You cannot condemn an entire civil society for the sins of a few

As you are moving on with your lives, please, spare a thought for the grieving families of all those hurt or killed in the election protests – both civilians and police officers – and also for the people who work at the Kenya Human Rights Commission, which is now under siege.

Spare a thought also for the staff of the Nation Media Group in various parts of the country, whose lives have been put at risk by the reckless pronouncements of the leadership of the Orange Democratic Movement.

Some of my colleagues feel they have to evacuate their families from certain areas, change cars movie-style or need to be put under protection as a direct result of the attacks by Siaya Senator James Orengo.

The condemnation of the Nation is a great victory for people in ODM, who are very disgruntled about how we cover the news.

Sadly, our doors are always open and we respond to complaints, but no one has walked in to complain.

The hostility has been there for more than 10 years and peaked some nine months ago.

If Kenya were a human being, it would be a stark, raving mad individual.

We would be committed to an institution.


In our country, there is no neutral gear: If you don’t support our ethnic position, then you are against us.

It matters not what is right and what is lawful and what is rational.

Kenyans sometimes expect you to believe, and conduct themselves in accordance with their irrational and wrong expectations.

Which brings me rather neatly to the purpose of today’s column.


There are two people, as an editor and as a man, with whom I shall always stand: Unsuccessful Nairobi gubernatorial candidate Miguna Miguna and Prof Makau Mutua, the chairman of the board of the Kenya Human Rights Commission.

Mr Miguna even when he has filed cases against my newspaper or accused me of every crime and malfeasance on the planet, I always defend his right to speak his mind.

Because it is my job to do so and sometimes I worry that if I don’t do it, then no one will.

As for Prof Mutua, quite apart from the fact that he is a good man, personally and through KHRC, he has made a tremendous contribution to the legal and political development of our country.

KHRC and the scholars and activists associated with it have been a reliable source of ideas and action when needed.

Activists often are difficult, noisy people, usually feared by wrongdoers and those in authority.

That is by design. Democracy does not rest on the goodwill or noble intentions of the ruler.


It rests on the fear of the wrath of the people that the ruler has in his heart.

The motto of the Washington Post is “Democracy dies in Darkness”, it is not just a beautiful encapsulation of the role of the Press in a democracy, it is also a profound truth.

The Press must shine the light on the actions of those who have authority over us and those who act on our behalf.


This is the first ingredient of our democracy: A financially strong, professional and vibrant media.

I am not sure whether anyone wants this anymore, given the bans being handed out by the opposition, for crying out aloud, and the arrest of our reporters by the government.

Secondly, the people must act on that light. And that’s where activism comes in.

Since you all can’t go to the street, a chosen few must do it on your behalf.


I don’t always agree with civil society. I think sometimes they play the mad scientist, carrying out political experiments.

The decisions of some of them to dedicate their energy and money to political causes, where they align themselves to ethnic and political elites, is a risky strategy.

Because they become players in the political game rather than honest brokers.

But we must remember that civil society figures are also Kenyans and they have a right to participate in politics as they see fit.

I also think that rogue elements within civil society have betrayed the trust of donors, others have not been sufficiently selective of the people from whom they take money.


But you can’t condemn the entire civil society because of a few rotten eggs.

There is no democracy, there is no progress, there is no economic development, there is no justice and ultimately there is no political stability without our vocal and militant NGOs.

Thirdly, our young democracy requires a strong, indefatigable political opposition, squarely focused on keeping the government on its toes and honest.

A good opposition is a government in waiting, a threat by the people that if you mess up, we have folks waiting to take your place.


All this is predicated on the assumption that things work, elections are honest and voters are rational and act in their own best interests.

This, unfortunately, is not always the case.

In my own view, Prof Mutua and the good folks of the KHRC deserve a medal and not vilification and persecution.

And their persecutor deserves vilification and prosecution.

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