Columnists

Respect civil liberties and property rights

The success of a democracy is primarily built on respect of the rule of law. FILE PHOTO | NMG
The success of a democracy is primarily built on respect of the rule of law. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, once warned the American people that those who would sacrifice their liberty for security would in the end find that they had lost both.

Today, Kenyans are confronted with an agonising choice between the competing demands of national security and civil liberties.

In a devastating shocker running patently counter to our constitutional principles, the government last week shut down three television stations on the pretext of pre-empting threats to the country’s national security.

The three television stations were airing opposition leader Raila Odinga’s mock inauguration at Uhuru Park, which the government had declared an illegal gathering.

In short, government is trading away the freedom and independence of the media in exchange for national security.

Media doing its duty has always been seen by government as the source of problem than solution that Kenyans can depend on to meet any national crisis and the annals of Kenya’s media history contain a litany of government crackdowns, but history will have a field day with this one.

More seriously, shutting down the three TV stations is not constrained around media freedoms only, but also raises serious questions about the country’s economic freedoms; more specifically the right, protection and preservation of the sanctity of property rights/ownership in Kenya.

A court order suspending the government shutdown was issued by the High Court after an injunction was sought last week, but the government has chosen to disregard it.

This is a major setback to adherence to the rule of law, but shouldn’t come as a surprise.

In 2014, a court ruling declared the police recruitment exercise illegitimate and the president ordered the Inspector-General of Police to ignore the ruling.

This presumably is the lodestar that seems to be guiding the obdurate defiance of court orders and rulings among public servants.

Back to the issue at hand, the fact that government can arbitrarily encroach on private businesses with no restrictions including judicial restraint is a fatal blow to investor confidence profile of Kenya.

This familiar iron-fisted pattern of continuously undermining court orders and lack of respect for civil liberties like media and economic freedoms constitutes the political retinue of autocracy.

Well-functioning legal frameworks are essential for protecting the rights of all citizens against unlawful acts, but when a government acts as being above the law then the political risk of anarchy stand aggravated.

Substantially, the success of a democracy is primarily built on respect of the rule of law.

However, when a regime starts acting like it’s too powerful, asserting extraordinary authority to obey portions of laws with which they concur and to ignore, or violate portions of laws that restrict its powers; that is a very worrying sign and we all need to object and react in a visceral manner.

Almost eight years under the new constitution dispensation, Kenya now neither stands on a white spot of democracy nor a black one on authoritarianism, we stand at a risk of waking up to find our democracy dead.

There is need for a vigilant review of the executive’s exercise of power because a number of democratic countries have gone asleep whilst democracy lived only to wake up and find it dead.

As Thurgood Marshall, the first African American US Supreme Court Justice, once said: “It’s a democracy if we can keep it and in order to keep it you can’t stand still. You must move and if you don’t move they will run over you”