The United States and other donors to the IEBC must not let (again) the power of incumbency in Kenya obscure the dangers of “fear and loathing” on the campaign trail

This is a straightforward lesson.  We have acted in this movie in Kenya before.
(To refresh, here is my piece “The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan politics was frozen and an election was stolen with U.S. connivance” in The Elephant.)

Mistakes will be made when we are out and about involved in our way in the world. (Most conspicuously, per Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for the presidency, the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  This recognition of error obtained consensus among at least the top dozen Republican candidates and the top four Democrats so it seems to be a rare “given” that we should not have to argue about now.)

We cannot undo the past but at the very least we have a moral responsibility to take cognizance of (very) recent history in Kenya involving many of the very same Kenyan ethnic/commercial/political leaders and a continuity of institutional and individual players and assumed interests of the United States as well.  Our choices have consequences, too.

We are in denial if we pretend that we did not fail abjectly (to the extent we even tried really) to effectively foster any type of justice in Kenya for the 2008 Post Election Violence.  If we can excuse our asserted complacency in 2007 on the argument that the full magnitude of the violence was unprecedented (in spite of the 1992 and 1997 “campaigns”) we certainly do not have that excuse this time.

You cannot but hear bitter strident speech about Kenya’s presidential election from Kenya’s politicians, and from Kenya’s journalists, lawyers, pundits, publishers, moguls, ranchers and hustlers (of whatever ethnic or national origin or income).   Compared to 2007 it is more aggressive and open and it is coming in some key part directly from the President and even more so from those very close to him and from the Deputy President.

In 2007 Mwai Kibaki and Moody Awori were not using the “bully pupit” of the Presidency and Vice Presidency to openly disparage and ridicule those with less power (even though Kibaki was obviously not in hindsight of any mind to actually risk being found to have lost the election by the ECK).

Likewise, during that campaign Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, on opposite sides of the presidential campaign once “retired President” Moi realigned to support Kibaki mid-year, were far more restrained in their widely public statements as candidates
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Kenyan Court strikes Government’s action outlawing Mombasa Republican Council

 

Judicial independence is becoming serious stuff in Kenya.  A three-judge panel of the High Court sitting in Mombasa has ruled that Kenya’s executive branch acted unconstitutionally  in “banning” the secessionist Mombasa Republican Council.  As the decision was reported in the Daily Nation:

The judges advised the group to register as a political party to pursue its agenda through legal means.

And apparently alive to the fact that Kenyans may question the rationale behind their judgment, more so in the light of the group’s secession demands, the judges pointed out that secession was a weighty matter that could not be realised through the means the group was pursuing.

“There may be Kenyans who may disenchanted with the our decision. Some would see it as an endorsement to secession and dismembering of this country.

“To them we say: Secession can only be achieved by far-reaching amendment to the constitution,” the judges ruled.

“Secession is a political agenda. MRC is certainly not a trade union, welfare society or a debating society. It has all the attributes of a political movement,” the judges noted.

“If MRC regards this decision as carte blance to disorder or lawlessness, then they are on their own. The court cannot mute the respondents from exercising their constitutionally ordained obligation of ensuring security for all Kenyans. Should MRC cross the line, then the State, as always can invoke the law including prevention of criminal activities.”

Presumably the Government will appeal, but this would seem a fairly straightforward application of the Constitution.  Advocating for secession is obviously highly controversial–in just about any country, and particularly in Kenya and especially on the Coast, with war in Somalia, a refugee crisis and the specter of an upcoming election given a history of election-related violence.  Nonetheless, it is times like these that require constitutions and the rule of law to provide boundaries within which to have these debates peacefully.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out in the national and regional election campaigns.  Maybe democracy assistance programs working on “party building” can take some of them to visit Parti Québécois?