Art of char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion is harm­ful to our democ­racy

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - SUNDAY REVIEW -

Re­spect in­sti­tu­tions. This is, dis­cernibly, the ker­nel of an 18-point in­terim state­ment for the election re-run in Kenya that the Euro­pean Union Ob­ser­va­tion Mis­sion (EU EOM) un­veiled on Septem­ber 14, 2017. The most re­veal­ing of the EU’S ob­ser­va­tions is that: “The per­sis­tent crit­i­cism of the in­tegrity and neu­tral­ity of state in­sti­tu­tions has neg­a­tively af­fected con­fi­dence in the election.”

Con­cep­tu­ally, by chance the EU ad­vi­sory re­veals what is, un­doubt­edly, one of the most lethal and en­dur­ing lega­cies of the 20th cen­tury Kenyan pol­i­tics: the omi­nous rise of a ma­lign art of smear and char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion as the bane of its democ­racy.

An in­deli­ble fea­ture of Kenya’s public cul­ture, the man­i­festly ru­inous art of slan­der of in­sti­tu­tions, per­sons and or­ga­ni­za­tions now con­trols what and how we think; what we read in the me­dia, cy­berspace and books; and how we vote and who we choose as our lead­ers.

As a weapon of pol­i­tics, char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion— broadly de­fined as a de­lib­er­ate and sus­tained process aimed at de­stroy­ing the cred­i­bil­ity and rep­u­ta­tion of a per­son, in­sti­tu­tion, or­ga­ni­za­tion, so­cial group or na­tion—is nei­ther new nor pe­cu­liar to Kenya.

As the edited work of Mar­tijn Icks and Eric Shi­raev, Char­ac­ter As­sas­si­na­tion Through­out the Ages (2014), shows the art of smear has been the most lethal po­lit­i­cal weapon down his­tory and to­day.

Glob­ally, its pre­pon­der­ant rise in the 21st cen­tury is linked to the age of post­truth pol­i­tics aided by the ad­vances in com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy. Inescapably, this has cat­a­pulted smear into the cen­tre-stage of pol­icy and in­tel­lec­tual in­quiry sig­ni­fied by the for­ma­tion of the In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety for the Study of Char­ac­ter As­so­ci­a­tion (ISSCA) in July 2011.

Kenya is not new to the pol­i­tics of char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion. Gen­er­a­tions of its po­lit­i­cal class have honed this art as an ef­fec­tive weapon to win po­lit­i­cal bat­tles since the ti­tanic ide­o­log­i­cal tus­sles of the 1960s and 1970s.

Kenya’s re­turn to com­pet­i­tive multi-party pol­i­tics in 1991 gave new im­pe­tus to slan­der as the weapon of choice in in­tra-elite power wran­gles, turn­ing democ­racy’s hosanna mo­ment into an ef­fec­tive siege of in­sti­tu­tions and per­son­al­i­ties.

In the age of slan­der, in­tel­lec­tu­als like the Kenyanamer­i­can scholar, Makau Mutua, have be­come su­per snipers in char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion in the pages of news­pa­pers. The dirty work of char­ac­ter as­sas­sins has reached a fever-pitch af­ter the Septem­ber 1 Supreme Court rul­ing.

The road to the Oc­to­ber 17 re-run is heav­ily mined with char­ac­ter at­tacks on in­di­vid­u­als, ex­perts, in­sti­tu­tions and in­ter­na­tional ob­servers based on a sub­tle mix of open and covert meth­ods cal­i­brated to cap­ture state power by hook or crook.

As the EU State­ment rightly ob­served, “un­der­min­ing the in­de­pen­dence of state in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing courts, the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion (IEBC) and law en­force­ment agen­cies threaten the rule of law, demo­cratic or­der and ef­fec­tive gov­er­nance”. It also pre­cip­i­tates po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis and un­cer­tainty, which un­der­mine the econ­omy, for­eign in­vest­ments and liveli­hoods.

Since its con­tro­ver­sial Septem­ber rul­ing, the Supreme Court has been praised across Africa as a tri­umph of ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence. But since 2013, the Court has been un­der at­tack mainly from op­po­si­tion stal­warts. Af­ter the Ju­di­ciary unan­i­mously up­held Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta’s vic­tory in the March 4, 2013 pres­i­den­tial con­test, the pe­ti­tioner, Raila Odinga, ac­cepted the ver­dict of the court but openly ac­cused the seven judges of the Supreme Court of cor­rup­tion.

Chief Jus­tice Willy Mu­tunga was forced to deny ru­mours al­leg­ing that he took bribes to re­turn a favourable ver­dict. On Septem­ber 16, 2017, Mu­tunga ac­cused los­ing po­lit­i­cal fac­tions of blam­ing the Supreme Court in­stead of try­ing to unite the na­tion, ar­gu­ing that “the court has be­come the punch­ing bag for politi­cians who think that jus­tice has not been done in their favour”.

But the Supreme Court is its own worst en­emy. Its fail­ure to give timely rea­soned judg­ment to back its of­ten dra­co­nian and far-reach­ing rul­ings has, ex­pect­edly, drawn the ire of the publics.

Af­ter Septem­ber 1, sec­tions of the le­gal fra­ter­nity world­wide and the Ju­bilee po­lit­i­cal class lo­cally have rightly viewed the over­turn­ing of Keny­atta’s vic­tory on the ba­sis of so far undis­closed “ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and il­le­gal­i­ties” as be­ing tan­ta­mount to a ‘civil­ian coup’ against the will of the peo­ple.

Ex­pect­edly, the movers and shak­ers in the rul­ing party have de­cried Kenya’s re­formed Ju­di­ciary as a den of “crooks” and judges as mer­chants of mafia-style jus­tice. “I have al­ways said, there is a prob­lem with our Ju­di­ciary though we re­spect it”, said Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta.

At­tacks on the Supreme Court are likely to es­ca­late af­ter the re­lease of the rea­soned judg­ment of the four judges who voted to over­turn Pres­i­dent Keny­atta’s Au­gust 8 vic­tory.

It is the IEBC, how­ever, which has be­come groundzero of Kenya’s in­tra-elite wars. Af­ter the Au­gust elec­tions, Na­tional Su­per Al­liance (Nasa) lead­ers re­ferred to the IEBC as be­ing “taken over by crim­i­nals.”

Nasa has sin­gled out IEBC’S Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer, Ezra Chiloba, for vil­i­fi­ca­tion, blam­ing him for “ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties” cited by the Supreme Court even though the Con­sti­tu­tion does not say the CEO runs the elec­tions.

Nasa has even called for the UN to step in and over­see the re-run. Yet, iron­i­cally, be­fore join­ing IEBC Chiloba was one of the UN sys­tem’s top ex­perts on elec­tions!

The EU In­terim State­ment re­veals the acute vul­ner­a­bil­ity of in­ter­na­tional election ob­servers to Kenya’s art of char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion. Nasa’s big­wigs have called for the vet­ting of ob­servers.

Sadly, keen to be seen as un­bi­ased af­ter the Supreme Court’s con­tro­ver­sial rul­ing where they were seen as hav­ing “hur­riedly praised the con­duct of the Au­gust 8 elec­tions”, ex­ter­nal ob­servers have swal­lowed line hook and sinker some of the strate­gies of ri­val po­lit­i­cal elites in the jostling for the con­trol of IEBC.

A case in point is the hyped lan­guage of “stake­holder con­sul­ta­tions” in the EU State­ment, which in­ex­orably strength­ens Nasa’s power shar­ing strat­egy.

The po­lit­i­cal class should keep its hands off our democ­racy and its in­de­pen­dent in­sti­tu­tions!

___________________________ Pro­fes­sor Peter Kagwanja is Chief Ex­ec­u­tive of the Africa Pol­icy In­sti­tute and teaches at the In­sti­tute of Di­plo­macy and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, Univer­sity of Nairobi.

PETER KAGWANJA The road to the Oc­to­ber 17 re-run is heav­ily mined with char­ac­ter at­tacks on in­di­vid­u­als, ex­perts, in­sti­tu­tions and in­ter­na­tional ob­servers.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kenya

© PressReader. All rights reserved.