Trickle of revelations casts Kenya as an odious nest of predatory vipers

Kemsa warehouse

The Kenya Medical Supplies Authority Embakasi warehouse in Nairobi on December 1, 2020. Eric Ng’eno writes that tantalising revelations, including on Covid billionaires, ‘have treated an astonished public to graphic accounts of depravity and intrigues’.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The key event was the visit of the United States secretary of state, Bw. Anthony Blinken, who passed by on his African tour. As though on cue, three highly dangerous terror suspects somehow made their way out of the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison and vanished into thin air, leaving a bewildered government offering stupendous bounties.

A tormenting trickle of tantalising revelations treated an astonished public to graphic accounts of depravity and intrigues.

Video footage implicated judges, advocates, administrators, graft-busters and power-brokers in conspiracies to pervert the course of justice, and the nation groaned in agony as the Judiciary, Kenya’s most trusted institution, was exposed as an odious nest of vipers.

On the same day, it emerged that Dr Miguna Miguna’s long-awaited triumphant return to the country – serendipitously scheduled to coincide with Blinken’s arrival – had once again aborted owing to the existence of ‘red alerts’ forbidding all airlines to carry the larger-than-life lawyer home.

As Blinken departed for his next destination, an exposé of fresh, damning documents reopened the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) Covid billionaires scandal, damning hundreds of characters.

Even without the benefit of his breakfast with civil society, or the bilateral encounter at State House, the abundant information in the public domain sufficed to give Blinken an accurate picture of the local situation.

US-Kenya strategic partnership

His schedule was telling. At the civil society event, he expansively canvassed various serious threats to freedom, human rights and democracy, reiterating US commitment to defend them against creeping encroachments globally and locally.

At the bilateral, he crisply emphasised the importance of the US-Kenya strategic partnership, which spans regional peace-keeping and security, counter-terrorism collaboration, defence and security cooperation as well as economic ties.

Listening to him, an implicit tension became clear, pitting commitments to human rights, rule of law and democracy on one hand against the imperatives of the strategic partnership on the other hand.

Governments, including ours, embrace a notoriously zero-sum application of these commitments, seen to be inevitably opposed.

Even in the US, the war on terror had the effect of contracting or seriously threatening constitutional freedoms.

The age of counterterrorism and regional security crises has inspired an ambitious securitisation of public policy and administration in Kenya.

Rampant securocracy

As a result, our rampant securocracy, bolstered by the patronage of world powers, has steadily dismantled the constitutional dispensation and sponsored a vast leeway for enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, open interference with democratic and political affairs and a headlong foray into corruption and impunity.

This week, each breaking item in the ambient news cycle seemed to anchor this unwholesome backdrop.

Understandably, the Kenyan side would have much preferred the balance of interests to favour the strategic partnership with a strong security accent at the expense of good governance, democracy, war on corruption, human rights and freedoms.

Unwelcome news of wanted terrorists ambling unimpeded out of Kamiti, and of VVIPs flagrantly embezzling billions out of Kemsa, was, therefore, painfully ironic.

Our counter-terrorism effort is heavily supported by the US government. Needless to say, resources are expended through top-secret and confidential votes, away from the prying eyes of public audit and accounting. 

Likewise, American resources contribute about 70 per cent of our health budget, including Kemsa’s.

Our Covid billionaires could not have eyed a more troublesome bounty. Counterterrorism and health thus embarrassed Kenya as the locus of the rankest turpitude.

Given such discomfort, it would be understandable if the President’s intervention chiefly adverted to such pleasant topics as climate change and green energy solutions.

Political loyalty

The travails of Dr Miguna could only have stripped the executive’s hollow commitment to constitutionalism and the rule of law of all pretence.

It is plausible then, that the strategic partnership may have been interpreted by local functionaries as harbouring opportunities to claw back the democratic space and vandalise constitutional institutions.

Similarly, budgetary support for various critical programmes only ended up subsidising a bizarre political loyalty reward scheme.

Arguably, bilateral support now underwrites a predatory executive, jeopardising constitutionalism and the rule of law and endangering countless Kenyans.

Obviously, the US invariably interprets the balance in tensions between the imperatives of the strategic partnership and traditional commitment to democracy, solely in accordance with its strategic interests.

Our increasing dependency on such support implies that the slightest shift in such strategic interests can pose fateful, even existential spin-offs for us.

We are woefully vulnerable in innumerable ways, trapped under the nailed boot of a ruthless regime that prefers to deceive courts of law merely to deny a citizen entry to his motherland to obeying court orders.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court and a former State House speech writer.       @EricNgeno

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