What elections have revealed about state of our democracy

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta arrives at Kasarani for the inauguration ceremony of his deputy William Samoei Ruto, on September 13, 2022. [PSCU]

As we wind down a long and gruelling election season it is appropriate to interrogate what our extended political campaigns revealed about the state of our democracy. Where did we excel and what needs improvement?

For me, two things stand out. First of all and on the plus side, the 2022 elections were comparatively more issue-based than previous campaigns. On the stump and in their manifestos, the candidates made an effort to focus on the social-economic issues of the day unlike in previous elections when voter mobilisation was based on identity politics. While a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, the shift to issue-based politics exposed the urgency of investing in liberal education to prevent exploitation and deception of gullible voters by a wily political class.

On the downside, the election season proved that we are yet to evolve a value system that is consistent with our capitalist democracy.

This dismal assessment stems from the fact that despite the harm corruption has done to our economy, many leaders were elected across the country, notwithstanding their poor integrity record. According to a report attributed to Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission, 241 candidates who presented themselves were ineligible to vie for elections for crimes that ranged from fake degrees, stealing public funds, rape and even murder. From the roll of candidates, one would have been forgiven for mistaking the coming elections for an audition for Kamiti Prison theatre group.

If the list of candidates offering themselves for election made depressing reading, the failure of our institutions to weed them out signified a lack of ethical guardrails that is a prerequisite for capitalist democracy. For although the EACC fulfilled its constitutional mandate of flagging those considered unfit to hold public office, the list was ignored by IEBC on the basis that many of the 241 candidates had not fully gone through the legal process. A let-down of equal magnitude was the decision by courts to suspend hearings of political cases to allow candidates to concentrate on their election campaign.

Our indulgence with tainted politicians contrasted sharply with how similar cases were treated in Britain and the US around the same time. As Kenya was choosing her next leaders, England was in the process of changing her leadership after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to resign after attending a party during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The fact that the PM of the fifth largest economy in the world could be forced to resign for merely violating Covid-19 curfew shows enviable commitment to high ethical standards for public servants. Across the Atlantic, respect for integrity standards for public officers was equally demonstrated in the forced resignation of the New York governor over allegations of sexually harassing female subordinates. Although he denied any wrongdoing, the governor readily resigned to avoid bringing ridicule to public office.

But many Kenyan politicians accused of violating Chapter 6 of our constitution on integrity hid behind the legal defence that one is innocent until proven guilty. However, as the resignation of Boris illustrates, in a nation where high integrity standards for public officers are strictly observed, one can be forced to resign for offending national values even if they have not broken the law. Not only does our failure to distinguish between legal and ethical transgressions give a lifeline to Kenyan fraudsters, but the legal cover also exposes citizens to further abuse of office especially when suspects are able to delay their cases. More importantly, failure to remove tainted public officers engenders cynicism and disaffection that undermines faith in our democracy.

As curtains come to a close on the 2022 election season, a health check of our democracy clearly shows some grounds for optimism as well as concerns. On one hand, although we are making some gains in evolving issue-based politics, failure to effectively weed out leaders of low integrity is concerning. Aside from weak institutions, equally concerning is an illiterate citizenry that can be taken advantage of by a Machiavellian political class that has no qualms deceiving the public for its own ends.

Mr Githieya is a political and economic Analyst.