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State of the nation: Is Kenya hurtling towards dictatorship?

When the new Constitution was promulgated on August 27, 2010, the air was filled with optimism.

Many Kenyans, especially those who had borne the brunt of the Kanu dictatorship, breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, the imperial presidency had been contained- or so they thought.

The excesses of the presidency in past administrations was a major catalyst in Kenyans’ quest for a new constitution. Consequently, numerous independent institutions were created to act as checks against abuse of office and employment of arbitrary power by any individual or institution in power.

A decade later, however, we are seeing a re-emergence and re-imagination of an imperial president. The institutions that are constitutionally mandated to oversight the government have been deliberately rendered redundant either by denying them requisite resources or populating them with sycophants and yes-men. This should worry Kenyans.

The handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, which is certainly a good initiative has had a flip side.

To begin with,Raila,  who was the de facto leader of opposition pre-handshake period is now a key figure in the inner sanctums of power. The remaining NASA leaders lack the wherewithal and charisma to effectively lead an opposition that can keep the government on its toes. In any case, some have said they are willing to work with the Jubilee government.

Consequently, the political opposition in Kenya is as dead as a dodo. This has given the Executive a free hand to flex its muscles against the citizens. Case in point is the recent Kariobangi and Ruai demolitions, which was not only  a gross violation of human rights by the Executive but was also contempt of court as an order had been issued by the Judiciary.

And now without an effective opposition to question and raise these issues, they easily got away with it.

On the security front, police brutality has become a norm, especially since the Covid-19 curfew started.

The biggest manifestation of the creeping despotism, however, is best amplified in the recent occurrences in the Senate and the National Assembly.

French political philosopher Montesquieu famously came up with the doctrine of separation of powers. Each arm of government ought to be independent of each other to function optimally in a democracy.

Watching our parliamentarians today, one is reminded of Pavlov dogs in the classical conditioning theory of psychology. All it takes is for a ringing bell to sound in either State House, Capitol Hill and to a lesser extent Sugoi for bills to be moved, amended or rejected.

The august House that ought to be supreme by virtue of it being the lawmaking institution and articulating the peoples’ aspirations through their representatives has become impotent. It has become a mere rubberstamp for the Executive and other external actors. This dangerous for a democracy.

The Judiciary, which ought to be the last bastion of hope for the mwananchi, seemed to have been silenced. The robust constitutional and Human Rights division of the High court that made bold pronouncements against the government excesses has gone mute. One would be forgiven to doubt whether it still exists. Chief Justice David Maraga seems to have all but given up in the face of Executive onslaught.

I won’t even delve into the church since it willingly gave up its moral obligation to constructively criticise the government a long time ago. The only semblance of government oversight is by ordinary Kenyans using various social media platforms.

So, what does this portend for our country? Every day, we are seeing an angry President Kenyatta averse to criticism. The government he leads chooses which court orders to obey or disregard. Thanks to the handshake, he can push any bill or even amend the Constitution through Parliament. His close friends seem to wield more powers than even constitutional office holders.

Unity of purpose should not stop competing ideas, after all, isn’t democracy a market place of ideas?

Kenyans are being told there will be a referendum to ‘improve on the constitution’. Save for President Kenyatta and Raila, no one really knows what will be the end game of the plebiscite. Further, we hear their supporters bragging about the ‘system’ meaning the wishes of the two ‘brothers’ who currently own it will prevail whether Kenyans like it or not.

These are ominous times for our country. Here’s to the future!

This article was published by The Daily Star.


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