Between civility and civil war lies impunity

Sunday February 12 2017

President Uhuru Kenyatta addressing a rally at Molo, Nakuru County on February 11, 2017.

President Uhuru Kenyatta addressing a rally at Molo, Nakuru County on February 11, 2017 during a voter registration mobilisation drive. PHOTO | SULEIMAN MBATIAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) recently launched mass voter registration. As a direct consequence of this, everything else in the country has been pushed to the background.

Political bigwigs are busy engaged in “mobilisation” for voter registration, as though it is a matter of life and death. Threats are being issued from all directions in attempts to cajole reluctant Kenyans to register to vote.

At the outset, it is useful to point out to our political class that they cannot create an emergency out of their own fears and make it a national crisis. Voting is a right, but is not mandatory. Kenyans are supposed to be seduced to vote for a party or candidate based on their manifesto and its implications on their lives.

Practically forcing people to register to vote is not provided for in our laws.

If we were so concerned about everyone being able to exercise their right to vote, we would change the law to ensure that upon attaining the age, one would be able to use only their identification documents to vote, instead of having to register afresh.

In any case, even if we were to succeed in forcing everyone to register to vote, we do not have the capacity, legal or otherwise, to force them to vote.

Further, there’s no guarantee if you forced someone to vote they would vote for you or your favourite party or candidate. In fact, they are more likely to vote contrary to your wishes, just to spite you!

More worrying in this affair is the role of public servants in “mobilisation” activities. As we have seen over the past few weeks, “mobilisation” is a euphemism for early political campaigns.


Politicians are crisscrossing the country hunting for votes in the guise of encouraging people to register to vote. The agency that is meant to curb this malpractice is the IEBC and, since it remains quiet on this matter, we have a real obligation to intervene. However, the involvement of public officers in these campaigns is actionable.

A newspaper article last week revealed that the Health Principal Secretary had been assigned “mobilisation” duties somewhere in central Kenya, and was being relieved by the former military chief who is currently chairing a parastatal and is thus also a public officer.

The sad thing is that this news item was considered so routine that it was buried deep in the newspaper as part of county or regional news.

Elsewhere, chiefs and other members of the provincial administration have firm instructions to facilitate this “mobilisation”, and many of them are now going round campaigning for establishment candidates. Cabinet Secretaries are daily being featured in the media openly campaigning.


What this says about us is that we are not keen on being a country founded on the rule of law. The law is used only to oppress our opponents and give us advantage, and when it cannot be used that way, it is discarded with alacrity.

This is troubling because it creates a culture of impunity in the entire country, and any person in authority feels they can do whatever they want no matter what the law says.

We now have political parties ignoring laws on financial disclosure, educational requirements, the need to resign from public office before running for political office and so on and so forth. We have politicians ignoring hate speech laws and others threatening to kill or harm citizens in public with little by way of consequences.

We have a political class fully occupied on political campaigns despite the numerous crises facing our country, safe in the knowledge that the average Kenyan will still vote for them anyway.

We are perched on the edge of a slide into lawlessness from which we may never recover. History is littered with many island-of-peace Titanics that were sunk by a period of madness such as we are currently going through.

Between civility and civil war lies impunity.

Atwoli is associate professor of psychiatry and dean, School of Medicine, Moi University. [email protected]