Let’s not take democratic space for granted

Friday, March 25th, 2022 03:03 | By
President Uhuru Kenyatta. PHOTO/Courtesy

This nation’s politics have changed, they would be unrecognisable compared to mere 30 years ago. With less than five months to the elections, it is now clear who the main contenders for the position of the Head of State are and the political battle of being spoilt for choices will shift to the other levels of power.

Even more significant is the change in the democratic space that the previous struggles for freedom have created. The pains of the 1980s and 1990s were not in vain. We are a long way from the 1970s when thoughts in one’s mind would be considered treasonable. 

Those were the days when a citizen would most likely face a death sentence were they to imagine anything untoward regarding the Head of State. Kenyans fought against it gallantly, many losing their lives and limbs in the process.

In a recent address, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga referred to those days when he said the tears he wipes from time to time in public, is the price he continues to pay for his role in the struggle of those days. Possessing literature that was considered subversive, uttering words that could be considered offensive and keeping company of people that were considered enemies of the government, would lead one to untold consequences.

But we have moved on. On the public squares across this country today, one will find all manner of people making statements that a few years ago would have sent them to maximum security prisons.

In downtown Nairobi, there are no shortage of wanna-be standing comedians purportedly revealing to their listeners secrets of leaders, after which they ask to be paid for the entertainment. It is the kind of freedom that one only dreams of in the rest of East Africa. And we were there not too long ago. Yet these freedoms must be safeguarded for the gains can be easily reversed particularly with power in the hands of wrong people. 

This culture of freedom is not yet sufficiently entrenched to withstand onslaught from would be dictators, with enough money to buy off parliament. It is indeed a work in progress.

Which brings me to the campaigns going on and the now famed indecisiveness of the leader of Wiper Party. He was initially a presidential contender, moved on to lead a still born coalition and eventually threw in his towel with the Azimio crowd. But not too long ago, he was reported to first be demanding to be made the deputy president, and secondly to be preparing a team that he would use to impeach the same president he wanted to deputise.

A President would want a loyal deputy for a start, but secondly, for the country, it would be important to have some stability in government. Why would a ticket that from the word go is not interested in providing stability in government be elected?

It is the kind of statement that if made in the days of the previous regimes, then the speaker would head straight to jail rather than to the comfort of his home. Presidency wanted unquestionable loyalty.

Kenya has lived through days of a presidency where the President and his deputy have not been reading from the same script, a situation which, given a choice, one would not want to repeat. Why would anybody want this repeated?

Yet this could also be indicative of the future governments in Kenya, one in which the political class is selfishly squabbling, unconcerned with the needs of the country. For the benefit of the people, the country would need a strong civil service ring-fenced from political interference and which could run public services as the politicians squabbled. 

One could think of the recent case in Germany where it took several months to form a government as politicians negotiated. The civil service, built with sufficient resilience, continued to provide services to the people uninterrupted. That should be the future we are looking at.

 — The writer is the dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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