Kenya

Constitution was to set us free, but Kenyans are everywhere in chains

Constitution was to set us free, but Kenyans are everywhere in chains

Ecstatic Kenyans during the promulgation of the Constitution on August 27, 2010 at Uhuru Park, Nairobi. Eric Ng’eno writes that its manifest agenda is to “decolonise Kenya and actualise a dispensation where we the people...finally own sovereign power”.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

It will hardly come as a shock that our political elite has been at odds with the Constitution of Kenya 2010 since its promulgation. Indeed, the promulgation itself happened because many of these potentates needed to win a political contest, galvanise a legacy or catalyse political momentum in the run-up to a general election. The motives for supporting it are often as diverse as they are absurd.

Elite discomfiture with the new dispensation collides with the glee of ordinary citizens at the prospect of the possibilities entrenched in a charter that finally promises to accomplish independence.

At first, anti-constitutional sentiments appeared to leak out of the security establishment and the affiliated elements of our bureaucracy.

Over time, it became clear that the antipathy towards the dispensational proposition of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 suffused the ruling class.

Recent attempts to change the law portrayed the boldest aggregation of the elite’s petulant demands, accompanied with the threat of an existential tantrum if they did not have their way.  That is why the elite’s demands were negotiated to materialise through only the barest pretences to democratic due process.

People’s consent

The idea of seeking the little people’s consent, of appealing to them, was sufficiently revolting to make deception an appealing strategy.

It is the fate of power in Kenya to be reposed in oligarchs, and it is the destiny of citizens to serve their government.

Democracy, fundamental rights and freedoms are not the universal entitlement of all citizens.

Indeed, the majority must get by under tremendous hardship, because all national resources are needed to lavish the elite.

As you will have noticed, this is not an altogether unfamiliar proposition. It is the defining reality of colonial Kenya.

Ironically, this coloniality not only survived, but ultimately overwhelmed and negated independence in Kenya.

We have not emerged as the sovereign republic we fought for, but a mere neocolonised postcolony. Appreciating the persistence of coloniality as well as its tendency to appropriate our sovereign authority enables us to appreciate several prevalent tendencies with clarity.

Runaway official impunity and extrajudicial murders fall among the grossest and most personal manifestations of this coloniality.

Disregard for the Constitution – from the Bill of Rights to the due constitution of state and public offices and the continuing neglect of traditionally marginalised communities and regions – is similarly insidious.

The desperation of a youthful underclass crushed by poverty, unemployment, violent repression and corruption beneath the oppressive mass of a pampered comprador class illustrates the hierarchical dimension of this coloniality.

The confrontation over the competency-based curriculum has amplified concerns about education being used to programme a generation of global subalterns to occupy the shadowy, marginal portions of the global economic order.

But the performance that perfectly underscores Kenya’s chronic postcolonial coloniality is underway in Laikipia.

Contracting pasture

It is emerging that elders, who were trustees of community ranches, were duped or otherwise induced to surrender the properties to conservancies, severely contracting pasture available for herders.

During the prolonged drought, desperate herders have been pitted against conservancies in confrontations that have frequently got bloody if not deadly.

Conservancies are controlled by internationally networked interests, and the unsettling emerging lexicon of ‘illegal’ herders and ‘bandits’ only serves to cement the association between power and legitimacy. The echo of the infamous Maasai Agreements is unmistakable.

The public posture of government has equally been disturbing. Eschewing a root-cause approach, its foremost securocrat, Dr Fred Matiang’i, declared the area a ‘disturbed zone’ and personally proclaimed corporal punishment, among other violations of fundamental human rights, would be summarily inflicted on anyone falling afoul of deployed forces.

After Sir Evelyn Baring declared the State of emergency in 1952, unspeakable atrocities were meted on thousands of Kenyans for the crime of merely being black.

Freedom fighters were termed terrorists, as pastoralists today are illegal herders, and the consequences were of a piece.

Organising democratic politics among the poor and underprivileged is as offensive to the power structure as Mau Mau was, all those years ago.

Colonialism was top-down, so is coloniality.

Exploited and deceived

A keen reading of the Constitution reveals this key truth: its manifest agenda is to decolonise Kenya and actualise a dispensation where we the people, so long oppressed, exploited and deceived, finally own sovereign power.

It, therefore, realises our collective aspiration to found a republic on national values.

Prof Ndlovu-Gatsheni terms them “humanist values of freedom, equality, social justice and ethical coexistence’ and contrasts them with the “darker” manifestations of modernity, which included….the slave trade, mercantilism, imperialism, colonialism and apartheid”.

In 2021, it should no longer be possible for Dr Matiang’i to arbitrarily consign other Kenyans to infernal misery.

The government’s propensity for constitutional transgression drives a majority of Kenyans to subsist in the margins.

BBI, the fate of the Equalisation Fund, Laikipia and the rise of executive delinquency all manifest a rampant, deleterious coloniality.

@EricNgeno