Monday, November 11, 2013

Why Kenyans have reason to be afraid

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 10 November 2013

For the past few weeks, I have been experiencing a nagging feeling that something is just not right in this country. In the beginning, I had no idea what was behind this feeling apart from the fact that our top leadership was saddled with enormous “personal challenges” in a foreign court as they struggled with questions of governance. Then a series of events began unfolding that clarified matters somewhat.

An angry Parliament passed a motion calling on the government to introduce a Bill to repeal the International Crimes Act and pull us out of the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court. A time frame was given for this, but this has since lapsed without much indication of progress on this process. But a warning shot had been fired — the ruling coalition would steamroll anyone who stands in the way of their quest to totally control the State.

Then a series of legislative gems followed, with the most evocative one being the VAT Act whose net effect was to raise the prices of basic commodities. After a public uproar and demonstrations, government appeared just at the right moment to save Kenyans from the effects of this legislative misadventure. In the best Machiavellian tradition, some minor functionaries took the flak while the rest of us moved on to the next big thing, as we are wont to do.

Soon after the Westgate mall attack, a chorus of enforced patriotism emerged from among the staunch supporters of the ruling coalition. Anyone who criticises the government is today labelled unpatriotic, negative and even a saboteur of government efforts to develop the country.

As the praise-singers reached a crescendo, Parliament pulled yet another surprise — an amendment to the ICT Bill that set limits to media freedom and threatened huge penalties for infringements. The tribunal created to implement the punitive measures was proposed to be top-heavy with political appointees whose main task would be to ensure that all media toe the government line.

In the resulting commotion with media freedom themes, Parliament once again sneaked in a piece of legislation aimed at reining in non-governmental organisations. A particularly nefarious section of the Bill required that NGOs ensure that no more than 15 per cent of their income comes from foreign sources. The aim, of course, is to completely paralyse this notoriously defiant segment of our population.

Meanwhile, the Inspector-General of Police seems to be acquiring absolute power over the domestic security apparatus, with little or no civilian oversight. Independent commissions have been crippled by the Executive’s failure to replace commissioners whose terms have expired. The Executive has been making extra-legal appointments with the active connivance of Parliament, and recent moves concerning the Lands cabinet secretary amount to little more than window-dressing.

The net effect of all these moves is to concentrate power in the hands of the Executive, emasculate dissenting voices and return the country to the era of Moi’s monolithic monster. This may look like a good thing to those in power but, as sure as rain, it always leads to disaster in the long run.

The Jubilee government must learn from history and remember that entering a sword fight with hands firmly around the sword-blade is a sure ticket to amputation.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine.

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