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If These Folks Are So Unpopular, Why Ban Them?

By Magesha Ngwiri, The Nation (Nairobi), 13 August 2000

Nairobi - On August 14, 1990, CPK Bishop, Alexander Kipsang Muge set off on a journey that he would never return from. The bishop had been warned by the then Minister for Labour, Mr. Peter Habenga Okondo, not to set foot in Busia. However, the intrepid bishop, who was a fire-fighting anti-establishment figure known throughout the country for his political and moralistic pronouncements, defied the ban, travelled to Busia, and along the way, lost his life in a road accident.

No one has ever claimed that the late Okondo had anything to do with Muge's death. He was merely politicking. It was common for everyone in government to ban someone else those days. The Minister couldn't have arranged Muge's death, but his words could have given someone else the idea. And for that, poor Mr. Okondo, the fall-guy, paid the price. He quit the Cabinet, and soon after, died a lonely and desolate man. But not before publishing a political book whose contents ran counter to everything he had been saying as a Kanu stalwart.

It looks like we shall never learn. At least those in power today believe they have a god-given right to ban anyone they feel like, as long as those they are banning are politically "incorrect". Such fellows know that by the words of their mouths, they will win laurels from the powers-that-be. That's all they crave.

The year 1990 will go down in history as one when political intolerance became a by-word. In that year, any minor Kanu functionary could ban a former Vice-President from setting foot in a "Kanu zone". A chief, backed by his two APs, would snatch a microphone from a leader of a national political party and get away with it.

The country was divided into Kanu and non-Kanu zones. For instance, the whole of Rift Valley Province was a no-go area for anyone belonging to an opposition party. So was North Eastern Province, where the provincial administration would block an airstrip to prevent an opposition leader from landing. Those were some of the methods the ruling party used to pre-rig the elections long before the balloting day. The methods worked so well, that come the 1997 elections, it was tried once again. With singular success.

Well, 2002 is approaching, and the presidential succession issue is in the air. Already, there are areas that anyone aspiring for the presidency, whether from Kanu or from the opposition, is not welcome.

In other words, the pre-rigging game has started in earnest two years early, and judging from past experience, it can only get worse. Take just a few examples.

Opposition leader, Mwai Kibaki, started his bid rather early. He announced his intention in June, and immediately planned a series of tours in Nyanza and Western provinces, starting with the Gusii districts where he was received rather warmly early July. The Minister for Health, Prof Sam Ongeri, reacted by accusing Kibaki of planning his tour at a time the Kisii were mourning the death of Minister Chris Obure's father (can you beat this?). He then accused Kibaki of arranging the tour without the permission of the area MPs.

Then some quite insignificant fellows in Western Province panicked, prodded, no doubt, by politicians from the province who were not happy about Kibaki's emerging rapport with Ford-Kenya's Michael Wamalwa. So Kibaki was banned from setting foot in the province by, of all people, Kakamega Mayor Joshua Andanyi, and a Kanu activist with civic pretensions in Nairobi, Alex Mukabwa. The latter said that Kanu youths had been mobilised to disrupt any visit Kibaki might make in the province, while the great labour leader, Cotu's Jolly Joe Mugalla, dragged in the tribal agenda, using all the hackneyed anti-Kikuyu sentiments that erupt every five years. And, guess what, some puny Kanu activist warned Kibaki not to set foot in Rift valley Province lest he reopens old wounds. Heard that one before? Well, the tour went through all right and the country is not on fire. As for Mr. Simeon Nyachae, it is a case of the chickens coming home to roost. The moment he expressed a desire to stand for the presidency earlier this month, in fact, even before that, the President was on the warpath, accusing him of selfishness and other "crimes". A day later, Mr. Nyachae declared his candidacy, and all hell broke loose.

Immediately, some fellows threatened to invade Mr. Nyachae's farm in Mau Narok. His eternal nemesis, Geoffrey Asanyo, threatened to lead the invasion, and then Cabinet Minister Isaac Ruto went on record as warning Mr. Nyachae not to travel to the Rift Valley.

Remember Ruto? He is the young man who hounded Mr. Kipkalya Kones from his Cabinet job. His followers are the ones who pelted with stones Mr. Kones's convoy for daring to venture into Ruto's constituency, Chepalungu. Well, Mr. Nyachae has not travelled to Chepalungu yet, so we do not know what Mr. Ruto has in store for him, but the youthful minister should learn a lesson from the past.

In his heyday, Mr. Kones was fond of making such insane utterances which eminently contributed to the deadly clashes. When he fell out with the Kanu bigwigs, nobody remembered the services Mr. Kones had rendered - keeping the province free of madoadoa . And Mr. Ruto should know that his former mentor- turned-foe has forgotten more about the intrigues of power politics than he will ever know. So has Mr. Nyachae.

But aside from the quite insignificant fellows who utter dangerous nonsense with total impunity, something should be made clear to these people who weep louder than the bereaved.

Democracy implies that everyone is free to go wherever he chooses in this country and to say whatever he wishes short of breaking the law. Banning Kibaki, or Nyachae, or Raila or anyone else who may wish to contest in the elections is not only undemocratic, but also illegal.

If those people who wish to campaign in every corner of the Republic are so unpopular, why bother about them at all? This sort of rubbish is a hearkening back to the Neanderthal brand of politics that is fast losing popularity in modern Kenya.

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