A foundational principle of the rule of law in a democracy is that a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty in an independent, impartial, and competent court. The court’s proceedings must be public and governed by due process protections. The accused has a basic right to confront the accuser. A democracy wouldn’t exist without these cardinal rules.
In Kenya, however, every crook and scoundrel caught with his or her hands in the public purse loudly cautions us against a rush to judgement and proclaims innocence. Yet I think the court of public opinion – not of law – should presume every politician fingered for corruption guilty until proven innocent. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Let’s dig deeper.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting we abandon our Anglo-Saxon legal tradition and jurisprudence to which we cling so fiercely as though Syokimau – the Kamba prophetess – came down from the mountain with it. No, Ma’am, I am not saying we should think of questioning wisdom received from those who colonised us.
Let’s remember one thing; all knowledge is local and contextual, even if it’s deemed universal. You don’t start thinking as a universalist and then become a particularist. You do the reverse – start locally and maybe, just maybe, go global.
Social truths always begin in some home neighbourhood. That’s why in Kenya we need to interrogate the principle of the presumption of innocence for politicians.
Let’s leave it to the courts to presume politicians accused of graft innocent until their guilt is established beyond reasonable doubt. But we, the people, should have a different, locally grown standard. Think with me and don’t indict me for becoming illiberal overnight. I still believe in the rule of law and political democracy, even though, as Winston Churchill said, it’s the worst form of government except for all others.
But the Kenyan experience suggests that the public would be foolish to hold onto the totem of the presumption of innocence for politicians as though it were a canonical fiat. As far as I am concerned, every politician accused of corruption is guilty as charged. Let me elaborate.
We know as an empirical matter that corruption has infected the bone marrow of virtually every Kenyan. Let’s admit it, we have become a nation of corrupt men, women, and children. The first step to finding a solution is diagnosing the problem. In Kenya, brother steals from brother and sister steals from sister. We are a sick society. It wasn’t always like this, but in the 1970s a demon started to possess us. Public servants began looting the public till. They enriched themselves. They primitively accumulated wealth — land, property, cars, businesses. It was said that if you were poor it was because either you were stupid, or morally inferior. We started admiring thieving rich public servants and politicians.
Even worse, thieving politicians and public servants became our role models. We knew that the expensive cars they drove, the big houses they built, the flashy clothes and expensive jewellery they wore, and the “thriving” businesses they owned were neither manna from heaven nor from the sweat of their brow. We knew they had looted the state. But we admired them.
It’s said, in low tones, that some of our politicians and obscenely wealthy compatriots are drug dealers. But we elect them anyway. I guess, as the philosopher said, a people get the government they deserve. We have normalised corruption and stealing. That’s why our children become corrupt and steal as soon as they can walk and talk.
If this is the society we live in, and we do, why would we presume a politician accused of corruption innocent until proven guilty? It seems logical, and normal to me, that we should do the exact opposite – presume every accused politician guilty until a court of law declares them innocent, or at least not liable for corruption.
The public doesn’t have to engage in the legal fantasy of presuming politicians accused of corruption innocent. We, the people, know better. Let lawyers defend the corrupt in court. That’s their professional obligation. They get paid the big bucks to carry water for the crooks. It shouldn’t be the public’s.
I am not attacking the legal profession. On the contrary, I am arguing that legal paganism – the resort to formal legal processes and technicalities – is OK. But it shouldn’t detain the public’s sense of reality about the known knowns about Kenyan politicians. The lawyers can argue that there are unknown knowns and known unknowns about their clients. That’s fine. But we, the public, don’t have to wait for legal shenanigans meant to launder the corrupt.
I am making this argument as a last resort to the conscience of Kenyans to stop admiring thieves and letting them be the role models for our children. Let’s stop electing thieves. No mas.
Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua
Our wizards saw the Brave New World, but none saw coronavirus
Last year in December, Nation Media Group held its first Kusi Ideas Festival in Kigali. The festival tried to peer ahead the next 60 years in Africa.
There were many Brave New World ideas about how that future might look like, and also the perils that progress almost always brings. Needless to say, no one saw Covid-19 coming.
A futurist curtain-raiser in The EastAfrican, titled Africa in 2079, came close to outlining a mirror universe to the one Covid-19 is bequeathing us.
Between London, Zimbabwe, and the corners of Africa where Econet’s fibre optic network reaches, Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless and former chair of the board of AGRA wrote:
“I recently invested in a tech start-up that has created an Uber-like platform for tractors, enabling farmers to link up with a central database and order a tractor via SMS…freeing the farmer from the drudgery of the hoe. This service is particularly valued by women farmers, enabling them to circumvent social norms that might otherwise hamper their ability to hire a tractor.” From wherever we are hiding from the virus, unable to roam the farm, Uber farming could be the new way a lot of our food is produced.
From Tanzania, Aidan Eyakuze, who is executive director of Twaweza East Africa and has been confined in-country as an elegant prisoner for nearly two years because of his love of inconvenient data, painted an intoxicating but strange utopian-dystopian picture of Africa at the end the century.
By 2079, he foresaw the “vast majority of Africans earn their living through multiple micro-tasking (MMTs) ever since every ”job” was unbundled into its component tasks…leaving only those unbundled micro-tasks needing social intelligence, creativity or dexterity to be done by people. All ”taskers” are always-on private contractors who bid relentlessly for the privilege of tasking.
Incomes are kept low by the relative scarcity of tasks requiring the human touch.
“The unrelenting competition for tasks is both stressful and socially divisive — you are competing against everyone all the time…even marriages have renewable term limits, ‘in case someone better comes along.’” With work-from-home regimes, the former has come 78 years earlier.
Indeed, even for the latter, more people now probably think being cooped up with the same man or woman in the house “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part,” is a very archaic model.
Between Italy and Kenya, the Society for International Development’s Arthur Muliro, peered into a what a truly borderless Africa might look. Among others, his gaze settled on, of all places, Libya.
“Libya…was now welcoming other Africans and allowing them to settle. The peace deal that had come after a decade of civil war was holding and there was new optimism, in part boosted by the arrival and expansion of new migrant groups who had settled there and were helping rebuild their adopted country.”
On a close re-reading, turns out Aidan hinted that Turkey, which jumped in the Libyan fray as the coronavirus made its way out of Wuhan, might have something to do with it.
Stadiums progress welcome – Daily Nation
Last week, the Sports ministry’s top officials, led by Chief Administrative Secretary Hassan Noor Hassan and Principal Secretary Joe Okudo traversed the country to access the ongoing construction of stadiums.
President Uhuru Kenyatta also made an impromptu tour of the Nyayo National Stadium to ensure that all is well besides giving Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed full support. That has made sure that renovation works resume at all the stadiums — including Kasarani, Nyayo, Kipchoge Keino, Kamariny and Wote — and that everything is running on schedule.
Upon completion of some of these arenas, the country will have positioned itself to host major world events, especially in football, athletics and basketball. The ministry must, therefore, ensure that, while it has given contractors an ultimatum to finish their work, it also insists on quality delivery.
But there are concerns about work at county stadiums, especially in Mombasa, where those who redesigned the arena have done away with the internationally approved running track.
The new stadium has been designed for football only hence won’t host any track and field events. The four lane track will only be for warm up and this has raised eyebrows.
Mombasa County Chief Sports Officer Innocent Mugabe said Bububu grounds in Likoni and Kenya Ports Authority’s Mbaraki Sports Club will be upgraded for sports use. Mombasa being at low altitude, it is suitable for staging major World Athletics events, having staged the 2007 World Cross Country Championships.
Kenya is bidding to host the 2025 World Championships in Athletics and Mombasa can easily be the venue with a good stadium in place. There is still time to build a county stadium.
Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
When Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha announced a fortnight ago the postponement of school reopening to January next year, he gave an exception. Universities, teacher training colleges and technical training institutions were directed to be ready to reopen in September.
Consequently, they were asked to put in place safety measures prescribed by the Health ministry, including reorganising classrooms and hostels to ensure social distancing. Just a month to the planned reopening, are those institutions really prepared?
In the past few days, Prof Magoha has convened meetings with the heads of the institutions to plan for the reopening and visiting the colleges to assess their preparedness. Preliminary reports from these engagements indicate that just a few institutions are ready.
At the university level, so far, only Strathmore has been declared ready for reopening. Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
For teachers’ colleges, three — Murang’a, Kibabii and Kericho — have met the threshold. Assessment is ongoing for the technical training institutions.
But the broad observation is that most of the institutions are not ready. Though not surprising, most of them are ordinarily in poor state and Covid-19 has just exposed them. Beyond the situation, long-term actions are required to revamp and revitalise them.
Reopening the colleges in September will be the starting point for relaxing restrictions in the education sector. The reason for beginning with colleges is that they have mature students who understand the health protocols and can, therefore, take care of themselves and minimise infections. Their experience would then inform plans for reopening primary and secondary schools.
Closure of schools and colleges has dealt a huge blow to education. Learners in schools have lost a whole year and have to repeat classes next year. This comes with high social, economic and psychological. Indeed, this is the first time in history that schools are being closed for a year.
The last time the education sector suffered most was in 1982, when, following an abortive coup, the University of Nairobi and then-Kenyatta University College were closed for nine months. That created a major backlog and that took five years to clear. This is the reason steps should be taken at the earliest opportunity to mitigate the damage.
The challenge, therefore, is for the colleges to work on those health protocols to prepare for reopening. All other sectors, such as transport and tourism, are reopening and, therefore, colleges have no reason to lag behind. We ask the management of the institutions to expedite the required processes and get ready for reopening in September as directed.