A week ago, city commuters collided with the stout menace of government resolve as the Thika superhighway was converted into a sprawling detention cell for curfew-breakers.
The shock and outrage that greeted this drastic security measure led to much aggrieved rumination. In due course, the principal grouse revolved around the irony of the fact that this brutal operation was actually intended to enhance measures to protect citizens from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Irrespective of their condition, people were confined on the highway for hours in distressing conditions. Youngsters who had just completed their examinations spent a rainy night unguarded in Nairobi’s inclement streets.
The irony saturating these State-citizen collisions are a cardinal feature of our new normal.
As we know very well, the contemporary Kenyan State has been on a decisive retreat from its traditional responsibilities to its citizens. A reading of the Bill of Rights quickly reveals the fact that as a general rule, citizen rights are obverse expressions of State obligations to provide specific services.
The Kenyan State absconded these obligations, reducing rights to nothing more than just aspirations.
To add insult to injury, the State has proceeded to reverse the relationship, foisting the obligation to provide these services upon citizens.
Monopoly of violence
A language of individual responsibility pervades every domain, from security to pandemic containment, signalling this brazen abdication.
However, it is also clear that the State is intensifying, rather than abdicating, its monopoly of violence.
In a normal dispensation, legitimate State violence is used to secure and enforce citizen rights. In our situation, State violence without any pretence of legitimacy is used to enforce individual responsibility.
A system of self-service is thus created, whereby citizens are violently coerced to expend their private resources to make up for the State’s neglect.
And as we step further into this gap, public services rapidly collapse. Amenities like oxygen, vaccination, electric power and water supply can no longer be taken for granted.
This is why, from a policy standpoint, the national coronavirus pandemic response is overwhelmingly a security, and only minimally a health issue.
This turn is consistent with State retreat from service provision in the context of a general constitutional abdication.
The harrowing mishaps arising from such absurdity barely register in the abstracted consciousness of the stewards of this derailment.
The foremost purpose of the Bill of Rights and rule of law is to secure the nation from descending into a hellish crucible of human suffering without respite.
Use of violence to execute illegitimate privatisations: of public resources by the elite, and of public obligations by the masses, fall in a diabolical continuum.
On the one hand, increased taxes are no longer destined to be invested in the provision and improvement of public services. On the other hand, the impoverished citizen is obligated, on the pain of arbitrary cruelty, to assume the State’s public duties at her further personal cost.
It is when the system is rigged to enslave impoverished masses for the benefit of an extractive elite, that our descent into national collapse and State failure gathers momentum.
At the moment, this fact is undeniable; the nation groans under the vicious battering of intentional, as well as unavoidable tragedies. The people’s suffering deepens as the pounding hammer of a ruthless pandemic flattens them against the anvil of a merciless State.
Even then, a charmed elite incongruously thrives in a bountiful parallel universe, oblivious to its responsibility.
The daily stampede by frantic throngs anxious to beat the curfew is dangerous in countless ways, not least of which is the heightened risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
Forcing pupils to wander the streets in the freezing nights is incredibly sadistic. Converting Thika road into a massive detention facility is likewise an act of arbitrary depravity.
Yet these are only a few instances of a casual recklessness that have come to characterise the dystopia we live in, under the 2010 Constitution.
As an exclusive duty-bearer, the citizen’s daily experience of public policy is one of perpetual brutalisation. State abdication all but extinguished the notion of citizen rights.
A rapacious elite continues to rip apart the system, reducing the State’s capacity to accomplish basic tasks, or even to sanely leverage its monopoly of violence.
It is increasingly clear that aside from tragedies inflicted by the elements in the order of Acts of God, we must also reckon with similarly intractable cataclysms - acts of State.
Whether the State actually cares for its citizens was for long an important question debated with various degrees of confidence. Nowadays, it is rhetorical, and its redundancy mocks us as we witness the State’s abdication and experience the stinging lash of its violent chastisement.