The world, and Kenyans, will not easily forget the year 2015.
It was action-packed, like the films that keep you on the chair’s edge from beginning to end; complicated, exciting, mixed with tears, laughter, joy and despair. Finally, it is over.
As 2015 began, Kenya was grappling with the messy, dangerous Security Laws (Amendment) Act. As originally drafted, it encroached badly into several constitutional wins.
A percentage of the population will always think differently, and every civilised society must allow that free, sacred space to disagree while always respecting each other.
Non-conformists changed society and the world, challenged themselves and inspired others to jump higher and further. Our world would remain mediocre were it not for them.
On January 7, 2015, two gunmen killed 12 people at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. These killings were not just an attack on France but also on modern constitutionalism, the meaning of rights and their possible limitations.
France delivered the first human rights charter in modern times. They taught us to chant “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood), which was perhaps one of the most beautiful aspirations any society has ever had.
France had to reflect on its motto to find its own answers. Liberté should be limited by fraternité, the respect for other people’s ideas, beliefs and dignity. Égalité is born from the marriage of liberté and fraternité, where nobody is above anybody else, whether Muslim, Christian, atheist, right or left, black or white.
THE GARISSA MASSACRE
While the world was mourning France, terrorists attacked Garissa University College in Kenya on April 2, 2015. This senseless massacre put Kenya’s war on terror on trial.
Human rights are essential in the fighting against terrorism. How was Kenya to fight terrorists without itself inflicting terror?
States worldwide have been taking radical measures in the hope of minimising and eventually eliminating the terror threat. Could these measures be a solution or, on the contrary, among the causes?
In mid-November, Paris was up in flames again, putting President Francois Hollande between a rock and hard place. He needed to show action, but any wrong move had the power to lower France to level of ISIL’s terrorists.
The war on terrorism is an unconventional war that calls for ingenuity, intelligence, shrewdness, speed and patience. Countries must not lose sight of the ultimate goal, to defeat evil without joining it.
PARLIAMENT’S HIGH JINKS
The year 2015 also brought out both the best and worst of two Kenyan institutions, the Legislature and the Judiciary.
Though Parliament prides itself in having some of Kenya’s most exemplary men and women, there is something, difficult to pinpoint, that makes them fall into a true mob mentality every now and then.
In 2010 words like “Constitution implementation”, “rule of law” and “respect for the Constitution” were part of every parliamentary discussion and decision.
In 2015, these words were replaced by “the courts must respect Parliament”, “we are the people”, “MPs cannot be left cashless”, “we need our CDF”, and “what we will do if we don’t get the cash?”
The Judiciary had also its share of ugly wrangles among senior judges and among the Judicial Service Commission including an unsubstantiated argument on retirement age.
SOUTH AFRICA’S XENOPHOBIA
While we were dealing with our institutional challenges, a different form of terrorism emerged in South Africa. Xenophobia, a mixture of terror and apartheid, is the sad sign of a morally bankrupt, ignorant society.
It pits brother against brother and advocates the rejection of any other African, whom it considers an intrusive enemy, a thief robbing the indigenous population of its rightful future and growth opportunities.
The response of the South African political class, which took far too long to speak our energetically against the violence and discrimination, was lukewarm and populist.
Back in Kenya, our education system came into ever-sharper focus. Shaping freedom, and building character are two of the most delicate aspects of modern-day education, after all.
We all remember that a group of adolescent boys and girls took the wrong bus in August, the infamous KCC 586M, with a motto that said, “Why go to High School when you can’t go to school high.”
LACK OF TIME
Someone may have led them into this bus from Sodom to Gomorrah, or maybe there was no one to prevent them from going into it, but the police caught them on the way.
They looked guilty and ashamed, despite having felt brave enough to board the bus a short while before. We have turned freedom into an absolute, a goal, when it is really a means to something.
Kenya’s education system, in which the country has traditionally taken pride, is failing while we watch.
Cheating in both KCPE and KCSE is demolishing our future excellence. Academic apathy at university level is also eroding innovation and dedication, with too many full-time lecturers lulling themselves into thinking they can hold more than one full-time job.
They have no time to prepare lectures or innovate or attend to students, and are too busy to create a school of thought, seek grants or do research. The root cause of our academic and intellectual stagnation is our lack of time.
Doing more than one full-time job fools both jobs, leaving both undone. Universities must be more assertive and less complacent because a half-hearted commitment to a full-time academic post is really a form of corruption.
Corruption itself led President Kenyatta to suspend several high-ranking officials in March and order investigations. Senior government officials have been suspended or replaced, and the President appointed a new task force.
We hope 2016 will see some results but truth be told, public governance will be a challenge in several African states. Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Sam Nujoma (Namibia), Idriss Deby (Chad), Lassana Conte (Guinea), Omar Bongo (Gabon), Gnassiogne Eyadema (Togo), Paul Kagame (Rwanda) and Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza have modified or completely abolished presidential term limits to facilitate their re-election.
THE GIFTS OF 2015
The year also came bearing gifts, with four events bringing our region a ray of hope: the visits of US President Barack Obama and Pope Francis, the election of Dr John Magufuli in Tanzania, and Kenya’s successful hosting of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Nairobi.
President Obama shifted the discussion in Kenya from politics to business. For a moment the press focused on the amazing entrepreneurial spirit of our Kenyan youth. What a joy!
President Magufuli’s sober campaign and sound approach to a more sensible use of public funds made people realise that public positions are indeed about service and not gain, and that this sits well with voters.
Pope Francis’s magnificent speech at Kasarani against tribalism and corruption brought out the connection between real faith and behaviour. He spoke of a transformational faith that seeks beauty and truth while respecting the dignity of the other and with nature.
Hatred destroys faith, he said, which should be a “solid foundation of mutual respect, dialogue and cooperation, [building] a multi-ethnic society which is truly harmonious, just and inclusive.”
Finally, we had a lavish close, with a very promising set of declarations by the WTO Ministerial Conference that ended on December 19, 2015, with the “Nairobi Package”. The "package" is a healthy deal, containing a series of six ministerial decisions on agriculture, cotton and issues relating to Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
Perhaps the biggest win for the developing countries was the commitment undertaken in the Ministerial Decision on Export Competition to eliminate subsidies for farm exports.
According to WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo, this was the ‘most significant outcome on agriculture’ in the entire history of the organisation. “WTO members – especially developing countries – have consistently demanded action on this issue due to the enormous distorting potential of these subsidies for domestic production and trade…Today’s decision tackles the issue once and for all,”
Certainly 2015 was an eventful year. Have a happy and blessed 2016!
Dr Franceschi is the dean of Strathmore Law School. [email protected], Twitter: @lgfranceschi