Not just to free the prisoner, but the jailer as well…

Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery:

Remembering Nelson Mandela
Johannesburg, South Africa
December 10, 2013

To Graça Machel and the Mandela family; to President Zuma and members of the government; to heads of state and government, past and present; distinguished guests – it is a singular honor to be with you today, to celebrate a life unlike any other.  To the people of South Africa – people of every race and walk of life – the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us.  His struggle was your struggle.  His triumph was your triumph.  Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.

It is hard to eulogize any man – to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person – their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul.  How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.

Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by elders of his Thembu tribe – Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century.  Like Gandhi, he would lead a resistance movement – a movement that at its start held little prospect of success.  Like King, he would give potent voice to the claims of the oppressed, and the moral necessity of racial justice.  He would endure a brutal imprisonment that began in the time of Kennedy and Khrushchev, and reached the final days of the Cold War.  Emerging from prison, without force of arms, he would – like Lincoln – hold his country together when it threatened to break apart.  Like America’s founding fathers, he would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations – a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power.

Given the sweep of his life, and the adoration that he so rightly earned, it is tempting then to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men.  But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait. Instead, he insisted on sharing with us his doubts and fears; his miscalculations along with his victories.  “I’m not a saint,” he said, “unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection – because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried – that we loved him so.  He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood – a son and husband, a father and a friend.  That is why we learned so much from him; that is why we can learn from him still.  For nothing he achieved was inevitable.  In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness; persistence and faith.  He tells us what’s possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well.

Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals.  Perhaps Madiba was right that he inherited, “a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness” from his father. Certainly he shared with millions of black and colored South Africans the anger born of, “a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments…a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.”

But like other early giants of the ANC – the Sisulus and Tambos – Madiba disciplined his anger; and channeled his desire to fight into organization, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand-up for their dignity.  Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price.  “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination,” he said at his 1964 trial.  “I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.  But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela taught us the power of action, but also ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those you agree with, but those who you don’t.  He understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper’s bullet.  He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid because of his eloquence and passion, but also his training as an advocate. He used decades in prison to sharpen his arguments, but also to spread his thirst for knowledge to others in the movement.  And he learned the language and customs of his oppressor so that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depended upon his.

Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas are not enough; no matter how right, they must be chiseled into laws and institutions.  He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history.  On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of conditional release, reminding the Apartheid regime that, “prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”  But as he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal.  And because he was not only a leader of a movement, but a skillful politician, the Constitution that emerged was worthy of this multiracial democracy; true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms of every South African.

Finally, Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit.  There is a word in South Africa- Ubuntu – that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.  We can never know how much of this was innate in him, or how much of was shaped and burnished in a dark, solitary cell.  But we remember the gestures, large and small – introducing his jailors as honored guests at his inauguration; taking the pitch in a Springbok uniform; turning his family’s heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS – that revealed the depth of his empathy and understanding.  He not only embodied Ubuntu; he taught millions to find that truth within themselves.  It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.

For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe – Madiba’s passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate his heroic life.  But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or circumstance, we must ask:  how well have I applied his lessons in my own life?

It is a question I ask myself – as a man and as a President.  We know that like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation.  As was true here, it took the sacrifice of countless people – known and unknown – to see the dawn of a new day.  Michelle and I are the beneficiaries of that struggle.  But in America and South Africa, and countries around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not done.  The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality and universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important.  For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger, and disease; run-down schools, and few prospects for the future.  Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.

We, too, must act on behalf of justice.  We, too, must act on behalf of peace.  There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.  There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.  And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

The questions we face today – how to promote equality and justice; to uphold freedom and human rights; to end conflict and sectarian war – do not have easy answers.  But there were no easy answers in front of that child in Qunu.  Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done.  South Africa shows us that is true.  South Africa shows us we can change.  We can choose to live in a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes.  We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.

We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.  But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world – you can make his life’s work your own.  Over thirty years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land.  It stirred something in me.  It woke me up to my responsibilities – to others, and to myself – and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today.  And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better.  He speaks to what is best inside us.  After this great liberator is laid to rest; when we have returned to our cities and villages, and rejoined our daily routines, let us search then for his strength – for his largeness of spirit – somewhere inside ourselves.  And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, or our best laid plans seem beyond our reach – think of Madiba, and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of a cell:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

What a great soul it was.  We will miss him deeply.  May God bless the memory of Nelson Mandela.  May God bless the people of South Africa.

Reproduced from BBC News Africa.


Kenya@50 – a legacy of division, hatred and shattered dreams

Many seeds were planted at the birth of our nation, and in the presidential eras since. Some were seeds of wholesome grain but many were seeds of virulent weeds. In fact some were not seeds at all, but rather the eggs of various venomous reptiles and stinging insects.

Over these last fifty years, those seeds have germinated and those eggs have hatched – and we have harvested the products of both; but our harvests of hatred, division, inequality, corruption, incompetence, xenophobia and bare-faced lies have exceeded, one hundred fold, our harvests of nationhood, equity, progress and integrity in public life. The progeny of the seeds of weeds and the eggs of snakes and toxic insect plagues have come to define us as a nation!

The Lancaster House Conferences that preceded our independence were not an exercise in constitution-making – they were an exercise in ethnic brinkmanship that we see to this day, and that we have refused to outgrow. It was a battle between the ‘big tribes’ and the ‘small tribes’, a battle that the small tribes appeared to win – at least for a while – with the writing of ‘majimbo’ into the Independence Constitution. The virulent weed of tribalism was planted and well-watered.

Dead at birth…

But as we now know from the writings of insiders, that Constitution was dead  even before it lived. The ‘big tribes’ accepted majimbo to move the independence process forward – with the intention of killing it the moment they were in power as their superior numbers guaranteed that they would be. And this they proceeded to do – under the guise of consolidating national unity, enabling the new nation to move forward ‘as one’. BUT that national unity was never the intention of killing majimbo, or creating a de facto one party state. An Imperial Presidency, sitting cozy above the law, subject to no checks or balances was the goal – and this goal was resoundingly achieved. The egg that would hatch into the viper of dictatorship was laid!

In that first fifteen years, the nation enjoyed great economic progress – President Jomo Kenyatta having wisely looked West rather than East: hence nurturing entrepreneurship and innovation, and individual rewards for individual hard work. Africanisation of both the civil service and the mid- to low level economy progressed apace, while the upper-level economy was slowly transformed through parastatals. But with these seeds of wholesome grain, were also planted various weeds and eggs. Africanisation of the retail business was really ‘tribalisation’ of the same, while Africanisation of the public service was really creation of jobs for loyal ‘home boys’. The unholy union of these two begat the monster-child of ‘crony capitalism’ which fed and sustained the corruption industry, which rapidly became the pre-eminent sector of the economy.

Our new-found capitalism was particularly generously applied to matters of land, creating the community disaffections that continue to haunt the nation today; nurturing deep resentments across generations on the one hand, and on the other hand subjecting other ordinary citizens to periodic intense pain and suffering because they are ‘aliens’ and ‘outsiders’ in property that they legitimately acquired and paid for! ‘Extra-ordinary’ citizens that acquired property by the same legitimate means, and just as often by nefarious means, are of course not subjected to the same grief and agony!

With Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 – African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya, we laid yet another viper egg: state-sanctioned skewed development of the nation. We classified some parts of the country as marginal and unproductive, while others were classified as productive and high potential. We resolved that ‘limited’ state resources would be invested in the productive and high potential parts of the country – and God would take care of the rest! We institutionalised a tiered citizenship, depending on whether one was from a marginal or a high potential region! The toxic tree of regional inequalities was strategically planted, sheltering the weeds of tribalism.

In that first fifteen years, political assassination, banning of political parties, detention without trial, expedient amendments to the Constitution, and use of state machinery for narrow political ends were established as ‘legitimate’ means of governance.  The pleasure and/or displeasure of the head of state with the political direction and preferences of any given ‘community’ or ‘region’ determined the distribution of state resources – and the application of often brutal state sanctions!

And the pupil surpassed the master…

Then came the transition, from the Founding Father to his mentee of many years – and for 25 years, the pupil surpassed the master! The politics of personality, sycophancy, praise-singing and ‘unswerving loyalty’ were elevated to new levels. Those that were seen as the ethnic beneficiaries of the previous era were collectively punished for the sins of that era, the only discernible sin often just being that they were of THAT ethnicity; for their seven years of fat cows, real and imagined, they would now suffer many years of deliberately-starved thin cows. The message was clear: the tribe had a single mouth, and that mouth was represented by the Head of State and hence ‘it is our turn to eat’ hatched and matured as a national political tenet.  Repression extended beyond political figures and troublesome scholars and meddlesome media right into the homes of ordinary citizens. All aspects of state and governance became an extension of the head of state, and any law that even purported to limit his reach was quickly repealed or amended. Loyalty became the primary qualification for any job, not competence. And the nation paid a heavy price!

Briefly deluded…

In 2002 we sung ‘yote yawezekana’. And the nation appeared rejuvenated, and there was new hope and world-beating optimism. And a president-elect in a wheel-chair took the oath of office in a powerful voice, and made an inspiring speech. And we knew it would no longer be business as usual; we even made citizen arrests of corrupt traffic policemen, and led by a new minister we declared KICC ‘mali yetu’ and took possession of it! But that was just a delusional respite from the tedium of the life we were used to! Whereas we would no longer be detained for holding a different political view, we would not be invited to the feeding trough either! As for that new constitution that should have been in place within a few days, it was no longer a priority! A Memorandum of Understanding? What MoU? And the stinging insect of deceit and double-speak hatched in overwhelming inglory! There was remarkable economic progress, but in the toxic political environment we did not see this. As is naturally human in these circumstances, we did not see the village beauty’s dimples but only the pimple on the tip of her nose!

And the tree of bitterness and betrayal was liberally showered with the waters of disillusionment, a volatile mix that catastrophically exploded in 2007, consuming over one thousand lives and hundreds of thousands of livelihoods.  The blood-letting culminated in a National Accord, which however created even more discord! Even the brief look into the horror-some abyss of bloody genocidal anarchy did not knock us back to our senses – we hugged the pain, we nurtured the anger, we nourished the bitterness, and we cynically mined and exploited the tragedy for political capital. And from this has emerged a digital nation with a great divide; a nation of the young that are saddled with problems of the old; a nation that is stable, but neither calm nor peaceful; a nation with immense prospects, but little hope.

Wealthy but infirm at 50…

At 50 we are a nation in need of inspirational leadership. We are in need of a leader that shall resolutely reach across the divide even as his hand may be repeatedly slapped aside. We are in need of a leader who knows he may have won the election, but he must now win all the people; a leader that will submit his personal and political ego to the good of the nation. We are in need of a leader that will do what needs doing to pull the nation together, whatever the price.

We are in need of a jubilee leader – one that will make a clean break with the past; one that will reject the old ethnic rivalries; who will dismantle and scatter the established retrogressive power structures; who will do things a different way, not just with the public relations and the window dressing, but with the fundamentals that determine whether or not the nation actually changes direction and truly heads for the stars. A leader that will show us that indeed the old is gone and we are truly a new nation.

At 50, Kenya is in need of a revolutionary, an asymmetrical thinker, a confident captain, a brave pioneer; a president that we can admire even if we do not agree with. Do we have such a leader, do we?

Dr Willy Mutunga: Heroes and heroines become villains…

Starehe Boys’ Centre is the very embodiment of that truism in policy research: that education is the greatest equalizer. It is the one instrument that rudely but happily interrupts inter-generational transmission of poverty and inequality traps, as well as well as dismantling inherited class barriers.

Bred to lead: Starehe Boys' Centre students celebrate after the release of KCSE results

Bred to lead: Starehe Boys’ Centre students celebrate after the release of KCSE results

We must rescue talent from the graveyard of disadvantage or poverty. The gift of giving, the duty of serving – living for a cause larger than self, are the true marks of achievement. And talent without ethics; skill without values; and knowledge without conscience are the greatest curse that can ever befall an individual, society or nation. Just like natural resources have wrought immense suffering to undemocratic societies, so have natural talents to unconscionable individuals and communities.

The crisis facing this country in its governance and development agenda is the crisis of the elite, and the rather grotesque inversion of values: where truth is subverted, relative and even identity-driven; evidence is gutted at the slightest hint of inconvenience (Hilary Clinton has lately called this operating on an evidence-free zone); heroes and heroines become villains – those who do right are made to play defense rather than offense; and spivs command a disproportionate voice and space.

An elite or a society that rises on its feet to applaud the disregard or dishonor of an agreement and praises it as strategy, instead of condemning it as betrayal, is both sick and bankrupt. There is an over-supply of the elite, and an undersupply of values, ethics, or conscience. Whereas monetized measurements put 45% of Kenyans below the poverty line, I guess ethical instruments would have well over 90% of Kenyans living below the poverty line of values, our renowned, yet evidently suspect claim to religious piety as a nation notwithstanding. Our elite suffers from an anemic inversion of values: constantly deploying their enormous talent, skill and knowledge to aid and abet national regression projects.

Our educational system, particularly national schools such as Starehe, continues to produce the country’s political, economic, judicial, administrative elite. You are part of Kenya’s figurative ‘talented tenth’. This is the elite that runs this country and therefore must take responsibility for the country’s not-too-impressive development and governance outlook that we see 50 years after independence. The quality of our development and governance, as with all other countries all over the world, is directly a reflection of the quality of our elite. Tribalism, corruption, underdevelopment – the main scourges that afflict our country, all products of institutional dysfunctionalism – are not a creation of the masses. They are the political, economic and social toys invented by the elite for self-promotion and private gain. The unholy alliance between the two occasionally exists, but the architects, perpetrators and beneficiaries in chief are the elites.

We have an elite that ‘speaks in tongues’ – civil in the formal civic space, but quite native in motive, values, ambition, and operation. An elite that is as vernacular as the next opportunity permits, but one which cloaks its irredeemable attraction to the ‘natal centre’ with sophisticated gadgetry and technology talk. Elitism that is ephemerally modern but innately nativist. In times of crisis, and in times of opportunity; when principle is on trial or when opportunism is on offer, this elite always gravitates to the womb. You cannot build a modern, democratic society if a society’s elite has not risen to its historical mission and realize that society’s transformation is usually led by, figuratively speaking, by a talented tenth – the elite. Thinking about our situation today, the immortal words of William Butler Yeats in the poem, The Second Coming, come to mind: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold… the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Who are the best? In this room, ladies and gentlemen, are Kenya’s elite. They have not only had a great education but have also been raised in a place of great culture and tradition. Whether you walked to school, travelled by train or bus, only flew home once a year on the army’s charity Christmas flight, you learnt to treat your classmate as your brother, your dorm mate as your confidant, your club mates as your friend. You were all treated as equals, regardless of tribe, home region or economic standing. By virtue of your high school education, you all entered into the 33 per cent bracket of those who have attained that level of education (according to the Kenya Bureau of Statistics Report, 2013). Many of you had the door to university education opened up as well, and the Starehe name continues to open many other doors to this day.

We always argue that it is the masses that choose tribal and corrupt leaders. However, how can they choose differently when that is the only choice they are practically given? I see it in the Judiciary where the ethnic leadership of a public or private institution is becoming a fairly accurate predictor of the ethnic identity of the lawyer that will be on record prosecuting the case! In most cases these two would have attended some national school, and I am sure those were not the values that they were taught. Isn’t it depressing, shouldn’t we be embarrassed, aren’t we naïve to expect us to progress as a nation when the leaders of the country, the academic, economic, legal, business and political elite of this country, cannot trust anyone outside their tribes in the most sensitive of cases?

Peter Ekeh, a Nigerian Professor of Political Science, has described the problem as one of the crisis of the two publics. The first public is that of family, clan and tribe; the second, the rest. We set different standards for different publics. Looking at the problem of corruption, how do we as the elite react? If it is someone from the first public, we look for all sorts of reasons why they should be excused. If it is the rest of the public, we rightly call upon them to carry their own crosses. Principle is variable and malleable, depending on the ethnic identity of the culprit. Identity has become the new penal code on the basis of which guilt and innocence is determined and pronounced.

Most of you think this is only a vice in the public sector; it isn’t. The private sector is even worse in terms of employment, promotion, and award of bonuses. Ethnic favouritism is rampant, ethnic concentration in recruitment prevalent and we must own up and style up.

These inverted values play out even more when we look at how we treat whistle blowers in this country. One who exposed the county’s largest corruption scandal, David Sadera Munyakei, died destitute in 2006, after being sacked from Central Bank of Kenya and remaining largely unemployed afterwards. Another was hounded and subjected to investigations for buying cheaper cars. One other was exiled both from country and community for daring to raise corruption issues. Many in the private sector have been sacked, denied promotion and bonuses for doing the right thing. Very close to home, we have seen a maddening rush to seek ethnic refuge whenever a corruption matter is raised. We cannot allow a country to have corruption as the fourth arm of government – the most powerful and the one that controls all the other arms. And corruption’s corrosive effect on democratic institutions and a country’s development become even more vile and pronounced when it intersects with ethnicity.

The Constitution of 2010 created many institutions that are now fighting for space in the public sphere. The Salaries and Remuneration Commission has sparred with both the National Assembly and the County Assemblies; Parliament has fought itself and reportedly, continues to do so with Senators and Members of the National Assembly openly differing about the importance of the two Houses. The Judiciary has also not been spared and has seen its independence threatened by many forces.

All these institutional contestations may be a necessary messy part of our democratic evolution as institutions attempt to establish the right constitutional equilibrium in their relationships under the new constitutional order. However, these contests must take place within and under the law for we are a country that professes the rule of law. No institution, no individual and no agency is above the law, and as Montesquieu, the French philosopher, memorably proclaimed several centuries back, ‘Be ye ever so high, the law is above you’.

We must choose whether we want to be a country governed by the rule of law as written in text and as pronounced by courts, or rule by man and might as is exercised by men. The former is what I see in the Constitution, 2010 and in Vision 2030. You, as the elite, must speak out when the rule of law is threatened. You must not let ethnicity or private gain colour your principle, professional calling or values. Principles and values, and on issues so central and so clear on humanity’s historical advancement such as these, have no vernacular editions. The Judiciary learnt in 1988 that even after so many years of ingratiating with those in power, the gift was the removal of the tenure of judges and the Attorney General. The ethnic identity of those judges did not matter. And neither did their business relationships. So principle pays; absence of it is costly to all.

What have we done as the elite in this room, as old Starehians? Those in the public sector have either shied away from the discussion or gone back to the two publics for answers. Others have dodged the public interest and policy questions and chosen to create private solutions for public problems. When the health sector fails, we go to private hospitals; when public education systems fail — our children attend private schools and universities. Remember always the engraving on the Assembly Hall door: To those to whom much is given, much will be required.

The forces of social evil and inequality today are so strong that we need an equally strong voice in the opposite direction. That is what the masses need — a constant dissenting but progressive voice, a clarion call for greater social change and transformation. We need to join forces for good. That is why the focus of such alumni organisations as this one must change. We must start banding together for public social change, not only for private endeavours such as exchanging business contacts.

Raise your voices above the din, on the podium of an esteemed institution, a respected institution. Speak up against the culture of crises that we have all become so accustomed to. Eliminate the poverty of ambition and values. Reframe the definition of achievement beyond self and personal to concern about your constituency, your county, your country’s achievement. The ‘talented tenth’ like you are not ornaments for ethnic display and admiration in exchange for ethnic legitimacy and ethnic patronage; you are national gems needed in the civic space. The talented tenth, like you, are not expected to navel gaze in self-satisfaction, but must see yourselves as the instrument and force of good for social transformation. Reverse the inversion of elite values as a precondition for society’s and personal development.

In the words of the Starehe motto: Natulenge Juu! Note the plurality: it is not Nanilenge juu – society is your business.

This article is reprinted verbatim from ‘The Star‘. Dr. Willy Mutunga is the Chief Justice and President of Supreme Court of Kenya. This is an excerpt of his speech presented during the Old Starehean Society annual dinner on November 20, 2013.

Dictatorship is creeping up on us slowly….

A reproduction of a powerful opinion piece by Macharia Gaitho in the Daily Nation:

Advocate Ahmednassir Abdulahi Advocate interviews advocate Rosemary Atieno Okumu at the Supreme Court on the 25th of June 2012.

Advocate Ahmednassir Abdulahi Advocate interviews advocate Rosemary Atieno Okumu at the Supreme Court on the 25th of June 2012.

First they came for the journalists, and I did not speak out . . . because I was not a journalist.

Then they came for civil society, and I did not speak out . . . because I was not civil society.

Then they came for the judges, and I did not speak put . . . because I was not a judge.

Then they came for me . . . and there was nobody left to speak up for me.

This contemporary Kenyan re-telling of Martin Niemoller’s withering critique of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany sums up perfectly our own situation.

Dictatorship is creeping up on us slowly and insidiously. From inside our fragile, individual comfort zones, we refuse to recognise the looming danger because we are not the ones targeted. It’s always those “others” that are being silenced, so that’s their problem, not ours.


Media and NGOs are easy targets because they are a nuisance to many, especially those who will not countenance the regime being held to scrutiny.

The Judiciary is an easy target right now because of the way it exposed its own frailties with the Gladys Shollei saga. The Chief Registrar of the Judiciary fought back against the Judicial Service Commission onslaught by enlisting reactionary political forces keen to sabotage the emergence of a reformed Judiciary.

Even after Mrs Shollei was forced out of office, Parliament continued an onslaught targeting JSC members, mostly combative lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi, who had led the battle against the registrar.

The parliamentary hearings against the JSC were a farce. The chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs, Mr Samuel Chepkonga, was openly partisan when Mrs Shollei took her case to him, and also in the way he ran the hearings.

The outcome was predictable, given the Jubilee dominance in the House and lack of an effective opposition.

The composition of the team President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed to investigate the suspended Judicial Service Commissioners is telling. Conservative cheerleaders with a chip on their shoulders such as Mr Justice Aaron Ringera and Ms Jennifer Shamalla probably make the impending hearings a waste of time.

More enemies than friends

One can comfortably predict that the goose is cooked for some of the suspended JSC members.

But then who will mourn for Mr Ahmednassir? The campaign to neuter the Judiciary is premised on the fact that in the crosshairs is a man who has made more enemies than friends in shaping the new-look court.

Mr Ahmednassir stood out during the confirmation hearings and interviews as the JSC member who had done his homework. He was able to bring out the failings and shortcomings of the applicants who did not measure up, and to ease in those who met his favour.

The Jubilee campaign watched with horror the composition of an independent Supreme Court led by Dr Willy Mutunga from the ranks of what they baptised ‘Evil Society’, and the exit of many Kanu-era judges who invariably toed the establishment line.

To Jubilee’s pleasant surprise, however, the Mutunga Supreme Court unanimously upheld President Kenyatta electoral victory. Mr Ahmednassir played a prominent role in the petition as lawyer for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. His address to the court focused not so much on the legal niceties, but in scornfully telling the judges that they had no choice but to find for his client.

In subsequently going for Mrs Shollei, Mr Ahmednassir might have reminded the Jubilee establishment that it had in its midst a monster it could not control.

The Judicial Service Commission, however, is not the ultimate target. That is just a phase in a campaign aimed at re-establishment of a pliant, Kanu-era court that will dance to the whims of State House.

Once the independent media is neutralised, ‘evil society’ silenced and an independent Judiciary crippled, the stage will be fully set for reincarnation of the Kanu regime clothed in digital colours.

The late President Jomo Kenyatta must be looking on with satisfaction, and President Moi purring with satisfaction. The children of Kanu are in charge.