Friday, January 11, 2013



P. Anyang' Nyong'o

For Sunday Standard, 13-01-13

The concept of reform ought not to be misused. Nor should it be abused. From time immemorial reform has always been a frightening concept and proposition to those in power, whether we are talking about ecclesiastical power or political power. Reformers have always been an endangered species, loathed by the powerful and cunningly held in suspicion by pretenders to the the thrones of both the church and the state. Kenya's history demonstrates this more than perfectly.

A political refrain is emerging from the conservative side of our current political divide, so-called the Jubilee coalition. During the debate and struggle for constitutional reform in 2010, they spoke spitefully about the reforms being proposed in the new constitution, and they dismissed reformers "with the contempt they deserve." They even introduced new clauses that never existed in the document just to ridicule the whole process and make it look like a joke.

One of the phantom clauses they introduced asserted that when the constitution is passed gay marriage will be allowed in Kenya. Hon. Wakholi wa Bufwoli made fun of this by saying that he would be very unlucky under such circumstances since no man was likely to propose to him!

These conservative zealots went even further: they asserted that dogs and other animals would have more rights than human beings under the new constitution. Tax payers would be forced to pay more money to finance dogs' rights. Ridiculous as all this may sound today, it is a fact that they were uttered by men and women now claiming that they can organize, lead and institutionalize political parties that will truly implement the constitution they once held in great contempt.

In the context of looking for votes from all Kenyans, the majority of whom voted for the new constitution, it is understandable for this coalition of conservatives to ask Kenyans not to look at the past. To compel Kenyans to drive, as it were, without looking at their rear mirrors is not a very fair proposal: it offends common sense. It is, of course, a very dangerous proposal that any driving school would regard as utterly subversive of the cardinal norm in good traffic behavior.

Looking at the past, in our case, may lead to unearthing the deeds, deals and utterances of these priests of conservatism. But then the conservatives enter into a rather dangerous and delicate zone of trying to lecture Kenyans on who is a reformer and who can carry the flag of reform among the presidential contenders.

Having ruled themselves out of the league of reformers, it becomes incumbent upon them to once more deride the leading reformer, historically and contemporarily, among the presidential contenders; and that is Raila Amolo Odinga. This was to be expected from what they had done in 2010; having shot down the concept of reform then, time has now come for them to shoot down the chief messenger of reform, the Prime Minister himself.

I heard a very interesting modification of this mission of conservatives from one of them. The gentleman argued that Kenyans should not worry about who becomes the president with regard to safeguarding the constitution after the general elections. All candidates are Kenyans and hence it does not matter who among them gets the responsibility to implement the major policies and programs that implementing the constitution implies.

If that were so then the concept "reform" would lose its meaning. In essence reform means departure from the way things have been done and may continue to be done if no new perspectives, methodologies, beliefs and commitments are used in dealing with public or ecclesiastical affairs. People, therefore, who have believed in, defended and served the status quo with all passion--including swearing to take up arms to uphold it--cannot possibly preside over its demise once they take over state power.

 Many a reformer have been beheaded, guillotined, imprisoned, sent into exile or rigged out of elections precisely because defenders of the status quo have never stomached the idea that reformers can take over state power peacefully. The alternative to such drastic actions is the pretense that reform can be safe in the hands of conservatives. History proves otherwise, and Kenya of 1969 to 2010 stands out vividly as a living example of conservatives who ran all reformers aground to erect a most vicious authoritarian state in the middle of the tropics.

Those of us who spent many years in the trenches when reform was a dirty word in the ears of the powers that be will not stand by and see the public being duped to believe that wolves in sheep's clothes are now actually the lambs of God. There is, of course, the possibility that a Saul can become a Paul, and that being born again at times actually leads to character transformation for the better. But then if one is not on the road to Damascus chances that one will encounter the voice of God calling one to conversion are pretty slim. And a non believer who cannot stand the homilies of genuine believers is unlikely to be born again.

The Jubilee conservatives are obviously zealots out to preach a religion that believes the past is irrelevant and the future cannot be built on the foundations of the past. That, of course, would make evolution unbelievable and history a subject that ought to be confined to the dustbin of boring fiction. Travelling along that lane would not take us far. Those of us committed to building for the future benefitting from past experience are unlikely to be impressed by that fiction.