‘Let’s not become Zimbabwe’ – Dopey Kenyan Professor goes rogue

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A failed state is one that is unable, or unwilling, to perform the basic functions of statehood. In the nomenclature of the modern republican state, the term describes a state that can’t guarantee the security of the people who live under it or protect their property.

By Makau Mutua

It bespeaks a state that is an ogre bent on the consumption of its people. A state that is bereft of basic political morality and decency, and in which officials prey on a hapless population.

Such a state either descends into anarchy, or the citizens overthrow it to establish one that’s responsive to them. I am afraid we in Kenya now must start asking this scary question – are we a failing state?

Allow me to take you back to a dark place – Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. We all recall the iconic and articulate freedom fighter who led Zimbabwe out of white minority racist rule.

But Mr Mugabe, once the darling of many, became a demagogic figure fixated on hot rhetoric and fascistic populism. He embarked on what initially looked like a justifiable land reform program to return white-owned lands to black Africans.

However, it quickly became clear that this was just another land grab for his cronies which didn’t have anything to do with redressing historical injustices or requiting freedom fighters. Things quickly went south as commercial agriculture collapsed and Zimbabwe’s economy fell into a deep coma. It has never recovered.

Ruto turned out to be a 'paper tiger' during debate - Makau Mutua » Capital  News
Rogue Professor Makau Mutua

Seeking power is often a different thing from governing once in office. That’s what many freedom fighters of the early independent African republics realised. But it’s not clear whether Mr Mugabe internalised this lesson.

The man died an unrepentant fascist. In Kenya’s case, UDA’s William Ruto was declared fraudulently – as Azimio La Umoja One Kenya has insisted – the winner of the 2022 election.

Not prepared

From what I could tell, Mr Ruto didn’t expect to prevail in that contest. Hence, he and UDA didn’t seem to have been prepared to take power. That’s why the UDA regime has been gasping for air stumbling from one gargantuan error to another. The regime doesn’t know whether it’s coming, or going. It’s flummoxed.

The first sign Mr Ruto was headed for trouble was the composition of his cabinet. That body is littered, nay, punctuated with questionable characters. Among them are folks who faced charges of serious crimes including murder, rape, and corruption.

It doesn’t get any worse than that. That was before Azimio La Umoja pressed its case against the regime. The apex of Azimio’s challenge has come with the weekly demonstrations that have exposed the regime’s illegitimacy and feet of clay.

The state has responded with an iron fist in contravention of the constitution. Police have killed several demonstrators and injured many with live bullets, water cannons, and tear gas. The economy, which was comatose, is in a free fall.

Rather than address Azimio’s irreducible demands – lowering the cost of living, stopping the unilateral reconstitution of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, reinstating the Cherera Four, and ending the cannibalisation of Azimio – Mr. Ruto has dug in.

Azimio not going anywhere

Methinks Mr Ruto is yet to understand that you stop digging when you are in a hole. My guess is that Azimio isn’t going anywhere, nor will it relent on these core demands. And I don’t think that Mr Ruto’s foreign backers have the staying power if the economy continues to sink.

Sooner, or later, Mr Ruto will come to the realisation that you can take power, but you need the consent of the people to govern them. Legality isn’t the same thing as legitimacy.

Shockingly, Mr Ruto has continued to thumb his nose at Kenyans. This past week, the unthinkable happened. Goons, reportedly connected to state officials invaded the Northlands property of the former head of state Uhuru Kenyatta.

They cut and burned trees, slaughtered and took away livestock, vandalised property, and did mock division and allocation of plots to themselves. The heavily armed gangs operated with impunity as police refused to respond to the wanton destruction of property.

At the same time, hired thugs stormed Spectre International Ltd, the Industrial Area company associated with Azimio leader Raila Odinga. They broke windows and vandalised the exterior before they were repulsed by citizens. Here, too, the police refused to respond. Why target them?

UDA leaders close to Mr Ruto have vowed to teach Mr Kenyatta a lesson. Some even spoke openly about invading his property. They had threatened Mr Odinga in the same manner. But a line was crossed last week. Farm and property invasions are how they started in Zimbabwe.

Today, it’s Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta. Tomorrow it could be Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka or Jubilee’s Jeremiah Kioni. The right to property is enshrined in the Constitution. If this happens again, I can see a tit-for-tat everywhere. That’s how Kenya could descend into chaos and anarchy. If the state can touch Mr Kenyatta, then all bets are off.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School, The State University of New York. @makaumutua