By Miguna Miguna
Violence – especially political violence – of any nature is abhorrent. It demonstrates a failure to reason. The only violence which is morally and legally justified is one exercised in self-defence or in defence of children and innocent civilians. Gratuitous and barbaric violence like the one that was witnessed in Kisumu against Raphael Tuju a few days ago cannot be justified or excused. It must be condemned unreservedly.
Nobody has the keys or exclusive rights to any part of the country – Kisumu included. Political leaders have a duty to ensure that they encourage, and participate in, peaceful democratic exercises. Democracy isn’t just about the people governing themselves through their elected representatives; it is also politics through discussions and debates.
Criticism is part and parcel of a democratic culture. Robust debates and peaceful challenges amongst political competitors or between their respective supporters constitute the DNA that makes up modern democratic politics. We must encourage our leaders to vigorously debate and disagree over their respective visions, policies, ideologies and programs. This will enable the people to critically assess their candidatures and determine who amongst them is best suited to be our next president. That determination cannot occur through hooliganism, comedy, funeral dirges, riddles or theatrics.
All presidential candidates must have unfettered access to the people in all corners of the republic. If the people’s (and by extension the candidates’) freedom of expression and association – and the right to criticise each other – are stifled, the people will resort to violence to resolve their differences. Yet, physical confrontations due to political differences cause instability and negate the principles of good governance enunciated in the Constitution. Violence is also inimical to development.
Disagreement is healthy. It’s the engine of modern human civilization. Active disputations create progress. But these must be conducted peacefully. Throwing rocks at political opponents is both barbaric and primitive. Violence causes destruction.
Raphael Tuju has declared his candidature for the presidency of this country. It’s his constitutional right. More than eight others have similarly announced their interest in the highest office in the land. They, too, have a fundamental right to canvass for votes in all parts of Kenya. Nobody has the right to cordon off any part of the country from his or her opponents.
When Tuju visited Kisumu last week, he went there to meet the people and give account of himself, his vision and policies. It was his democratic right. He wasn’t armed. He didn’t preach or agitate violence. And he didn’t need permission from anybody to exercise his rights.
Tuju’s entourage and supporters weren’t violent, either. Yet Tuju’s convoy was senselessly attacked, his vehicles damaged and one of his campaign staff injured. The injured lady is a Kenyan. She has the right to go anywhere she likes with whomsoever she chooses. The only reason she was attacked was because she accompanied Tuju to Kisumu. That’s unacceptable.
Granted, politics is a competitive civilian sport. But it’s governed by rules, laws and the Constitution. It’s played within the context of a democratic multi-party environment. The cornerstones of that democratic process are five fundamental rights: freedom of thought, conscience, expression, association and movement. These rights are entrenched, guaranteed and protected by the Constitution. None of these rights can be waived, suspended or breached whimsically by anyone no matter how powerful s/he may be.
Political competition or rivalry isn’t a basis for infringing on anybody’s rights. Tuju is a Kenyan. He has the right of movement and association like anybody else. As such, the hooligans who attacked him and his convoy not only violated his rights; they also subverted the Constitution. But even more egregiously, they attempted to fence-off Kisumu from Tuju. Why? What’s their fear?
Many have speculated on the motives of the unwarranted attack. Some have argued that the hooligans were acting at the behest of a known political party and its leader both of whom are deemed to be dominant in Nyanza. Others have reasoned that the hooligans were aggrieved following disagreement with the Tuju campaign team. We will soon know the truth.
But one seriously wonders why the dominant political formation in Nyanza – ODM – has reacted in the most schizophrenic manner. On Sunday, November 6th, the ODM Secretary General Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o issued a statement condemning the attack on Tuju and called for the perpetrators to be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. That was laudable.
Yet in a characteristic discordant manner now synonymous with the Orange party, three ODM MPs and a few misguided party activists released statements condemning Tuju for allegedly staging the violent attack on himself just a day after Nyong’o’s condemnation.
On Monday November the 6th, the ODM party leader and Prime Minister, Raila Odinga released a tepid prepared statement appealing to “the citizens of Kenya to observe peace in this election year.” The statement had no sound bite. It was a generic appeal. It didn’t mention the attack on Tuju in Kisumu. Neither did it condemn it. It actually didn’t specifically condemn violence and political hooliganism. Moreover, neither Raila nor the ODM party has appealed directly to their supporters to be tolerant and refrain from all acts of violence.
It wasn’t clear whether Raila was speaking as the ODM leader or as the Prime Minister of Kenya. And although the local media attempted to give the statement a positive spin and claimed that Raila had ‘condemned the attack on Tuju’, Raila never uttered Tuju’s name nor did he mention the words Kisumu or political hooliganism. In other words, Raila’s was a pro-forma and generic statement that could have been issued by Lord Evelyn Baring during the state of emergency in Kenya between 1952 and 1959. It was politically useless!
By Tuesday November 8th, the ODM had completely squandered all the credits Prof Nyong’o’s earlier strong condemnation had generated. A statement read at the end of the party’s parliamentary group meeting, which was attended by the PM, his deputy, Musalia Mudavadi and other party leaders, recklessly and completely retracted Prof. Nyong’o’s laudable condemnation. The party claimed, without a scintilla of evidence, that Tuju had staged managed his own stoning and that the perpetrators were transported from outside Nyanza.
This was typical and quintessential ODM: confused, disorganised and hypocritical. It was also a sign of despondency. Kenyans began to question ODM’s real intentions. The contradictory and inconsistent statements exposed ODM’s leadership as dishonest and opportunistic. Instead of an unequivocal condemnation of political hooliganism, the party condemned the victim of the violent attack. In an inexplicable act of schizophrenic contortion, ODM condoned political violence and hooliganism.
Essentially, by its latest statement, ODM leaders achieved what its detractors have failed to do: it voluntarily owned political violence. They did so without the approval of its rank and file. That’s sad. They did so to score cheap political points. That’s not just irresponsible; it is reckless.
ODM is a senior partner in the grand coalition government. Its leadership has a positive duty to be responsible and to encourage all Kenyans – ODM supporters included – to be peaceful and law abiding. Multi-party democracy is for all Kenyans and regions, Nyanza included.
We must condemn all acts of violence and hooliganism unreservedly! Kenyans must not allow anybody – no matter how powerful – to quibble with or excuse violence. Everybody must be free to visit any part of the country at any given time. The keys to the 47 counties belong to the people; not to carpetbaggers.
Mr. Miguna is a Barrister & Solicitor in Canada. He is also an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya.