“Are we fighting Coronavirus or Democracy?”
“Police have killed more people that Covid-19 has”
“Where’s Parliament in all this? Why aren’t the MPs addressing police brutality?”
“Why is the civil society silent about police brutality.”
“Are counties actually prepared to fight Covid-19”
These are among the most common questions and statements ever since Kenya confirmed its first positive case of Coronavirus on March 13th 2020. Most, if not all, institutions were caught off-guard by the pandemic and have since been playing catch up especially under the circumstances of social distancing and lockdown. The past three months have seen massive job losses, loss-making by SMEs, increased cases of domestic violence, a sense of systems at both national and county level being overwhelmed and police brutality as the government measures are being enforced.
This uncertainty and outright violation of freedoms and rights has many Kenyans questioning the role of the legislature, civil society, judiciary, media and counties in the fight against Covid-19 but most importantly in protecting the rights enshrined in the Constitution. A study conducted by Mzalendo Trust recently reveals that all of these players performed poorly in the first few weeks of dealing with Coronavirus. Over time each of them has come to register some improvement with a couple of them marking a decline thereafter due to various factors as captured in the findings.
During the release of these findings, the panellists; Senator Isaac Mwaura, Hon. Gladys Shollei (Uasin Gishu Women Representative, seasoned journalist Macharia Gaitho and Policy & Governance Specialist Diana Sifuna all came to a consensus, that more remains to be done and it needs to be done now. As Mr Gaitho put it, the current circumstances present a breeding ground for a lot of scandals to happen. Truer words have not been spoken.
We have witnessed deliberate disregard of the Rule of Law and the Constitution over the past few months. The violence being meted out on journalists and curfew restrictions have limited the 4th Estate in executing its mandate to its full extent. Hard questions are not being asked yet the information being shared by the government has been questioned a couple of times. As it stands there have been doubts on the actual numbers of positive cases in the country, hospitals’ capacity to treat Covid-19 patients (depending on the different degrees of infection), counties’ capacity to treat patients particularly in economically marginalized areas and actions being taken against police officers who have used excessive force or extorted Kenyans in enforcing the curfew. Yet the media hasn’t pressed enough to get answers on very crucial issues of national interests leaving room for the government to spin and control the narrative.
As if this is not worrying enough, the recent purge in Parliament is slowly but surely making the legislative arm an appendage of the Executive arm where the latter’s proposals are likely to breeze through without any objection. That coupled with the lack of a robust opposition in both Houses threatens the role of oversight and representation of Parliamentarians. Accountability is needed now more than ever as millions and millions of funds in donations and grants are handed over to the government to fight Covid-19 and cushion the economy.
On top of this, the civil society hasn’t been as vocal as it has been expected to be. Again, presenting room for the government and its institutions to do as they please. Without a strong stance against the violation of civic and human rights, we are watching as the country is pushed to the edge with multiple injustices. It doesn’t help that the judiciary is yet to figure out a way to effectively carry out virtual proceedings not only in Nairobi but in all counties. It is hard to imagine how much needs to be done for an underfunded judiciary that was already dealing with a backlog of cases who now has to fight off the Executive that has been intentional in overstepping its authority.
The correlation among these institutions is so crucial in ensuring that the gains of the Constitution are not lost. Each of these players is like a gear in one big complex conveyor belt that is greased by their synergy to avoid any breakdowns. There needs to be a concerted effort to ensure we don’t just survive the pandemic but avoid waking up to a dictatorial state one day.