Parliament Buildings

A section of Parliament Buildings, Nairobi. 

| File | Nation Media Group

Petitioning the government is a sign of maturing democracy

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States. His progressive politics, including the freeing of slaves, shaped the future of America. One of his most memorable quotes is “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”.

I was reminded of this quote by Kenyans’ claims that the current bunch of politicians are lying to them. They accuse the Kenya Kwanza government of rescinding on their election campaign promises, and this is the crux of the disappointment.

The coalition came to power on the back of its promises of improving the lives of the poor, whom they baptised as the ‘hustlers’. They made their followers believe they were together in hardship and would walk in their shoes. At the campaign rallies, they vowed to make the lives of hustlers better when they came to power.

However, as soon as power changed hands, the government made policies that ended up hurting the very people they promised to cushion from hardship by increasing the price of essential commodities. Fuel prices skyrocketed and made production of food even more expensive. Corruption carried on without missing a beat.

In fairness, the government did run into the headwinds as soon as it came to power. Their start was challenged by the effects of Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine that impacted on fuel supply and prices globally.

But even though these were legitimate excuses, the speed with which corruption gained traction in a government that has been in power for less than a year, coupled with a series of scandals implicating some cabinet members, got Kenyans riled.

The broken promises include fighting corruption, reducing the cost of living, entrenching good governance, ending ethnicised politics, which has bedevilled Kenya for decades, and respect for the rule of law.

The backsliding has seen officials, including cabinet secretaries, heckled at rallies and no-shows at government events. People are starting to vote with their feet.

The waning support, even in the leaders’ backyard, is based on the disingenuous ways they have gone about running the country. They have been big on talk and less on action. People feel blatantly duped.

Disregard for constitutionalism

The other challenge the government faces is its total disregard for constitutionalism. When the coalition’s leadership came to power, they took the oath of office to respect and uphold the Constitution. It was to be expected that they would uphold the spirit and values of the supreme law. But that does not seem to be the case.

It started with appointments to the government against the key aspects of the Constitution based on ethics and integrity. Misfits of all kinds have found shelter in the government as rules were bent to accommodate them.

Bicameral Parliaments have been compromised and, instead of standing up for the national values, they choose to rubber-stamp any policies demanded by the Executive, however unconstitutional or unpalatable to the masses.

The rule on separation of powers is still difficult to grasp for most elected MPs and MCAs as they pursue personal interests over those of the electorate.

Looking at all the negative issues beguiling the country, one can see that it is taking two steps forward and five back. However, the hope for the country lies in the Constitution. It has put a spring in the steps of Kenyans, who have resorted to it to hold fire to the feet of the government. They petition the courts over any attempt by the government to go against the Constitution.

Such moves are not what a government that wishes to run the country like a personal fiefdom would want to hear. But the beauty of petitioning government excesses lies in the fact that our democracy is slowly maturing. We should be grateful that we have a space in which to challenge and ensure those whom we elected to be the custodians of the Constitution do not overstep their mark and abuse the trust bestowed on them by us.

Kenya being a sovereign state, powers lies in the electorate, not politicians. As long as that distinction is clear, hopefully, the courts will see it fit to walk with the public and ensure the checks and balances put in place by the Constitution are watertight.

There is no need for the government to, therefore, flap when decisions go against it. That is just democracy at play. The leaders signed up for democracy and should not now think they can run an autocracy because it fits the ends to their means. Hence, Kenyans should petition away; it is the least they deserve to enjoy their rights.

- Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected]. @kdiguyo