"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." These are the simple yet unfailingly true words attributed to the 18th century Irish statesman and philosopher, Edmund Burke. More than 200 years after his death, his observation is ringing true in modern-day Kenya. For there is no question but that evil is triumphing here. And that this is in huge part because good men (and women) are doing nothing.
We can't say we weren't warned. Following the flawed elections in March, there was much fuss kicked up, including by myself, about the push for the country to "accept and move on." Accept what? Move on to what? These were not questions that most, it seemed, wanted to engage with. We had "peace" and that was all that mattered.
Only, it wasn't.
Having accepted that there was no need to dredge up the sins of the recent past, we quickly found that we were being led along a path where any querying was discouraged. So we kept quiet when the government went after civil society, beginning with a campaign of delegitimisation and, more recently, through legislation meant to cripple their operations. We didn't demand accountability for the attack on Westgate or for the fire that razed the JKIA arrivals terminal.
Neither were we overtly concerned when the government trampled on the rights of citizens in Nairobi's Eastleigh and in Garissa, nor when it begun to demonize refugees. Few of us exhibited any angst over the continuing attempt by our political class to "improve" the report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Report by editing out their transgressions against the people.
Today, however, the newspapers and social media are filled with umbrage at the latest assaults on the media and the judiciary. Everyone, it seems, is belatedly rediscovering the constitutional limitations on government. But where was the outrage when the government ignored Section 143(4) of that same document and transformed the President's "personal challenge" into a national problem? Where were our columnists and pundits and human rights advocates and churches and mosques when ICC witnesses were being hunted down and either enticed of forced to withdraw from the cases? Why the silence when a prosecutor in Uganda hints that the Kenyans being tried there for the 2010 Kampala bombings were renditioned by their own government in violation of Kenyan law?
For far too long have we allowed the UhuRuto pair to terrorize us with their prophecies of doom and anarchy should we be foolish enough to ask intelligent questions. For far too long have we been accepting ignorance and moving on to tyranny. For far too long have we allowed the voices of disquiet to be silenced and preferred that our journalists entertain rather than inform us. For far too long have we sat back and quietly watched as the state turned back the clock and dismantled the rights and freedoms we fought to get back over the last twenty years.
So today many are angry and outraged. Good. But what to do with that ire and indignation? In a word: Unite. Let me return to Burke. In 1770, he wrote about the need for good men to associate to oppose the cabals of bad men. In his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, he says: "No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours, are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
Similarly, we today are faced by a cabal of power-hungry and ambitious citizens in positions of power. These bad men have combined. They are working together to replicate the Nyayo Error. So far, they have been able to pick out their opponents, one by one: civil society, media judiciary, even the citizenry. If we continue to each stand alone, or worse, do as the Daily Nation did in a recent editorial, and attempt to sell one another down the river in hopes of appeasing the crocodile, we will all perish in "an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
Rather, we must recreate the coalitions of the past that were so effective in forcing back the rapacious state. We must stand up for each other, civil society for the people, the people for the media, the media for civil society, the church for truth, the opposition for action. And most important of all we must stand up for accountability and stop doing nothing.