In Summary

  • No regime in Kenya’s history has moved as quickly to restrict democratic space as the present one.
  • Resistance has followed every attempt to restrict democratic space, with varying degrees of success. And every time, there has been tremendous pain and suffering for Kenyans and Kenya.
  • Foreign funding affects every sector. The biggest corporations are foreign funded: From Safaricom to Kenya Breweries, Kenya Airways to Barclays Bank and Equity Bank

No regime in Kenya’s history has moved as quickly to restrict democratic space as the present one. In just eight months, a law restricting media freedom has been passed, and now there is the insidious proposal to control and finish off independent civil society.

This latter effort is ironically led by Attorney-General Githu Muigai, whose rise to fame and fortune was on the back of the same civil society he now wants to extinguish! It reminds me of the story of the man who uses a ladder to climb to the top of the tall coconut tree and then casts it away so that no one else can climb up.

But the ladder to ascend is also the same one for descending and, without it, his fall is traumatic and painful.

Jomo Kenyatta took three years to amend the constitution to force the “little general elections” to thwart the new Kenya People’s Union from having enough seats in Parliament to be an effective opposition. But this shrinking of democratic space had been foreshadowed by the assassination of Pio Gama Pinto in 1965.

It was three years before Daniel arap Moi changed the law to prohibit political parties and thereby ensure a monopoly of power which lasted 10 painful years. Mwai Kibaki tried to shrink the space three years into his rule, with the foolhardy raid on The Standard and extra-judicial executions calculated to intimidate the population.

Resistance has followed every attempt to restrict democratic space, with varying degrees of success. And every time, there has been tremendous pain and suffering for Kenyans and Kenya.

In the 1960s,  shrinking democratic space led to massive corruption, massacres and assassinations within a climate of fear. With the Cold War at its peak, Kenyatta was insulated internationally but resisted nationally.

In the 1980s, we again saw a rise in corruption, torture and massacres from Wagalla to the state-instigated violence in the Rift Valley, but with international and national resistance with the end of the Cold War.

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