Friday, July 26, 2013

We must not slide back to a police state

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 21 July 2013

Last week I came across a very disturbing article in a local daily. It was reported that a politician had been summoned by the police to be grilled over an alleged plot to “destabilise” the government. According to the article, the politician was alleged to be working with churches and non-governmental organisations in a plot to start an “anti-government” campaign, ostensibly in order to cause public disaffection with the government.

There was no allegation that the politician was engaged in extra-legal or unconstitutional activities aimed at overthrowing the democratically elected Government of Kenya. There was no claim that he was organising an armed militia group to attack government installations. There was no indication that he had contacted foreign governments to organise an attack on the sovereign territory of our republic.

All that was alleged was that he was working with churches and NGOs to “destabilise” the government.

There was a time in this country when the “thought police” would work hard at trying to uncover the motives of all Kenyans who dared to speak out publicly about any government initiative. There was a time when being called a “dissident” was equivalent to a death sentence.

There was a time when being accused of plotting to “destabilise” the government was the beginning of a long journey to detention, torture and even assassination. We would like to believe that those times are long gone, but we fear that without citizens’ vigilance we could still slide back into those dark days.

At some level, one would have been comfortable if the police had indicated that they had information that this politician was plotting a crime recognised in law, such as plotting to “establish a government otherwise than in compliance with the Constitution”, which is prohibited in Article 3(2) of our Constitution.

In any case, if the police have any such information, it is incumbent upon them to expeditiously investigate and neutralise the threat in a manner consistent with the law. Summoning a politician to investigate claims of plotting to “destabilise” the government is so eerily reminiscent of the Kanu dictatorship that nobody with any sense of history would countenance such a move.

In a constitutional democracy such as ours aspires to be, it is the responsibility of all citizens, no matter their political affiliation, to keep the government in check and ensure that no arm of government exceeds its powers and oppresses the people.

In other words, it is the duty of every citizen to “destabilise” the government, to keep it on toes, constantly looking over its collective shoulder every time it contemplates some nefarious scheme.

And if we cannot do it ourselves, we must appreciate the efforts of those that do. We must applaud them for ensuring that we remain free to question government. Thomas Paine put it more clearly: “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

For the sake of our freedom we must demand that the government recognises our right to “destabilise” it. The only means open to the government in dealing with the “destabilising” activities of its citizens is to create an environment in which the people’s concerns are addressed expeditiously and satisfactorily. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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