The genius of democracy is that that no leader can rule in perpetuity. In our case, after every five years, leaders must go back to the electorate to seek a fresh mandate. The voters pick the most suitable from a list of contenders. That time has come yet again. Today, Kenyans will choose whether to re-elect the leaders they have had or inject fresh blood for the next five-year term. They will be electing president, governor, senator, woman rep, MP and MCA in a marathon of sorts.
To claim that democracy works, even in its imperfect form (like ours), is not hyperbole. It is true; representative leadership works. For Kenya, the experiment with popular government has borne fruit. It is not perfect, but in many places, the voters have risen up and uprooted leaders that have failed to deliver.
That is how it should work. It is a gamble of sorts with intrinsic pitfalls. Yet at its worst, we have seen tribalism, cronyism and influence-peddling subvert democracy to the advantage of tribal kingpins. At its best, we have demonstrated great tolerance, restraint, compassion and patriotism. And when they have struck, the voters have been swift and ruthless, cleaning up the Augean stables of the ne’er-do-wells.
The party nominations in April were proof that a people weary of the shenanigans of their leaders can act decisively. Democracy gave the people the voice to stand up against the corrupt, the wasteful and the autocratic.
Once again through their vote, Kenyans will today hold their leaders to account. That, to a great extent, attests to democracy’s enduring appeal. Yet our democracy is not without pitfalls. Paul Collier, an Oxford professor of Development Economics, in Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places warns: “On their own, unless held in the context of a functioning democracy, elections can retard rather than advance a country’s progress.”
Because of weakened institutions, the system is still rigged against so many Kenyans who remain voiceless. In her new book, Democracy: Stories From the Long Road to Freedom, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice observes that Kenyan tribalism has “overpowered regional and party affiliations”.
Yet in spite of that, this has not dimmed the hopes of many who still hope to make a change through the ballot. Many of those who will be queueing today to make their voices heard will be doing so for the first time. Nearly five million Kenyans acquired a voter’s card in the last five years. They must seize the moment and vote for those who truly care for them. National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi said the election is a solemn opportunity for the people to renew (or sign) a social contract with their leaders and warned that failure to vote leads to the selection of bad leaders.
There are many things that concern a lot of Kenyans. Governance issues still hold us back. It is doubtful we lived the promise our forefathers hoped for at Independence in 1963. Many Kenyans still exist in conditions worse than those the forefathers fought against.
The rising cost of living marked by runaway inflation, high interest rates and a crushing public debt is holding back the promise of a new prosperous and equal Kenya. Yet it is the general failure in leadership that many agree undermines our progress.
There is a disconcerting feeling that politicians and leaders particularly, have done too little to make the lives of Kenyans better.
For many Kenyans, life has been marked by false dawns. The one to lead a country brimming with potential must show unbound willingness to fight the hideous corruption that, to a large extent, is the root cause of what most Kenyans struggle with daily.
The incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta has admitted that corruption is a national security threat, but to many, he has done so little to fight it. Indeed, according to the World Bank, corruption is the reason why each year, a quarter of a million youths cannot get jobs. To demonstrate that they hate and abhor corruption, today, Kenyans must show great intolerance to those who engage in it. They should reject them at the ballot. The voters should question why plans to modernise and mechanise farming translated into little food security that triggered a full-blown food crisis in May.
Today, therefore, you have the paper that could put the country on the course you yearn; it could also be that you wish to endorse the incumbents; the choice is yours. But one thing is clear; we are responsible for our decisions and the course our country takes from today. Vote wisely and peacefully. The right to contest an unfavourable outcome should not be abused. The ignominy of the aftermath of 2007 - where a contested presidential election results - lead to an outbreak of violence is still fresh in our minds.
That should be avoided at all costs.