Law on titles: Kenya must be on guard article by RLS Faculty Mr. Eric Kibet

Eric Kibet

The book of I Samuel Chapter 8 in the Bible tells an interesting story. When Israel demanded to have a king just like other nations, God warned that the rulers would tax them, enslave them, impoverish them and make them miserable.

There is a Bill pending in the National Assembly which, if enacted into law, will return Kenya to its dark past. The Bill, sponsored by Eldas MP Adan Keynan, is styled ‘Order of Precedence Bill, 2014.’

The memorandum to the Bill explains that the proposed law is intended to “promote the good image of the country and foster orderliness, discipline and decorum in the processes of governance…”

There is no problem with orderliness, discipline and decorum. These are virtues. There is obviously nothing wrong with promoting the “good image” of Kenya. Indeed, this is badly needed in light of the beating the country’s reputation has received, especially due to insecurity and other challenges.

A closer look at the Bill, however, reveals that the devil lies in the detail. The proposals are about political aggrandisement. The price is citizens’ freedoms and citizen subordination.

The Bill proposes official titles for various State officers. For the President, his deputy and their respective spouses, for instance, the title ‘Excellency’ is reserved.

Judges are to be addressed as ‘Your Lordship’ while the more exalted title ‘Your Lordship the Chief Justice’ is prescribed for the Chief Justice.

The list is long with titles for other officers such as MPs, governors, and Speakers of Parliament.

Titles are not new to our society. When Kenya became a Republic in 1964, the President assumed the title ‘Your Excellency’, a title previously reserved for the colonial governor.

These labels are part of our colonial heritage; which is why the debate on titles, flags and other symbols just won’t go away.

BIZARRE TYRANNY

There is, however, a cause to worry about the proposals. Anyone who truly cares about democratic values and freedoms should reject this obsession with titles.

First, the Bill proposes to make it a serious crime for anyone to fail to address an official by the prescribed title. The offence attracts a jail-term of 12 months or a minimum fine of one million shillings and a maximum of two million shillings, or both the fine and imprisonment.

Yes, one million, a million shillings! What is contemplated in these provisions is bizarre tyranny.

Second, Kenya’s Constitution is celebrated for its robust protection of individual freedoms, openness and human rights. The Constitution orders a shift from politics of autocratic authority and citizen subjugation, to politics of servant leadership, accountability and people’s sovereignty.

The proposed Bill is an assault on all these lofty constitutional ideals.

Third, in a functioning society, respect for leaders, is to be taken for granted. In other words, it grows naturally as a social norm. It cannot be decreed and enforced with sanctions.

Decreeing respect for officials makes citizens slaves. The proposed Bill seeks to do exactly that and flies in the face of Chief Justice Willy Mutunga’s directive that judges, in the spirit of transformation, should be addressed as ‘Your honour’ in place of the old title ‘Your Lordship,’ which the Bill seeks to endorse.

One, then, wonders whose interest the Bill is intended to serve. It is certainly not Wanjiku’s. Wanjiku faces the threat of subordination, prison and impoverishing fines. The proposed law is replete with relics of Kenya’s dark days; the days of loyalty pledge, ‘Mtukufu Rais,’ ‘Baba na Mama’ and the like.

Amidst numerous new legislation and proposals for constitutional amendments, there is the need for more alertness in guarding Kenya’s hard-earned freedom.

Courtesy of the Daily Nation.

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