• Irungu Houghton

Our continued mistrust for public institutions produces no sense of obligation

With the drama of a high stakes chess game, Raila Odinga has just checked Uhuru Kenyatta. One week almost to the hour the IEBC announced the winner of the Presidential election, the game is now wide open again. NASA’s 25,000-word petition closes a tense week in which the country has swung dangerously between impunity and accountability in the pursuit of power and control.


The week left a stain on all of us. Instinctive mistrust overwhelmed sensible judgement. We relished in creating and sharing fake news. In so doing, we lost at times the ability to discern what was really happening and needed to happen next. Our electoral management body, the security agencies, media, international and national observers, political parties and even the voter took a public bruising. Worse still, at least thirty families were left preparing for the burials of their loved ones. We got attached and in the process, we temporarily lost our commitment to our national values.


In the wake of the IEBC announcement against their candidate, NASA seemed split on whether to follow the rule of law or agitate mass street action. Two distinct and contradictory calls were issued simultaneously. Mass action, boycott national news and a stay away on one hand, and public restraint, no violence and legal petition on the other. Voices of reason appealed for NASA to go to court and make their case before the Supreme Court and the nation.


Despite the official assurance that no protestors lives had been lost, the truth seeped from Mathare, Kibra, Kisumu and Migori. The security forces used live bullets and excessive force in quelling both political unrest and criminal behavior by opportunists. Impending investigations by the Independent Police Oversight Authority will probably increase the number of 85 prosecutions currently before the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for election related offences.


The decision by NGO Coordination Bureau to summarily de-register and seek Central Bank and Kenya Revenue Authority support to close The Kenya Human Rights Commission and The Africa Centre for Open Governance escalated an already volatile situation. It is widely suspected that fear of the organisations petitioning the presidential results, not their tax, financial and immigration compliance informed the Bureau’s action. It is bizarre that after a week of the Government and Jubilee Party encouraging NASA to take its complaints to court why the Bureau felt it needed to block this legal avenue.


A court judgement and the 90-day suspension by Interior Cabinet Secretary Matiang’i has temporarily restored order and respect for fair administrative action. Whether the proposed committee and the Commission for Administration of Justice will shed more light on this and the broader future of NGO-State relations remains to be seen.


Both Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga and their followers faced a similar leadership test this week. Their test was how to compete for control of the State within the boundaries of the Constitution and elections laws. Citizens too were tested this week. Some of us created half-truths, attacked others based on their political choices or ethnicity and even resurrected Congolese ancestors and killed them again in Dandora to make political points. Most of us shared this confusion without restraint or criticism.


We can be inspired by the citizens, community leaders and police officers who urged non-violence while facing insults, rocks and bullets. We can be proud of the media houses and especially NTV who continued to broadcast NASA rallies while being publicly criticized. We can acknowledge the Governor-elects who called for patience and restraint. We can also salute the religious leaders, diplomats and lawyers who prayed, counselled and reminded us, that we have a country with a constitution and laws to protect all without fear of favor. Their actions protected the Republic this week from the horror of 2008.


It is worth remembering, the same attributes define the maturity of adults and societies. Human beings are born with no sense of responsibility for themselves and others. Young children exercise only an instinct and a love for constant stimulation. Only a growing appreciation of the consequences of their actions and discipline instills responsibility. It is the same with national accountability. Our continued mistrust and disrespect for public institutions and the rule of law produces no sense of obligation or respect for a higher authority.


For this reason, I welcome the decision by Odinga to go to the Supreme Court and Kenyatta’s support of his right to do so. May the Supreme Court act judiciously with no fear, favor or interference.

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The issues raised around the enabling environment for NGOs and the media was the focus of August 20 several opinion editorials.

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First published Sunday Standard, August 20, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group

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