• Irungu Houghton

Dialogue where we can, dissent where we must



Both the May 26 High Court ruling, and the Catholic Bishops statement two days later were audacious. Why do some find the audacity to act while most citizens watch yet are unable to exercise their constitutional power?


Two weeks after the Tsunami High Court judgment stopped the Building Bridges Initiatives for failing to meet the public participation threshold of Article 257, another set of judges have sent home 129 heads and board members of State corporations. The ruling cites the failure to ensure competitive recruitment and inclusive diversity as required by Article 232 of the Constitution.


On Friday, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the President and the Former Prime Minister to postpone constitutional changes until after the 2022 general elections. They urged State House to accelerate a credible IEBC and resolve the 41-judge standoff. It is one thing to dismiss the ruling of five judges, it is another to ignore the leadership of 7.5 million baptised Catholics or 33 per cent of the population.


The Oxford dictionary defines audacity as the willingness to take risks or shocking and offensive behaviour. Audacity is the lifeblood of all nations. Mekatilili Wa Menza, Dedan Kimathi, Pio Gama Pinto and Wangari Maathai were all audacious. The young Turks of the Mau Mau, KANU and FORD in the 1950s, 1960s and 1990s were audacious. Every significant historical moment author Ben Phillips reminds us, is an exercise in audacity.


So why do most fear shocking or offending others by acting against corruption, discrimination, and the abuse of public office? Is it that our families, schools, and communities have normalised these vices and numbed us into apathy, cynicism, and helplessness? In so doing, we forget that the worst of society’s sins are caused not by disobedience but by obedience in the presence of injustice.


I was 49 when I stood with others and primary students to protect their playground. Critics suggested “I was too old for that kind of thing” and that we were “radicalising” kids. Six years on, I firmly believe the State needs disruption to course correct, breathe and that, always comes from active citizens.


Engaging those that govern is an act of patriotism. The Katiba Institute lawyers knew this when they filed the petition to strike down legally unhygienic appointments. They know they court a backlash. Nobody loves their fitness coach especially when the going gets hard.


It is worth remembering as Madaraka Day approaches, freedom, justice, and dignity are also verbs not only abstract nouns. The actions of past generations may have brought us here, but they cannot protect us today or tomorrow. More of us will need to get into “good trouble”. We must create safe learning spaces while respecting others’ views. Each one must teach one. No-one is coming to save us from this pandemic, recession, or the leadership vacuum, but it doesn’t really matter, because we are here.


We must find ways of re-imagining and creating a country in the image of our constitution. This would honour our nation’s founding fathers and mothers. Lets’ dialogue where we can, and dissent where we must. Happy Madaraka Day all.

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Thank you for your public service outgoing Catholic Bishops Chairperson Philip Anyolo. Best wishes to the incoming Archbishop Martin Kivuva. Lead, so that God would recognise this nation also.


This opinion was first published in the Sunday Standard, 30 May 2021

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