Finally, Jubilee’s Kanuesque tactics knock it off its moral high ground

Wednesday February 14 2018

Kenya opposition firebrand opposition

Kenya opposition firebrand opposition politician Miguna Miguna (centre) in court in Kajiado before he was deported to Canada. FILE PHOTO | NATION 

By TEE NGUGI
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Folklore has it that bullies are insecure people; that the stronger a person is physically and psychologically, the less likely they are to bully others.

However, in the context of political power, it would seem that the more powerful a regime is, the more paranoid it becomes.

In the Soviet Union of the 1930s, for instance, the more powerful the state became, the more paranoid and brutal it became. Even its most loyal sycophants lived in fear that an inadvertent gesture or pronouncement could be construed as a threat to the state.

In Kenya of the 60s, 70s and 80s, the more powerful the Kanu regime became, the more brutal it treated those it perceived as nonconformist.

In order to put themselves beyond suspicion, Kenyans cheered the regime ever more loudly, pledged allegiance ever more obsequiously, avoided contact with banned books or suspect individuals ever more assiduously.

At one point, imagining the death of the president was declared high treason. At this time, the title “president” was a protected state honorific, to be used solely by the president of the country.

Even at the zenith of its power in the 80s, when the Judiciary and Parliament were mere extensions of the Executive, the state still saw the need to change the voting system from “secret ballot” to “mlolongo” (public queuing) and to abolish the security of tenure for judges.

Kanu's manifestation

And now, it is beginning to look as if recent actions and pronouncements by the Jubilee government in Kenya are a manifestation of the same paradox of power.

Why would a government, whose election on October 26, 2017 was upheld by the Supreme Court, and which has complete control of all the instruments of power, and which is recognised regionally and internationally as being legitimately in power, feel threatened by what, for all intents and purposes, is “political theatre” by an opposition, which, while still enjoying the support of millions, was losing the moral high ground in the eyes of the progressive national community, and regional and international diplomatic powers?

The Supreme Court ruling that annulled the re-election of Uhuru Kenyatta last August gave the opposition an unprecedented second chance to wrest power from Jubilee.

Many observers, therefore, felt strongly that Nasa should have participated in the repeat poll of the 26 October.

Armed with knowledge of the areas where it had lost footing since the 2013 election, Nasa stood a good chance of turning the tables on Jubilee in the second round.

Nasa's theory

But instead of going into full campaign mode, pouring every ounce of resource into those areas where Jubilee had made inroads, the opposition instead went into full complain mode.

It advanced an improbable conspiracy theory. According to this theory, the government, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, ballot paper printing firm, Safaricom, foreign companies providing IT support, and pretty much everyone else who disagreed with Nasa had ganged up to rig the election in favour of Jubilee.

Meanwhile, as Nasa made demands that were impossible to fulfill within the timeline set by the Supreme Court for the repeat poll, Jubilee was campaigning like their lives depended on it.

So when Nasa pulled out of the race and began calling for a another poll, it got no regional or international support.

Nasa, which before the August election, enjoyed a moral high ground compared with Jubilee which was widely regarded as corrupt and lukewarm towards the creation of a constitutional democracy, began to slip in the moral ranking.

The opposition began to lose support of the national, regional and international progressive opinion it had always enjoyed.

Thus the creation of the National Resistance Movement, the boycott of Safaricom and other companies, and the mock swearing-in of Raila Odinga were seen by many observers as nothing more than political theatre.

By this time, Jubilee looked like the more reasonable of the two sides. Nasa had lost the propaganda war.

'Paranoia'

But last week, in a state of paranoia, the Jubilee government arrested key actors in the Raila mock swearing-in, disobeyed court orders to release them, shut down major media houses, and again flouted court orders directing that they be reopened.

Government critics like economist David Ndii have had their passports cancelled. In every way, these brutal tactics are reminiscent of the paranoid Kanu regime.

In just a few crazy days, the Jubilee government has lost the moral advantage it had gained at the expense of the opposition.

Now, the Jubilee government’s earlier reputation as a dictatorial and corrupt wolf in sheep’s clothing of constitutionalism is being confirmed by its Kanuesque tactics.