President Kibaki’s decade of “benign” presidency as opposed to the turbo charged paranoia driven Moi’s regime lulled the civil society into losing their sharp edge and focus.
The less adversarial relationship between Kibaki and the civil society is in part because Kibaki was in the opposition with them against Moi, although he spent most of his life as a KANU man.
One of the less acknowledged impacts of the 2007 post-election violence is its severe impact on the collective psyche of key institutions, including the civil society.
Many of these institutions suffered crisis of confidence and thus less surefooted about their place in and role, in part because of their sins of omission prior, during and after the 2007 experience.
Further, few carried serious soul searching regarding their roles.
The church is the only institution that come out and sought forgiveness for their indiscretion. Unlike the church, which with some degree of success has embarked on course correction, the civil society still lives in denial, and operates on the business as usual style mode.
This made them lost the credibility, voice and counter argument stature it built during Moi’s state- their key achievement was portraying the Moi’s state as an illegitimate state. Admittedly, this was pretty easy, no grey areas, if you are with Moi, you are the “bad guy”, if you are against Moi, you are the “good guy”
But the Uhuru presidency could be the tonic
Currently in Kenya the mention of the word reform elicits less respect and more derision; If in Moi’s era reform credential was a free pass to join the “exalted” status of “good guys”, today, the mention of a reformer invites derision, a Western lackey in some circles. Demonization of reformers is nothing new; Moi use to call the civil society vibaraka, Western agents. But to annoy Moi was taken as a badge of honour.
The civil society just like the media thrives in an adversarial environment, and if the court confirms Kenyatta’s victory, his regime provides the civil society with a genuine opportunity to reboot.
The new constitutional dispensation and lack of history of reform by both Kenyatta and Ruto makes is feel like Moi MarkII, both were Moi’s surrogates, who, especially, have vociferously fought against reform.
For instance, In 1992 when he was with KANU, Ruto was involved in all manner of nefarious activities to ensure KANU’s victory in the 1992 election, that involved chasing some of the opposition members living in Rift Valley to create an exclusive KANU zone. In Kenya’s reform folklore the Youth for KANU 92 enjoys a distinctive notoriety that could be hanged on the neck of Ruto as an albatross.
In the lead up to the referendum to the new constitution Ruto cleverly disguised himself as a morality warrior and fought against the passage of the new constitution. He has plenty of cases pending in courts, all these makes him a perfect fodder for the civil society.
The new constitution has broad checks and balances that the civil society can use to make the government accountable. The civil society needs this new lease of life in order to remain relevant.
The civil society should not expect that this is an easy ride, the demonization of the civil society by Uhuru and Kenyatta has already started. Names of Keny civil society figures have already been dragged in the mud; this is a gauntlet the civil society should pick. But, this kind of vigilance from the civil society is what has been lacking over the last decade; this could help them discover their lost mojo.
Activism for activism sake
As a nation and especially the civil society cannot remain in perpetual state of activism, we need a new brand of activism. Civil society need to interrogate their utility, otherwise, the derogatory accusation by those in government that you are nothing more than elite living in your own bubble will stick.
The civil society also needs to move in to social and economic justice realm. We have, with a fair degree of success done political mobilisation and awareness, and there is need for continuing this, and consolidating the gains so far, but social and economic justice mobilisation seems not to register much in many of civil society discourse. Transition to devolution will also need the civil society to ask if they want to remain nation or devolve as well.