Kenya's political missteps and pathway to a better future

Judiciary and IEBC  officials inspect a ballot box at a Milimani court on August 31, 2022. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Sixty years ago, a young nation was founded with so much optimism and much more promise. Poverty, disease and ignorance were declared our cardinal enemies.

We sang songs of freedom before cynicism and doubt crept in. As we reflect on the journey left by the past, we must also look hard into the future and ask ourselves, what should we do to prepare for a better future?

A country is as good as the institutions it erects and the leadership it bequeaths itself. This very moment presents us with an opportunity to genuinely and creatively forge a new republic out of the beautifully ragged mosaic that we have carved out of the last 60 years.

For starters, I will dive headlong into our politics as the harbinger of the leadership we have and why we have every reason to be hopeful.

The Kenyan nationalist movement suffered a massive blow when they started to view one another with suspicion on account of ethnicity and nothing else. Ethnic elites from smaller tribes allowed themselves to 'buy' the fear-peddling that the majority tribes would dominate them and even extinguish them.

The collapse of the nationalist consensus remains the original sin for it is the basis upon which all other sins are built. The ethnic suspicion drove ideology and intellectualism out of the window. Leaders then mustered how to fuel ethnic nationalism as a ticket to the hallowed office of the people’s representative.

We then turned our elections into an ethnic census, conveniently changing ethnic elites without changing fundamental values that would guide us to solve some of the big challenges impacting the lives of our people such as maternal health, teenage pregnancy, alcohol and substance use and radicalism, among others.

For example, the ODM ran on the platform of commitment to a new constitutional order in 2007. It branded itself the party of change. It bashed its opponents as anti-reformists. Then in 2022, the same party joined hands with the very core of what was its opposition in the 2007 elections but still ran largely on the same promises it peddled in 2007. Of greater interest is that ethnic elite alliances don’t last more than one electoral term.

For those who may be privileged to listen to vernacular political songs, the heroes we praise in one song in one electoral season become the villains in the next. For example, those who jammed to 'Uhuru ni witu', a popular kikuyu song by Kamande wa Kioi in 2013, must have turned green with embarrassment during Uhuru’s second term when the Sagana series of meetings were being convened to ostracise the very man who had helped the community regain uthamaki after Kibaki’s 10 years.

So, essentially, the more things change, the more they remain the same. If you look at the 2007 elections and their dark undertones of 41 against one, then look at 2022 elections and the crème de la crème of ethnic elite mobilisation on one side of the political divide, then you begin to appreciate that, sometimes, it’s all a zero-sum game. The refusal by the Opposition to congratulate the winners of the last election stems from the shock that someone who was out-mobilised on the ethnic elite front could build a massive grassroots support that could overrun the incumbency and all its privileges.

It underscores a very pertinent point. The hunger for leadership that appreciates the attendant human cost to its decisions.

After years of conflation of private interests and public interests, something had to give in. The difficult task of rebuilding the economy requires a concerted effort and politics that appreciates what is at stake. I will dare say here that the disruptive demos earlier in the year achieved nothing more than raising negotiation stakes. If anything, they only added to the list of fatalities that the Uhuru-era inflicted on the people during the days of 'No Reform, No Election'.

To de-ethicise our civil service, we must de-ethicise our politics. That is the roadmap to a better future.

Mr Mwaga is convenor, Inter-parties Youth Forum. [email protected]


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