TEAVOLUTION

Occupy Parliament and vanity of latter day teacup revolutions

A shepherd with no flock is not a revolutionary by any stretch!

In Summary

• The aborted attempt to occupy Parliament is a clear demonstration of the disconnect between the purported ideals of public figures, and the so-called public interest.

• If indeed the public had wanted the House dissolved, there should have been “boots on the ground” to back the plan.

LSK members protest outside Parliament as they wait to hand over their petition led by society President Nelson Havi on October 11, 2020
LSK members protest outside Parliament as they wait to hand over their petition led by society President Nelson Havi on October 11, 2020
Image: EZEKIEL AMING'A

Ahead of the 2002 elections, the government side liked to taunt the trio of Mwai Kibaki, Wamalwa Kijana and Charity Ngilu about their long meetings “over a cup of tea”. They were attempting to reach consensus on one opposition candidate to face President Daniel Moi’s choice of successor.

This was before their National Alliance of Kenya (NAK) wing joined up with the Rainbow rebels from Kanu. In response, the three consistently replied that the American Revolution had been an offshoot of the Boston Tea Party protests, and therefore their tea sessions in Nairobi would ultimately launch a revolution in Kenya.

The tea sessions continued after the Kanu rebels embraced the NAK wing, as the search for a joint candidate to face Uhuru Kenyatta continued, making tea and tea parties a fashionable political statement in that season.

 

It is hard to understand if this informed LSK president Nelson Havi’s own recent tea party at Parliament Buildings. He descended on the premises ostensibly to send MPs home following Chief Justice David Maraga’s advisory to the President to dissolve Parliament.

Havi’s first reality check must really have been just how lonely it is at the top of a revolution, if we were to call it that. For a society with over 15,000 members, the venture seemed to attract less people than a beach volleyball team. A number of them were not even lawyers or LSK members. These are certainly strange times, because in ordinary times, the snub by members, rendering Havi a shepherd without a flock, would have been enough grounds to resign.

What happened next was more interesting. Havi’s thin crowd of about 10 people settled down for tea and mandazi in the hallowed precincts of the august House. Now, there are very few establishments in the world where an eviction team comes in and makes time for tea, because no eviction is meant to be friendly.

There have been protests outside Parliament before that Havi needed to have used to benchmark when planning his own. One is the enduring image of Rev Timothy Njoya being clobbered by a member of a gang allied to the Kanu government many years ago. Another was activist Boniface Mwangi’s own protest with painted piglets at the gates of Parliament.

In both cases, there was heightened security outside Parliament Buildings, and anyone attempting to descend on it to either occupy it or evict MPs from it would know that you have to contend with strong reaction from the institution’s security apparatus.

Ten men in crisp suits, dropping legal jargon with abandon, do not strike me as the sort of force that seriously walks into Parliament intending to occupy it. There is a hugely romanticised concept around the phrase “public interest”.

Every public figure with illusions of popularity is wont to fashion his actions as necessitated by public interest. The public itself in the meantime stays aloof and timid, mostly gathering just enough courage to run a hashtag or bare non-existent on social media.

 

I have seen protests called for issues that I thought were very close to the hearts of the population, only for just a handful of people to grace the demo. The new generation of “public” does not inspire enough confidence for anyone to risk it in its defence. But the new revolutionary isn’t any better.

Today’s revolutionary sounds very brave at village rallies and dares police to “come and arrest me, tutapambana na nyinyi sawasawa”. As soon as the police heed the call, the “revolutionary’s” lawyers will be in court first thing in the morning, begging for the hitherto fierce leader to be set free, and listing all the ailments that could terminate the life of the dear leader, if the judge doesn’t have mercy on him.

The conditions for which Mheshimiwa will be requesting to be set free will range from a simple Sinusitis to the more complex high blood pressure, all painted as death-beckoning if dear leader spends one more day in police cells!

When they ask for the police to come and arrest them, you wonder if they have read the history of this country and figured out why most liberation warriors needed to escape into exile if jail was as comfortable as saying “kuja mnishike!”

The new revolutionary sheds tears in plenty, when he remembers all the strange cars that trail him, and the danger that suddenly comes with all the angry words he had been spewing just a moment earlier.

The aborted attempt to occupy Parliament is a clear demonstration of the disconnect between the purported ideals of public figures, and the so-called public interest. If indeed the public had wanted the House dissolved, there should have been “boots on the ground” to back the plan.

At worst though, the failure was an indictment of Havi’s leadership and mobilisation credentials, for which he should have returned to the drawing board and gone out of circulation for a short period, like war generals do in strategic retreats. But the teacups hadn’t dried in Parliament when his attempt to remove the LSK’s chief executive a few days later appeared even clumsier than Occupy Parliament.

The LSK used to be the eyes of the masses in a period gone by. Indeed, at a time of fear and despondency during the single party dictatorship, it was left largely to the church and the LSK to speak up for the people, with the latter's bosses of that era almost always diving into the deep end of the Second Liberation struggle.

There is a long history and wonderful traditions from which any LSK president can tap wisdom from, and seek to chart a path that positions the organisation in its rightful place at the top as a moral conscience of the nation.

It would be a tragedy if, as with Occupy Parliament, the LSK degenerates into sloganeering and empty chants, or at worst, becomes merely a social media giant that seeks to occupy hashtags!

The lesson to modern “revolutionaries” is that this is not the 1990s! The tools and methods of resistance are different, and the masses are, too. You could end up as a lone voice singing your own songs out in the streets, while the people you purport to lead in the revolution pop up one more for the road out there in the safety of their neighbourhoods.

A shepherd with no flock is not a revolutionary by any stretch!

Collins Ajuok comments on topical issues