We are on slippery rocky terrain. It appears that things might get worse before they get better. The Cord protests against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) have already claimed lives. More could follow. The protests began in a section of the central business district in Nairobi. They are now spreading to other parts of the country. In Nairobi itself, the theatre of protest has expanded to the rookeries of Kibera.
Thanks to indiscretion in the National Police Service, the drama is likely to engulf other localized communities. Someone within the police service thinks that the best way to stop the demonstrators is to confine them to their homes. “Keep them in their slums,” seems to be the philosophy. The spinoff is that you create more chapters of the demos. The police will need to rethink their tack. I have listened keenly to Government Spokesman, Eric Kiraithe and to Police Spokesman, Owino. I have failed to see their honesty and logic.
TV footage shows buoyant crowds spilling into the streets of Nairobi. The excitement goes into crescendo with the arrival of Cord leader, Raila Odinga. Suddenly, horse pipes are in full throttled piddle. Tear gas gets into the mix. Loud explosions. Smoke. Pandemonium. Gun sound? I don’t know whether it is of live or rubber extraction. But one thing is clear. All hell is loose.
The police strike at virtually every human being in sight. An overwhelmed protester falls flat on the ground. The police have a field day pounding the motionless body. The performance is orgasmic. They take turns to pound the thing on the ground, before racing after other mobile objects.
It is difficult to justify this. Impossible. Assuming that the fellow broke the law, you would expect him to be arrested at the point where he was overwhelmed. No. He was pounded and discarded in the streets. Truncheons bring down people in flight. If this is a harbinger for things to come, the days ahead look bad. The situation is exacerbated by this week’s hardening of positions. The Government has ruled out dialogue with Cord, “outside constitutional provisions.” Cord, on the other hand has ruled out “dialogue through Parliament.” They insist on “direct engagement with the President,” and even then “only after IEBC has been disbanded.” Prepare, therefore, for a drawn out battle of wits.
Ultimately, the two belligerents will do well to attempt to see each other’s perspective. The critical question ought not to be who outperforms the other. It ought to be the professed end the parties crave. Cord, for example, wants the IEBC to be disbanded. Does it matter if this is done through Parliament, or through sitting down with President Kenyatta?
If you were Kenyatta, you would get the impression that they wanted to achieve at least two goals – sinister goals. The first would be to humiliate you. Hence ultimatums come from a senator, telling you that they will only engage with Jubilee at the very highest level. Take note that the ultimatum is not from any one of their three principals. But even if it did, the three principals are not your equals – even if rolled into one. For you are the President. On the other hand, they have no “clearly defined constitutional role.” The Constitution does not even have the words “Opposition” or “Leader of the Opposition.” Their basis for asking to talk to you “one on one” is not clear in law.
But a more poignant reason why Kenyatta would seem hesitant is that Cord is asking him to delegitimize his Presidency, by outlawing the commission that legitimized him. If this is a rogue commission, it must follow that his presidency is also a rogue presidency. On that basis alone, Kenyatta is likely to dig in for the long haul. So, again, what is Cord’s real intention? Do they seem to go into the panic mode each time Jubilee appears to be making space for the change they crave, regardless that Jubilee is only ready to engage them through Parliament?
But what is on the other side of the coin? You have a political minority – as the Constitution calls them – who believe that they were cheated out of victory. They believe that the IEBC was compromised and that it cheated them and the electorate, too. The chairman of the IEBC – and one or two others – habitually mocks the minority and their non-elected leaders. The chairman has said of Raila Odinga, “He is a perennial loser and complainant. He is adept at making others scapegoats for his failures and electoral defeats. He is a man used to ruining others . . .” These are loaded caustic words from a commission that is supposed to be independent. Even if there is no bond between Jubilee and IEBC, it is impossible to see how Raila could accept to go to an election under this commission.
You may very well ask, “So why does he not stay out?” Why should he stay out? He has a right to compete and to be confident about the umpire’s neutrality. Beyond this, you cannot ignore the fact that nearly half of the electorate voted for him. This is what legitimizes Cord’s request for dialogue. It is not about Raila. It is about half of the electorate – half of Kenya’s population. This is why Jubilee may want to loosen up. But for Jubilee to loosen up, Cord must stop looking like their goal is to humiliate the President, or to delegitimize his presidency this late in the day. There is little, if anything, to be gained.
Together, Jubilee and Cord will do well to remember that they are not the only stakeholders. That is why instead of expanding the theatre of violent confrontation, they should expand the theatre of consultation. To Jubilee: if the violence escalates, you may soon lose grip of things. You will have no capacity to provide the leadership they are asking you to give. This is music to Cord.