Three cheers for Kenya’s democracy, but beware intellectuals crying wolf

william ruto swearing in photo rachel

President William Ruto and his wife Rachel at Kasarani Stadium, Nairobi, during his swearing-in ceremony.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Is education overrated? I am inclined to think so – especially after reading Prof Makau Mutua’s polemical articles tagged ‘Kenya’s fake democracy’, published in a column in this paper. Certainly, this was my most troubling reading in recent times.

In its wake, I re-read Isaiah Berlin’s classic, The Power of Ideas, which warns against underestimating the power of ideas. “Philosophical concepts nurtured in the stillness of a professor's study could destroy a civilisation,” Berlin warns, citing the German poet, Heinrich Heine.

Simply put, useful as education is, if not imbued with morals and values of truth, honesty and sobriety, it has the pernicious potential to turn humans into clever devils.

Because intellectuals wield the power of ideas, which are the moral equivalent of a nuclear bomb, they must at all times be guided by conscience – a moral sense of right and wrong.

This is what Noam Chomsky aptly described as the “responsibilities of intellectuals” to speak the truth and to expose lies.”

But the intellectual space is split between those, like the pro-Hitler Martin Heidegger, who subordinate truth to power, and those who defend truth when in power and speak truth to power when out.

As such, down the ages, the trend by sections of intellectuals to kowtow to the whims of their political passions and idiosyncrasies has exacted an extremely heavy toll on humanity.

In an earlier article in this column, I showed brick by brick how Raila Odinga lost the August 9, 2022 presidential contest, concluding that ‘Ruto won fair and square’ (Sunday August 21, 2022).

Remarkably, Kenya’s 2022 peaceful transition unfolded against the backdrop of “democracy in retreat” worldwide.

The violent attack by riotous mobs loyal to President Donald Trump in January 2021 on the US Capitol in Washington – the iconic symbol of the world’s oldest democracy – showed that democracy is always in the making, forever incomplete, propelled forward by possibilities.

Yes, Kenya’s democracy is work in progress, too. But three cheers for one of Africa’s most robust democracies.

The country’s 2010 Constitution created independent institutions such as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the Supreme Court and a plethora of laws safeguarding the incipient culture of democratic governance as bastions of its democracy.

Peaceful transition

In 2022, Kenya had a rare moment of peaceful transition that ushered its fifth republic. Besides passing this acclaimed acid test for democratic stability, Kenya broke the jinx of ‘hegemonic instability’ where Africa’s regional powers like Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa, which are expected to be the ‘praetorian guards’ of peace in their regions, are embroiled in internal wrangles, wars and instability.

Beyond the three cheers, Kenya’s democracy has come under severe attack. Prior to embarking on his ‘Kenya’s fake democracy” series of articles, Mutua, as the opposition spokesperson, declared that the Raila Odinga-led Azimio la Umoja coalition did not concede defeat in the August polls. Therefore, the 2022 presidential election is far from over.

In the subsequent articles, Mutua spawned the thesis that Odinga won the August 2022 presidential contest but his victory was “stolen” – for the fifth time.

He rubbished the ensuing democracy as “fake” and “a curse”. In four articles published between October 30 and November 20, 2022, Mutua erected a three-faced ‘architecture of blame’ for Odinga’s ‘loss’.

Mutua hoists his ‘architecture of blame’ upon the theory of ‘psychosis of fatalism’, an esoteric philosophical argument that Kenya’s democracy is a victim of a people – Kenyans and people of Black African heritage in the West alike – “traumatised by multiple legacies of victimisation” and who have normalised and internalised the complex of inferiority, resulting in “self-bigotry and low expectations of those who rule, or govern, them”.

Awkwardly, Mutua is trying to force the square peg of Kenya’s 21st century politics into the round hole of the Black psychosis of America’s post-slavery politics!

“Rigged the election”

In 2022, Mutua posits, a “centre-right faction that Mr Kenyatta had elevated to the highest echelons” within the state, and allied to Ruto, “Odinga’s victory”.

This “class” was the real forces that determined the outcomes of the 2022 election. It “betrayed Kenyatta and rigged the election against Mr Odinga and Azimio la Umoja”.

In the third part, the don draws the Supreme Court into his blame-game orbit. Taking the long view of the Supreme Court in the ‘ballot theft’, Makau reserves the ivai (Kamba poison) for the former Chief Justice, Dr Willy Mutunga, for ostensibly failing to “take us to judicial Canaan”.

As his cardinal sin, Mutunga dismissed Odinga’s petition and affirmed Kenyatta’s victory in the 2013 presidential contest. Mutua’s atypical Judiciary’s hero is CJ David Maraga, who “struck down Jubilee’s victory in Raila Odinga vs Uhuru Kenyatta and IEBC” in the 2017 election.

In the fourth article, Mutua exposes CJ Martha Koome – another “fallen angel” whose team dismissed Odinga’s case against Ruto.

If democracy has a friend in Mutua, then it needs no enemies. His rendition of Kenya’s democracy in 2022 is not a clear-headed philosophical analysis of the concepts, contexts and actors, conceived in “the stillness of a professor's study”.

Rather, it reads like a series of exalted diatribes, invectives, rantings and broadside attacks on holders of key offices of democracy in Kenya.

Mutua should have heeded the wise counsel of the Greek Philosopher, Pythagora: “Strength of mind rests in sobriety; for this keeps your reason unclouded by passion.”

As spokesperson of the coalition and an intellectual leading light in Raila Odinga’s presidential campaign, Mutua is a true blue dyed-in-the-wool Azimio honcho.

Mutua’s tirade against Kenya’s democracy as ‘fake’ is sour grapes after Azimio’s loss.

It heralds the return of afro-pessimism as the newest affront on Kenya’s democracy. His fanatical rendition of democracy makes democratic institutions impossible.

It brings to mind what Bill Clinton once called “fashionable cynicism”, a kind of self-indulgent arrogance that utterly disregards the will of the voter.

Like Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo, Raila Odinga may enter the annals of history as the best President Kenya never had. But Mutua should not insult our intelligence.

The defeat of Odinga and Azimio in 2022 does not make our democracy and its institutions fake just like their victory would not have made it genuine.


Prof Kagwanja is a former Government Adviser and current Chief Executive at the Africa Policy Institute (API). He’s Adjunct Scholar at the University of Nairobi and the National Defence University.

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