Wednesday, 27 March 2013

From Lancaster House 1963 to Democracy in Peril, 2013.

In 1963 a delegation of Kenyan politicians from across the political divide gathered in Lancaster House to negotiate the country's independence constitution. There was a long stand-off between KANU and KADU with the former favouring a centralized system of governance and the latter favouring a decentralized Majimbo system. 

Exhausted at the slow pace of the negotiations and knowing he had 'the numbers' in the forthcoming elections at the end of May 1963, Jomo Kenyatta called out his delegates and told them he was going to agree to the Majimbo constitution to enable them to get on with the election, and as soon as they had won the election and formed government, then they would re-make the constitution in their own image.

And so the delegates returned to Kenya with the Majimbo constitution and an election was held which KANU won handsomely allowing them to form government with Kenyatta as the first Prime Minister.

True to his word, soon after independence, Kenyatta led the process of mutilating the constitution to centralize all power to himself. He began by starving the regional governments of resources, then wooed the opposition to his side leading to its dissolution. He dissolved the Senate and abolished the regional governments. From there it was downhill all the way as Kenya became a one party dictatorship first under Kenyatta and then under Moi.

Fast forward to 2010. Some politicians and power elites were hugely alarmed at the new constitution with its radical transformation agenda. Some of these individuals were honest enough to openly vote 'No' at the referendum. Others took a tactical retreat and, like Kenyatta in 1963, accepted the new constitution without any commitment to it. And like Kenyatta, they were biding their time awaiting the election that would give them the power they needed to start mutilating the constitution.

Now the election has come and gone (though the outcome is not yet settled, at least not till Saturday), but 'the numbers' I see in both chambers of the legislature are a cause for alarm. I get this eerie feeling that we are back in the 1960s. Even the cold war is beginning to replay itself with the East rushing to identify with one side and the West treading more cautiously.

After the dust settles on the election, something tells me our constitution will face an existential threat. The question then will be, shall we stand up to be counted when we are once again threatened by the forces of tyranny, or shall we be content to leave the fate of Kenya in the hands of our ethnic warlords and their gatekeepers?

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Celebrating democracy...

The KIRDI polling station is located in an open field. The light from the pressure lamps is not sufficient, so it is supplemented by the headlights of 2 vehicles. Party agents squint as they complete their forms using the soft glow from their mobile phones... Earlier, in the morning, we were graced by the presence of a former African Head of State with all the accompanying pomp, security and protocol.  Now we remain, a small band soldiering on and braving the evening chill under a cloudless sky, with countless stars bearing silent witness to our maturing democracy. I can almost hear the gentle wind whispering softly, 'How blessed you are to be a Kenyan...'

Observing the Kenyan election - 4 March 2013.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Remembering JM Kariuki

Today marks 38 years since Nyandarua North MP, JM Kariuki, was picked up from the Nairobi Hilton Hotel by senior police officers only for his badly mutilated body to be found a few days later in Ngong Forest. In 2008, I wrote this article which was published in The Standard Newspaper. I share it again today as a tribute to a man who was assassinated when I was in Standard 2, but whom I grew to admire for what he lived and died for. 

Posted on 01 April 2008

Josiah Mwangi Kariuki 

Note: Josiah Mwangi Kariuki (March 21, 1929–March 2, 1975) was a Kenyan socialist politician during the administration of the Jomo Kenyatta government. He held different government positions from 1963, when Kenya became an independent country, to 1975, when he was assassinated. 

By Njonjo Mue

Had he lived a full life, Josiah Mwangi Kariuki (popularly known as JM) would have turned 79 last Friday.

But the late Member of Parliament for Nyandarua North was brutally murdered on March 2, 1975, three weeks short of his 46th birthday, robbing Kenya of one of the most dedicated champions of the rights of the poor and a vociferous critic of inequality.

His death, though largely acknowledged as a political assassination by people close to the Kenyatta government, has never been resolved.

With the euphoria surrounding the national power-sharing deal still in the air and talk of a new political order in the offing, it is an opportune time to reflect on what JM stood for, what difference he would have made to our body politic had he lived, and how to safeguard his legacy and ensure that the ideals he lived and died for are not lost to a new generation of actors on the social, political and economic stage.

In the wake of the crisis that has engulfed Kenya since the disputed election last December, which plunged the country into unprecedented chaos, it is common ground that the election results announced by Mr Samuel Kivuitu merely provided the spark that lit the fire that threatened to consume this nation; the fuel had been accumulating over a long time.
Tribalism, past injustices and unequal distribution of resources such as land as well as pervasive poverty and economic inequalities were a time-bomb ticking away and waiting to explode.

And yet we cannot say we did not see it coming, for had we listened to our prophets, such as JM, we would not have come to this sad place. From the onset of independence in 1963, JM constantly warned those that seemed to have acquired a new disease of ‘grabbing’ thousands of acres of land while the majority of Kenyans remained landless.

“This is greed,” he thundered in Parliament in March 1974, one year before he was assassinated.

“It is this greed that will put this country into chaos. Let me state here that this greedy attitude among the leaders is going to ruin this country.”

JM specifically warned privileged elites from Central Province who were taking advantage of their positions to buy up land cheaply from other communities.

“They have even gone as far as Maasailand, saying that they are doing an experiment whereas the whole Masailand has been taken by those greedy people.”

His insight into the creeping inequality in the country acquired a prophetic tone when he warned that if we were not careful, the Kenya would become a country on “ten millionaires and ten million beggars”.

A walk through the slums of Kibera, Mathare, Korogocho and Kawangware today clearly illustrates that this prophesy has sadly come true.

Surrounded by rogues

JM foresaw the danger of ignoring the youth even before formal independence was granted to Kenya.

“If we forget these people (the youth)”, he told Parliament on November 14, 1963, “we will find ourselves surrounded by rogues who are rogues not because they want to become rogues but because they are hungry and this leads them into temptation. The Government should take action immediately before the situation goes from bad to worse.”

He called for a national assistance scheme for the widows and orphans of those who had been killed in the war of Independence and affirmative action for people living with disabilities. He condemned corruption and proposed that no minister or assistant minister should be allowed to sit on any board of a private company because this would lead to a conflict of interests.

On freedom, JM reminded us that political independence was not an end in itself.

“Political independence without economic independence is like having a wedding without a bride,” he told Parliament on March 21, 1974. He condemned dictatorship pointing out that emergent African leadership had perverted democracy to mean “Government by a few for a few on behalf of many, whether the many like it or not.”

Kenya is a country of forgetting and moving on. We ignore injustice after injustice until a crisis such as the one we are struggling to recover from catches up with us.

In these times of national reflection, one cannot help but wonder how far ahead we would be along the journey to true nationhood had we listened to prophets and statesmen like JM instead of killing them; had we taken care of our weak even as we celebrated our strong; had we understood the simple truth that there is enough to go around if it is shared equitably; had we resisted the urge to use our positions to take care of ‘our own’ because we understood that our own included all who call Kenya home.

Mercifully, it is not too late to build the Kenya that JM dreamed and spoke of. If we put our hearts and minds to it, we can be the generation that recovered the promise of a truly independent and democratic country where the individual and the state work together to build a just society.

Only then can we be able to enjoin ourselves to the hopeful vision of JM, proudly proclaimed in 1974, when he said: “In Kenya today, I can only see the dawn of a June morning rising majestically from the white oblivion into the serenity of life.”