Democracy needs rescue, we must play our part

Voters queue to cast their votes at Moi Avenue Primary school polling station during the 2022 General election in Nairobi on August 09, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Kenyans voted on Tuesday for a new set of leaders for the next five years. The electoral commission is tallying and announcing results as they come in. Kenyans have to be patient and allow the IEBC deliver.

Still, it is easier to view the election campaigns and the voting process as a fulfillment of another cyclic five-year ritual. But it is beyond that. The electoral process's centrality to the global democratic architecture is profound.

We are voting at a time when democracy, the world over, is hitting turbulence and even regressing. Therefore, our vote should boost, however slight, the faith in competitive elections and therefore, democracy.

And there is a reason. In its 2021 Democracy Index report, the Economist Intelligence noted that less than half of the world population live in democracies. According to the report that focused on 167 major countries, only 21 are full democracies. The rest, 53 are flawed democracies, 34 are hybrid regimes while 59, about 35 per cent, are authoritarian regimes.

Kenya's is a hybrid system that can easily degenerate into autocracy. Therefore, there's need for vigilance and effort to ensure we incline towards democracy proper.

It starts with non-violent, free, fair, transparent elections and peaceful transfer of power. Of course, democracy is more than elections. It is about the rule of law, judicial independency, separation of power, transparency, accountability, respect of term limits, free and independent media, and civil liberties among other tenets.

Thus, Kenya's elections give us an opportunity to reaffirm our solemn conviction towards democracy. They allow us to say that even if the democratic juggernaut is creaking, we still believe in it and are ready to propagate it, because, though it may not be perfect, as Winston Churchill noted, it's better than "all others that have been tried."

Today, no place demonstrates the sanctity, and primacy of democracy than Ukraine. Under a barbaric barrage of shelling from Russia, Ukraine is protecting democracy with its blood because the alternative of fascism or autocracy is not viable.

And Kenya has developed some admirable resilience. The election cases of 2013 and 2017 were revolutionary in their inoculative prowess. They helped to restore some confidence in the judicial process, thereby undermining anarchy as the means to settle grievances.

Still, the next dispensation must be willing to fix challenges that frustrate our democratic ideals. For instance, it must commit to public civic education and remove barriers for civil society to operate. An empowered public is central to a vibrant democracy. To make our democracy meaningful, it must be inclusive, participatory, and work for the people especially the youth whose plight is a tinderbox. If not, disillusionment will creep in and trigger populism - a dangerous precursor to failed democracies.

Democracy is delicate. Today, it's under viscous attack. Anchored on individual choice, it assumes rationality in consent-granting. Yet, consents, Walter Lippmann noted, can be manufactured.

Today, illicit money fuses with communication, to manipulate opinions. Criminals are investing in politics in pursuit of state capture hence subverting democracy. Kenya, for instance, is anxious that such money is funding elections, and that crooks will dominate the next Parliament.

In the meantime, Kenya has another chance to contribute to democracy. Our elections and outcome this year must show that. We should be the shining lamp on the hill especially in Africa. Shall we? Let's wait patiently for the final verdict.

The writer is a communications consultant. [email protected]