Friday, December 12, 2008



By Kipkoech Tanui

When, in 1982, Constitutional Affairs Minister Charles Njonjo, proposed to move the Bill that constitutionally made Kenya a one-party State, it was Vice-President Mwai Kibaki who seconded it.

Ten years later, after reformists had fought and forced former President Moi to drop Section 2(a) of Constitution, Kibaki registered Democratic Party.

This was the ‘designer’ vehicle whose engine overheated and stalled as he tried to unsuccessfully race to State House in 1992 and 1997. He flogged it again in 2002, but with a ‘Tosha’ endorsement from Mr Raila Odinga, he was given a victory vehicle, bearing the colours of every hamlet.

Today, one of the most unpopular statements one can make against President Kibaki, attracting fireballs from his diehards, is that he was part and parcel of the rickety Kanu machinery.

Kibaki featured in the pro-reforms protests that gave birth to the 1997 Inter-Party Parliamentary Group agreements, whose hallmark was a level playing field and a free media. At one point, he was even tear-gassed when police stormed the All Saints Cathedral. His friend and age mate, Mr Njoka Mutani, the former MP for Nithi, was struck with a police baton and his wrist broken. Some of us would occasionally see him, plastered and in pain, commiserating with Kibaki at the Opposition benches in Parliament.

Come 2005-2007, Kibaki, the new President, ignored the same IPPG agreements and unilaterally filled the Electoral Commission with his own choices. The election was then bungled under the might of incumbency, an executive lynch-mob and politics fanned by greed, not creed. Today, the burden is on the President to disband his assembly.


If ever there were something President Kibaki must regret — other than the Kriegler Commission’s verdict it is impossible to tell who won December’s presidential election — it must be his eloquent support for the entrenchment of Section 2(a). But, there in Parliament are the records of the verbatim report, evidence of how he deployed his wit and sharp intellect.

When its arrogance was at the brim, Kanu, because of its numerical strength and sense of infallibility or invincibility, engineered the change of House Rules in the Eighth Parliament. It forced the sharing out of membership in parliamentary watchdog committees and other caucuses on the basis of party strength in the House. Kanu never imagined it would lose its muscle and when it was whitewashed in 2002, these rules frustrated its effort, under Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, to take command of the key committees, now the preserve of Opposition. Kanu watered the tree of political incest — where the Government would police itself in Parliament — and wept because of it.

Kibaki, then the Leader of Official Opposition warned Kanu during the debate it had proven, in the bid to display its shrewdness, it was half-clever.

Kijana Wamalwa told Mr and Mrs Jogoo: "Even animals, fools and savages can claim superiority on the basis of numerical strength, but that does not mean they are right".

I have drawn from the two examples to remind us that the decisions MPs make in the House, innocuous and ‘fashionable’ as they may be today, often have far reaching implications.

First, it could turn out to be a dark spot on their own individual record, for luckily, the House has an admirable archival system in the Hansard. Secondly, as in the case of President Kibaki and Kanu, there will come a time you will wish you did not say or take part in certain debates.

Third, life changes fast and furiously and the masters of today could easily be tomorrow’s servants or paupers. When Parliament decides to give the Minister for Internal Security the power to shut down a media house, you get the feeling it is hell-bent on settling scores. For the record, that is what many MPs said to us in private: That we must pay for setting the public against them on taxing their allowances.

Among those who institutionalised media raids were MPs who were running into rat holes early this year, as they were tear-gassed in street corners and at funeral Masses. That was the taste of repression and legalised ‘impunity’ whose beat they are now dancing to. They were victims of a ban on live coverage. In their amnesia, they have been consummated by revenge rather than reason. They were joined by victims of Kanu’s repression who have forgotten how it was. All have forgotten how fortunes keep changing.

What is left is Kibaki’s signature: Will he flip-flop as he did with Section 2(a)? Is this a blot he would want included in his wobbling legacy? Can he rise above the vengeful mood of MPs? And by signing, won’t we finally know whose was the bigger hand in the Standard raid? My verdict is that he has no choice but to throw the Communications (Amendment) Bill back to Parliament.

The writer is The Standard’s Managing Editor, Weekend Editions.