By Gabriel Oguda
People have said a lot of things. Let me say this.*
You all know Max Weber. During the German revolution of 1918-1919, Max Weber embarked on delivering a lecture series titled “Politics As A Vocation”. Those essays have since been compiled into a book which has formed the foundation of modern political science and sociology.
One of the most profound issues Max Weber sought to address in those essays was the subject matter of state violence in quelling popular uprisings. Max Weber argues, and rightly so, that the state is the only organization that holds the exclusive right to use, threaten, or authorize physical force against residents of its territory. That right, he adds, must only be exercised for the common good off all.
In simple terms, a government can only survive when it holds the monopoly of violence that is acquired through a legitimate process. Max Weber says that every state is founded on force and that organized domination requires that human conduct be conditioned to obedience towards those masters who claim to be the bearers of legitimate power.
What that means is that in a bureaucracy, as what we have in Kenya right now, the president will be allowed to exercise state power and authority only if his position is fully recognized by society as a whole. This process of legitimization of state power can only be achieved through a popular will, because if it is acquired through the back-door, the evidence will be all over for everyone to see.
The current state of the nation can be summarized from that live footage just beamed from Kawangware, Nairobi. Locals have embarked on a profiling mission, identifying politically-incorrect business premises, and vandalizing them. The owners of those businesses have run to the police for protection, and the police have, instead, told them to sort themselves out as they are currently overwhelmed.
Unofficially, Kenya has one police officer for every 989 people. The police are thinly-spread on the ground to even mount a challenge to a rowdy mob of ten adequately armed and good to go. And even if you were to add the 24,200 servicemen in the three branches of the Kenya military, you still cannot get to mount a challenge to an 100-member angry mob, fully-determined, and ready to die.
That’s why the police and the defense forces are trained to fight with arms. A semi-automatic AK 47 rifle has a maximum firing range of 400 metres and can discharge up to 100 rounds per minute. One police officer commanding a crowd of 1000 people, therefore, will have a minimum of 10 minutes to take all of them down, firing full throttle, each with a sniper shot, and assuming no one from the crowd answers back. It happened in Warsaw in 1944. It happened in Andijan in 2005. It happened in Wagalla in 1984.
But the police know that even if those they are watching over decide to be rowdy, they, the police, cannot afford to aim their nozzles, deliberately, at a charging mob, who have bare hands. Because if one of them decides to do so, and takes down one of the crowd members as an example, the touch-paper could as well have been lit, and the security forces would not be able to finish a war they started.
It is what has happened in Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu, Bungoma, and, now, in Kawangware. In life, as in war, you cannot solve a problem using the same level of thinking that created it.
The police are now being treated as aggressors by those they were meant to protect, vigilante gangs have now sprang up to fill the security void and the government of Uhuru Kenyatta, having been deprived of the monopoly to reign terror and bring social order, is now left with a hollow position of power they cannot execute.
You cannot reverse-engineer social order. You cannot back-titrate popular support. You cannot say that let me subvert the will of the people, swear myself in, and then seek to rule over them having had the instruments of power. It did not work for Mwai Kibaki in 2007. It did not work for Laurent Gbagbo in 2010.
*It will not work for Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017.*