• For when freedom to associate is invalidated, all else crumbles in the arena of venerated freedoms and rights, and out, too, goes our tentative steps to forge a democracy.
• Freedoms and rights aren’t proscriptive to be interned at a whim, but inherent in observation, protection and promotion
There is a devious experiment going on in western Kenya with dire consequences for sustaining the open governance system and progressive Bill of Rights enshrined in the 2010 Constitution.
Western isn’t known for “running battles” with police but is quickly turning into the incubator of cops overreach and dereliction of civil rights that could spread and breed insecurity in the country.
I’m talking about the double standards and discrimination in the deployment of police to enforce political submission of those branded as non-BBI conformists. Police in the region are being recruited to do things that only happened during the dark days of the secret police of the 1980s violence against pro-democracy campaigners.
I’ve it — on the basis of casual acquaintance — that local county police commanders in the region are committed, well-trained and professional folk whose conscience and integrity are being tested by the creeping old habit of “orders from above”.
If one wanted a demonstration of politisation of police, two incidents in western standout. One, a group of politicians claiming to have express instructions from President Uhuru Kenyatta to whip the local community into supporting an unknown agenda have been to five counties under police escort, holding meetings with “elders” in total contravention of Covid-19 regulations.
I doubt the President is aware his name is being used by the Francis Atwoli puppeteering team of Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, who is also Council of Governors chairman.
They both hold key positions and they are at the apex of driving devolution, which is Kenya’s development engine. They’re not known to have any impediments in achieving development for western in the time they’ve been in government.
The chorus they’re singing about reviving the sugar sector, completing stalled projects and renovating dilapidated airstrips can’t be a new release.
Unfortunately, westerners aren’t living in anyone’s fool’s paradise they can’t tell when they’re are being taken for a ride, duped by the latter-day political saints. None other than Oparanya was co-chair of a task force to revive Mumias Sugar Factory but now hardly speaks about this issue anymore. In May 2018, he accused the Jubilee government led by Uhuru of inaction.
Yet they claim to be the President’s emissaries on a development mission to rouse the masses. But this falls through the cracks the moment they start marketing themselves as the “new leaders” who will ensure the Luhya community “is in the next government”.
It escapes incredulity that both are in the current government and nobody has stopped them from delivering goodies to the community. Unless, of course, they’re cynically accusing Jubilee of failing to deliver and are anticipating “another” government in which they will also be part of, to deliver. That amounts to undermining, creating dissent and not promoting the President’s agenda
Two; another group composed of majority MPs from the region converged at a colleague’s home and were teargassed and violently dispersed by the same police playing coy to self-appointed saviours. Earlier, Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang'ula and a retinue of MPs returning back to his county after a reprieve from being overthrown as Ford Kenya party leader, was equally teargassed and prevented from accessing his home.
A spooky regional police commander explained this invasion on freedom of association as enforcing Covid-19 social distance regulation. Never mind that roadblocks were mounted across Bungoma county just to ensure a convoy of vehicles don’t pass through in the spirit of maintaining coronavirus social distance etiquette.
THE KENYA OF 1980S
You may think police actions and justification in these two episodes are incredulous until you lived in the authoritarianism of the 1980s Kenya. Then, police had unabashedly the most ridiculous explanations for the terror they unleashed. For instance, how do you kill yourself with a gun and thereafter miraculously finish off by dosing yourself with inflammables as was the police forensic finding in the Robert Ouko murder?
If the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution was a cleansing moment for our dark past, the paradise anticipated under enhanced rights and freedoms is under attack. The lashing of western MPs by the police may look like isolated incidents by overzealous police until you factor in the politics.
Last year it was the anti-BBI Bukhungu Tangatanga wing of Jubilee that received the wrath of police and just recently the irritable Boni Khalwale was on the receiving end when his philanthropic Covid-19 donation event was dispersed.
Increasingly, violent police disruption of meetings has targeted those opposed to the shenanigans of some self-styled pro-government operatives under the deceptive umbrella of BBI. An initiative that should seek inclusivity and be a bulwark against authoritarianism has brewed the same by constructing divisive regional factions. This is certainly happening in western where a coterie is intent on isolating targeted leaders from mainstream politics. The result will be to undermine and reverse democratic gains if this happens across the country.
But I like it when conscientious and legitimate elders led by Mzee Philip Masinde, the chairman of Western Region Elders Council, told Eugene and Oparanya to rethink their divisive strategy of attempting to isolate other leaders.
“You cannot come to my home to preach unity without your brothers. Go. Come when you’re ready with (Musalia) Mudavadi and Wetang'ula,” he’s quoted as having said when he shut the door on the duo.
Particularly heinous is the nonchalant invasion of the freedom of association space. For when freedom to associate is invalidated, all else crumbles in the arena of venerated freedoms and rights, and out, too, goes our tentative steps to forge a democracy.
Freedoms and rights aren’t proscriptive to be interned at a whim, but inherent in observation, protection and promotion. There isn’t anywhere in the Constitution that says freedoms and rights are given. They’re rather just guaranteed, meaning there is no authority that should give or take.
Until voices of ire are raised against this dastardly clawback on freedoms, Jubilee government and its new cheerleaders from the former opposition will drive the country back to the kleptocracy of the 1980s with high potential of courting electoral violence in 2022.
If this violence is not contained in western, a flare-up will erupt across country.
Kabatesi is a communications and governance consultant. He is also the spokesperson of Musalia Mudavadi