• Irũngũ Houghton

Hardline political positions is widening mistrust

When opposing political leaders start to sound and lead like each other, it may be a sign that they have lost sight of their real differences. When leaders look and act like their followers, they may have lost control of the strategic context. Last week’s actions on our streets and in our Parliament, may have looked very different, but in many ways, they were driven by the same impulses, logic and strategy.


Last week, I coincidentally received invitations to join the NASA demonstrations and to address the Senate and National Assembly Select Committees on the Election Laws (Amendment) Bills. I appreciated both invitations and declined both. The right to peaceful assembly, demonstration and petition public authorities used to be the preserve of a handful of activists. Over 2016-2017 alongside hundreds of others, I have marched for wildlife conservation, constitutional awareness, an end to the Doctors strike and safety from police extrajudicial killings. We may not beat Hong Kong’s annual record of 11,000 demonstrations, but our use of Article 37 has expanded dramatically.


Public participation is also crucial for all our national and county legislative assemblies. Article 1 affirms that all power comes from the people. Alongside others, I have warmly seized opportunities to petition National Parliament on leadership integrity, corruption, public health or shrinking civic space. At this moment, somewhere in the email in-boxes of both Clerks of the Senate and National Assembly lies unanswered requests for partnership.

Like Article 37, Article 1 has become a rallying cry for all political parties including the incumbent Presidency Jubilee. This, again, is healthy for us all. It stands in contrast to the growing authoritarianism that lurks in our region and the world today. So why did several citizens and civic organisations decline both invitations this week?


Both invitations emerge from highly conflictual political strategies. The zero-sum logic underlying them obstructs the issues they raise. None of the amendments address the Supreme Court ruling. The SCOK called for the IEBC to conduct the fresh election in “strict conformity” with the constitution and existing elections laws. Some of the amendments are unnecessarily intrusive of the IEBC’s internal workings. Jubilee’s attempt to push them through without bi-partisan agreement widens the mistrust in NASA. It is simply bad parliamentary strategy and no different from the antics of the NRM in Uganda.


NASA’s insistence on its irreducible conditions and bi-weekly demonstrations reflect the same logic. Organising public demonstrations requires a level of management to avoid the violence, criminality and loss of life and property we have seen. It is also now provoking counter-demonstrations. How we went from abusive utterances by Babu Owino to his repeated arrest and detention to scores of university student injuries inflicted by indisciplined forces and then, 8,000 students being sent home, needs further reflection.


Ironically, both NASA and JP leaders and supporters are publicly rejecting and deriding international community efforts towards dialogue. Nearly one year after the IFES deregistration, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the NGO Coordination Board just deregistered The International Development Law Organization this week. Two vital institutions; the IEBC and Judiciary will no longer have access to international assistance. If that isn’t bad enough, Moody’s Investors Service is considering downgrading the Government’s international credit rating. Left unchecked, our half-truths and political hard-lining could leave us isolated in a quicksand of our making.


It is often said that there are only two types of leaders. There are those who reflect the temperature of their followers and those who control their followers’ temperature. Sitting now in this very hot matatu called Kenya, like the air-conditioning we have in cars, the leaders we need right now are thermostat leaders not thermometer leaders.


Fortunately, there are signs of a way out of the current stand-off. The IEBC Chairperson’s announcement of a fresh team on Friday helps this. The withdrawal of these clumsy and one-sided amendments, cessation of demonstrations and multi-sectoral dialogue could offer new hope for a weary country besieged by intransigent hard-line positions. Christ is the Answer Ministries Bishop David Oginde’s sermon said as much last week and I support him. All Kenyans must now prevail on our leaders to offer real leadership and find a way out together from this prolonged conflict.

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First published Sunday Standard, October 8, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

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