The façade is off; prepare for the rough ride ahead

Monday September 18 2017

Youths protests against vitriolic attacks on

Youths protests against vitriolic attacks on the person of the Chief Justice David Maraga in Kisii town. PHOTO | NMG 

By MUTHONI WANYEKI
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On the one hand, the Supreme Court’s unexpected ruling has had some necessary and positive consequences.

It has re-affirmed the meaning of the right to vote, putting paid to the notion that universal suffrage can be sacrificed to appease the gods of “peace.”

Suddenly, for example, those so recently considered no more than prophets of doom and gloom have been vindicated. I am talking here about the part of civil society that has consistently—through from 2007 to the present—raised the alarm, in an evidence-backed manner, as concerns the failure of various election management bodies to ensure the integrity of the vote.

Suddenly, too, our feeble acquiescence with the removal of critical, independent checks on the EMB, again in the name of preserving the “peace,” is being challenged.

On the other hand, however, that ruling has had some unintended consequences. It has released a barrage of unsubstantiated and vitriolic attacks on the person of the Chief Justice—including from no less than the person in the presidency—that is unprecedented in this country’s history.

The ruling has also resulted in yet another tiresome round of conspiratorial innuendo of solely propaganda value as concerns the supposed relationships between that part of civil society referenced above, the CJ and the opposition.

Frankly, if we were to try to represent, in a diagram, the relationships between most of the publicly-engaged middle and upper classes (for lack of better descriptors), there wouldn’t be enough space to fit everybody in.

Anybody who’s engaged with public policy will have had to interact not only with the civil service, but also politicians across all political divides. That’s the nature of public engagement. Frankly, that’s also the nature of our class system (such as it is).

The façade of cosmopolitan liberalism has slipped, the gloves are off and we are in for a rough ride.

What are we to make, for example, of the order that no senior civil servant (including parastatal appointees) is allowed to travel abroad without express permission of the presidency? It seems so 1970s and 1980s, a throwback to the Kenyatta I and Moi dictatorships. There’s no public policy purpose such an order could now serve.

What, too, are we to make of the demand that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions institute an investigation into Dr David Ndii, the economist now working for the opposition, on grounds of “treason.”

For merely noting that, just as divorce is an option for an unhappy marriage, secession is an option for an unhappy republic. As is his wont, he’s speaking his mind—as both a public intellectual and an opposition advisor. We can like or dislike the idea and debate it accordingly. But how does that idea become ‘treason’?

Again, it’s very 1970s and 1980s, another throwback to the Kenyatta I and Moi dictatorships. Which we could dismiss as being outdated and passé. But which is actually alarming.

The façade is off, the gloves are off. We are in for a rough ride.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Africa director for the Open Society Foundations based in London. This column is written in her personal capacity.

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