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Poll violence has no place in democracy

OPINION
By Julie Masiga | March 9th 2021

An IEBC official is pulled away at Munami Primary School in Matungu after violence erupted at the polling station over ballot stuffing allegations. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Guys. This is not it. Why do we still think that election violence is sexy? Surely, how does a country with a long history of tribal clashes—not to mention the brinkmanship that nearly pushed Kenya into the deep in 2007— still think that violence is an acceptable political tool? How self-serving and short-sighted can a people and its leaders be? Violence in elections and by-elections is expedient, no doubt. The problem is that a lucky minority live by the sword, but the unlucky majority die by it.

Whose interests are best served by electoral conflict? No ordinary wo(man) walks into a polling station ready for war. For the most part, voters want to vote. Choosing our leaders, such as they are, should not be a matter of life and death. For those of us on this side of the velvet rope, voting is a civic duty; it only becomes a blood oath when the usual suspects step out of the shadows with vested interests and protracted political ambitions.

My interests as a voter are not served by the cabal of politicos who have made a career of firing salvos, making reckless assertions, and trading barbs. My four-o-clock tea does not get any sweeter because leaders are arguing and mine has the best words. I don’t lose inches from my hips because my guy is better than yours. The only way I win is if the people I voted for do what we pay them for. The only way I win is if they are of service.

But it’s not all bad. There are some things that work in this country. There are some government departments that are committed to improving service. Departments like Immigration, the National Transport and Safety Authority, Kenya National Highways Authority, Huduma centres and a few others. These offices are not perfect, but they are trying. It’s important to try.

See, when people vying for political office resort to violence they are not trying. They are falling back on what has already been tried and tested. Inciting citizens to violence by paying them, playing to their ethnic biases, spotlighting their socio-economic disadvantages, or gaslighting them is a proven means to an end. It’s proven. So if this is one of your tactics you are unimaginative, lazy and yes, heartless. Because there are better ways to engage with electoral processes. Better by a long shot, but way harder than ‘simply’ pitting citizen against citizen.

And another thing; we must roll back the normal on gratuitous violence against women during elections. It’s not OK. Debasing women based on their gender does not become acceptable because politics is a ‘dirty game’. Women’s bodies are not battlefield. Stop using us to fight your wars and prove your points. Men should not be emboldened to violate women as viciously as they did during last week’s Matungu Constituency by-election. In violating a female poll official they not only disrespected the source of life, but they showed no respect for authority. Guys, it’s not OK just because it’s politics. It’s never OK.

There were also reports of a man being “stripped naked by irate residents” in the same constituency because he was suspected of bribing voters. That’s not OK either. The only thing that violence begets is more violence. We need to stop this cheap cycle of shallow electoral wins.

'Ordinary Kenyans'

At the end of the day, you have to ask: Whose interests are best served by electoral conflict? Who benefits when the people fight? I speak for myself when I say, certainly not me. And I’m willing to bet that any so-called ‘ordinary Kenyan’ out there going about their business building a life for themselves or their families has zero interest in either witnessing or participating in election violence. It’s stupid, and it serves no purpose to the general public.

Now, there is a large group of Kenyans who are underserved. Kenyans who have been historically ignored, invalidated, and dismissed. A number of these have now identified with the ‘hustler ideology’ despite the fact that its proponents are far removed from the realities of under service. Nonetheless, some of these Kenyans are hungry for the honey that drips from politicians’ lips at election time. Who wouldn’t listen to a man or woman promising water in a burning house? I totally get it. But to those Kenyans, I say this: Violence is not the answer. The only thing that violence begets is more violence. It’s time to put our thinking caps on and re-imagine what our politics should look like. It’s time, people. It’s time.

Ms Masiga is Peace and Security Editor, The Conversation

 

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