• Irũngũ Houghton

Spare us the state violence

A casual look at the news headlines has probably left you wondering whether Kenya faces an existential threat. Police indiscriminately beating people at Jomo Kenyatta international airport competed with the plundering of billions from the Kenyan Exchequer and a huge fire threatening Mt Kenya region. I was left wondering whether I should be shouting “Dam this country” or “Damn. This Country?”


The unfolding dams scandal has shocked even the most hardened Kenyans. The levels of investment and breadth of complicity is now at the door of the Finance Cabinet Secretary and several of his colleagues. It is not the first scandal. Simple arithmetic brings the volume lost to public theft to nearly a 1 trillion shillings since Jubilee took office in 2013. Presently, Jubilee faces a five-sided reputational risk. This pentagon includes scandals in five sectors, maize, public works, energy, health and water. Together they could amount to 30 billion in public theft.


The Dam heist is probably the most daring yet. Twenty billion shillings lost in upfront payments to over 107 companies that failed to construct the Arror and Kimwarer dams. Under the weight of public scrutiny, it now seems most are either on the verge of collapse or bankruptcy led by the Italian CMC di Ravena. The impact will go beyond the money stolen. Kenya is classified among the most water scarce countries in the world. Thirteen million Kenyans currently lack access to water. Why the residents of Elgeyo Marakwet have not yet taken to the streets to protest or the County Government is not applying to be an interested party in the imminent case is anybody’s guess.


Never one to disappoint, our politicians seem determined to turn this into a circus of politricks. The Deputy President walked himself into fire by contradicting the Director of Criminal Investigations on how much has been lost and updating the country on the progress of the construction. His intervention left us wondering which of the companies implicated in the scandal he may be representing.


The criminal investigations must proceed without intimidation from the political class and the public. All most everyday Kenyans want to see is a thorough, fair criminal investigation conducted within the rule of the law. This must be left to the courts. The President on the other hand faces a reputational challenge. Can he continue to operate with a wounded Deputy and Cabinet that is fast losing all credibility?


Ironically, as we reel from the squandering of public financing for dams in water scarce country, the dry season just claimed 35,000 hectares of forest cover in fires around the Mount Kenya region. The region is one of the country’s major water towers and a source of fresh water for at least five counties. The fires seem to have been contained by the determined and collective efforts of KWS, private companies and communities after several days of intense fire-fighting.


The sight of administrative police fighting fire with sticks also caught my attention. This image fused with others of their colleagues swinging similar sticks and throwing tear-gas at Kenya Airways staff, Kenya Aviation Workers, domestic and foreign travellers at JKIA. Why does the Executive continue to misuse our police service to violently attack public dissatisfaction with the management of public affairs and resources? The Kenya Aviation Workers Union have a constitutional right to act collectively, strike and express opposition to the controversial takeover of a public institution by a loss-making private entity.


Given public opposition to corruption, over-indebtedness and public financing cut-backs, perhaps it is time for national and county authorities to find other ways of managing rising non-violent public dissent. Like the French Government has discovered, arresting aviation strike leaders only proliferates grievances in the hands of more hard-line and less visible opponents.


The path away from the shameful scenes at our international hub is simple. Corporal Joseph Nthenge knew this when stopped and dialogued with protesters during 2008 post-election violence. Kilimani Sub-County Commander Muchiri Nyagah knew this also, when he spoke to Kibera youth in the wake of the killing of Carilton Maina by a police officer in 2018. The Kenya National Commissioner for Human Rights knew this when they published A Checklist for the Police and the Public on Peaceful Assembly. Given the restless season is upon us, perhaps the authorities should revisit these guidelines and spare us these acts of violence.


First published Saturday Standard, March 9, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group




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