Saturday, December 6, 2008



By Joseph Murimi

A silent ‘revolution’ executed through the people power is playing out in the country.

It is coming out by pressuring leaders to make decisions and take the road they would not have chosen, like sharing of power and supporting the recommendations of Justice Philip Waki on post-election violence.

It is also discernible from the forced price cuts for essentials such as unga and petrol, as witnessed this week.

It casts the picture of a Kenyan voter — caught in the circumstance where there is no official opposition and rising cynicism on politicians — rising up to be heard.

Kenyans pressurised Members of Parliament to eat from the sweat of their brow through paying tax on their fat monthly cheques. Despite their defiant silence and Speaker Kenneth Marende’s declaration that only those ‘sufficiently philanthropic’ can do so, the legal process for taxing them is on the table. The voter simply warned those who resist would meet their political Waterloo in 2012’s elections.

When Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Agriculture Minister William Ruto visited Kibera last week for a symbolic PM’s ‘homecoming’, they were confronted with chants for the reduction of maize meal. The Cabinet took action and prices came down almost by half.

When power tariffs soared to the skies over a year’s period, again the average Kenyan’s loud remonstrations seared the ears of the leaders and the President ordered a reduction, through slashing energy tax.

This week, pump stations’ fuel prices fell by about Sh15 a litre, first because of shrinking global prices, but more because of public pressure on The Government to return price controls on the commodity if the dealers held on. Previously, prices hardly fell by the same margin as in the international market. Dealers always retained the old prices, arguing they were clearing the old stock secured at a higher cost.

When Kenya swayed in the winds of post-election violence, with its wave of killings, dispossessions and displacement, President Kibaki and the Prime Minister did not only grapple with the pressure of the internationally appointed mediators. The average Kenyan pressured for a political settlement and in the end, the two principals walked half the way to meet the other at the negotiating table.

Without a single shot being fired or a teargas canister lobbed, Kenyans managed to tame the skyrocketing fuel and maize prices. The Government was compelled to respond to the maize crisis plea through threats of mass action, civil disobedience and peaceful protests.

Though the price did not reach the Sh40 mark demanded by Kibera residents during Raila’s homecoming party, it fell to Sh72 through the people power.

Their ‘guns’ are now trained on MPs who have declined to have their hefty allowances chopped, or to support the Waki Report and Justice (rtd) Johann Kriegler’s recommendations on electoral and constitutional reforms.

So drastic are the proposals, with Waki’s suspects facing life sentences if they would be found guilty by the ‘domestic’ tribunal, or the solitary life led by such international villains as former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Mr Charles Taylor, the disgraced former warlord and leader of Liberia.

Divided government

Kriegler’s commission hammered the last nail in the coffin of Electoral Commission of Kenya, a move that was roundly supported by wananchi. The team led by Mr Samuel Kivuitu, blamed for the bungled elections, is now on the way out.

Commentators attribute the rising sense of public assertiveness and consciousness to widening of the democratic space, and a rising urge, following the post-election violence, to keep politicians on their toes. They also argue there is a free flow of information and the public is more knowledgeable and curious.

A divided Government and a highly exploitative capitalistic system have made the ground fertile for a ‘civilian’ revolution, says Mr Ndung’u Wainana of the International Centre for Policy and Conflict.

Wainana argues Kenyans have struggled for civil liberties for more than 20 years and have now realised they can exercise some ‘sovereign’ power over the State and the leaders.

"We are going to see more of this as Kenyans exercise their powers. In the next level they will consolidate these powers. They are no longer going to be taken for granted,’’ argued Wainaina.

He said, for instance, Kenyans are very clear that the proposed tribunal to try post-election violence suspects meets certain standards or the trial be passed on to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Former Kabete MP Paul Muite said ‘real’ change could only come when the citizen is part of the process. He said what is happening in the country is ‘commendable’ and healthy because Kenyans are now demanding their rights.

"Change will never come from a few people. Kenyans have realised that successive governments have been of the rich, for the rich and by the rich,’’ Muite said.

Tribal barriers

The former lawmaker said the beauty of the ‘revolution’ taking place in the country is that it involves all Kenyans and there is no issue of tribalism. He said everybody is being hurt by the high prices irrespective of tribe.

Muite believes that once the citizens have a proper taste of their power, they will continue to demand more and more, especially good governance.

Law Society of Kenya (LSK) Chairman Okong’o Omogeni associates the current developments to the expanded democratic space .

"More than ever before in our country’s history, we have a less dictatorial regime. Our current crop of leaders are individuals who listen to the people," he said.

More importantly, Omogeni observes that the biggest credit goes to the general public. The people of Kenya, he noted, have been forthright and unrelenting in demanding for their rights.

"Luckily, the top leadership in the Grand Coalition Government is fairly responsive to the people’s demands," he said.

Also on the LSK boss’ roll of honour are members of the Fourth Estate, whom he argues have been consistent in highlighting the people’s plight. He says little would have been achieved without a vibrant media that is sensitive to the people’s needs.

Price control

But lawyer Harun Ndubi, director of Haki Focus, argues not much has been achieved: "Some of the gains, such as the fall in fuel prices, are a consequence of market competition. Otherwise nothing has been done at policy level to control prices of essential commodities."

Ndubi wants ’objective and statistical policies’ put in place with price ceilings that will prohibit companies and other producers from exploiting consumers.

People power is a weapon in the public hand to bring leaders to account— a perpetual audit of their decisions, actions and intentions.

The attempt by ECK commissioners to hang on at Anniversary Towers using the courts was received angrily by the people. Justice minister Martha Karua on Wednesday, when Kivuitu led a team of five commissioners to her office, told them the red flag was up. A commissioner who attended the meeting said Karua was categorical that they had to go whether they were innocent or not.

Karua reportedly told them that the public mood was not in their favour and Kriegler had recommended an overhaul of ECK.

"She told us that we had to go whether we had filed a court case or not,’’ said the commissioner.

Karua confirmed meeting Kivuitu and the commissioners but declined to offer any details.

Either way, the residual people power seems, just as a small river furrows its way to join a larger one, to be taking root in Kenya, and the political leadership is struggling to keep pace.