In Kenya’s latest storm over tax, lessons have been learnt ­­­– I think

Sunday July 07 2024

A police officer aims a gun loaded with a tear gas canister towards demonstrators along Kenyatta Avenue in Nairobi, Kenya on June 20,2024 during protests against the proposed Finance Bill 2024. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Kenyans have, once again, been dispensing object lessons in what to do and what not to do every time we are confronted with problems for which we may not have solutions. Or every time we have solutions available, but our senses have been clouded and calloused by whatever is at the forefront of our minds that does not allow us space to think lucidly.

The hullabaloo around the Finance Bill has served as another eye-opener into how the different actors across Kenya have been responding after action has been taken, or when action was being contemplated.

To begin with, the Finance Bill that has been the casus belli of this whole trouble is, if I remember well, about the mantra “No Taxation Without Representation,” shouted over and over again by the revolutionary tea-partiers in Massachusetts rioting against British taxes back in the 18th century as the United States was struggling to be born.

But then, the question would arise — wouldn’t it?— of why the youngsters in Kenya were attacking their own legislators and not those of a colonising power, as it was in Boston back The House of Parliament they trashed the other day, and the furniture and props they vandalised were all Kenyan and the people they were sending into flight in fear for their lives were their brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts.

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So, what went wrong?


Nothing. It all went right. Truth be said, there was something in the noisy conversations going on in Kenya that it was a case of the falcon no longer hearing the falconer in this era of tails wagging their dogs.

It is no longer guaranteed that once a representative has been elected on a string of promises to turn his or her patch of territory into paradise, they will even remember what they said in their last campaigns.

Vertigo sets in

Vertigo sets in too fast, and what these elected ladies and gentlemen do is to pad and line their pockets as much as, and as soon as, they can.

That is why we have such spectres as MPs voting into law their own pay increases and other pecks.

Where did anyone hear of gardeners deciding to hike their own wages and emoluments?

It’s bad manners, and actually this should alert the owner of the garden that next thing these gardeners will claim the property as theirs.
In a way that is what our rulers — and these include our representatives — have become: Usurpers who have lost their sense of smell, which would have told them that their people have been taxed so much that if they had been dairy cattle there would have been blood in the milk.

Insensitive, devil-may-care garden boys and girls, who forget too soon where they came from, lost in the belches of indigestion.

Lest I be misunderstood, let me say that most of the optics we were served up from Nairobi and other places were ugly, especially because human life was lost so unnecessarily. And here I have a question: Were there really snipers, identifying individuals to be shot, not random shooting to scare people away?

The use of live bullets in a situation like we saw in Nairobi is a serious matter, denoting the failure of the police to quell civil unrest. I am not sure Kenya’s president was in the right when he threatened to deploy the military before: declaring a security emergency; suspending sections of the Constitution; and providing the terns of the emergency and ways of enforcing it in the field.

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Being styled commander-in-chief does not give one any more power than the responsibility to lead the state’s security architecture to reach collective decisions by consensus.

Permanently impair

Plus, why do so many bullets seem to have had the tendency to hit people in the heads? Was the aim to quell and disperse or to permanently impair?

Now, for famous last words, those words you utter and soon wish you had never said: One was a statement by a minister, saying famously, “Hiyo hela si ya mama yako!” meaning that “That money is not your mother’s!” I hope the minister now knows it is somebody’s mother’s money.

When you tax, you are taking money out of somebody’s pocket; you are making them to choose what to do and what not to do.
It is possible to tax somebody till the money they had planned for their mother’s improvement in living conditions disappears. How does that not become our mothers’ money?

Again, the Number Two of the regime was having a public spat with the top spy chief over what had been happening recently.

This is what I usually call a “Lord of the Flies” moment, when a group of boys find themselves in sudden and strange circumstances and instead of calmly analysing their situation and finding ow to get themselves out of it, they squabble and start self-destructing mutually.
We who have followed Kenya in recent times know that Kenya has it in itself to go beyond self-seeking antics, and one-up-manship.