, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 5 – The rare spectacle of heckling the President on a National holiday is slowly becoming the norm. Journalists and activists seem to be enjoying the lifetime chance of gaining national publicity on live television. Looking at where the country has come from in terms of democracy one would be tempted to consider this as more opening up of democracy in the country.
As much as we appreciate the grave challenges Kenyans could be facing the raging from hunger, unemployment, high cost of living and corruption, it is on the other hand appears disrespecting on the institution of Presidency.
In the Nyayo Era heckling the President was unheard off. Discussing him was considered suicidal. When I was growing up we were made to believe that President Moi had put intelligence officers across the country including my village. Mentioning the name of ‘baba’ in vain could have landed one in jail. Activists who dared cast any aspersions on Nyayo, found themselves at the small rooms in Nyayo house.
“It is disheartening when you see the sought of desperado attempts to heckle the President on a state function. To me this amounts to no more than publicity seeking because what were they going to achieve? Was the President going to listen to what they were saying? Is everybody going to go to where the President is and present their complaints through shouting and heckling?” the Executive Director of the Public Complaints Standing Committee Kenneth Mwige poses.
Part of this behaviour could be traced back to the advent of multiparty democracy in the country. Activists and politicians got away with criticising the government and the Head of State. However one thing that remained was the loyalty ministers and other officials had for the government. They never disagreed in public neither did either criticise the other – leave alone the Head of State.
On a visit to the Middle East on the last days of his reign former US President George Bush was treated to a rare send off when an Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at him as he addressed a press conference. This probably was the last of his struggling leadership and waning image. When President Moi was handing over the baton to President Mwai Kibaki the send off was similar to that of President Bush. He was hurled with insults and mud. And this is where the citizens seem to have picked up a new trend of disrespecting the Presidency.
Last year during the Jamhuri celebrations Kenyans were treated to a rare feat, an activist seated a few metres from the President attempted to shout down the Presidential Speech while a group of journalist and activists had earlier matched to the grounds to disrupt the celebrations to submit their petitions. To President Kibaki it is stupidity to leave home and go to the stadium with the sole purpose of shouting at him or any other leader.
To some though the result to embarrass the Head of State is a desperate move by those who feel the leadership is far removed from the realities on the ground, the challenges and problems Kenyans are facing. To many this is a sure platform of getting the attention of the Head of State and the nation and one would be forgiven considering that a letter to the President on any issue will probably never reach him. When our senior Editor Eric Latiff put this out to the readers to blog a section bloggers seem to agree with this school of thought.
“In this, talk of a genuine, bitter, educated unemployed youth who believes he misses job opportunities due to social decay and an activist who genuinely believes in a certain cause which deserves attention but isn’t getting any from the powers that be,” reckons one of the bloggers.
“It is clear that most Kenyans are to say the least disappointed with the current govt. This is because we are becoming more aware of our rights and our current environment. To choose a day like Madaraka day to boo and heckle our govt is justified,” adds Naomi.
Mr Mwige seems to agree with the President and says that the behaviour is not only embarrassing but also futile as it only serves to show disrespect for both the President and the National holidays. He says his office is one of the many avenues that Kenyans can utilise to express their frustrations. Created by the State, the office has in the last year helped hundreds of aggrieved Kenyans get the services they deserve through interventions.
“If somebody was serious and they had a serious issue they wanted to ventilate seriously then they should approach the matter seriously as well,” Mr Mwige reiterates.
Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale disputes the assertion that this is just a publicity gimmick or stupidity as alleged by the President and Mr Mwige. He acknowledges that desperation is the sole reason behind the shouting.
“There is no respect in being hungry or suffering under the hand of corruption,” he observes.
The bull fighter, as he is known is actually angered by the way police officers manhandle the victims: “This should be treated as a demeanor where on is closed in the cell for a day or two not the violent treatment we see.”
However the Ombudsman offers other avenues members of public could use to pass their message home which he considers more acceptable.
“Kenyans could write petitions, they can involve non governmental organisations or they can involve the Kenya Human Rights Commission if it is a matter on human rights violations or even collect signatures from ‘wananchi,” Mr Mwige says in his advice.
However the heckling is not limited to national holidays. Supporters have gotten a new response to the usual ODM, PNU or Harambee slogans responses such as Unga, Migingo have gained publicity. The extent of desperation facing Kenyans comes to the fore with the heckling.