Thanks to the precedent set by the Siaya High Court, Kenyans will find it harder to expose corruption or make public enquiries about the conduct of public officials.
When Hon Elisha Ochieng was confronted with accusations of corruption by way of misappropriating CDF-NG funds for Masinde Primary School in Gem constituency, he went to court and successfully blocked the whistleblower and accuser from talking about the issue.
With an ex parte ruling against Booker Ngesa Omole, the MP was able to deny his own constituents their right of free speech, lawful assembly and the duty of the citizens to question public officials over their conduct.
“By going to court ruling on trumped up defamation charges, the Siaya High Court through Justice Aburili sent a chilling message to any Kenyans who are involved in their civic affairs. Basically the court told us that we could not question or speak about a public interest issue because it would otherwise be an inconvenience for the MP,” says Booker Omole who was the defendant in the case.
That ruling also raised eyebrows within the legal fraternity and justice and human rights activists as many wondered why the judge did not follow some cear activities It was unexpected not just because corruption cases are a dime a dozen in Kenya at the moment, but because it crossed a line that infringed on constitutional rights of any citizen in Kenya.
That Hon. Elisha Ochieng’ has used the judicial system to wield a weapon against his opponents is no secret. The former Gem member of Parliament and Hon. Raila’s cousin, the late Jakoyo Midiwo went to his death still paying off a court settlement to the MP. He also pushed the line a couple of steps further when he went back to court to ask for a new injection to bar Booker Omole from organizing protests against the issue.
This happened when the matter was still in the EACC court; something that would put even the most constitutionally blind legislators or public officials to pause.
The new charges are cause for pause mainly from their substance or lack therefore, but also because they present no new developments.
Commenting on the matter, the chairman of the Communist Party of Kenya, Hon Mwandawiro Mghanga was very candid on why things have taken this new turn: “He is suing because the people of Gem and the activists on the ground have refused to negotiate with him. He did it to try and stop the process, but not it is at the EACC and that is scary for him. If he can stop Booker from organizing a people’s march and bringing national attention to the corruption charges and shining a light to the mismanagement of teh CDF NG funds, then he wins.”
The ruling opens a variety of loops for politicians and other public officials to use to circumvent public discourse including successfully suing and muzzling whistleblowers and ending the public conversations and activism on public interest issues.
It also marks the unique position that Kenyan political discourse has taken in modern times. After decades of pro-democracy policies including the clear protections provided in the Constitution, Kenyans are being led back to the days of the Moi regime. If the justice and civic rights advocates do not wake up to these issues, the drop into the corrupt authoritarian system will become the norm rather than the expectation as we see in Gem.
Booker points out that the MP’s actions have not been a deterrent, In fact, every move has only served to spur him to continue fighting for the right to assemble, protest and his efforts to draw attention to the judicial conduct as they battle in the EACC court.
Booker is not the first citizen who has been muzzled by a politician for exposing their alleged corrupt practices or for being seen as a threat to their intention; but unlike most private citizens, Booker is a seasoned grassroots mobilizer. Having ran to be a Member of parliament for Gem, he has created a lot of political networks and organic support to be able to command an audience, even with the court silencing his voice.
But unlike citizens who might wilt under the persistent hits and threats to give in and negotiate the Kenyan way to stop embarrassing the honourable member of parliament, Booker’s interest lay in exposing the truth to clear his name and also to fight for the resources for the people of Gem. His continued fight is a clear message that he is cowed.
“We have some of the witnesses at the EACC case being threatened and intimidated to withdraw their testimony,” Booker said. “We will stand firm while fighting back against these tactics because there is no viable alternative available to the people of Gem. It is either that or let their money be stolen by whichever public official who has the connections to silence their protests.
Boker is also putting up a case to advocate against the growing practice of weaponizing the judicial system in order to prevent it from taking root in the Kenyan society. And even if change will not happen overnight, still protesting and voices are creating awareness to present the existing complaints against the judiciary. The fourth liberation has a plan to make sweeping reforms in Kenya’s democracy; including justice and equality for all.
At the very least, though, Booker together with the Communist Party of Kenya are signaling that the fight has just started, and steps are needed to reform the justice department,