Inside Politics

Why this year’s election won’t fix what ails Kenya

Tuesday, March 8th, 2022 22:05 | By
Voting underway. Photo/COURTESY

With the approach of yet another General Election, one thing is clear—at its heart, Kenya is a country divided along tribal lines. 

Whether one looks at the economy, job creation rate, food security strategic plan, internal security or corruption levels, the evidence of deterioration is unassailable.

Yet, every five years, we look casually beyond logic, acting as if the insidiously reinforcing circumstances were somehow remediable in politics.

Come August 8, we will experience the same predictable cycles of misjudgement—electing the corrupt into key leadership positions.

From the standpoint of creating meaningful change, our voting patterns will remain largely reflective on tribal lines but above all, we tend to elect the ones who dish out big bribes to the voters. 

But why do we keep electing corrupt and bad leaders? Because our attention is focused on changing persons rather than institutions. The system by which we elect national leaders is deeply flawed.

This is evident in the premium we place on the personal popularity of candidates rather than on their capacity to articulate and defend a national plan.

We place little value on debate and on civic educational campaigns to create intelligent and more informed voters. 

By our failure to stop vote-buying and electoral fraud, we allow politicians to prey upon hungry and impoverished voters and the vulnerability of election staff.

We permit candidates to raise unlimited amounts of campaign funds from undisclosed sources, unmindful of corruption that follows when politicians start paying back every penny they received from expectant financiers.

Because we have made elections extremely expensive and popularity-oriented, public office has become the preserve of the very rich and popular.

Political parties no longer look at their candidates’ fitness for office or inclination to public service. Their sole concern is “chances of winning” and how much candidates can pay for the nomination ticket.

Unless we begin to fix Kenya at the “molecular” level, within the palpable sphere of tribalism, corruption, clannism, poverty, insecurity, high food prices, social equity and unhappy population, and lack of moral character, there will be no fix at all.

The ‘cliff’ we now face is not just fiscal; it is also deeply personal. History shows no nation can draw primal satisfaction and comfort from watching leaders engage in nonstop political bickering from the time they take up office till end of term can reasonably seek any development in politics.

We need to start being candid. We require a far-reaching and enthusiastic return to genuine thought, and, as indispensable corollary.

No political candidate can ever halt the progressive withering of heart and mind that steadily diminishes within our people.

No matter how uplifting or authoritative the candidates’ carefully-dried voices can offer us only a misshapen pretense of improvement. 

For Kenya, hope still exists, but it must now sing softly, in a consciously prudent undertone.

In any deeply serious sense, most of those seeking elective positions, including presidential candidates, are beside the point.

This is because national renewal can never come from such candidates themselves. Every society is essentially the sum total of individual souls seeking some form of redemption. Even the ‘deep state’ can never truly mend our manipulated souls. 

Ironically, in view of prevailing worries, the real problem is not about the candidates’ wrong footing campaign trail, but the delusional visions and balkanisation of our society on tribal lines. 

How, then, shall we situate ourselves in an all-promising political space? What sort of redemption can we ever hope to discover in the ‘free’ or ‘democratic’ exchange of gibberish, cants and platitudes? 

Any inclination to believe that change and improvement must still lie in the coming election is mistaken. No doubt, key campaign issues need to be addressed, but so too does our willing absorption in the shapeless and unremarkable Kenyans. 

Only the few can ever redeem our deeply troubled nation, and this excruciatingly tiny cadre of seeing individuals will never be found among those seeking elective positions. 

To be sure, the August elections are not inherently damaging, or fundamentally misconceived. Rightly, we still believe in democracy, even when they represent a convenient masquerade for plutocracy.

What is harmful and wrong for us to believe is that elections somehow represent an independently promising path to citizen growth, prosperity and fulfillment. 

Even in our most enthusiastically hyped political mergers, elections are always a consequence of the prevailing distributions of political power. They are never a true cause for needed change.

— The writer is a communications and governance expert working in Nairobi

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