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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

We are destroying the democratic fabric

Updated: Dec 22, 2018

Our national fire smolders still. Blinded by the smoke of zero-sum tactics of hardline politicians, many of us still cannot see the difference between yesterday’s smoke and today’s flame. This week’s happenings and the significant upsets in South Africa and Ethiopia requires us to re-focus and engage. Oddly, Marvel’s “Black Panther” movie that hit our cinemas this week offers some clues where we can go next.

The appointment of Parliamentary committees and vetting of the Cabinet by our National Assembly edged to a close this week. Transparency International brilliantly just invoked the constitution to strike down the 2015 Public Audit Act and open up the finances of our security agencies to the Office of the Auditor General.

Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter, Madat Chatur and Arthur Sakwa were arrested for attempting to de-fraud the country of a staggering Kshs 633 million. Police-officer Titus Musila found himself alone in a court and convicted of a public Githurai street execution in 2013. Abandoned by his employers and a community who either tacitly ignored or approved of his shoot to kill operations, his conviction sends a clear message that extrajudicial executions do not come without consequences.

That these four moments have received little broader attention worries me. On this important week, NASA took a sabbatical to create a separate state or abuse western diplomats. Jubilee remained upset with the judiciary for not joining in on their opposition and media crackdown. Both appear to be driving with their eyes firmly fixed in their rear-view mirrors not on the road ahead.

Keeping our new Cabinet under public scrutiny is everyone’s business not just the media. Instituting a forensic management audit of the debt register would be a prudent way to probe the Keter incident as the Institute of Economic Affairs have proposed. Can police reformers seize the opportunity of the Musila conviction to demand that all shoot to kill units are dismantled?

Incredibly, two African Heads of States resigned under public pressure for an end to kleptocracy and dictatorship. It was fourteen years ago that the brave National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka declared a prima facie case of corruption against the then Deputy President Jacob Zuma. This week, the African National Congress finally stripped Jacob Zuma of the Presidency. He now faces close to 783 criminal suits on corruption and his legacy has just been shredded like the Biltong South Africans like so much.

Dawn has begun to break for our Ethiopian neighbors. For close to a decade, excessive and lethal police force has been the only response to courageous protests against political repression, economic and cultural exclusion. Mass arrests, unfair trials and torture of the political opposition had decimated all rights to freedom of expression and association. This week, the Federal Government released 700 political prisoners, many of them journalists. Prime Minister Haile-Mariam Desalegn also resigned, citing his prolonged stay as an obstacle to democracy. There are obvious lessons for our leaders in power in the South African and Ethiopian cases.

The struggles for justice and smoke of African politricks deserve their own movies. Until then, we watch others for hope and inspiration. I watched “Black Panther” at a special premiere organized by the #StillWeRise” African-American community living in Kenya. Over ten thousand people across the world have watched “Black Panther” by now. This must-see movie powerfully explores the twin dangers of social injustice and radicalism without virtues.

Two statements still stick out for me. Wakanda leader T’Challa’s words “Your heart is full of hatred, you are not fit to be a King” and “Wise people build bridges, foolish ones build barriers” should be repeated by everyone who consider themselves a leader every morning before they put on their clothes.

We are losing our capacity for empathy and engagement. We listen not to understand or even to persuade others. We listen only to find new ways to restate old grievances or score political points. We are too comfortable listening to only those that think and sound like us. Regardless of which side we are on (and some believe there are only two sides), we are destroying the fabric of a democratic, tolerant and engaged society that makes it impossible for corrupt and dictatorial leaders (even benevolent ones) to reign. We still need to re-focus and engage. #KenyaForever


First published Sunday Standard, February 18, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group


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