Retired president has a right to participate in political activities



Former President Uhuru Kenyatta shakes hands with Standard Media Group Head of News Kipkoech Tanui when he met editors of various media houses in Nairobi on July 24, 2023. [Courtesy, Standard]

When he ascended to the office of the President of the Republic of Kenya, William Ruto entertained the unrealistic expectation that his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, would disappear into political oblivion and uphold studious silence on the socioeconomic and political affairs of the country. After all, Ruto had vanquished him politically.

Ruto hoped that Uhuru would relinquish all positions he was holding as the Party Leader of Jubilee and Chairman of the Azimio One Kenya Political Parties. Going by the uncorroborated accusations from Ruto and Kenya Kwanza that suggest Uhuru is sponsoring demonstrations, it is crystal clear they expected Uhuru to cease from expressing himself publicly and desist from political activities.

To their consternation, Uhuru is speaking up and even confronting the government on how it has mishandled constitutionally guaranteed security of the retired president and his family, including that of former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta, who happens to be Uhuru’s mother.

In my view, a retired president and every citizen for that matter has constitutional rights as articulated in chapter four of the constitution regarding the Bill of Rights to not only express himself on socioeconomic and political matters of the country but to actively participate in all democratic activities such as voting, assembling, associating and even mobilising citizens to coalesce around certain ideals.

That is why it is unconstitutional and undemocratic to turn a retired president into a politically endangered species and attempt to exterminate him from the public and political space. It is fine for a retired president to choose to remain active in political affairs. In fact, that decision resonates with constitutional principles and civil liberties that protect free speech, free assembly, free association and free conscience.

Precedents set by retired presidents Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki to stay out of public limelight, refrain from making political statements, exhibit indifference on issues affecting the nation, and generally remain silent till death silenced them forever was a personal decision not a constitutional imperative.

As a matter of fact, most advanced democracies have embedded sacrosanct rights guaranteeing retired presidents and citizens in general of their rights to participate in the socio-economic and political affairs of their countries without fear of reprisals from their government.

Take the USA. Retired presidents such as Barack Obama, have been allowed the latitude to promote political activities of their choice. Despite Obama being a retired president, he propagates ideologies of the Democratic party he’s a member of and can even endorse a presidential candidate of his choice.

That is how a functioning democracy works. It is dictatorial for Kenya Kwanza to frown upon a fundamental principle of free speech as enshrined in the Kenyan constitution. A government that seeks to impose a dictatorial gag order on a retired president is a suspect government that every citizen must be afraid of.

If a government can attempt to gag, mistreat and intimidate a retired president who has money, influence, and national and international support, what can it do to a defenseless and poor citizen whose social status is minuscule?

Retired presidents are political animals that deserve a right to participate in the country’s democratisation processes. If Uhuru is suspected of having violated the law, it is in the best interest of the country for the criminal justice system to follow correct statutory procedures in ensuring that he faces consequences that are commensurate with crimes committed.

Nevertheless, it is immoral for the government to use state instruments of power to intimidate, harass and humiliate a retired president. President Ruto should remember that power is transient so much so that as he exercises it-he should treat a retired president in the same way he would want to be treated when he retires.

Mr Ambuka is a political and social commentator based in Pennsylvania, United States of America.


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