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Why our politics generates too much heat and very little light

By Andrew Kipkemboi | Jan 17th 2022 | 3 min read

Beyond the veneer of agitation to get the job done, our politics is largely transactional. [Courtesy]

“We live in a contaminated moral environment,” declared Vaclav Havel the playwright President of the Czech Republic in a thundering speech delivered on New Year in 1989 to his compatriots to mark the end of the Communist hegemony in Europe.

In most of his written works, Havel despised the double life that so pervaded the Communist Party; “people saying one thing in public and another in private.”

One of the abiding memories of the past five years is not just the switching of roles, but also the change in ideology and beliefs in the political arena. And the flurry of past tweets, and past Facebook posts, have exposed our predilection to abandon core beliefs at the snap of a finger.

Havel mourns that “concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility, or forgiveness lost their depth and dimensions”. History is repeating itself in Kenya.

Who is worse? Those who said one thing before and have since encountered “enlightenment” and are “seeing things differently” now because of where they are or those who have joined the “oppressor” to scorn at those who have fallen out of favour?

Make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with politicians striking compromises and building consensus that enable our democracy to function and thrive.

But to rejoice in your opponent’s walk down the corridor of shame, while yet cheering those we support when they engage in the same – perhaps even worse - forms of skulduggery which we scorned our opponent for is to invite poor thinking. Because of poor thinking, our politics elicits too much heat and too little light.

Beyond the veneer of agitation to get the job done, our politics is largely transactional; a means-to-an-end; aka jobs-for-the boys club. The compulsion to conform; to be politically correct and to not see nor hear evil add up to a zeitgeist where the voters don’t count for much.

Those who get into politics don’t do it for the love of fixing that which doesn’t work; eradicating the inconveniences that hold us back. The issues we confront need more than apt sloganeering and the ability to slur your opponent.

Malcolm Bradbury, literary critique and renowned novelist, argues that George Orwell’s point in Animal Farm (arguably the best depiction of political satire in history) is “the failure (to break away with the past) frequently lay within the revolutionary process, as its leaders fought to perpetuate themselves as opposed to the interests of those whom the revolution was meant to serve.”

“His (Orwell’s) concern was that those for whom such revolutions were intended were more often the victims than the beneficiaries, that, indeed, their task was to turn against their power-hungry leaders and throw them out.” This encapsulates Kenya’s litany of false dawns and false beginnings.

“In Orwell,” Bradbury continues, “we could read of our own times, of the corruptions of propaganda, of slogans that were rewritten to suit the powerbrokers, of the machines of state oppression, of good intentions lost and historical hopes sacrificed…”

There is clearly an absence of consequence politics and leadership; Kenya needs politics with consequence.

In his speech, President Vaclav exhorts his countrymen and women that politics can be more than “a need to cheat or rape the community.” That “politics can be not only the art of the possible, especially if this means the art of speculation, calculation, intrigue, secret deals and pragmatic manoeuvring, but that it can be the art of the possible, namely the art of improving ourselves and the world.”

Food for thought: In eight years, the then British PM Tony Blair brought about sweeping reforms in healthcare, housing, education, immigration, community policing and security, devolution, international relations — including bringing peace to Northern Ireland — and generally putting the UK on a trajectory of rapid economic development.

He even brought the Olympics to London in 2012, beating Paris, Moscow, Madrid and New York to become the only city to hold the Olympiad thrice. There is so much to learn from Blair though we recognise that he did unsavoury things like toppling Saddam Hussein over lies of non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Kipkemboi is Partnerships and Special Projects Editor, Standard Group

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