, or personal preferences or whims.
For instance, the Constitution recognises that the aspiration of all Kenyans is to have a government that is based on the essential values of democracy and the rule of law. It is settled law that democracy is a system of rule by laws, not individuals, to protect the rights of citizens, maintain order and limit the power of government. It is also a black letter law that democracy rests upon the tenets of majority rule, minority and individual rights.
Last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta invited Nairobi Jubilee-affiliated MCAs to State House. This summons was sandwiched between two inflexion points in the governance of Nairobi county. One, it was shortly after Governor Mike Sonko had surrendered key county functions to be managed by the national government. These are health, transport, public works, utilities and ancillary, planning and development services.
Two, is Sonko's impending impeachment motion in the county Assembly. It was reported that during this meeting, the President implored the MCAs to drop their impeachment motion and instead focus on service delivery. And just as quickly as they had been summoned, the MCAs dropped their bid to impeach the governor.
Prior to this, the Building Bridges Initiative apologists have been proselytising that we need to change one of democracy’s black letter law tenets of the majority rule, to inclusive tribal rule. They have tried to convince us that this is the panacea to post-election violence. They have also advocated that if the government head is male, the deputy ought to be female and vice versa. They have further propounded that all MCA positions and 20 per cent of all government positions should be a preserve of the youth only. And that some elected leaders are too young to retire, and, therefore, should be accommodated through the creation of regional governments, and in the expansion of the Executive.
Begs the question, is Kenya still a democratic and meritocratic country or is it a Procrustean Bed? Are our individual rights, either as elected leaders or common wananchi, to make independent choices regarding who governs us, being curtailed? Are we being forced to conform to a certain set of our politicos' personal preferences? And are we being asked to deviate significantly from the settled law of what a democratic and meritocratic state is, while being wined, dined and entertained at a per capita handout of only Sh500 (the amount paid to BBI rally attendees)?
There are three things that stable democracies have embraced, and whose acceptance has strengthened their economies; one, settled laws should not be changed frequently, two, they should be complied with, and three, there should be no mandate creep of one arm of government to another. These stable democracies recognise that laws should be drafted to serve for posterity, and should not be altered at the slightest personal whims or preferences.
Each time a settled law is altered, or is disregarded, the long-term planning of lives and businesses is disrupted. This makes commercial investors, both local and foreign, wary of investing because it can take years to remove all economic uncertainty in a new law.
In economic-speak, this is called capital flight. Capital flight imposes a severe burden on developing nations because the lack of capital impedes economic growth and eventually leads to poorer living standards.
There is an inverse correlation between the frequency with which we alter or disregard settled laws, and the strength of our economy. Businesses and individuals thrive on certainty and stability. Yet in the same breath of altering the black letter law of our Constitution, the BBI apologists are agitating that the government should reserve 20 per cent of all jobs for the youth. If there is no investment from which to collect taxes due to capital flight, where will the resources to hire them come from? Chinese loans?
I submit that, although no literal limbs are being amputated to fit a certain special bed, we have become a Procrustean Bed country. Our free thoughts are wilting; our intolerance levels of opposing views are growing; our respect and adherence to settled laws, rules and procedures are faltering; and our freedom to make independent political choices is shrinking. And all this is in lieu of our politicos' impulses and proclivities. This is a very slippery slope.
If we do not stop now and take stock, we will have moved our governance needle from a democracy to an ineptocracy. This is a system of government in which the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable to produce, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.
Finally, my unsolicited advice to the Wanjiku is this: if you want to know who rules over you, look at who you are not allowed to criticise. And if you want to know who the subjugated class is, look at who is not allowed to get angry.
You don’t become completely free by just avoiding to be a slave; you also need to avoid becoming a master — Nassim Nicholas Taleb