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Solution to current political crises lies in listening more to ‘Wanjiku’

By Kamau Wairuri | November 19th 2017

Many people are still yet to come to terms with the victories of Donald Trump and Brexit. The focus in the US and the UK appears now to be on Russia’s involvement in the making of those outcomes because people would rather believe it had nothing to do with their societies. Yet, therein lies the rub.

In 1992, Prof Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history; the cold war had ended and the West (democracy and capitalism) had won and globalisation kicked in. Per Thomas Friedman, the world became flat. We all became interconnected and the playing field was levelled - we could all now compete against each other.

But was this really the case? The gap that has emerged between the (global) elite and ordinary folk around the world is the subject of the recently published Oxford Government Review themed ‘Bridging the Gap.’ I found two articles in this journal quite interesting and applicable to our very own context.

Tom Simpson makes two important points in defence of the ordinary people and their positions. One: The within culture differences are more significant than across culture differences. Simply put, Arabian, French and Russian elites have more in common with each other than they have with people in their own countries. Two: ordinary people and their ideas are critically underrepresented in the culture creating institutions of the media and the academy – one might add civil society. She contends that the disconnect between the curated public sentiments increases the chances of radical and charlatans rising to fill the void.

Yali Tamir notes that people are demanding the prioritisation of their interests because they have recognised that the social contract has been broken. He notes that the blindness of the elite was the reason they missed the social and political warnings of the impending upheavals. The gist of their arguments is that the world may have become flat yes, but not for everybody. We can draw parallels with Kenya.

First, there is no doubt our elite suffer from the blindness argued by Simpson. They have more in common with each other than with the people – and have therefore often forgotten the plight of the poor.

Secondly, the voices of ordinary Kenyans are not heard enough. And if there is something we should learn from 2017 if we haven’t learnt already, it is that casting a ballot once every five years is not enough. Even shout and cry we are hearing is an attempt by the people to remind the political establishment that ‘we are here, we will be heard!’

Third, the people believe that the social contract has been broken. Everybody feels that something is broken. Unfortunately, it has become too easy to turn this into a NASA-Jubilee debate while it is much broader and deeper. The promises of independence, democracy and devolution have not yet arrived as evidenced by the plagues of our times: incessant strikes, scaling youth unemployment, food insecurity, proliferation of slums, rising crime and insecurity. You name it.

But we need to pinch our noses and realise, hopefully sooner, that this is not just an Uhuru Kenyatta or a Raila Odinga issue. Of course, the politicians and their advisers would have us believed that this is all it is about. Not true; it is about the very architecture of our state that has been shaped by our turbulent political history, the behaviour of our political elite and dynamics of governance and political competition. Perhaps, our guiding question should be: How do we ensure that the people are heard more and that their needs attended to?

-The writer is a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. [email protected]

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