By MAGESHA NGWIRI, Daily Nation, 10/08/2017
Nkurunziza, Kikwete, Kenyatta, Museveni, and Kagame (Associated Press)

In the entire eastern African region, Kenya is perhaps the only country where a whelp can wake up one morning, decide to publicly insult the Head of State, and become an instant hero.

It is, perhaps, the only country whose leader can win an election, watch his victory being snatched away by a court edict, and then be expected to take it without protest.

My contention is that Kenya is the only country in the region which practices a modicum of democracy, and so it comes as a surprise when its leaders are accused of dragging the country back into dictatorship. Where else can people who make such accusations turn out to be accountable only to themselves and to foreign donors? Where else can individuals be allowed to behave like an opposition political party without ever seeking the mandate of the people?

Nowhere else have such people thrived as much as they have in Kenya, and their insidious power has in the past been felt keenly.


Now they have reached a point where they believe they can become king-makers. In the immortal phrase popularised by British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in 1931, they seek to exercise “power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”.

Let us get to the gist of the matter. When you compare the leadership of the four out of five countries which make up the East African Community (Burundi is a special case, so we’ll discount it), it is clear that Kenya is the most democratic country in the region, and it would take a great deal of myopia to accuse President Uhuru Kenyatta of despotism, real or incipient.

This is not to say he can’t be despotic, given a chance. Without strong institutions to check the excesses of government, even a saint can become a tyrant. But it is astonishing to hear people keep yelling that Jubilee is intent on taking Kenya back to the one-party dictatorship. When did winning the majority of seats during a General Election become a crime?

When you hear people, be they in the Opposition or civil society, talk about widening democratic space as their only objective, very few mean it.


What the former mean is that they would like to take over political power and control State resources — a legitimate quest — while the latter are just trying to justify their existence to their benefactors.

A few examples from neighbouring countries which, by the yardstick of Western democracy are really nothing of the sort, will suffice.

But this comes with the disclaimer that Kenya is not Uganda or Tanzania, and any comparison can only be academic.

The idea here is not to disparage their practice of democracy; that would be judgmental and in bad taste.

However, nobody would describe the chaotic arrest of 25 MPs in Uganda for opposing the removal of the presidential term limits, or the televised, brutal arrest of a city mayor, as democratic.

President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for 31 years and is already 73, wants another go at it in 2021, but the inconvenient age limit of 75 is in the way, so those who oppose its removal must be dealt with ruthlessly.


In Tanzania, President John Magufuli, who captured the fancy of the rest of the world when he won the presidency in 2015 by bringing in a no-nonsense style of leadership, has in the recent past indicated he has no time for dissent by closing down two newspapers which dared criticise him, banning political rallies indefinitely, and generally cracking down on the opposition.

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame has been in power for the past 17 years. Constitutionally, he can rule until 2034 if he feels like it because most Rwandans would continue voting for him.

But he brooks no opposition even from minnows. An example is the arrest of 35-year-old Diane Rwigara, who was charged this week for inciting insurrection and forgery, though many believe her real crime was to attempt to run against Kagame this year.

The point I am trying to make is that nobody knows by what yardstick the Jubilee administration is regarded as undemocratic. It would be more honest for the Nasa coalition to say they want power because Jubilee has failed to fulfil its pledges or because they feel that two ethnic communities have held power for too long. Everything else is arrant nonsense.