It would be hard for Kenya to pass the democratic litmus test

When former IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati was whisked away by security officers after chaos erupted between Azimio and UDA leaders at the auditorium, Bomas of Kenya Aug 15, 2022. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Since multipartyism, Kenya's democratic ideals have been falling apart successively. So, if WB Yeats were to examine Kenya, he would rewrite his poem, 'The second coming' to read thus, "The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon [Kenya]".

Likewise, if Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, in their 2018 thought-provoking book titled 'How democracy dies: What history tells us about our future' were to analyse Kenya's erratic struggle for democracy since multipartyism, they would dismiss us as a country with a fragile "commitment to the democratic rules of the game". Levitsky and Ziblatt give an account of how the United States tests positive for a sinking democracy-their conclusions are undoubtedly generalisable, and indeed so, in quasi-democracies in the Global South states like Kenya.

In Levitsky and Ziblatt test, Kenya's propensity toward anarchy-a 'state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority or other controlling systems' is appalling. Anarchy, just like autocracy, is a violent predator of democracy. Therefore, the following litmus tests, directly from Levitsky and Ziblatt's text, sell us out for our dwindling commitment to democracy. The first of our symptoms is 'questioning the legitimacy of the electoral process and failure to accept election results'. This has been our incessant problem since 1992.

There is no problem in questioning democratic processes. However, the fact that the leviathan has refused to go away, even after administering the much-celebrated 2010 Constitution, spells doom for our democratic future. The second indicator is the 'denial of the legitimacy of one's opponent.' Levitsky and Ziblatt argue that autocratic leaders 'cast their rivals as criminals, subversive, unpatriotic, or a threat to national security or the existing way of life.' Doesn't that sound familiar? The third test is 'toleration or encouragement of violence.' This is one factor we must examine carefully because it is, interestingly, embedded in Article 37 of our Constitution.

The article says, 'Every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, demonstrate, picket, and present petitions to public authorities.' The underbellies of the Opposition and civil society on the one side and the government on the other are exposed when they appropriate the meaning of 'peaceably and unarmed' to their advantage. Until we resolve the selfishness of the Opposition and civil society justifying violent demos and the ruling regime defending violent handling of protests, justice, on which democracy thrives, will remain elusive. The fourth litmus check is 'readiness to curtail the civil liberties of rivals and critics".

Levitsky and Ziblatt posit 'intolerance of criticism...readiness to use power to punish those in opposition, media or civil society-who criticise them.' Does that sound familiar, also? Yes! Jubilee and Kenya Kwanza, both post-2010 Constitution regimes, have tested decidedly positive for this. Their intolerance to criticism-with deliberate attempts to punish and silence critics are loud. How can we say that we are a growing democracy when we test highly positive in such litmus tests? As I write this, after several bouts of opposition-led anti-government demos that have reportedly left many citizens and police dead, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is holding mediating talks between Raila Odinga and President William Ruto.

Such quick-fix approach dubed handshake, has been killing our democracy. Like previous post-election 'handshakes,' the current talks are birthed after 'questioning the legitimacy of the 2022 electoral process; failure to accept the 2022 presidential election results; denial of the legitimacy of Ruto's government; toleration or encouragement of violence through demos by both sides and curtailing of the civil liberties of rivals and critics. These four tests of a dying democracy are precursors of anarchy in Kenya. We can only start a conversation regarding our political future if we need a sustainable democracy and country.

Dr Ndonye is a senior lecturer, School of Music and Media at Kabarak University