When a Coca-Cola bottle falls from the skies in the famous Gods Must Be Crazy movie, suddenly, life in a South African village is turned upside down.
The villagers engage in a futile, at times violent adventure to find out the real use of the strange object: the women use it to pound grain into flour; boys and girls think it is a toy; the men think it is a weapon.
The strife the bottle causes threatens to tear apart the village that elders decide something has to be done. One review of the film says the bottle “introduces the bushmen to feelings of envy and ideas of ownership, thus threatening their idyllic society that, until then, has existed without poverty, greed or crime.”
Scenes from party nominations as the election preparation gets into high gear very much remind me of this 1980s movie. Many of us seem unaware of the need and use of democracy and freedom. As William Butler Yeats writes; “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a democrat at heart. I believe in the power of the vote; I believe that choices have consequences; I believe that the people deserve the leaders they elect;
I also believe in a fair contest where the candidates strut their credentials and the masses make a considered choice.
Obviously therefore, democracy ought to be a force for peace and prosperity not a conduit for violence and mediocrity. After what we saw and what could come out this week and the weeks after, pardon those who will have developed utter revulsion for politics and democracy. Should someone limb and life in the name of democracy? Is it worth it really?
For sadly, our democracy is crude: It is high on skullduggery and devoid of principle and policy; it where ne’er-do-wells are exalted; it is a case study of the lethal mix of money, politics and power.
In just one week, we have been exposed to the worst forms of our democracy. Guns were drawn in Busia County, a few blows were thrown in Ukambani. In all the incidences, there were shameless claims of stuffed ballot boxes making their way into the tallying centre. Our politics is not fiercely competitive because the people are spoilt for choice. It is that the stakes in political office are so high no one wants to be left out.
It is a business. In fact, no other business offers a high rate of investment like our politics. And that is the bane of our democracy.
Like the Coca-Cola bottle, the “clever” among us know politics is a means to an end. So unless one is so lucky, were you to get into politics, you will find company not with the brightest of our society, but the nastiest, the most obnoxious of all humanity.
Paul Collier in Wars, Guns and Votes, Democracy in Dangerous Places says; “On their own, unless held in the context of a functioning democracy, elections can retard rather than advance a country’s progress.”
Ideally, democracy should afford the voters the opportunity to change those leaders who fail to deliver. Regrettably, that is not so. Democracy has been subverted and depending on who you ask, democracy means different things to different people. It is riddled with manifest shortsightedness.
Surely, nothing decent comes out of a flawed democratic process.
Where democracy works well like in developed countries, the discipline of accountability to the electorate forces government to properly function.
In a pseudo-democracy like ours, voters end up paying a high price for the inadequacies of the leaders they chose. We have seen the revival of tribal groupings because winning elections means more than just that. In most cases, it defines how the national cake will be shared (remember It is our turn to eat). The post-election violence that engulfed Kenya in 2007/08 was more because of a flawed democracy than anything else.
Elections make democracy to work. The quality of elections therefore matter.
In How to Win an Election Without Really Trying, Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler say electoral misconduct is democracy’s Achilles Heel. And therein lies the rub.
Though elections make democracy to work, the danger is that elections, especially those held under weak institutions like ours, are an end in themselves. Voters are bought and in worst cases, coerced to vote in a certain way. Consequently, the ruling class who are often the minority and wealthy, will manipulate the poor (majority) for their own good and without the risk of any penalty.
And as August draws near, we are faced with a The Gods Must Be Crazy moment.
Mr Kipkemboi is the Op/Ed Editor at The Standard firstname.lastname@example.org