Tuesday, December 9, 2008



Published on 07/12/2008
By Dominic Odipo

We, members of the National Civil Society Congress, concerned that the crises now facing the nation have resulted from a leadership crisis and led to much suffering, hereby call on all Kenyans to take part in a national boycott of oil and oil products," a notice issued last week read.

"The activities of the boycott shall commence on December 10 (International Day for Human Rights) and end on December 12 (Jamhuri Day). We call upon the people to reclaim their rights by collectively forcing a reduction in the prices of oil and oil products in line with reductions in international prices, and cause a fundamental reduction in the prices of basic commodities."

This no-nonsense call for action was issued not by our members of Parliament or any other arm of the Government, but, in a manner of speaking, by the people themselves.

It was issued by a newly-minted national co-ordinating and policy-making organ of civil society, which has been accused of abandoning its role during President Kibaki’s first term.

Since NCSC’s first general assembly, held at Limuru at the end of October, more than 115 organisations have appended their signatures to its charter, putting it well on its way towards becoming the real, authentic voice of local civil society.

In its effort to force down the prices of essential commodities, this new voice of the people has designated December 11, which falls on Thursday this year, as the official Boycott Day.

NCSC wants all Kenyans to refrain from going to work or using private or public vehicles.

It is further calling on all oil companies to immediately reduce the price of kerosene and petrol to Sh40 and Sh65 a litre.


It boldly brands Government’s attempts to force down the prices of maize meal and petroleum products as "mere tokenism".

It is not yet clear how many people will heed NCSC’s call and stay away from work or transport this Thursday. But that, really, is not the point.

The main point is that, in the interests of the ordinary citizen, this call has been made. This new congress, an emerging new voice for Kenya’s voiceless, has stood up to be counted.

In its formal call for action by the people themselves, the congress asks us to act collectively to stop the culture of exploitation by multinational oil marketing companies which appear to be acting in cahoots with the wielders of political power to fleece long-suffering wananchi.

"We note that despite the continued decrease of oil prices internationally, (petrol pump) prices have remained exploitatively high, with adverse effects on other sectors of the economy.

"Commodities have now become unaffordable for the majority of people, compromising the right to food and, by extension, the right to life itself."

If anyone still needed proof that the political ground is shifting, this new congress is a shining example. The most important message that this congress of civil societies is passing now has very little to do with the prices of unga or kerosene.

Its central message is that the political class will no longer be allowed to monopolise power and use it exclusively for the entrenchment of its own interests.

This congress is boldly telling the political class that, if it does not use the power conferred upon it to protect the interests of the ordinary Kenyan, the people will organise themselves to inherit that power and, under the law, exercise it in pursuit of truly national interests and goals.

By directly calling upon the people to act in their own interest, this congress is telling all of us our political class has failed to protect our vital interests. And it is passing the even more revolutionary message that the days when we could allow the political class to ride roughshod over us, in its unholy complicity with foreign multinationals and other shady characters, are gone.

If need be, but within the law, the people themselves will act to protect their vital interests, no matter what the political class does or says.

Fifth estate

It is still too early to gauge what sort of organ this new congress will become but, if it can wean itself away from the dominance, paralysis and tyranny of western donor capital and reject all superficial ideological leanings, it could become a major force for good in this country.

If it could put the welfare of the citizens of this country first, as our Government and Parliament obviously do not appear to be doing, it could very soon fill a yawning political vacuum.

If the media is the Fourth Estate of our governing edifice, this congress could very well become a powerful Fifth Estate.

The writer is a lecturer and consultant in Nairobi.