Is Kenya Rolling Back the Democratic Gains that Have Taken so Many Years to Put Together?

This week’s activities by the leaders of the Jubilee Party, the Orange Democratic Movement and Wiper Democratic Party leave you gasping. Is the country not going back to Methuselah?

Against all pressure, there is a determined tripartite effort to make Parliament the rubber-stamp of a few individuals – basically the fellows at the top. Chinua Achebe has told us of a hopeless character who sold his machete and carried his empty sheath to battle. If Parliament is supposed to serve the people, does President Uhuru Kenyatta’s bullying of the Jubilee MPs around the Finance Bill negate this? Is Parliament at the risk of becoming an empty sheath?

It would seem that State House has taken away the blade for its whims. Kenyans are holding an empty scabbard. In this, State House has found strong allies in ODM’s Raila Odinga and Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka. The two are the proverbial outsiders who weep louder than the bereaved. By so doing, they have gone beyond their political “sell by” date. Odinga and Kalonzo are a liability to the citizens. They can only be relevant by blackmailing the nation with mayhem if they are not included in the State banquet.

If the democratic voices in the three parties do not stand up to the big man syndrome, Kenya is headed to a bad place. We have been here before. We were young people in high school – some of us – when the Jomo Kenyatta government began the mission to kill Parliament. In October 1975 the government was smarting from public outrage following the murder of J.M. Kariuki in March. A parliamentary select committee had implicated senior state officials in the murder. The Executive wanted to kill the report of the committee. They were angry that Parliament had asserted its independence and supremacy in the JM Affair. They went on a ruthless offensive against the Legislature.

A nominated MP called Philip Njoka referred to the members of the Elijah Mwangale probe committee as “a bunch of rogues.” Standing up for the dignity of the committee and Parliament, Martin Shikuku of Butere said, “Anyone trying to lower the dignity of the house wants to kill Parliament the way Kanu was killed.” For saying that Kanu was dead, Shikuku was packed away in detention for three years. He was arrested in the precincts of Parliament together with Deputy Speaker Jean Marie Seroney. For, Seroney had agreed with him that Kanu was dead. There was no need for Shikuku to substantiate the obvious, Seroney told Parliament.

It is difficult to tell what Shikuku would have said, had the Deputy Speaker allowed him to substantiate, as had been demanded by Clement Lubembe of Ikolomani. Today, the attitude of the Executive towards Parliament brings back memories of those horrific times. The only political party in the country had become the property of the Executive, following the banning of the Kenya People’s Union (KPU) in 1969. Starting with the infamous Limuru power play of 1966, Kanu had become an oppressive imp against independent minds. It would blossom into a full-blown monster.

For now, Kanu was trying to demean Parliament. And so Shikuku and Seroney spoke out in defence of the Legislature. Vice President Moi was livid. He led MPs on a series of walkouts whenever Seroney was in the chair, before eventually signing his detention order. If the Kanu government did not kill Parliament in 1975, it sent it into atrophy, at the very minimum. Kitutu East MP, George Anyona, was detained in 1976, for being vocal in Parliament. Eldoret North MP, Chelagat Mutai, was jailed on a spurious charge. Mark Mwithaga of Nakuru Town and Peter Kibisu of Vihiga were framed up and jailed. The rest sealed their lips, except when praising Kenyatta and his government. They Nyayo Era toed the same line and only made things worse.

Has Kenya returned to the dark days? If she has, is the attempt to kill Parliament more vicious than it was in the Kanu years? For all their sins against democracy, the Kenyatta and Moi governments kept State House out of direct meddling with Parliament. They were a lot subtler in their misuse of the Legislature. Uhuru and Odinga are blatant and tactless in theirs. They don’t really care what you think of them. They are the bosses and their word has the power of life and death over your cowardly political career. They have no need for subtlety in forcing their will down your throat.

Yes, there was scheming at State House and in Gatundu in the bad old years. Cabinet Ministers Mbiyu Koinange, Njoroge Mungai and Attorney General Charles Njonjo were all the President’s men. They positioned state-sponsored schemes and whims before Parliament, using regular sycophants, bullies and gadflies. In the fullness of time, Kenya had a dud Parliament. The Legislature became the excrement of society. The Executive was the mad dog, eating the excreta. Yet even in their most wretched times, the bad old order never summoned MPs to State House to read to them the Riot Act. The Jubilee habit of summoning MPs to State House to direct them on how to conduct business is bad for Kenya.

Kenya needs to be vigilant against creeping autocracy and, especially, the bid to kill Parliament. The urgency of the situation is underscored by the reality that they have wolves in sheep’s clothing, pretending to be with them. They run with the rabbits and hunt with the wolves. It was refreshing to see Parliament, against all odds stand firm even as the State smuggled the contentious Finance Bill through the House. Parliament must remain firm and reclaim its supremacy, for it is the voice of the people.