There has always been a tension that existed between elected officials and citizens, especially in Kenya when campaign promises are only reanimated to do the next campaign. Normally, the tension comes from lack of results as citizens watch as time passes by and another term ends for the elected official to return with the fresh promise to do things better this time around or some other excuse to save face.
The tension has served for the overall good of political leadership, government of the day and citizens meaning not everyone is too cozy to attempt to breach some boundaries.
In Kenya, these tensions increased tenfold in the early days of multi-party democracy. You were assured that the presence of the nagging opposition party or coalition would be there to point out your flaws and to push for a different agenda other than your own. Sometimes, even members of the same party fell out when some in leadership pushed the lines too close for comfort or the existing political agenda.
It was a self-sustaining system that balanced public debate and saw a lot of negotiations between elected officials and government institutions in order to serve what was seen as the Kenyan agenda for the day.
If you have been keeping your thumb on the pulse of Kenyan politics, you may have noticed that something is different. Things seem to have changed in the last six years, although you can trace the source from the early days of the Jubilee government when political bro-ship replaced rivalries and positions. Others can trade it to the Tinga Tinga days when Raila Odinga went into political bed with the late President Moi.
Whenever and wherever it started, this brand of coziness creeped into our political discourse in such an organic way that one barely noticed it until it became the looming backdrop of politics of the day. In fact, if there is one thing that can differentiate the politics of 2021 to the politics of 2001 is the looming absence of political tension.
Before you try to correct me by pointing at the daily political noise that is today’s political atmosphere, I will ask you to listen more clearly and to take a closer look at the whole drama because, as far as I can tell, this is just a dinner-table domestic dispute that happens in every family. And that is not the kind of tension I am talking about.
These domestic disputes that are trying to pass off as opposition are just de facto labels carried forward from the heydays to designate that one was elected on a different ticket than the other person. In other words, natural political opposition has long ceased to exist outside of the political paper and written desgations of those holding that title in parliament, Senate or local county assemblies.
Holding the official title of opposition is not the same as being the opposition party; the other voice of the Kenyan electorate who have a different vision and agenda from the one that has been presented by the other party or coalition. It is also important to point out that, because of those sticker labels of opposition and whatnot, even Kenyans have accepted this new definition of opposition because this is what they have had to live with and for most of them, they know that even the other part exists.
I have resigned myself to this situation because that is the hand we have been served and can only observe as it unfolds.
A recent opinion report by Nation journalist Macharia Gaitho caught my eye. It was one of those short articles that say something that shatters the floor and then moves on to the next point as if the world has not shifted. The article titled ‘Parties all slogan and no plan.”
Macharia explained that: In Kenya, we don’t have political parties but mere electoral vehicles with no agenda other than providing nominations for the next poll.’
That is true and those are the words of a veteran journalist who has played with words longer than I have had a Gmail account. He summed up the whole story I was trying to say in that once sentence; but it basically confirms my analysis and puts us on the same page.
In his usual analytical approach, Macharia explained how parties lost their ideology; slowly turning the political machine as a tool for fundraising and enriching party leadership in a game of member exchange to try to win an office.
These days, it is all about the big score; never about the political fight that pits politicians against each other in their push for policy and political change in a country. I am talking about things like police reforms, poverty, civil and human rights or even fighting on things like employment, state of agriculture and trade policies…
The fights are about who gets into bed with who in order to pursue a mutual agenda of sharing the power!
Shocking, true, normal. Not news, unless you have lived in another time and experienced another brand of politics that went to political wars to press for freedom of speech, right to assembly, e.t.c.
There was an exception to this trend, though. Macharia wrote of a nascent political party called the Communist Party of Kenya. In layman’s speak, he said that this status quo was being upset by an upcoming political party; a party that seemed to be driven by their ideology to push for change and move the political conversation in Kenya to something other than who is going to get into the newly branded political bed one of the veteran politicians is making.
This unicorn of parties, described in such inconsequential notes that there was not much else given was my bombshell. The seed, once it was planted, sunk deep enough that it sparked my interest, and I wanted to know what or if there was truth in all that.
A quick search on the Communist Party of Kenya reveals two things that are relevant to this story.
The first is that their leadership consists of the typical Moi/Kibaki-era university student leadership. In fact, these guys could hold a comrade meeting and there would be no telling if it was in reference to the good old college days or the solidarity call for all socialists around the world.
The comrades seem to exist in a path of the past; idealists playing dress up to fit their legs in the boots of Kenya’s past revolunarists who were at the forefront in the fight for Kenya’s democracy change during the Moi era.
Their language is strange: speaking using old words and long forgotten terminologies while doing it in a modern Kenyan space where cliches and catch phrases and emojis make up a whole conversation.
Their buzz words are phrases you hear from history books: working class, capitalists, imperialism, they even say equality without a wink and a smirk!
Somehow, these comrades have managed to reboot political dialogue without falling out of step with modern day terminologies. Maybe it is because I am drawn to understand the words, or maybe it is because they are so sure about it that the sheer confidence they exhibit – a typical ideological confidence that we only see in the youth and that lights up in universities as it burns in the few who win the student leadership position – but it is there and you cannot look out.
They appear bright eyed and somewhat naive as they play the no-negotiations game that their fellow politicians have adapted.
They appear foolish even when they don’t seem to offer the proverbial political beds for other politicians who may be curious about them: rather than getting into bed with these comrades, you should come prepared to take to the streets.
They make war and their fights are against things like corruption, abysmal working conditions, rising unemployment and stuff like that. They march and push content on social media calling for death to corruption while chanting warnings to the capitalist elites who have negotiated into unholy arrangements to share power to feed themselves.
It is intense.
The second thing you will notice is that whatever they are doing seems to be working.
Somehow, their total resistance to the current political trends and political marriage phenoma to return to the political ideological-style opposition and political tension seems to be working. It is working so well that right now, the CPK is the singular most visible and authentic political party.
And that authenticity is what is making the party attractive; giving them so huge political mileage and a premium spot in Kenya’s political games at both the national and local levels.
From a national perspective, the CPK is making friends left right and center. The coalitions they are forming are designed to fight specific issues with the notable ones being on employment and improved worker rights, corruption and the capitalist policies. They have also managed to rely on those politicians wishing to avoid the trap of being forced to choose between the infamous marriage beds being made by the current crop of leaders.
This may not seem like much, especially when the rivals will claim one has lost the clout and is therefore moving on to an unknown alliance; but one must consider the impact of being the alternative voice in a political game of political dynasties versus ideology. It is appealing enough that people will continue to take notice as fatigue from the endless squabbles between these dynasties wears on.
The intrigue deepens when one ventures into local games where the CPK is playing. As you can imagine, most politicians have continually served these political wheeler dealing for most of their political careers. They have learned how to negotiate and even deal with opposition the same way their party leaders have been doing: offer to buy someone out, hound them out. They know of no other way because there has been no space to do anything else but this.
You can see where this is going.
Or you can ask the MP for Gem, Hon Elisha Ochieng’ who found himself in a political battle with Booker Omole. The MP is known to us, even if not in person, we have defined who he is and how his political games and his gamesmanship. On any other day, this would not even be a thing except there is a new unknown in the scene, this Booker Omole.
Booker is the typical revolutionary, an image he has crafted down to his resistance beard and soft-spoken manner. This thirty eight year old, according to his Wikipedia page, comes off as an old man in his tone and a young man in his tone. He is also the party’s national vice chairman, and like the rest of the party’s leadership, has been with the party since its heyday as the Socialist Party of Kenya. Think Charity Ngilu and James Orengo in their political awakening and superimpose that with a digital savvy engineer and you have the man who has countered every move that Elisha Ochieng’ has made and you can see why someone is in trouble.
The story behind the Elisha Ochieng’ and Booker Ngesa is the typical political rivalry. They were rivals during an election: the former won and the latter lost the election. Normally, when one loses an election, they pack up and leave. They have a lot of debt to pay and sometimes, they are so beaten that there is never coming out of it. This is possibly what the MP had expected, and having been there to wield the cane against the late Jakoyo Midiwo after an election dispute, Ochieng’ knows only too well how to vanquish a political opponent.
Especially nuisance ones who lost.
Therefore, when Booker brought up an issue of corruption where reports of CDF NG money appropriated for Masinde primary school in Gem was in dispute, Elisha Ochieng did the typical political move of trying to shut down the story. Rather than suffer through accusations that would wield interest from curious journalists looking for a story, he went straight to the top and got one Justice Florence Aburili to issue an ex parte ruling that stopped Booker from talking about the matter, organizing marches or other civil action or anything to do with it because such speak would be defamatory to the member of parliament.
Normally, courts tend to let these disputes play out in public… this one was given an exception and therefore, the honourable member must have felt like he had won it hands down considering Booker was not even allowed to defend himself on the subject. It is what happens with these things: like patting your opponent to say ‘good job, better play next time.’
In that scenario, Booker would have been shamed and forced to retire back to political obscurity because the MP has won. But Booker, who was at the time the national organizing Secretary of the party had something else up his sleeve.
He was an ideologist; a true believer who stood against corruption. So, he resisted and marched with the people of Gem until the party stepped in and together, took the matter to the EACC in true opposition style. Just like that, the battle was no longer between Booker Omole whom the MP saw as the problem, but against a sea of people who seemed to speak in a unified voice against him.
Not to be outdone, the MP went back to the known and tried battle tricks. He picked one of the witnesses; someone he could intimidate well enough to pass a message to the rest of the party and the people of Gem that keeping silence would be preferable to bearing witness against him. The witness who reported the matter back to the court moved back to the security of the crowd; leaving the MP with few options to maneuver.
Having used it before, the MP went back to court.. He had filed fresh defamation charges against Booker. He believed that if he was hobbled, he would be amenable to discussing it and settling out: creating the typical political marriages we see every day. A pact that allows the main party to suffer a private loss while the person considered the minor party suffering a more public loss and a bit of humiliation.
The case is still going on and I can assure you that there will be no marital beds for this drama. It is the streets or the streets because that is the way comrades have done it ever since.
Welcome to the fourth revolution in Kenyan politics.
Booker points out that the MP’s actions have not been a deterrent, In fact, every move has only served to spur him to continue fighting for the right to assemble, protest and his efforts to draw attention to the judicial conduct as they battle in the EACC court.
Booker is not the first citizen who has been muzzled by a politician for exposing their alleged corrupt practices or for being seen as a threat to their intention; but unlike most private citizens, Booker is a seasoned grassroots mobilizer. Having run to be a Member of parliament for Gem, he has created a lot of political networks and organic support to be able to command an audience, even with the court silencing his voice.
But unlike citizens who might wilt under the persistent hits and threats to give in and negotiate the Kenyan way to stop embarrassing the honourable member of parliament, Booker’s interest lay in exposing the truth to clear his name and also to fight for the resources for the people of Gem. His continued fight is a clear message to the MP that those intimidation tactics will not work on him.
“We have some of the witnesses at the EACC case being threatened and intimidated to withdraw their testimony,” Booker said.
“We will stand firm while fighting back against these tactics because there is no viable alternative available to the people of Gem. It is either that or let their money be stolen by whichever public official who has the connections to silence their protests.
Boker is also putting up a case to advocate against the growing practice of weaponizing the judicial system in order to prevent it from taking root in the Kenyan society. And even if change will not happen overnight, still protesting and voices are creating awareness to present the existing complaints against the judiciary. The fourth liberation has a plan to make sweeping reforms in Kenya’s democracy; including justice and equality for all.
At the very least, though, Booker together with the Communist Party of Kenya are signaling that the fight has just started, and steps are needed to reform the justice department,
There is a growing trend among tlabor board ruling that green-lighted unions’ use of the inflatable protest symbol known as Scabby the Rat at demonstrations highlights longstanding tension between free speech protections and federal labor law restrictions.
While the First Amendment guarantees U.S. citizens expansive rights to protest where they wish, the Scabby case tested a section of the National Labor Relations Act that makes it unlawful for unions to “threaten, coerce or restrain” those who aren’t directly involved in a labor dispute—in this instance, an RV company that did business with a contractor accused of safety violations.
In a decision released Wednesday, two Republican members of the NLRB joined with Democratic Chair Lauren McFerran to side with free speech—and in the process, turned down an opportunity to limit forms of lawful demonstration for unions. They held that barring use of the gigantic red-eyed rodent balloon at an Indiana trade show as a sign of worker protest may have violated the First Amendment.
Republicans in the majority pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has tolerated much more offensive protests, such as flag burning, cross burning, and the Westboro Baptist Church’s anti-gay demonstrations at funerals.
“Surely, if the First Amendment protects this conduct, prohibiting an inflatable rat and stationary banners shaming a secondary employer would raise significant constitutional concerns in the eyes of the Court,” NLRB Republican members John Ring and Marvin Kaplan wrote.
Drawing the Line
Yet the line between lawful protesting and restricted picketing isn’t always clear.
Picketing isn’t protected in the same way as other speech; courts view it as a more aggressive tactic designed to halt an employer’s day-to-day operations, usually during a strike. As such, the NLRA restricts picketing of a neutral third party.
In the Scabby ruling, the board found the union’s display didn’t constitute a picket on its own—basically because Scabby’s use wasn’t threatening enough to be considered coercive. In the decision, the board noted that the two union officials present at the display didn’t shout at or confront trade-show patrons.
Furthermore, wading into a thorny First Amendment issue could have invited review from federal courts.
If the NLRA’s restrictions on secondary picketing were written in a way that prohibits protected speech, then picketing restrictions may be unconstitutional in their entirety, said Risa Lieberwitz, a professor of labor and employment law at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
“So this saves the statute,” Lieberwitz said, adding: “You avoid having to address the First Amendment issue.”
The debate over free speech at labor gatherings isn’t new, nor is picketing the only area where free speech gets murky in the labor context.
Last year, a federal appeals court in San Francisco declined to hear a union’s First Amendment challenge to picketing restrictions, leading a dissenting judge to say unions’ speech is relegated to “second-class constitutional status.”
The NLRB has also gone after employers for threatening workers via social media, which has given rise to free speech objections, including an ongoing case in federal appeals court in Philadelphia.
The NLRB cited Ben Domenech, publisher of the conservative online magazine The Federalist, last year for tweeting he would send workers “back to the salt mine” if they tried to unionize.
Domenech is appealing the NLRB’s finding that his tweet constituted an unlawful threat, arguing that his speech was his own viewpoint protected under the First Amendment.
Domenech’s lawyer, Aditya Dynar, said in a November statement that the NLRB’s ruling “disregarded sworn employee statements saying that they perceived the tweet as just a joke”
In a brief filed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the NLRB wrote that courts “long ago rejected the argument that an employer can avoid a finding of coercion by simply calling its threat a joke.”