MWANGI: Everybody’s sleeping and stealing is becoming ‘heroic’

MWANGI: Everybody's sleeping and stealing is becoming 'heroic'
MWANGI: Everybody's sleeping and stealing is becoming 'heroic'

By Isaac Mwangi, East African News Agency

Looking at recent events in East Africa, it is becoming abundantly clear that for democracy to thrive, the people must be eternally vigilant against the machinations of a minority to subvert the will of the majority.

There is a tendency for people’s attention to be swayed by the events that grip a nation from time to time. In the region, these events have in the recent past included visits by United States President Barack Obama as well as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis. Other significant events have included terrorist attacks by the Al Shabaab militia, the crisis in Burundi and South Sudan, and the elections in Tanzania.

It is becoming quite apparent that it is during such events, when a nation or region’s attention is focused on a specific event and away from the scrutiny of governance issues, that nefarious schemes to thwart the people’s will are executed.

Emerging from the Christmas and New Year festivities, for instance, Kenyans were surprised to find that Parliament had somehow given President Uhuru Kenyatta some power in deciding who will be Kenya’s next Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice.

This is important since incumbent Chief Justice Dr. Willy Mutunga is expected to retire later this year. Deputy Chief Justice Kalpana Rawal is also expected to quit, even though she had challenged the decision to retire her at the age of 70 years, on the grounds that the old constitution under which she was appointed a judge stipulated a retirement age of 74 years.

Whatever happens, the point is that suddenly, in addition to powers to hire and fire police chiefs, the presidency also has powers to decide who may or may not hold the two most powerful positions in the Judiciary.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to vie for a second and final term of office in next year’s elections. This is important, because any dispute arising from the presidential election will be handled by the Supreme Court, in which the President will have had a hand in picking its two most prominent members.

There is nothing new about this trick: Because a leader knows well that what they want to do would raise public anger at the best of times, he or she simply waits for an opportune time when the people’s energies are diverted elsewhere. At that moment, one can do what they like. The surprising thing is that this age-old trick is being allowed to happen time and again in our day, despite all the advances in knowledge and technology.

As election fever rages in Uganda, one can only pity them: When the whole process is over, will they all of a sudden realize that as they sang praises for their candidates, some shadowy characters were more interested in looting all that they could? Will there be some unserviceable aircraft bought as a cover-up, or will it be unashamed looting with the thieves not even bothering to cover their tracks?

In fact, being mentioned as a big thief in East Africa is becoming almost heroic. As the society’s moral fibre has decayed, it has become “normal” to steal.  Everybody’s eating at their own level, and the only reason some noisy people keep complaining is mainly because their turn is taking too long in coming.

If anybody needs any proof of this, just take a hard look at opposition parties that are elected to power in Africa. No sooner do they settle down than the eating frenzy begins. Many opposition figures have previously served in senior government positions and are part of the culture of corruption, impunity and manipulation.

Where does all this leave East Africa? Shall we all keep hoping that our countries will get benevolent dictators/tough leaders? Some sort of Kagame or Magufuli-type leader to rein in corruption? While that may help, it cannot be a long-term solution. Indeed, there is a grave danger that the weak political structures that such leaders preside over could be grossly abused by uncaring leaders in future.

The solution, then, most clearly lies in building a vibrant media and civil society. These seem to be the institutions that can keep a close check on leaders of all shades. But most importantly, they must not allow themselves to be swayed by populist waves, behind which corrupt and anti-democratic schemes are executed.

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