Shhh: A Step by Step Guide to Silence

Sometimes, you can almost admire the skill with which our rights are being stripped from us. There is a kind of finesse to it, a mastery that you don’t see very often. It would be impressive if it wasn’t so goddamn terrifying.

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If you’re a government that wants to arrest people for speaking against it, and you’re unfortunate enough to be in a democracy, you’ve got to pick your words very carefully. You cannot say that you were insulted, that would seem petty – you call it undermining authority. That has weight. It sounds important, dangerous even.

He’s in prison for insulting the president. No. That just screams dictator.

He’s in prison for undermining the president’s authority. Yes. Now you’re onto something.

How a slight can undermine the authority of the most powerful man in the country is, as these things always go, something that need not, and will not, be explained.

Once you have the right words, you now have to pick the right targets. You can’t just round up any old critic. You’re trying to send a message and set some precedent. If you choose badly you won’t accomplish either. For example, take Gado. It is unlikely that you will find anyone who has depicted the president in an insulting manner more often than Gado. If an insult can undermine authority, then Gado is public enemy number one. In the face of Gado, the president is very nearly out of authority to be undermined. But you cannot arrest Gado. At least, not at first.

You really cannot justify arresting a popular satirist without turning everyone against you. He’s too easy to defend. He’s too well liked. Charging him with anything, even something as important sounding as undermining the president’s authority, is just too clearly wrong. You cannot sell it. So you need another kind of target.

You need someone not very sympathetic. Someone guilty of something else, preferably something they said. Someone difficult to defend because no one really wants to be associated with them. You need to find yourself a Wadi Okengo.

Once you find and arrest a person like Wadi, you’ve already won the first battle. Dissenters will find that they cannot defend the right they think is important without defending Wadi as well. He is someone an injustice is being carried out against and they have to defend him, it’s all part of the responsibility. But, the very moment they do, his hate speech will come up. The disgusting tribalist things he said will inevitably become linked to the whole case and it will all seem like part of the same issue. His defenders will find themselves in the untenable position of both defending and distancing themselves from him. Predictably, this is not a very effective way to convince people you’re right. They’re in a fight and they don’t have sufficient ammunition. You win.

But you can’t stop there. The message needs to stick. If you really want them to watch what they say you need to show them that no one is safe. That no fish is too big to fry. That’s where someone like Robert Alai comes in. Extremely popular but not very sympathetic. A man with such an even distribution of allies and enemies that any debate involving him will quickly descend into noise. And should anyone be willing to put aside their loathing of the man to defend him, what of it? He is the man who prays for women to be raped. Who said he would strip scantily clad women himself? Etcetera etcetera. Defending him is just as difficult as defending Wadi if not more. Again, you have them fighting an uphill battle to get anyone to even care about the issue at hand.

Lastly, the smaller players need to get in on it. Maybe a Governor somewhere should have someone pulled in and level the same kind of accusations. Let that kind of thing crop up and spread about for a while. And when you’re done, one will have to ask whether what they want to say about you is really worth going through what Alai did. What every other person you go after will. Because it’s not about insults, it’s about undermining authority. And because no one truly knows what that actually means, they’ll have to watch themselves.

People are going to ask if they can afford to have hundreds of thousands (or any significant amount) held up for months during court proceedings. They’re going to wonder if they can stay employed if they’re accused of undermining a public official’s authority. All of that risk? Just to make a criticism? They’re going to look at the effect of one person talking versus the potential cost it could bring and do the math. They’re going to ask the kind of questions that make people afraid to talk.

When you finally start going for the people you really want to get, you wont need tricks anymore. You’ll have legal precedent on your side and the entire process will be normalized by then. It’ll be like police taking bribes, just another ugly facet of Kenyan life they accept as unavoidable. The way of things. Blasé. You can even let them talk a little then. It won’t matter because those who complain will not meet a willing audience. They will meet the face of defeat. They will hear those three little words that both excuse and explain away everything. They will be told…this is Kenya.

The Haunting Legacy

Kenya’s relationship with politics and the past is something I do not truly understand. In fact, I’m not even sure  it’s something that can be understood. For some reason, any political act older than a year or two morphs into something completely unrecognizable.

This has never been more clear than when reading the #Moiat90 tweets. I never thought I’d see the day when people would praise Moi. I’m sad I saw it. Right now I’m not even sure which was more shocking. The people who honestly said he was a good (even great) leader or those who had some weak justification for why he was ok after all.

‘”He had flaws but he was authoritative.”

“He was a dictator, but he’s lived for 90 years, what have you done?”

“He had shortcomings like everyone else.”

Some of it is just ridiculous.

“There was no tribalism in Moi’s reign” Uh….what!?

“Insecurity was not a problem under Moi. We were safe.” Excuse me?

You have no idea how much restraint it took not to start yelling at random people on the internet. Instead, I decided to compile a small list of highlights of the Moi “legacy.” It’s not conclusive, there’s definitely much more but it’s enough to get a snapshot. Enough to get an idea of the extent of the Moi era excesses. Here we go.

 

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1977

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is arrested after his play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I want) angers Vice President Moi. He writes his next novel in prison on tissue paper.

1982 – 1986

All political parties, save for KANU, are outlawed.

Following the 1982 failed coup d’etat several people are rounded up in Kamiti Maximum Prison which has been converted into a concentration camp. Hundreds of them are university students, a group that had challenged  the one party system before the coup.

The Special Branch  begins to act act as a tool of oppression. Arrests take place in the name of cracking down on “Mwakenya Activist rebels.” Several people are taken to the now infamous Nyayo House torture chambers

Some literature, the likes involving Karl Marx, Che Guevara, Malcolm X etc,  is banned and confisicated.

Sporting a beard becomes borderline illegal as they are associated with Marxism. Having a beard while being a lecturer is almost certain to get you arrested as a Communist Mwakenya dissident.

1987

Mary Anne Fitzgerald, A British journalist, is briefly arrested on trumped up charges after reporting on Illegal exports by businesses men connected to Moi.

1988

The Mlolongo voting system is introduced. Voters are supposed to line up behind pictures of their candidates. Intimidation is rife. And, if there is doubt about the result, the recount is not possible for obvious reasons.

The Police now have the right to detain anyone who criticizes the administration for up to 14 days.

Mary Anne Fitzgerald publishes an article alleging that the judiciary is under the government’s thumb. She is deported.

1989

There are plans to build a 62 story skyscraper in Uhuru Park topped with a statue of Moi. Wangari Maathai opposes the project as a waste of both resources the country doesn’t have and one of the few green spaces in Nairobi. While she manages to erode investor confidence she is forced to seek refuge in Tanzania.

1990

The Government breaks up the Saba Saba demonstration killing at least 20 and arresting hundreds.

Kenneth Matiba, Raila Odinga and Charles Rubia are imprisoned without trial for calling for multiparty elections. Matiba is denied medication and suffers a stroke.

1991

A play is banned for it’s political content. It is a rendition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

It is believed that the government is intentionally instigating and fanning ethnic clashes in order to demonstrate the folly of multiparty elections. From 1991 – 1996 KHRC estimate 15,000 people die in the clashes and 300,000 are internally displaced.

1994

David Makali, a journalist for The People, writes an article indicating that a court ruling saw interference from Moi and the government. He is jailed after refusing to sign an apology drafted by the court. He is one of at least 18 Journalists that year penalized through the legal system for criticizing the government.

1995

Clarion, a research group that has published a study exposing widespread corruption, is banned.

Mwangaza Trust which has campaigned for constitutional reform is banned.

The Safina Party is unable to officially register. Their application is not approved until 1997. One of it’s leaders, Richard Leakey is accosted in his home by a gang calling him a colonialist (sentiments echoed by Moi) and demanding that he leave.

1999

The High Court dismisses a petition filed by Mwai Kibaki against Moi for rigging the election. The reason given for the dismissal is that a copy has not been delivered to Moi personally.
It is ignored that this is because bodyguards prevented access to Moi’s office.

Moi declares that courts should not interfere in matters involving land and political parties.

Capture 2

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There are things I didn’t fit into the timeline. Like amendments aimed at increasing presidential power to take away rights while reducing accountability. The intentional breaking down of the checks and balances that keep the Judiciary neutral. Significant portions of the countries wealth siphoned away. Possible assasinations. The list goes on and it only gets darker.

I truly wonder how many of our problems today can be attributed to the effects of that era still haunting us. Wounds we’re still patching up and healing from before we can even grow. The effects of that man’s legacy.

The Unbiased Pocket Encyclopedia: Understanding Zionist Terminology

Civilians: 
Israeli citizens whose protection justifies any and all extreme measures.

Palestinian civilian
See Human Shield

Defense:
Attack

Humane:
Should Israel plan to attack a location they will  (sometimes) warn the civilian population to evacuate the area. This is what we call conducting war in a humane fashion.

Humane refers only to the act of not killing. Things humane does not refer to may include:

Where the civilians will go after evacuation. That is a personal matter and none of Israel’s business.

Complaints that Israel has left thousands homeless and destitute. These are signs of the ungratefulness that typifies Palestinians. Alive and still complaining.

Human Shield:
Innocent people Hamas militants are hiding among.  Killing or causing damage to their lives with as little restraint as possible is permitted.

Examples of acceptable ratios.

Over 600 deaths and more than 100,000 Palestinians displaced to kill 160 Militants

25 deaths (including 19 children) in order to kill one person is also within the justifiable range.

Restraint:
A UN sheltering school for housing the internally displaced in Gaza being bombed twice might seem like a lack of restraint. Especially if you consider that it’s nature was formally communicated to Israel three times.

But this is not the case. [end of explanation].

Rights of Israel:
As America has stated on several occasions. To do what is necessary to defend itself.

What is necessary’ is never truly defined. It can safely be assumed that it is somewhere in the ballpark of anything they like.

Rights of Palestinians:
Unclear.

Terrorism:
Many believe that terrorism involves the use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in pursuit of political or ideological aims. This is incorrect. That is actually called self defense.

Terrorism can easily be defined as an act attributed to what Palestinians are doing at any given moment. If a Palestinian 12 year old child throws stones then they are a terrorist and Israel can, in good conscience,  imprison them.

UN Resolutions:
What Israel understands, that the rest of the world does not, is that to be condemned in a UN resolution is a great honor. It is a competition and Israel will always aim to win.

2013 saw 21 resolutions against Israel and 4 against the rest of the world.

The US position:
Everyone has the right to respond to violence against civilians with violence that mostly harms civilians….except Palestine. Palestine can’t do that.

KENYA & SOMALIS: “Saving The Country”

“We have to do something! We can’t just sit back and do nothing!”

This is something you’re likely to hear if you bring up how Somalis have been treated in this country. They may phrase it differently but it always has the same components. There is an urgent, drastic something that needs to be done immediately or an apathetic nothing. There is never anything between those two options. It is a situation of extremes. One or the other. Now or never. Terrorism or oppression.

If you ask them if what’s happening is right they will sigh impatiently. They will give you that look they give people who do not understand the world and explain, as if to a child, that:

“Sometimes you have to do what is necessary. You should know that.”

If they are older than you they might add,

“You’ll understand that one day.”

Perhaps I do not understand the world as they so clearly suspect but that seems like a non-answer to me. Is it wrong but necessary? Or is it right because it is necessary? More to the point, why is it so necessary? Ask that last question at your own risk. The answers will often carry a thinly veiled accusation.

“Do you just want to let Kenyans die?”

“You have to consider the survival of our country!”

I have had this argument many times now. Sometimes with smart people. With people whose opinion I respect. And from what I understand, this is the summary of what they’re trying to say. Because we’re facing a crisis on a scale we’ve never seen before we have to take measures that some may find unpleasant. It is an ugly but necessary sacrifice. Put like that, it almost seems to make sense. Here’s the problem with that. The first part, the justification, isn’t true. That’s the effects of terrorism talking.

Terrorism works because of fear. It’s supposed to make you overreact, to think the problem is bigger than it is. It inspires the kind of fear a drowning person feels as they act against their own interests and try to take down the person rescuing them. This is why so many people are talking about terrorism like it’s the biggest threat in the country. It isn’t. It’s not even close.

Think of it this way. How many people get killed in homicides every year in Kenya? According to UNODC, in 2012, it was about 2,700 people. To put that in perspective, how many people get killed in terror attacks in any given year? In 2012 it was somewhere in the range of 4,500 people – worldwide. When you add up all the recorded terrorist attack fatalities in the world, inflate the number by a few hundred for any that may have been missed or underreported you get less than two years of one country’s homicides.

It’s a lot more disturbing when you consider that the 2012 rate of homicides has more than doubled when compared to what it was in 2007. If you want to rate crises, you can see which the more pressing Kenyan problem is. Yet, we would never stand for suspension of laws or profiling in that area. You’re never going to hear about an inquest into what community people who commit the most homicides are most likely to come from. And even if the information were available, we certainly would never act on it in the way we are towards Somalis.

I-am-not-a-terrorist-6

All this is not to say that terrorism isn’t a pertinent threat. It is. And I’m certainly not saying that the deaths caused by the terror attacks don’t matter. They do. What I am saying is calm down, take a breath and relax a bit. Our survival as a nation does not hang in the balance. On the list of things that are likely to kill you, terrorism is very low on that list. Which means we have time to think this issue through. To come up with proper solutions that will actually yield positive results in the long term.

We can’t continue to pretend that a lot of the people being persecuted for not having legal papers would not have them if the system was working properly. Or that we’re seriously combating terrorism when our anti-terror unit is still underfunded. And most importantly, we cannot deny that the state hasn’t been acting within legal boundaries.

You can see hints of the law being sidestepped in this UNHCR press release. If you want to see a more blatant legal breach you need look no further than this ruling the High Court made in 2013 relating to refugees and insecurity in the country. You can read the whole thing and see just how its directives are being violated. It’s almost prescient:

 “The State has not demonstrated that the proliferation of the refugees in urban areas is the main source of insecurity … Security concerns must now be viewed from the constitutional lens and in this regard there is nothing to justify the use security operation to violate the rights of urban based refugees.”

Sometimes saving the country means preserving our national identity. What we do. Who we are as a people. That means looking past the fear and making decisions that are ethical. Decisions that will help us in the long term.  That’s not easy, but it’s not meant to be. Or, to quote that ruling again:

The cost and burdens association with deepening constitutional values does not lessen the obligation of the State to,“observe, respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights.”   Every State organ is called upon to be creative within its means in order that every person enjoys, “the fundamental rights and freedoms in the Bill of rights to the greatest possible extent.”

Need i say more?