Wednesday, December 16, 2009



About a month-and-a-half before the storming of Bastille, and with France in turmoil, fear and unease absorbed most European cities. On May 5, 1789, Edmund Burke, the renown political philosopher, while speaking in the British Parliament, said: "An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak, and impossible to be silent". Everyone thought he was referring to events unfolding in France. He was, instead, laying the basis for parliamentary impeachment of Mr Warren Hastings, the commander of British East Indian Company. Hastings was alleged to have committed crimes against the Indian people and thus his impeachment.  In leading the impeachment, Burke eloquently laid the charges before Parliament, saying: "I impeach him in the name of the people of India, whose laws, rights and liberties he has subverted; whose properties he has destroyed, whose country he has laid waste and desolate. ''I impeach him in the name of human nature itself, which he has cruelly outraged, injured, and oppressed, in both sexes, in every age, rank, situation, and condition of life."

On Monday, an event happened upon which it is difficult to speak and impossible to be silent. At a press conference in his office, Mr Francis Kimemia, the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President, gave a decree to members of the provincial administration to conduct an audit of houses in Nairobi. That audit involves an inquiry by the provincial administration on who owns what property and how it was acquired. He was quoted as saying that "many foreigners have bought property in this country but we do not seem to know who they are". Kimemia's statement is not a piece of Platonist metaphysics to confuse anybody as to its target. Of course, Kimemia's focus was solely on Eastleigh and the Somali community. Let us be very clear on this, Kimemia wasn't concerned about people buying properties in Lavington, Karen, Dandora or Buru Buru.

He was also not concerned about Arabs, Europeans, Kikuyu, Asians or Akamba buying property. He knows these communities are constituencies he dares not talk about without dire political consequences. He, as some people in his corner lately do, was going for a soft target, the Somali community. Kimemia's decree raises a number of profound issues for a country like Kenya. First, is this is an official policy of the Kibaki administration to gauge the financial strength of the Somali community? Remember in 1989 every Somali in Kenya was screened to establish their nationality. This is a second national profiling of the Somali community.  Second, how deep in government does Kimemia's decree go? There are two individuals who could be privy to this. One is the minister in charge of Internal Security, Prof George Saitoti, who must be in the loop on such an important national issue.

National issue

More importantly, since this decree emanates from the Office of the President, was it issued on the personal authority of President Mwai Kibaki? If these two individuals are in the picture, then Kenyans ought to know whether we have now in place a government policy to profile Somali property owners. Third, the law of this country, if at all it is worth the paper it is written on, is quite clear. Mr Kimemia has no lawful authority to ethnically profile property owners in Nairobi. It is a tragedy in Kenya that despite the vileness and horridness of the decree, not one person in authority, including the Attorney-General, has seen it right to challenge it.  Four, property owners in Eastleigh or anywhere in the country should know that there is no legal duty upon them to co-operate, show copies of their title, or even explain the source of the money with which they bought a given property. It is high time that Kenyans know that we are governed by the rule of law, and not the rule of man.

Five, isn't Kimemia aware that four months ago, the government conducted a national census? Residents of all towns in Kenya, including Eastleigh, were asked questions about the age and sex of their children, level of education, income, properties they own, etc. If he wants badly that data as it relates to ethnic Somalis, let him either wait for the results to be announced or petition the concerned minister for advance copies.  Six, unless he has an ulterior motive, all the information he wants, including the owner, purchase price, stamp duty, location of a property, is meticulously kept by the Lands office. Kimemia should know better that in an ethnically polarised country like Kenya, his decree will be interpreted in a number of negative ways. Kenya is peaceful. Please, Kimemia, I beg you, don't light the fire that would burn this country.

Ahmednasir Abdullahi is a former chairman of the Law Society of Kenya