Resurgent authoritarian wave threatens ‘quiet revolution’

Sunday August 5 2018


Residents of Ukunda in Kwale register as voters on January 16, 2016. Kenya’s 2022 election will be about saving the ideals and the gains of Kenya’s quiet revolution. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Kenya’s 2022 election will be about saving the ideals and the gains of Kenya’s quiet revolution. A powerful authoritarian wave is threatening the gains made in the last three decades in consolidating freedoms, prosperity, probity and dignity of our civilisation.

The term “quiet revolution” has been widely used to describe the momentous reform that launched Kenya on the path to democracy, unbridled political, economic and social transformation leading to relative prosperity and greater freedom undergirded by a new Constitution (2010), a reformed Judiciary, a bicameral Legislature and a devolved system of government.


But Kenya’s quiet revolution also extends beyond the country’s borders owing to the influence of its new African-centred foreign policy.

But the powerful authoritarian undertow threatening freedom in Kenya is not an isolated phenomenon. It is linked to, and emboldened by, a new global challenge of authoritarianism.

"Over the past decade, illiberal powers have become emboldened and gained influence within the global arena”, argues Harvard scholar of democracy Larry Diamond and co-authors in Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge to Democracy (2016).


But the rise of new powers like China is not the only challenge to the spread of democracy and the liberal international political order as Professor Diamond and other democratisers would want us believe.

A mix of isolationism, protectionism and populism of both the right and left ideological hues has given rise to Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump and preponderance of populist movements across the West.

Africa is not immune to the powerful authoritarian undertow now sweeping the world. In Kenya, the road to the 2022 election is dangerously mined by vestiges of KANU-era authoritarianism.

Indeed, Kenya’s next election is shaping up as a serious clash of values, ideals and ideologies. It is unfolding as a clash of titanic proportions between the dark knights of the ancient regime that gave us autocracy, corruption and poverty and the warriors of “Kenya's quiet revolution” that gave us a new constitution, the counties and unbound freedom and economic opportunity.


In an intensely intricate and ironic way, the 2022 election is starting off as a battle for the soul of Mzee Daniel arap Moi (94), one of the most influential makers of 20th century Kenya.

On July 28, 2018 President Uhuru Kenyatta paid a courtesy call on the retired president at Kabarak. Earlier in April, the former Prime Minister also visited Kenya’s longest ruler (1978-2002) at his Kabarak home.

President Kenyatta’s visit comes barely two months after Deputy President William Ruto visited the home of the retired president, but was unable to meet the old man.

A Moi scion, Kanu chairman and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, is locked in a fierce supremacy battle with Mr Ruto for control of the Rift Valley vote ahead of the 2022 polls.

Mzee Moi has a double legacy. Indeed, one can speak of “two Mois".


The "First Moi" (1978-1991), arguably Hobbesian, saw the rise of one of Africa’s nastiest, brutish and short kleptocracies that became the target of the "Second Liberation."

The “Second Moi” (1992-2002), fairly Lockean, was characterised by reforms towards democracy. Blissfully, by launching the country on the trajectory of stable transition, Moi saved Kenya from the tragedy that befell Siad Barre's Somalia or Mobutu Sese Seko's Congo. In a sense, the “Second Moi” set the stage for Kenya's quiet revolution.

In the run-up to 2022, the legacy of “two Mois” has given rise to two antagonistic ideological trends.

One trend is a throwback to the authoritarian tendencies of the Kanu-era kleptocracy.

A new visible display of wealth during impromptu fund-raisers as a "public spectacle" has a déjà vu ring to it.


As the Kanu stalwarts of old, the self-styled Robin Hoods of our age are eroding the spirit of Harambee, by replacing the collective effort of citizens to uplift their own lives with a lavish display of wealth in the form of huge public donations where wananchi are reduced to cheering crowds.

The second one is a Machiavellian trend, a throwback to the “traitor” ploy used in the 1980s to clip the wings of the then powerful Minister, Charles Njonjo.

Leaders have devised new tools and strategies to stifle and criminalise legitimate debate, undermine democracy and win future elections.


The “traitor” ploy appeared in an article titled: "Talk of State House team to fight William Ruto could be last straw for Jubilee" (Daily Nation, July 31, 2018). Here, Rift Valley politicians accused Odinga of fanning the anti-Ruto manoeuvres and of “using” Baringo Senator Gideon Moi to split the Kalenjin vote to deny Mr Ruto the big prize.

They spoke of a State House-based “secretariat working day and night to frustrate the DP”.

The secretariat, they say “is  … behind the anti-corruption fight, lifestyle audit proposal and the Mau evictions”.


Finally, we are witnessing a return of the cynical Kanu-era politics of “ethnic kingpins” where government appointments were based on sycophancy as opposed to meritocracy and professional excellence.

In Ukambani, Jubilee candidates who lost to Kalonzo Musyoka's Wiper Party are ratcheting up pressure on President Kenyatta to appoint one of them an ethnic "kingpin".

With this, we need a movement to defend the ideals of our revolution.

Prof Kagwanja is a former Government Adviser and Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute.