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To be a working nation, we must be a thinking one first

By | January 29th 2011

By Njoki Ndung'u

I was struck by a shocking incident that happened in a country that prides itself as the leader of the free world due to its racial, religious, and ethnic diversity and political tolerance; the United States of America.

On the afternoon of January 8, Gabriella Giffords, one of the youngest democrats in Congress, was at a function in her constituency, when a gunman opened fire on her entourage.

Shot in the head, she was lucky to survive; not so fortunate were a senior judge, a nine-year-old girl, two elderly women and several others who sustained fatal injuries.

The motive is still unclear but speculation points to Giffords’ strong support of Obama’s health reform Bill. Like many others following the incident I logged onto Wikipedia to look at Giffords’ congressional profile and ably learned which House committees she sits on and how and why she votes on key national issues such as health, gun control, energy and foreign policy.

Intrigued, I looked up our own Parliament, to the profiles of MP’s, but short of a summarised CV and photograph, there is no information on how and why MP’s vote in the House on any one issue. It would have been interesting to see in terms of policy, reasons for why individual MP’s voted for or against the International Criminal Court (ICC) withdrawal Motion or even the Alcohol Control Bill.

It would have been also interesting to know whether positions taken are those reflected in the party manifestoes on which they campaign every five years. But who are we kidding? As a result of voter apathy towards policy, we elect our leaders for a litany of any reason but policy.

The candidate either comes from the same family, clan, or tribe, or they have deeper pockets than others. He or she is either youthful and energetic or conversely older and more experienced. Or she or he has the gift of gab, is handsome, or has nice legs. Their position on key policy issues such as health reform, human settlements, infrastructure or human rights is a big fat zero.

How else do you explain a women’s rights activist voting for a wife beater or an investment banker voting for a known thief? I hear plenty of grumbling about the quality of some of our legislators, but who is really to blame? Our political system will work only if voting citizens are willing to input into the ideas that will translate into the action we expect from it.

When we demand affordable health care, do we match it to a restructuring of the tax system so as to spread the cost? As we demand an end to unemployment, do we propose incentives for local and foreign investors in order to create jobs in the private sector or do we just fold our arms and complain about the huge

Government wage bill that annually eats into revenue better spent in services? Even on issues such as the ICC, do we think along legal parameters and make useful suggestions? With the Alcohol law do we present business centred strategies to resolve some issues or do we just collectively criticise, complain, and condemn?

With elections next year, are we thinking about the programmes the next Government should implement or are we coalescing around ethnic blocs because we are either boorish tribal egomaniacs, too lazy to think and contribute to policy platforms or simply do not care? This may sound a tad bit harsh, but bottom-line, to be a working nation, we must be a thinking nation first.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court.

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