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With free and fair polls, we need not fear chaos erupting

By Barrack Muluka | Published Sat, April 15th 2017 at 00:00, Updated April 14th 2017 at 23:13 GMT +3

In an essay titled “Stability and Change in Africa,” Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania reflected on the disturbing issue of violent change. In the 1974 paper, Mwalimu was disturbed that violence should ever be part of the equation. He wrote, “Some people appear to believe that there is virtue in violence . . . that only if a freedom struggle is conducted by war and bloodshed can it lead to real liberation. I am not one of these people.”

Mwalimu argued that if the door of freedom and justice was shut, attempts should be made to tease it to open. “It should be pushed until it is wide open.” Yet, Mwalimu went on to say that sometimes this desire remains in the domain of wishful thinking. It is this, he said, which forces violence upon society.

“If the door to freedom is locked and bolted, and the present guardians of the door have refused to turn the key or pull the bolts, the choice is very straightforward. Either you accept the lack of freedom, or you break the door down.”

Mwalimu Nyerere was specifically discussing the situation in Southern Africa at the time. Countries such as Namibia, South Africa, Angola and Mozambique continued to smart under the harsh load of colonialism and apartheid. Nyerere reluctantly accepted the inevitability of violence in some struggles for justice. Violence happens because “all other means of achieving change have been excluded by those in power,” he said.

It is a huge tragedy that this sad reality remains in Africa today. The respected National Democratic Institute of the United States has expressed fear that Kenya’s General Election – now in process – is likely to be informed with violence. It is a paradox that a process whose definition is “free choice” should elicit fears of violence.

Violence and democracy ought to be mutually exclusive. How does it happen then that we discuss not the competing policies and visionary thrusts on offer but the competition between violence and peace? Why do we hear pleas for peace when debate should be on competing socio-political and economic agenda?

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Electoral fiction

Mwalimu Nyerere would aver that this is a factor of people being denied the opportunity to choose. Put differently, it is a factor of electoral fiction. The custodians of power in this context are variously the electoral authority at the national level and elections boards and owners of political parties at another level. Ahead of political party primaries, now in process, Kenya has witnessed violence in Jubilee and Orange Democratic Movement strongholds. What are the drivers of this violence?

Elections are about distribution of opportunities. Those who compete for political office desire openings and breaks for themselves and for society. The election is seen as the doorway to better life. It is not enough that the process through this channel should be free and fair – it must also be seen to be so.

If competitors and their supporters believe that the process is fixed against them, they will not accept the outcome. Stolen elections are frustrating and vexatious. Ordinarily, those not accepting such elections should turn to arbitration forums for redress. These may be appeals tribunals and the law courts. To rephrase Mwalimu Nyerere, these forums provide the opportunity to “push the door until it is wide open.”

What if these doors are “bolted and locked and the guardians have refused to turn the key?” When the owner of the political party has favourite candidates for the party ticket, the door is bolted. When the appeals process is a shambolic mockery, the door is locked. When the court system is unreliable, the guardians have refused to turn the key. The people then have only two choices. In the words of Mwalimu, “Either you accept the lack of freedom, or you break the door down.”

This is where Kenya finds itself in this electoral season. The elections themselves keep the door to opportunities slightly open. And Mwalimu would say, “If the door is ajar, it should be pushed until it is wide open . . . It should not be blown up at the expense of those inside.”

In this electoral season then, there is need to watch out for those who would attempt to blow up doors that are already open. Those staring in the eye of defeat will sometimes blow up the door not because someone has bolted it, but because they cannot accept defeat. History has shown us that such door blowers have learnt that they can blow up things with impunity. When will such malefactors ever be jailed in this country? Why does the law seem to be so impotent before the political class? When will it ever learn to rise up to the occasion?


In the end, the onus of a peaceful election rests with the gatekeepers of justice and fair play. If the gates of free and fair elections will remain open, there will be little or no cause to keep fretting about violence. For violence is often a factor of frustration. You are frustrated about a flawed electoral process and a futile appeals system. Those who occupy our holy shrines and love to pray for peace need also to take lessons on how to pray for justice and fairness. For it is written, “Justice be our shield and defender. May we dwell in unity, peace and liberty.”

- Mr Muluka is a publishing editor, special consultant and advisor on public and media relations [email protected]