What polls say about political parties, national unity and democracy


The media was full of the stories of joy at Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in the Jubilee areas — principally in the Kikuyu and related tribes’ areas.

Celebrations went on all day and night. It was as if they had won a major war. One supporter said, “I am the happiest person today [in the world?]. God has answered our prayers and handed the President another victory irrespective of the setback by the Supreme Court”.

A resident of Uhuru’s family home, Gatundu, overjoyed, said, “We will slaughter several cows and goats to celebrate the President’s win. The celebrations will also be used to thank God for this second victory”.

Somehow, Kenyans always find it necessary to link God and the killing of animals (and sometimes humans?).

I find the conjunction of God and goats a bit odd — surely God does not need us to feed him goats. I always thought that God was a vegetarian — how would he take the life of a living being that he created? It is possible of course that God only created goats, the Devil and us.

On a more secular basis, in Nakuru, hundreds of residents and their leaders danced and sang in the streets at Uhuru’s “victory”. I also thought that God was too busy with lofty matters to bother himself with petty quarrels between Uhuru and Raila Odinga (once, as Uhuru told me, the best of friends, together with William Ruto — the trio being inseparable).

In the West, particularly Luoland, there was much grief, manifested in barring access of the non-believers (and believers) attempting to get access to the booths, and engaging in battle with state security officers. They saw — quite correctly — the latter as the private army of Uhuru to suppress heresy and undermine the perpetual right of the Kenyatta family to rule Kenya, and plunder the assets of the state and the people — regardless of Uhuru’s total lack of ability to rule over the country — and his long expressed distrust of the Constitution. He is after all “one of us”.

ISSUES

I often ponder why the supporters of the one or another of the presidential candidates react in such persistent, aggressive and violent style. During the campaign period, they are hostile to candidates from the opposing party and several deaths usually occur due to their violence — and that of the police. Post the election, what will the Kiambu lad gain from Uhuru’s “victory”, and what will the angry and aggressive voter in Kisumu suffer from Raila’s “defeat”? If past experience is a guide, there will be little change in the lifestyles of these lads — or other inhabitants of these areas. In order to understand why, it is necessary to analyse the nature of Kenya politics, as they have matured from Jomo Kenyatta’s regime.

The basic point is that contests about senior public offices (most of all the presidency) are about the capture of the state. The capture of the state enables office holders to steal the resources of the state, in a number of ways — and rapidly. It also gives the president the control (illegally) of the police, and the army; so effectively there is little effective challenge to the illegal activities of state officials, despite the existence of several institutions of scrutiny and punishment.

Since almost all politicians are interested primarily in money, there are frequent shifts from one party to another, from that which fails to adopt him/her as a candidate to one that will adopt her/him. So there are no real loyalties. In Kenya’s history, few governments have paid any attention to the welfare of the people, or to constitutional values and principles by which they are bound.

Ever since Independence, the poor have become poorer (the population of slums has increased numerous times over). The living standards of the ordinary Kenyans have deteriorated — regardless of which tribe they belong to. The resources of the state have been stolen by politicians and senior public servants, with total impunity. There is little left for the Kiambu or Kisumu lads.

But then why do voters get so involved in the electoral process? I can think of two reasons. People ask and receive “fees” for attendance (with consequent pressure on the Treasury and business). The second is “ethnicity”, which in other respects plays a decreasing role in our lives. It is a big con game. Too many Kenyans are seduced by politicians on grounds of tribal unity and profit. It is one thing to seek support on the basis of tribalism, while it is another to get people engaged in terror and even killings, as has become routine in our elections. Because the profits of victory are so high, politicians are prepared to provoke their followers in the above manner. I have never come across any country where election campaigns are dragged out for so long, or where there is so much violence, and consequently animosities among its citizens. Electoral laws are violated every day, hundreds of times, with total immunity. All this is compounded by the propensity of politicians, uniquely in Kenya, to start election campaigns about a year ahead of the elections.

WAY FORWARD?

The engagement of the people in politics is very limited, despite all the hullaballoo sketched above. Even the middle classes eschew politics, or even national affairs. There is no real trade union movement to protect the rights of workers — and fight off exploitative capitalism. Religious leaders cater too much to politicians and the business community. There is growing perception that it was wrong to leave politics (ie determining policies, helping the needy, ensuring adequate educational facilities etc) to politicians. An organisation bringing together several civil society organisations, Kura Yangu, Sauti Yangu has in the past several months done much to raise the awareness of the people about fair electoral process and to lobby for it.

A week ago, it established a political movement, We-the-People, “to provide alternative public leadership in the national interest”. It claims to bring together leaders of various groups, including trade unions, civil society, academia, faith-based organisations, the media, women, and youth. At the moment, its interest is to focus on electoral reforms and especially the reform of the electoral commission, culminating in holding free and fair elections after a year.

We-the-People is no doubt necessary but my own view is that it is necessary also to transform an organisation like this into a full blown political party, which will mobilise the people, create awareness among them of their rights as well as duties, in preparation for the next general elections.

Its leadership, as well as members, should be drawn from all communities and parts of the country, in keeping with the prescription in the Constitution on political parties: All parties must have a national character, have a democratically elected governing body, promote and uphold national unity, and promote the objects and principles of the Constitution, including the rule of law. The Constitution also requires that no party should be founded on a religious, linguistic, racial, gender or regional basis or seek to engage in advocacy of hatred or any such basis. Nor must the parties engage in or encourage violence, or intimidation of its members, supporters or opponents. They must not engage in bribery or other forms of corruption.

The first step to democracy must be the adoption of these principles — at present violated by all major political parties. The depressing reality is that there is no democracy in Kenya. Nor is there justice, with the political class trying to obfuscate, through the emphasis on ethnicity, its common interests at the expense of the deprived class. The interests of the lads of Kiambu and Kisumu have a lot more in common than they realise; they should unite to achieve true democracy, justice and a united Kenya.

By Prof. Yash Ghai