• I am persuaded that the police action and unprovoked attacks on Azimio leaders reflected a fear on the part of government.
• The leaders have already held the so-called People’s Barazas across the country, without any issues.
In the last years of Nelson Mandela’s incarceration, ANC cadres learned that he had secretly been talking to the apartheid regime for some time.
As narrated by his prison colleagues such as Ahmed Kathrada, who wrote the captivating book No Bread For Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Raymond Mhlaba, the initial reaction was shock, and accusations of betrayal.
Teeming with radicals, the ANC had long held the belief that it would defeat the Apartheid rulers by violent means, through its paramilitary wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. Talking was out of the question.
Years later, after Mandela narrated his own version of events in Long Walk To Freedom and ANC won power, the genius of Mandela’s negotiated settlement became clear. While still in power, he did several things that should really have become a template across Africa, but sadly didn’t.
First, on several occasions when travelling out of the country, he left his bitter rival Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi as acting president. Second, long before his term was over, he had left the daily running of government to his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. And finally, after that one term, he called it a day.
African leaders do not like the legacy of Mandela thrust on their faces because it reminds them that something too good happened too close home, on the same continent, which they can’t dismiss as “foreigners trying to sabotage my government”. But the story of Mandela represents the virtues of leadership that we should not be afraid to tell and retell.
The liberation icon was self-confident, even as he acknowledged his own shortcomings, was secure in his place and above all, trusted the institutions around him. But perhaps his most popular quote, in revisiting how to work with enemies was, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. The he becomes your partner”.
It indeed takes a confident leader to build bridges.
In recent days, opponents of the Kenya Kwanza regime have branded it “the return of Moi”. It is perplexing. Ideally, there should be no similarities, but we live in interesting times. There are many reasons I personally hoped the two would be different.
In 1978, President Daniel Moi had every reason to fear. His rise to power was sudden, and he was entering office surrounded by the proverbial sharks, who had made state power a tool for total control.
The dangerous Kiambu Mafia lurked, haters in the civil service and the security services were plenty. So in a way, Moi was right to accelerate the rise of his own tribesmen within government so that he would see “homeboys” around.
Commentators have also pointed out that being of limited formal education, Moi also broke away from the Jomo Kenyatta script and made semi-literate people a permanent fixture of government, a fact often attributed to his own limitations in the field.
But holding a PhD at the time of taking office, Ruto is the most educated person to ever become President in Kenya, Moi obviously the least. Also, unlike Moi who took office following a sudden event, Ruto has had 10 years as DP to build the solid networks within government to have a relatively smooth entry.
In public, he paints the picture of a very articulate person, supremely confident in his abilities and generally able to discuss several policy positions without referring to any notes. Which is what makes his actions when it comes to running of government a little confusing.
It appears that the new President’s first order of business upon assuming office was to try and poach legislators from the opposition. I couldn’t see the threat on his legislative agenda or the urgency of this. Soon, he appointed a cabinet that for all intents and purposes, was an act of political rewards rather than an attempt at creating a competent body that would drive the agenda and deliver on manifesto promises.
This, while idolizing President Mwai Kibaki as the best we ever had. For context, Kibaki in 2003 appointed one of the most competent and most focused cabinets in independent Kenya. And despite inheriting a struggling economy and dilapidated infrastructure, that team soon brought the country back to its feet.
Anyone hoping the President’s choosing of political acolytes as Cabinet secretaries must have been brought back to reality when he last week named a whopping 50 people as Chief Administrative Secretaries, including people who, with utmost respect, should not be within 50 miles of a serious government.
I have gone through the list and told myself, “Goodness me, this one will be at Interior handling classified security matters, and oh, this one will now be on the frontline of driving foreign policy”.
It seems that for President Ruto, his campaign crowd needs to be in government in its entirety for him to feel a sense of security. That, or he is just appointing incompetent people so that he can run the show himself!
However, nothing screams fear more than the reaction of the police during the Azimio demos on Monday this week. Truth be told, Azimio has held countless rallies on the grounds of KICC, all peaceful. I suspect that after barricading the routes to State House, the police had nothing to worry about letting them hold another meeting at KICC. Instead, they teargassed legislators merely walking in town, and when Azimio leader Raila Odinga left Serena Hotel, teargassed his convoy.
You would have thought Azimio leaders’ driving to Eastlands would then be left alone to run their rallies there, but the police followed them and teargassed them some more. The joke in town was that the police had been holding onto teargas that expired in 2018, for lack of use due to the Uhuru-Raila five-year truce, and were trying to get rid of them so as to open up new procurement!
Jokes aside, it is important to note that with the chaotic manner in which the police acted, it would take just one reckless officer to do something stupid and change the destiny of this country.
I am persuaded that the police action and unprovoked attacks on Azimio leaders reflected a fear on the part of government. The leaders have already held the so-called People’s Barazas across the country, without any issues. It is possible that, barring any attempt to access the State Houses, last Monday would also have ended peacefully. However, the most important thing to remember is that since 2007, whether disputed or not, all elections in this country have shown a near 50-50 divide between the loser and the winner.
In a country of 50 million people, that basically means 25 million do not support the regime in power at any given time. This is a number that cannot be beaten into submission with police rungus. In fact, many moderate Azimio followers watching their leader being teargassed across town are more likely to be radicalized into hardliners.
It is, therefore, upon a confident and secure president to heed the words of Nelson Mandela: Work with your enemy, and then he becomes a partners.
The country, ultimately, is too important to be driven by egos.