Kenya is reaching a most delicate crossroads. How she carries her sacrifice beyond this crossroads is anybody’s guess. The pot of ethnic hostility was catapulted into the population with reintroduction of multiparty democracy in 1991. We failed to grasp the essence of democracy. This cauldron of death is accordingly coming to a dangerous boil. The country will have to choose between walking in the light and chasing after darkness and perdition.
Opposition leaders are eternally unhappy because of what they say is “serial stealing of (their) elections.” More obviously, they are unhappy that they are not in power. The truth about the last election is a point of detail. The issue is that they are not in power and therefore they are unhappy. In recent times, they seem to have vowed to make life living hell for President Uhuru Kenyatta. They possibly think that they could run the President out of town. They have discovered that the most worrisome thing for this government is the very thought of violent demonstrations. For every grievance they have – real or imagined – therefore, there is only one solution, “We will hold demonstrations.”
The magic wand of demos is, however, rattling not just the government. It is also upsetting ordinary citizens. Their life and activities must be put on hold while the demos last. This does not seem to concern the owners of the demos. But even if the wider economic implications don’t bother them, they have possibly not assessed the eventual political implications for their careers. History has taught us that a demo as an expression of displeasure must be civil and peaceful. A violent demo, on the other hand, must be enduring, swift and revolutionary. This is the experience everywhere from France, Mexico, the Philippines, Czechoslovakia and Romania – among many other places.
Occasional violent demos do more harm than good for the owners of the demo. CORD’s current demos fall into this category. They are erratic and without clear focus. One day they seem to be focused on removal of IEBC commissioners. The next day they are targeting undefined legislative reforms generally. On the third day they are about the structure of government, dragging in things like whether the country should have a Parliamentary political system with a Prime Minister or carry on with the current “winner takes it all” Presidential system. Before the citizens have even had the time to understand the difference between the two, they hear about protests over how many people should be involved in any dialogue to iron out these things.
It is not surprising that the spinoff has been ethnic hate speech. The political formations in the country take ethnic patterns. Political disagreement therefore naturally morphs into disagreement among tribes. The political elite likes it that way. Tribes are political tools. They can be whimsically mobilized against outsiders. Against this background, the demos have so far targeted and destroyed property and investment that belongs to people from certain tribes. In Kisumu two supermarkets were set on fire. The owners belong to a tribe that is seen as “offending” the rioters. It is instructive that CORD leaders – who are self-proclaimed votaries of justice and fairness – have not condemned this destruction of private citizens’ property. The owners of these shops had no quarrel with CORD leaders, whatever their private political preferences might be. Neither did the owners of the minibuses and kiosks that have been burnt in various parts of Nairobi.
Predictably, firebrands from the tribes that appear to be targeted are incensed about this “targeting of their people.” They have come out rattling the sabre and issuing terrifying ethnic war cries. These have only attracted further war cries from the other side. At the time of this writing, therefore, some six individuals – three each from CORD and Jubilee – are in the coolers because of instigating ethnic hate. The government says they must face the law. The opposition sees this as another opportunity for violent street demos. And so we are at the crossroads. Kenya must choose between the rule of the law and the law of the jungle.
If this government accepts to be blackmailed with sound bytes like “You are taking the country back to the dark days” it must concurrently accept to surrender the space for CORD “to take the country forward to dark days.” Civilized societies have laws that everybody must obey. The done thing is that the six must be taken to court. They must face fair trial and either suffer retribution or be acquitted. CORD leaders cannot claim to be reformist while at the same time displaying vile disrespect for law enforcement institutions and seeking to subvert, or short circuit, legal processes.
But it is not just the country that is at a crossroads. CORD leader Raila Odinga is at a crossroads, too. Once hailed in this column as a man on the right side of history, Raila is steadily sliding to the wrong side of history. His present methods are hard to justify. Each time the government concedes to him, he shifts the goal posts with new demands. This betrays bad faith. What does this gentleman really want? Would he appear to be keen on keeping the country in perpetual anxiety ahead of the next election, for whatever good he thinks this will bring his way? Does he probably dream of a Kenyan Arab Spring? This would be an impossible dream in a country so tribally divided and variegated economically, socially and politically. The best you could get out of such an effort is a terrible ethnic bloodbath.
Raila Odinga might want to reflect on what his demos mean for his own political future. If he has not noticed, the demos are only taking traction in parts of Nairobi, Kisumu, Siaya and Homa Bay. Besides, there were ripples in Kakamega, Kisii and Mombasa. This should tell him something. There might be need for change of tack. For now the Arab Spring option does not seem viable. A more probable option is to mobilize voters in his strongholds. A second option is to endorse one of his colleagues for the presidency. A final one is to carry on as he is doing and sink into political odium and oblivion.