The tyranny of majority: An unavoidable weakness of democracy

By Sheryl Christine

As a young girl, I wished I had the power to solve pressing Kenyan issues. But as I grew up, I realised that the world I wanted to fight for didn’t have my interest at heart. This country is like a whirlwind that has met a volcano because “even in the wild animal and human world we’re chased out there’s not out or in here for us”. Why did the world let the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be violated? If we’re not fighting an invasion from wild animals, bandits, terrorists, or illicit brew, we’re all facing hard economic times, high tax imposition, high varsity fees, extra-judicial killing, corruption, or drought. Seems like everything in this country is rationed.

“The harshest tyranny is that acts under the protection of legality and the banner of justice”, Montesquieu. Kenya has had a history of tyrant leaders since 1963, with several waves of protests and demonstrations. In the 1980s and 1990s, for example, pro-democracy activists organised mass protests against the authoritarian government of the late President Daniel arap Moi. More recently, there have been protests over issues such as corruption, high cost of living, finance bills and electoral fraud. Maybe it’s about time lovers of liberty, human rights activists and Kenyan opposition adopted a model of civil resistance to a government, diverting from democracy towards a quasi-authoritarian system of governance like Israel.

All these could damage for a country, leading to the breakdown of trust between citizens and their government and democratic institutions. Some of the effects of tyranny of the majority during the protest are human rights violations, including torture, imprisonment and unlawful detention of the opposition leaders and extrajudicial killings, something that some of us have experienced or seen innocent kids killed, injured, or teargassed in their safe space.

Frequent and continuous demonstrations: The demonstrations have had a significant impact on daily life in Kenya, with disruptions to transportation, education, commerce, and other aspects. While most protests have been peaceful, there have been some instances of violence and clashes with police. The government’s response to the protests has been mixed, with some officials acknowledging the need for reform while others have taken a more hideous approach.

Similarly, corruption and abuse of power: The Kenyan police has a history of repressive response to peaceful protest, with interventions by police characterised by death, serious injuries, indiscriminate use of force, abuse of firearms, unlawful arrest and detention under the pretext of “maintaining law and order, leading to the formation of the apolitical front that has led to death, tribal rift, and loss of properties and maiming,  driving a further wedge between the people and the rulers.

Political instability and unrest: When the tyranny of the majority uses its power to suppress the voices and rights of the minority in the streets, it creates alienation, resentment, and distrust within the citizens, since there’s no recourse or safe space to address their grievance. Additionally, this can undermine the legitimacy of democratic institutes and the social fabric, “Undugu”, which we always embraced as Kenyans.

Corruption and abuse of power: When a country is ruled by tyrants, the judicial system and independent bodies lose their essence, since they will also use their power for their interest like suppressing the opposition. Ultimately, abuse of power can also lead to freedom of speech and expression, similarly, suppression of individual freedoms and rights through force or coercion to limit citizen’s freedom.

Additionally, the tyranny of the majority can lead to a lack of transparency and accountability. Where government officials are not made accountable for their unconstitutional actions like the reward of their cronies, unlawful bills, creation of unconstitutional offices or justification on orders to kill protesting citizens or fuelling tribal wars.

It’s only us to act, or the next generation will have nothing to be proud of; leaders need to respect the rights of all citizens, regardless of their political affiliation and beliefs, without repression, coercion or threat. The public must demand a more inclusive and equitable democracy that promotes the rights and voices of the citizens to promote political stability and social harmony. Civil society organisations, and non-governmental organisations need to join hands to educate the masses on their rights and responsibilities in a democratic society so that they can practise their responsibilities and champion their rights.

There is a need for greater transparency and accountability in government and efforts to reduce corruption and improve economic opportunities for all Kenyans. This will require a sustained commitment from government officials and civil society groups to work together towards meaningful reforms on the judicial overhauling the government to foster transparency and accountability to promote a free and independent media that can hold those in power accountable and underline the cause of the protest and the effects it has on the economy, mental health, and the rule of law, society, and governance. And also open dialogue between the opposition and the government to find sustainable and practical solutions to the most pressing issues like the high cost of living and taxation.

In addition, there is a need to  respect  the right to peaceful protest and free expression since Article 37 of the constitution of Kenya clearly states that “every person has a right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions to the public authorities and can only be lobbied if the government builds an efficient, open, transparent and progressive democratic agenda that fits the 21st century.

Maybe as a child, I was dreamy or watched too much, but what I know is that I want to be proud of this country, but when aspects of our policies don’t align with the citizen’s ethics, we’re forced to protest them and try change them. Should we all be jurists or crusaders of justice to put this ticking time bomb of a country into order? Do Kenyans have to reign in “their” parade to prevent the subversion of this country’s constitution? But when all is said and not done, this land remains to be ours; when you love something, do you let it stumble or fight for it? Lest you all forget, “one man’s terrorist will always be another man’s freedom fighter.

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