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Panic kicks in as Jubilee leaders reawaken memories of Kanu era

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The overwhelming approval in 2010 of Kenya’s new constitution was meant to, once and for all, bury the ghosts of the Kanu era that had been replete with human rights abuses and blatant disregard of the rule of law.

The Constitution promised a new system of administration and provided sufficient safeguards to prevent the country from sliding back to the excesses of the autocratic Moi era.

But with the recent State crack down on the media, opposition leaders and the civil society as well as changes in, and blatant disregard of the law, observers are warning that Kenyans may have celebrated prematurely.

The wave of optimism that characterised the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010 seems to be evaporating and in its place is a growing fear of a return to dictatorship and misrule characterised by an air of arrogance among key government figures, clampdown on opposition figures, holding accused persons incommunicado without access to lawyers, revocation or suspension of passports/citizenship, muzzling the media and limiting the rights of assembly, to picket and to present petitions.

Former MP Koigi wa Wamwere, one of the longest-standing agitators for good governance, is one of those who say Kenyans may have celebrated a little too early.

“It is like we never quite wanted to abandon the past,” he told Sunday Nation this week.

“Yes, we promulgated a new Constitution that was hailed as progressive but there was a fatal mistake that was made and that was, that just like at independence, those who had fought for the new Constitution surrendered it to those who had been for the status quo.”

“We did not ask ourselves how safe this baby would be in the hands of those who had killed the first baby,” he put it metaphorically, adding that the current government is “basically a baby of the Kanu regime”.

The government is however fending off the charge by critics that it is chipping away at Kenya’s long held reputation as the linchpin of democracy in Africa.

The comparison with the single-party era only looks at a complex issue from a tiny perspective, cautions Raphael Tuju, the Jubilee Party Secretary-General and Cabinet Secretary without a portfolio.

“We have a right to hold the opinions we hold. That is the essence of democracy. But there is a certain amount of growing up we need as a country because this country is for all of us,” Mr Tuju said.

He sought to fend off similarities between acts of the current administration with those of Kanu by linking the present opposition leadership to independence party, which ruled Kenya like a fascist state up to 1992.

“When you talk of old Kanu days, where was Musalia Mudavadi? Where was Kalonzo Musyoka? Who was at one time the secretary general of Kanu? When did they start talking of civil liberties?” he asks.

The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) has lined up a series of events starting Monday to protest what it says is a worrying disregard of the rule of law.

“There is no question that our nation now faces perhaps the greatest challenge to the rule of law in recent times with the violation of rights and the brazen disregard of court orders by State and public officers,” LSK President Isaac Okero warned on Saturday.

The LSK is planning a ‘yellow ribbon’ campaign reminiscent of the 2002 campaign when lawyers wore a yellow ribbon to protest high level of impunity.

At the time, current Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo was the chairperson of LSK.

An ad hoc committee of six lawyers called the Yellow Ribbon Memorandum Committee has also been established under the chairmanship of Chris Gitari to collect information on court orders that have been disobeyed across the country.

The report will be submitted to the Office of the President, the Chief Justice and the Speakers of National Assembly and the Senate.

The society is also planning a five-day court boycotts and peaceful demonstrations from Monday to Friday.

In their court boycotts, only the election petitions will be spared, according to Mr Okero because they are “are subject to strict timelines”.

“Protests will be by way of marches organised by each branch ending at the local law courts,” Mr Okero explained.

He said discussion sessions on obedience and enforcement of court orders and the importance of the universal adherence to the rule of law will then be held.

The society is also taking part in the case on expulsion of lawyer Miguna Miguna from the country and will also be instituting proceedings on the matter of shutdown of television transmission.

Like the Moi regime that thrived on arbitrary arrests, holding people incommunicado and torture, the Jubilee government has since January 30 when Nasa “swore in” its leader Raila Odinga as the “People’s President”, been arresting opposition leaders and denying even their lawyers access to them.

The first to be arrested was Ruaraka MP Tom Kajwang’. Only the police knew where he was being held.

Following the same tactics used by Kanu during special branch days, Mr Kajwang’ was eventually presented in a Ngong’ court where he was released on a Sh50,000 cash bail.

Next was Dr Miguna who was arrested on February 2 after police broke into his Runda home.

Despite several court orders to have him either presented in court or released on bail, he remained in police custody for five days when out of the blues, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i issued an order for Mr Miguna to “be removed from Kenya to his country of origin, Canada”.

The manner and legality of the deportation has been questioned.

In an interview with the BBC from Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, on his way to Canada, Dr Miguna said he was held in different police stations and denied food.

“I was kept standing and when I was able to sleep I slept on cold bare floor without anything.

“There was a time I was getting an attack and I demanded to see a doctor but they refused. I have been tortured,” Dr Miguna said.

Among those who have condemned Dr Miguna’s expulsion from Kenya is former Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua who described it as the height of impunity.

Both Dr Matiang’i and Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet have vowed the crack down on Nasa politicians and other ‘rogue’ leaders will continue even as they deny they are violating the law and constitutional rights of the politicians.

“You break the law. You face consequences,” Mr Boinnet warned on Friday.

Apart from the arrests, a number of opposition politicians have received letters from the Immigration Department notifying them of suspension of their passports, again mirroring the excesses of the Moi regime when the State could withdraw the all-important document at will.

Among the well-known victims of such government tactics is Salim Lone, currently an adviser to Mr Odinga whose citizenship was revoked in 1986 by the Moi regime while he was working for the UN.

Mr Lone had been held incommunicado for three days by Moi’s dreaded Special Branch and accused of, among other allegations, supplying weapons to Mwakenya dissidents.

Meanwhile, ahead of the 1997 elections, the Moi regime also stripped another Kenyan Sheikh Khalid Balala, then the leader of Islamic Party of Kenya on claims he was a Yemeni.

The government took the extreme measure when Mr Balala was on a trip to Germany.

It was not until July 2002 that Sheikh Balala got back his Kenyan citizenship. 

According to Mr Wamwere, being forced into exile as the Moi and now Jubilee governments are doing is not any different from being imprisoned.

“Like Kenyatta and the Kapenguria Six when they were in detention, you are given a false sense of freedom, even if only materially, if you are well taken care of,” Mr Wamwere said.

Jubilee government’s efforts to muzzle the media also mirrors the single party era of President Moi when journalists were arrested, tortured and charged with sedition or subversion.

In disregard of the constitutional safeguards to the freedom of the media, the Communications Authority of Kenya, on orders from the highest echelons in government, disabled the transmission signals of NTV, KTN News and Citizen TV for covering the “swearing-in” of Mr Odinga as the people’s president on January 30.

For days, the television stations remained off air despite a court order to have the government end the ban.

In defending the media ban, Mr Tuju says that a good media should operate in a system of checks and balances.

“According to the constitution, the executive, the legislature, the judiciary as well as the media are independent.

“But they cannot operate in isolation hence the need for interdependence. When a party in this interdependence thinks that it holds the nuclear option, then we lose it,” Mr Tuju said.