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Conduct civic education ahead of 2022 polls

By Mohamed Guleid | April 28th 2021
Residents of Kibera line up to vote in the DC area on July 8, 2018. [Beverlyne Musili]

Francis Fukuyama in his book The End of History said after the French Revolution, liberal democracy has repeatedly proven to be a fundamentally better system (ethically, politically, economically) than any of the alternatives.

What Fukuyama means, simply, is that this western form of democracy will last for many centuries to come but there shall be challenges here and there. One of the challenges of democracy is the capacity of the voter to make the right choices.

Many voters are not enlightened enough to make the right choices. This challenge was discussed by the fathers of democracy; Greek philosophers such as Plato and Socrates. Both raised concerns about the unenlightened citizen who is tasked with voting. Plato said: “And so tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated types of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme of liberty”.

In slightly over a year, Kenyan voters will troop to the polling stations to vote for the fourth time under the 2010 Constitution. But what really is an election? We call it an expression of popular will but is it? I think something is not right with democracy as we practice it today.

At the core of the one wo(man) one vote is the role of the individual to make a very important decision in public affairs. The assumption is that a large number of individuals shall collectively make the right choice. But how rational is this? 

Voters in Kenya make decisions based on other parameters other than those envisaged by democracy. Most candidates lure voters with money, making the whole electoral process a sham. Can the individual be trusted in making the right choices? Truth is, the average Kenyan voter needs more civic education to understand why and for whom they should vote.

This is because the average (wo)man does not know how to direct public affairs. I cannot imagine how s/he could know, and there is not the least reason for thinking, as democrats have, that compounding individual ignorance in masses of people can produce directing force in public service.

Recenly, the ignorance of voters was amplified by revelations that MCAs passed the BBI Bill without reading it. Many MCAs claimed they were forced to pass the document. This is a compounded form of ignorance where a person votes in an ignorant leader who in turn votes for an important decision in the assembly without even understanding what he or she is voting on.

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There is no doubt that a massive civic education effort is needed ahead of the 2022 elections because as Fukuyama pointed out, liberal democracy remains the best option for us. Rampant corruption in government makes the case for voter education even more urgent. Kenyans need to understand that their choices are partly to blame for the corruption problem.

Mr Guleid is CEO, Frontier Counties Development Council. [email protected]

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