I’ve taken a long time away from blogging as life has been happening. Its been a crazy tough balance once I got back to work from maternity leave and had to balance full time work, project A, baby, and a marriage.
I’m taking a break from taking a break about blogging to post an email I thought was so incredibly important about the ongoing constitutional debate in Kenya.
It was written by Ngunjiri Wambugu of Kikuyus for Change and I think the point he makes are incredibly relevant at this important moment for Kenya.
I am at Adis Ababa with some colleagues, and we have just been reminded how it feels to be in a ‘controlled’ environment. It also reminded me of a comment I heard that was once made by President Museveni to some Kenyan journalists; he told them that Kenyans have too much democracy.
As we were standing at Adis International Airport waiting for our transportation, we watched the local population milling around & one could feel that ‘feeling’ that you cannot explain; the feeling that tells you someone is watching you on behalf of the state. It is something similar to what Maina & I felt in Nyeri over the weekend when we were showing the ICC movie-and police officers showed up to ask what we were doing, as a guy who claimed to be an AP Officer hovered around Maina with a notebook & pen.
A group of us started reminiscing about where we have come from as a country; & being younger than most of them, I was reminded of stuff that happened before I knew what civil society is.
I was reminded of the mwakenya years when university students and scholars could get thrown out of campus (and that was the easy option), for being friends with ‘undesirable’ elements. I was reminded of Rev Njoya being caned like a child, on a street, with police watching; I was reminded of Kepta and Rev Njoya being followed into All Saints Cathedral by armed police officers, teargased in there & beaten to near death, for daring to demonstrate before Moi; I was reminded of Prof Wangari Maathai standing up to Moi’s plan to build a multi-storey bulding at Uhuru Park, and what she went through: I was reminded of Muite, Orengo et al, being arrested in the middle of the night & airlifted to police cells in their home towns, to be charged there; I was reminded of Saba Saba; of the mothers keeping vigil at Freedom Corner & stripping naked, for their illegally detained sons; I was reminded of KBC; I was reminded of roadside firing & hiring; I was reminded of Saitoti’s humiliation, & the fiasco that was our elections; I was reminded of Moi saying how ‘hawa watu wataokotwa mmoja kwa mmoja, mpaka watetemeke’, and how some of our current leadership clapped at his words: I was reminded of Moi saying ‘kutoka leo sitaki kusikia mambo ya human rights tena’, and people clapping.
Then I was reminded of the optimism of 2002; how we screamt saying Moi has gone, Kenya is saved; I was reminded of Kenyans taking responsibility of their areas of residence, volunteering for community policing: I was reminded of citizens arresting corrupt police officers and taking them to police station; I was reminded of Kenyans travelling from upcountry to bring their taxes to KRA to help the new government; I was reminded of Kenyans walking so that the PSV industry could get streamlined: I was reminded of how we all believed that we now had an opportunity to right old wrongs & that there was nothing that would stop us from rebuilding our country.
Then I was reminded of the Standard raid; I was reminded of the First Lady’s visit to Nation; I was reminded of Michuki saying if you rattle a snake, you should not be surprised if you are bitten; & saying that the last constitution was bad because we had a good president, and how we did not need to change it because we had a good president now; I was reminded of Anglo Leasing: I was reminded of unknown MOUs made & broken; I was reminded of 2005 firings of the whole cabinet; I was reminded of the 2007/2008 PEV violence; and I was reminded of how helpless I felt then.
Then I started asking myself whether Kibaki’s laidback gentleman mien had lulled us to sleep; whether we realized that there was nothing to stop him doing all the things that Moi had done: I wondered whether we appreciated that part of the reason why we were having the open conversations on Kibaki, his government, the constitution, etc was because people had lost their liberty, limbs and lifes so that we could have this space; i wondered whether we realized that what we were enjoying was actually a temporary repreive, that was based on the operating structure of our current president; I wondered whether we realized that were it not for this particular president’s disdain for political posturing, he could do everything Moi had done; I wondered whether we had envisioned Kenya under a new president but this constitution after NO had won; maybe someone as energetic as Raila-active and focused, & who does not take criticism as well as Kibaki.
I pictured Martha Karua as president under this constitution; or Raila Odinga; or Gideon Moi; or, Uhuru Kenyatta; or Peter Kenneth: or Kalonzo Musyoka; or William Ruto, or Paul Muite, or Maina Kiai,….or even myself. Then I asked myself whether we as a country should first sort out issues of kadhi’s courts, abortion, etc, or put in place a structure that ensures that the law, not a person’s personality, is what determines how we are ruled.
That is when I realized that the YES vote is first & foremost all about managing our executive leadership to safeguard our current space. I realized that we were choosing between allowing the state to beat clergy like children on the street walk, & having them hold press conferences to take on the government; I realized that it was about ensuring no single person had the right to tell me I could be his friend & vice president, but not the next president: It was about ensuring appointments were open & transparent; It dawned on me that the new constitution had one primary and overriding benefit;-to expand & permanently secure the democratic space that Kenya was enjoying, and allow us to elect anyone president, without fearing whether he would turn into another Moi.
Folks, we must let the NO campaign run on single issues as it is doing-it is a hard-earned democratic right, and it was earned in ways that some of us cannot even fathom. However, let us also realize that the YES campaign is also single issue-it is about ensuring no-one else can ever do a ‘Moi’ in this country.
At that point I realized that the concerns on the Kadhi courts; was an issues I could deal with latter; I realized that I can afford to not understand the land clause; that I can live with the abortion clause as it is & work to have it worded different latter. I realized that alot that could be improved; but I also realized how dangerous the option we are not talking about was. The current constitution allows Nyayo Dungeons to come back into existence. It allows police to raid media houses; it allows universities to throw out students on political reasons; it allows clergy to be bludgeoned by shadowy security agents; it allows another Moi to exist.
Guys, the YES campaign is actually a single issue campaign;
Everything else can wait, everything else can be sorted out later; but if we do get the benefits in the draft constitution, we wouldnt even have the space to re-discuss the constitutional process again after Kibaki/The Coalition government are no longer at the helm. Without the 90% good we will not even be able to fix the 10% Bad
If we do not say YES this year, we will not even have the space to say NO in future