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.

You Are Almost Safe Now

I love my government. They care about me. They want me to be safe.

This is why the things I am hearing from my fellow Kenyans disturb me so.

I have heard some complain that the government is trying to silence them, to stop them from protesting, but this simply isn’t true. They don’t want you to stop demonstrating. They, if anything, encourage Kenyans to spread their message if they are discontent. All they are asking is that you hand them control of when and where you can do it.

Why?

Because YOU told them “tumechoka” and they listened. They thought about it, had a few serious discussions and now, they are going to craft protest routes and designations guaranteed to be significantly less strenuous for you. You will not be so tired after these new improved government approved demonstrations. It will almost be like you did not protest at all. You see? Your government listens. Your government cares.

I know you want to say that positioning affects the impact of a protest and that’s usually the idea but listen; this is even less stress for you. The government is taking this out of your hands and doing that work for you. Who is closer to the problem than the people being protested? No one. They are the problem and so they know it best. They are, by definition, experts. They can tell you where to stand if you want to effectively criticize them. They know these things.

And besides, it is for your own good. It is for security.

Some Kenyans are, believe it or not, complaining that if these amendments go through, glorifying or advocating for terrorists might get you 20 years in prison. I don’t know why this bothers you. Are you planning to praise terrorist acts? Of course not. Or maybe you’re just concerned about what might or might not be considered supporting a terrorist act. If that is the case, I’ve got you covered.

Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria says

“We want to make it clear that when the Bill comes to the House, there will be no coalitions, religious affiliations or partnerships. We ask Kenyans to watch out for those who will be on the side of freedom and democracy and those who will be on the side of terrorists and killers”

You see? It’s really easy to figure out. Support for terrorists is what politicians say it is at any given moment. What else would it be? If you are not supporting this bill and you don’t feel like you are on the side of terrorist and killers then, well…you’re wrong. Politicians are infinitely wise. They know. If you want to be on the safe side, listen to them. Do what they say. They know what is best for you. They are doing all of this for you. For security.

If you go to the official government channels on twitter they will tell you what you should already know. America did something like this and so should we. Now some of you have been quick to point out that this didn’t exactly pan out for the good old US of A. That those laws were abused and expanded and used on American citizens. Terrorism took on new meanings and even the man who introduced the patriot act came out against how it was being used. All valid points. But…this is Kenya.

Unlike the US, we have a perfect record of government ethics. Our politicians have always proved themselves to be fine individuals with impeccable moral fibre. To claim that they will abuse the potential ambiguity in the bill and twist it to serve their own ends is ludicrous. Poppycock. Balderdash! Our government is good. As we are sure that the next government will be and the one after that, ad infinitum. It is simply the way of things.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand some of it may seem scary. Like if the Director General has “reasonable grounds to believe a covert operation is necessary” he can give written authorization to an officer of the Service to “obtain any information, material, record, document or thing.” Furthermore, to achieve that goal the Service member can “enter any place or obtain access to anything,” “monitor communications” and “do anything necessary to preserve national security.” Wow.

This is in fact quite frightening and at first glance appears to have loopholes that could fit a fleet of buses. The ambiguity of where the limits are would suggest that there aren’t any. But, fear not. The Director General will be “subject to guidelines approved by the Council.” That would be the National Security Council. I don’t know why the first two words were dropped in an amendment, but it was drafted by far wiser minds than I and so they must have their reasons.

Point is, these mystery guidelines are made by people who know what they’re doing. Politicians, the police and the military. The people who have done the most to make Kenyans feel safe for decades. The ones you should trust.

Does this not set your mind at ease? Do you not feel safe now? Do you not love your government?

But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother. – George Orwell


 

UPDATE: 

If you have thoughts on how the security bill can be improved or anything like that, email them to clerk@parliament.go.ke before 5:00 PM on Monday the 15th

Or make your way to the Mini Chamber, County Hall, Parliament buildings between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm on Monday the 15th