An open letter to President Uhuru Kenyatta

You cannot force Kenyans to accept election results.

Your Excellency,

I recently read in a local daily that your government is mulling over a plan to compel all Kenyans to accept the results of the upcoming general election; that it will be considered a criminal offense to hold any view other than that the results are valid; that force may be used to implement this plan; and that this nefarious initiative would target specific areas in the country, including Kisumu, my dear homeland.

I must say it made for pretty scary reading, sir. Which is why I suspected it wasn’t true — it’s the era of fake news, you know — and expected your spokespeople to come out with a clarification, explaining perhaps that the paper was mistaken and that no such action would be taken.

But that clarification didn’t come, sir. Therefore, I believe, it is my duty as a patriotic Kenyan to send you this heartfelt note. You, as the most powerful individual sworn to protect our constitution, must surely be aware that the aforementioned proposal radically goes against the dictates of that hallowed document.

It goes against the freedom of assembly, the freedom of conscience, the freedom of speech, and countless other freedoms and rights that only our learned friends can accurately number. In short, its implementation will be a disaster for our democracy.

Which makes me wonder, what would make your administration so fitful as to force Kenyans to accept the results of an election that has not even taken place? The election is still months away, sir. Sure, there are considerable numbers of Kenyans who are already under the impression that, when the elections happen, they will not be as free and fair as they ought to be.

But don’t you think they are within their rights to hold this opinion, sir? Don’t they have the experience of the past to back them up? And don’t you think your reaction, to prohibit the holding of this view, not only validates it, but also makes it harder for anyone to sanely hold the contrary opinion?

I understand the motivation behind the proposal. You fear a repeat of 2007/2008, whose dark ghosts still hover above our heads. We were all witnesses to the indignity to which you were submitted by the ICC as a consequence of that dishonourable time. You want to protect Kenyan lives and Kenyan property against any violence that may proceed from mass action after the elections.

It is a noble desire, sir, and one for which I truly commend you and offer my full support. But this proposition — assuming it has your approval — constitutes an overstepping of your bounds, sir. Do you sincerely think there is only one way to do this, and that way but one that infringes on the rights of the people you seek to protect? Don’t you think there are better ways?

In this matter, your job, I will hazard to say, is to make sure the elections are free and fair. Ours is to decide whether it is so or not, whether to accept it or not, and whether to protest it or keep quiet about it. This is our constitutional right. And you cannot, you should not even try to, force any of these options down our throats.

You can only come back in to make sure that malign elements do not co-opt our exercise of these rights for their own gain. If a group of people were to protest, for example, your prerogative should be to protect shops and businesses from looting, and civilians from undue injury, as you ought to. Do not protect rights from being exercised. Because then they cease to be rights.

An excellent example is provided here for us by the United States of America, that bastion of democracy, which has inspired our own democratic aspirations for so long. You and I saw, sir, how after their recent presidential elections, millions of Americans found it necessary to express their disapproval of the results.

We saw them take to public spaces and online platforms, where they vented all they could. Some of the placards they carried… sir, were rather offensive. But no attempt was made to stop them by force. And even, after the President-elect was sworn in, millions continued to march against him, the administration’s patience did not give. There was a day millions of women walked right to his front lawn, sir. Just imagine, his front lawn!

Yet law enforcement agencies worked to protect these protesters, and to make sure that they got to exercise their rights in a civil way. I know you guys recently spoke, but here’s a secret, sir; between you and me, I don’t think President Donald Trump is exactly the best of men. But he didn’t resort to inhuman means to smother opposition to his election. Neither should you, sir.

That said, I know my words count for nothing without your goodwill, sir, and that is precisely why I count on it. I know you have the means to enforce this ridiculous proposition if you really want to. You recently showed off the new security hardware that your government has purchased.

And you rightly reckoned the drastically improved police-to-civilian ratio during your “State of the Nation” address as one of your successes — I am certain we will soon see similar improvements in other sectors.

But do you want your government to go down in history as the government that brought back the blatant infringement of the most basic human freedoms? And this after our entire history has been one of assiduous struggles for these very freedoms?

Sir, I am sure your record on human rights matters to you. I am sure you know that history does not treat tyrants well. And I am sure you do not want history to mistake you for a tyrant. Neither do I, sir, neither do I. But if you go down this path, I will be surprised if it doesn’t.

And that is why I still believe you will come out to dismiss this proposition, and assure all Kenyans that they are right to believe it is a blessing to be born and to live in this great country. Let freedom reign, sir, and your people will love you for it.


Mathew Abiero

As proud a Kenyan as they come.

Note [23.03.2017]: The government spokesman, Eric Kiraithe has denied that the government has plans to prevent protests after the August elections. However, as he did not deny the contents of the document seen by the Daily Nation, which clearly contradict his explanation, the contents of my plea remain the same.

Feature image: Source unknown.

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