If anyone still believes that we are a democracy, the chilling words of Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery should dispel any such illusion. Last week Mr Nkaissery told Kenyans: “Nobody can be bold enough to compete with government. You can’t challenge the government.”
This statement was reminiscent of the dictatorial Moi era, when even a rumour about a person being against the government could land someone in the Nyayo House torture chambers or even lead to their death.
What the Cabinet secretary and his Jubilee government forget is that it is the people of Kenya who brought this government to office. This government was not appointed by God; it was elected by the citizens of this country — the very people who can decide tomorrow to remove it from power. Government is of and for the people. The people are not of and for the government.
The Cabinet secretary made his statement after removing the security detail of Mombasa and Kilifi governors Hassan Joho and Amason Kingi respectively on the grounds that they had incited people to violence in the recent Malindi by-election.
Personally, I think it is a case of sour grapes. Because the Coast people were not swayed by the political machinations and bribe-giving of the Jubilee campaigners, they had to be punished.
While the childish act of withdrawing the security detail of the two governors may seem like a personal vendetta, I am afraid that the people of the Coast will interpret it as a form of “collective punishment”. The people of the Coast already blame the government for the marginalisation of this region for the past 50 years. The perception that the government is out to punish them further will only add to people’s grievances.
Removing the security of the top leadership in the region is telling the people of Kilifi and Mombasa that they are basically on their own. You have to remember that the coastal region is among the most unstable in the country.
The Mombasa Republican Council, a rag-tag rebel group made up of poor peasants, and Al-Shabaab, the terrorist group based in Somalia, have found a base here. The generalised poverty in the region and historical injustices that go back to the pre-independence era of slavery and colonialism have created a lethal mix which, if not quelled, could see Kenya burning the Syria or Somalia way.
The perception among non-coastals that people in the region are stupid, lazy, and gullible was demolished by the Malindi by-election, which showed that people can exercise their choices when given the chance to and can pose a formidable challenge.
The government needs to show — in word and deed — that the Coast is part of this entity called Kenya and that despite their democratic choices, the people of the Coast belong here and are an integral part of the country’s future.
Not doing so, I am afraid, could reinvigorate nascent MRC secessionist aspirations or lead to further radicalisation of the region’s youth, who may believe that they have nothing to lose if they oppose the government as it does not care about them anyway.
The hardline approach of the government towards the people of this region can only spell doom for this country, especially as it approaches another election in 2017.
At the height of the 2007/2008 post-election violence, a journalist from Voice of America asked me what I thought could bring an end to the mayhem that was enveloping the country.
I told him that since all our politicians love to travel to Europe and the United States, and since almost all of them have children who either studied or are studying there, the best thing that Western countries could do is warn the politicians that those found to be culpable in the violence would have their visas revoked or would be put on a blacklist of people who would be denied future visas to these countries.
I am not sure if my advice was ever taken, but I think it is now time to apply this rule to all those who have been implicated in corruption scandals — regardless of whether they have been found guilty or not. Maybe the threat of not getting a visa will be the stick that will finally end corruption in this country.