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NGWIRI: NCIC is a paper tiger; give it teeth or disband it altogether

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By MAGESHA NGWIRI
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Last week, a cabal of cyber-warriors was in ferment after the National Cohesion and Integration Commission secretariat summoned the foul-mouthed Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi over his outburst against the Luo community which bordered on hate speech and incitement to violence. They must have expected the MP to be punished for his wayward utterances, but the man received a mere slap on the wrist after he allegedly apologised, with the NCIC chief executive Hassan Mohamed giving lame excuses for this leniency. Nobody should have been surprised at the outcome.

Perhaps Kenyans have always expected too much from the NCIC, a commission that was conceived in a 2008 Act of Parliament soon after a spate of mindless bloodletting shook the nation. More than 20 years later, people like Mr Sudi are still spouting dangerous nonsense in public, fully aware that nobody has ever been tried and jailed over his or her utterances. Though a few legislators last year spent a night in police custody where they were forced to relieve themselves in buckets, impunity still thrives whenever some politicians open their mouths.

In short, far from curbing hate speech and incitement, the NCIC’s performance has so far been lacklustre, even downright dismal in the final analysis. But because the real value and import of some jobs cannot be quantified, nobody should condemn the NCIC, which was only set up in 2014, on that count alone. Probably without it, we would be living in real dystopia. However, it is also true that though the NCIC’s mandate as set out in the National Cohesion and Integration Act of 2008 is broad enough, at the end of the day, it has proved to be a veritable paper tiger.

Since it has never had any police powers and it cannot even prosecute miscreants, it should not have been expected to perform miracles. Criminals fear police because they have powers of arrest. They fear the Directorate of Public Prosecutions because once taken to court, they can be successfully prosecuted. They may even have reasons to fear the Judiciary because judges can jail them. But they have no reason to worry about a body whose only function is to caution them and advise the government to act against anybody sowing ethnic hatred. Hence the impunity continues apace.

On the other hand, a possible explanation for why the NCIC seems to have fallen asleep during this trying period when ethnic passions have been aroused by presidential elections which are three years away is because that august body does not legally exist; it does not have commissioners any more, only a secretariat. The term of the commissioners ended in August last year. Seven months later, new commissioners have not been picked due to a court ruling which declared that Parliament has no business vetting them. Also, the Public Service Commission, which was supposed to advertise the positions and vet the applicants, has not done it yet. No explanation given. This means the NCIC is, for all practical purposes, in limbo and not serving any useful purpose.

This may sound drastic, but perhaps it is time we started asking ourselves whether there is a need for so many commissions whose role is purely advisory. One of the reasons why the commission was formed was because since 2007, there has been a marked rise in hostilities between ethnic communities which have never really ended since the PEV. The nature of those ruptures has not changed; only the composition of the communities involved has changed, and a common denominator between them is highly competitive elective politics.

Apparently, it is not possible to enforce harmony between communities in a situation where “identity politics” rules. Kenyans have perfected the art of forming voting blocs that coalesce around ethnic chieftains, and since these blocs consist of one or two dominant ethnic formations otherwise known as political parties, it is difficult to see how the situation will change in the near future. This political mobilisation around tribes leads to automatic exclusion of a sizeable number of Kenyans who, as a result, feel disenfranchised, disempowered and disillusioned.

I do not want to venture into this whole “handshake” thing which seems to have turned political allies into foes and erstwhile diehard opponents into allies, but I dare say it has done more to ease tension than anything the NCIC has done during its entire existence.

However, although it is difficult to criticise a commission while sparing its leadership, I have nothing but admiration for the former NCIC boss, Mr Francis ole Kaparo. A man of distinguished service to the nation, Mr Kaparo has peerless credentials and cannot be accused of dereliction of duty. Actually, he was generally stymied by structural and financial deficiencies that made his work almost impossible. If disbanding the commission turns out to be a tedious job, at least our MPs should give the new commissioners real powers. Nipping in the bud incipient hostilities between communities at a time when negative ethnicity is again on the rise can never be easy. Mr Kaparo and his commissioners did not fail us; we Kenyans failed them.



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