23 February 2013

Kenya: Probe Rigging Claims and Threats Against CJ

Just before the infamous 2007 general election, the then opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement raised alarm that plans were underway by the then government to rig elections.

The media was replete with stories of how the provincial administration was doing President Kibaki's bidding as the country geared towards the polls.

In Homa Bay some Administration Police officers who were alleged to have been sent to the area to aid in rigging were killed by an angry mob.

Yet in the face of all these allegations, key government officers denied that there were such plans. Warnings from the National Security Intelligence Service that rigging could trigger violence on a massive scale were overlooked.

The scenario that played out then seems to be repeating itself as Kenya hurtles towards the first general election under a new constitution.

The Coalition for Reforms and Democracy presidential candidate Raila Odinga and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka have gone public and accused the Head of Public Service Francis Kimemia, National Intelligence Service Director General Michael Gichangi and Chief of Kenya Defence Forces General Julius Karangi of working in cahoots with the Jubilee coalition to rig the March 4 polls.

Raila is accusing the trio of holding secret meetings aimed at coercing those working under them to campaign for the Jubilee coalition. These are no light allegations especially in view of the mess the country was plunged into following the contested 2007 general election.

One would expect senior public officers to have learned from their past mistakes but sadly that seems not to be the case. It is business as usual and the future of the country and the well being of Kenyans is least of their concerns.

When United States Under Secretary of State in charge of African Affairs Johnnie Carson released a statement warning that even though the choice of who should lead Kenyans rested with Kenyans, "choices have consequences, individuals have reputations and their reputations follow them," Head of Public Service Francis Kimemia came out strongly to dismiss Carson.

Kimemia said he believed Obama more than Carson. This reaction by Kimemia clearly painted him as a Jubilee coalition sympathiser, a position that is diametrically opposed to the stipulations of the Public Officer Ethics Act. Section 16 of the said Act states thus, " A public officer shall not, in or in connection with the performance of his duties as such -

(a) act as an agent for, or so as to further the interest of, a political party; or

(b) indicate support for or opposition to any political party or candidate in an election.

A public officer shall not engage in political activity that may compromise or be seen to compromise the political neutrality of his office."

Kimemia is certainly alive to this provision. He also knows that in politics, perceptions are everything and as a key public officer his neutrality in politics should not be in question. The reason as to why he sees no fault in carrying himself in a manner that puts his neutrality in question remains unclear.

On the heels of these chilling allegations by Cord, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga released a statement on Wednesday in which he revealed that attempts had been made by an immigration officer under the instructions of Kimemia to stop him from travelling to Tanzania.

On arrival in Tanzania, National Intelligence Service chief Michael Gichangi called Dr Mutunga to apologise over the "small hiccup" at the airport.

This is unprecedented given the obscurity with which the NIS should go about doing its job. The mention of Kimemia and Gichangi in all these leaves more questions than answers.

Dr Mutunga heads the Judiciary, one of the three arms of government and perhaps the most important of all. In terms of seniority, he's far much above Kimemia.

The thought of getting approval from Kimemia before travelling doesn't make sense. Further, within the short time that he has been at the helm of the Judiciary, Mutunga has introduced a slew of reforms that have seen the confidence of many Kenyans in the Judiciary restored.

Under the stewardship of Dr Mutunga, Kenya now boasts of a Judiciary whose commitment to justice and the rule of law can be hardly gainsaid. This is unlike in the previous dispensation when judicial officers served as errand boys and girls of the high and mighty.

Getting justice from the courts was a preserve for the rich. The phrase, "why hire a lawyer when you can buy a judge," became the defining mark of the Kenyan Judiciary.

By the same token, Dr Mutunga alleged to have received a poison-pen letter from a group calling itself Mungiki Veterans Group/Kenya Sovereignty Defence Squad.

The letter warned against an adversarial ruling on the presidential and deputy presidential candidacy of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto.

"The letter extols the violent exploits of the Mungiki movement and threatens dire consequence," Mutunga said. This smacks of an attempt to take the country back to the dark old days.

Apparently there are powerful forces in this country who are inextricably wedded to the status quo and are determined to scuttle any efforts to reform the system.

With a legislature whose propensity to look after its own interests is second to none and an executive virulently opposed to reforms, the hope of this country lies in the Judiciary.

Indeed Kenyans have watched with immense pride as the Judiciary reversed some unconstitutional appointments made by the Executive and the Legislature. This is something that could hardly be imagined just a few years ago.

The threats to Dr Mutunga and judges should be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators swiftly brought to book. The fact that a number of judges have in the recent past been attacked should jolt security organs into action.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko has directed the Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo to investigate the threats against Justice Mutunga and other judges. This is welcome. Kenyans will, however, be watching to see whether the police will decisively act on this.

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