Third Eye

Politics seems to be the new opiate of Kenyans

Thursday, July 7th, 2022 06:56 | By
Deputy President William Ruto at Laare Trading Centre, Igembe North, Meru county, yesterday. PD/DORCAS MBATIA
Deputy President William Ruto at Laare Trading Centre, Igembe North, Meru county. PD/DORCAS MBATIA

One of the most frequently quoted statements of Karl Marx is: “Religion is the opium of the people.”

In context, Marx was speaking of religion as a condition that arose to help humanity cope with the struggles of his time. He believed calling on mankind to give up religion would mean calling upon them to give up the conditions of life that require what he saw as a coping mechanism. There is a measure of ambiguity about the usage of opium in the statement because in Marx’s day, opium was legally available and widely prescribed.

In any case, the metaphor of opium can be seen in Marx’s view of religion as being a painkiller and something that dulls the state of the human mind. More than a century and a half later, I would like to amend Marx’s statement to better fit our modern Kenyan context: Politics is the opiate of the people.

What do I mean?

There is this false optimism that somehow holding elections every five years will offer the cure for all that ails our society. If we only elect leaders with integrity on August 9, we can solve the problems we face.

What ensues is mostly an attempt by either candidate to cast the other as a wrong choice that will bring certain doom if elected to positions of leadership. This year is more of the same. In the end, there will be no substantial differences between either Raila Odinga or William Ruto that will result in any real discernible outcome for Kenyans.

We shall either get a more hubris or hardliners in the next government who will create more expansive government programmes at the expense of the electorate. Either way, president Uhuru’s successor will push for more expansion of government to accommodate cronies and tribesmen without addressing critical issues such as high cost of living, fuel prices, nepotism, universal healthcare, corruption and unemployment among the youth. The electorate views elected leaders as symbols of a greedy political culture, seeking public office as an opportunity for personal gain and it not be a surprise if the newly elected MP at both levels pass a motion to increase salaries at the expense of a country. 

The only real division that can be drawn among the presidential candidates is concerning social and moral issues, most of which have no business being in the public domain. That is where people line up to make their stand known on critical issues affecting the society—fighting for the “heart and soul” of the nation. This is the opiate of the people. They are drugged into believing these are the issues that will guarantee the future vitality of our nation. They are corralled into voting booths to support the candidate that supports their issue, or vote against the candidate that opposes their issue.

I can’t count the times I’ve talked to Kenya Kwanza supporters who curse their Azimio-One Kenya counterparts, or the many times I’ve listened to Azimio fans curse and ridicule the Kenya Kwanza campaign messages. The reality is that most people are not Kenya Kwanza and Azimio; they are anti-Kenya Kwanza and anti-Azimio, and they vote accordingly. They are convinced by the campaigns not to vote for what they believe in, but to vote against what they do not.

This is what is passing for democracy in our beloved nation, and the people are distracted by the false feud that exists between the two coalitions. That is not to say we do not need the voices of Kenya-Kwanza and Azimio La Umoja supporters, but we do not need them to be our only voices, especially when much of what they are saying is the same.

Until we can break the stranglehold the two entities have on our politics, we’ll never see true change. It is an uphill battle, for sure, but one that is definitely worth fighting for. For the sake of principle, and to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” as our founding fathers put it.

And yet, as a country, we still find ourselves taking the opium every election cycle, hoping that somehow this dose will do for us what the last dose didn’t.

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

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