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KENYAN POLITICS: CYNICISM, INVERTED OPTIMISM AND THE LONGING FOR REAL CHANGE

24 Jul

By Javas Bigambo

Kenya’s general election always fascinates, confounds, stirs and also dissuades most right-thinking observers in a manner that no other country in Africa is capable of doing.

Kenyan Flag: Election times always test our nationhood since independence.

During the peak of each election cycle, the electorate is dazzled with buzzwords of change and associated fantasies, moralist speechifying at campaign rallies against the backdrop of forgotten national and individual histories, and true to their nature, politicians celebrate public ignorance and amnesia like horses consume hay during the drought season.

Seventeen years since the turn of the century, Kenya’s politics is still wretchedly crippled by the vicious pains of tribalism, deplorable plunder and extensive wastage of public resources, favouritism in party primaries and nomination to parliament and county assemblies, reversed wisdom in campaign arguments, and guileful ploys to thwart accountability.

The 2017 election scarcely provides new options or new ideas. What is at play is a battle of craftiness between Jubilee Party and NASA coalition. They are using templates initially used in the 2013 and 20017 elections.

The creepy pursuit of populism and diabolical twists and turns in fleeting accusations and counter-accusations in the political playfield among politicians and political parties, bereft of ideology that must have died soon after the struggle for Kenya’s independence is evident in the lack of requisite ideological drive instrumental for constructive politics.

Javas Bigambo:There is no debate about the need for conscientious debate, and the only debate is about why it is not debatable that we are divided as a nation.

Examining and analyzing all the manifestos presented to voters during the campaign period goes further to depict how not-so-far-apart the political groups are. There are no hard positions on interventions that would create sharp differences to distinguish what each party would offer.

No, I am not pouring cold water on the efforts made by technocrats who penned the manifestos. The trouble is that what the technocrats believe in is not exactly what the political class believes in.

Kenyans are pained by the heightening levels of graft, cronyism, nepotism, flouting of procurement laws and guidelines, disregard for national values domiciled in the Constitution, and thirst for quick riches is the bane of our politics.

Majority of rural populations have refused to interrogate critical issues by examining hard-content with critical depth that would shame the spookiness of the political class.

There has been no critical and sustained insistence by the electorate to have Look at political parties castigate any governor under their party umbrella for misappropriation and plunder of devolved funds.

Look at how no political party is emphasising how local development is going to be exemplified by devolved government, and how they would upscale the oversight roles of County Assemblies to strengthen accountability and oversight at county level.

Look at how no one is immersed in discussing the need to strengthen social audits as a mechanism for enhancing public participation at the two levels of government.

No party is discussing the necessary boost that the Council of Governors needs so as to strengthen direct foreign investment to counties and strengthening of Public Private Partnerships for county governments.

See how no party is discussing the possible and necessary improvements needed to make the Summit and the Intergovernmental Budget and Economic Council more functional, platforms that most Kenyans know little about, and platforms that have left so much to be desired.

The cost of healthcare continues to be unbearable, health and economic welfare insurance remains slippery, and a preserve of the rich, and sustainable development seems to be a good fairytale.

The politicians are obviously on top of their game, and the pliably oblivious electorate is cheering the politicians on and on.

Kenya needs a new awakening. The prisoners of conscience and tolerance must take to the stage and upstage the grandstanding of the status quo, and drive out the agents of political intolerance.

In the 2017 election cycle, the second cycle since the advent of devolution, the only change that is evident is how politicians are deploying technology to throw mud at opponents, and lack of clarity to specific commitments once elected into public office. It is the Kenyans who stand to lose.

Disturbingly, the gushing wound of tribalism and regionalism is what politicians, the self-appointed doctors, have purposefully refused to treat, and are ready to pop the Champaign bottles at the death of the patient, thanks to the wound.

There is no debate about the need for conscientious debate, and the only debate is about why it is not debatable that we are divided as a nation.

The best description of the Kenyan situation is captured by the Irish poet W. B. Yeats in his timeless poem titled The Second Coming, and he states;

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

An election is supposed to symbolize the light at the end of the tunnel. Sadly, in Kenya, there is no tunnel, and no light. There is no rock bottom that beats having many political leaders with observable conceptual gaps in governance and development.

Political office holders are deemed to be public trustees whose task primarily is to oversee and manage whatever resources entrusted to them as apportioned by the Constitution, and are charitably expected to be do-gooders incapable of pursuing the dusty path of seeking self aggrandizement and personal wealth at the expense of public service.

New levels of political cynicism and idiocy, and class conspiracies continue to be mainstreamed in the Kenyan politics, without foreseeable prospects of clean politics. The brutal tribalism, duplicitous intolerance, and crafty responses to public concerns seem to be the lasting fiber in our body politik.

The voters are admittedly comfortable to choose between degrees of evil. It is like jumping from one hole to the other of similar depth, and imagining that you are kissing the sky.

As we head to the ballot on August 8th 2017, many of us are overwhelmed by the emptiness of many politicians, and as we gasp for air, we are nearly asking for oxygen masks.

Javas Bigambo can be reached through jbigambo@interthoughts.co.ke

ELECTION PREPAREDNESS: THREATS AND RISKS FROM LEGITIMATE POLITICAL COMPETITION

6 May

By Javas Bigambo

Kenya is yet again headed to another general election, whose stakes are evidently high, and political daggers are already drawn. Among the many questions arising is whether we are well prepared for the general election.

Proper election preparedness is crucial in the advancement of democracy. Political parties as institutions, aided by vibrant and objective civil society, advancing idealpolitik and realpolitik, contribute to the blossoming of democracy.

Political and public institutions aligned to politics are the aorta of democracy, whose backbone is the rule of law.

As Abraham Lincoln easily paused in his pivotal address at the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, “What has this to do with the perpetuation of our political institutions?”

Political institutions are the wheels on which democracy runs. Democracy, like freedom, must always be chosen, and sustained by the resolve of a nation.

Democracy is a critical precursor to fundamental freedoms in any free society.

By it’s nature, democracy prioritises the sanctity of the vote, and guarantees the right of that vote, not just to be cast, but to be counted with regard to the intention of the voter.

Proper preparedness for election broadens bolsters not only democracy, but speaks to the soundness of the perpetuation of political institutions.

Already political mobilisation is at an advanced stage. Opposition Coalition NASA has finally determined its direction by settling on Raila Odinga as its flag-bearer.

National Super Alliance (NASA) has settled on Raila Odinga as its presidential flag-bearer. Mr. Odinga is Jubilee’s fiercest critic.

Jubilee Party on its part is looking to battle it out once more with one of its fiercest critics that Raila Odinga is.

President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have dismissed NASA and Raila Odinga, terming NASA as a “coalition of jobs for the boys”.

But is the country ready for elections?

Here in Kenya, it would be erroneous to assume that election preparedness is the primary and sole task of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

It would be altogether pernicious to the dictates of democracy’s growth, to leave much of election preparedness to the IEBC.

Successful, credible, verifiable and transparent elections increasingly depend on the collective efforts of key stakeholders, a team that constitutes the principal institution planning and overseeing the elections (IEBC), the judiciary, political parties, civil society, relevant commissions such as the National Cohesion Integration Commission (NCIC), the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), the media, and the participation of the general public.

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati and CEO Ezron Cheloba at a recent press briefing on election preparedness.

It can no more be negated that Kenya’s growing democracy is a patchwork of a nation’s resilience, vigilance, steadfastness and diligence in political actions. Each country has its unique path to democracy.

While the key principles of democracy are universal, the flesh that covers the bones that those principles remain different, unique, and of different shades and hues.

When one mulls over electioneering trends and practices, question arises as to whether the challenge in Kenya’s democracy is the weaker political institutions, the tetchy politicians or the people.

When the dotes are connected, some don’t still realise that when unions demand salary increases for workers, government raises the money through increase in taxes, which directly affects the cost of living.

When corruption goes unpunished, white elephant projects become the norm, standard projects become unreasonably high, the exchequer pays even more for the same projects, and the nefarious, unscrupulous public servants, working in cahoots with service providers, milk public coffers dry, and a bad culture is sustained through the fame of emboldened corrupt individuals who are celebrated as wealthy.

Lawless spirits always beget lawless public servants and lawless business people.

When tribalism and political tribal blocks are hailed as cryptic political arithmetic that wins political office, the smaller ethnic groups gather in the cold corners of minority positioning, and end up having their voices drowned in the sea of national politics.

When greedy business men and women become the trusted advisors to the holders of public office, roper service delivery is threatened, and accountability is eschewed.

These are things that choke a nation, threaten development, and create darkness at high noon.

As we head to the 2017 general election, political tension is at the heart of its preparation.

Each side is suspecting the other, and one would be forgiven to conclude that each side seems to be sounding the drumbeats of war.

Assumptions and presuppositions, accusations and counter-accusations, suspicion upon suspicion, and ego against ego, no side is resting easy.

What makes our elections replete with violence is ostensibly the lack of fresh ideas from the political class, who continually cling on tribal affiliations, and a population too that does not demand political leadership that can re-invent itself with ideas, not wealth and egos.

It does not seem to concern many Kenyans that no side in this divide has come up with ideas on how to combat climate change; a new strategy to counter AIDS; a puzzling idea on how to make famine a thing of the past; how to sort out the healthcare mess; how to ultimately deal a blow to corrupt public servants (by the way, majority of the party stalwarts on each side have benefitted from or abated corruption); how to reduce the cost of monthly electricity bills; or perhaps how to make business and employment opportunities available to everyone equally.

Instead, each side is nippy to demonize the other, and spewing epithets that make no sense for public good and progress.

What’s even more troubling is that those with ideas are seen as ‘academic’, statements made to possibly declare that being academic is not cool, yet education is declared a right by the Constitution.

Overwhelming evidence shows that democracy itself is a product of education and academics.

While by each election the state of our democracy seems to be growing stronger, the calibrations of such growth are known by the marks of strife, deaths, injuries, violence, compromises, sacrifice, reforms, and resilience. A whole catalogue of pains, sorrows, joys and forward-falling.

With all these, at no time can we say that we were very well prepared for the general election, even those times when we really thought we were, the contested election results, especially at the presidential level, have always brought out one reality – that we have never been satisfactorily prepared.

All political and media spaces need to be used to make the atmosphere conducive for a cohesive nation, especially as we move toward the 2017 general election.

The media should play a crucial role in this direction. Political analysts appearing on television and radio should be men and women of solid ideas and objective enough to strengthen public discourse toward a stronger democracy.

Javas Bigambo: Analysts appearing on television and radio should have solid ideas and be objective enough to strengthen public discourse toward a stronger democracy.

his is the kind of confidence that IEBC, the judiciary and all political parties must build.

The opposition coalition (National Super Alliance – NASA) on its part must not keep chastising the IEBC and incessantly viewing it through the lenses of suspicion.

The government too should act in such manner that a demonstration of possible mischief is not construed.

Only then can we aver that we are genuinely, collectively and diligently preparing for elections, regardless of heightening political competition.

Free and fair elections are a function of adequate financing and proper preparation, which makes democracy possible.

Democracy has no perfection, it is always work in progress, an inheritance across generations.

The writer can be reached through jbigambo@interthoughts.co.ke

KENYA’S NATIONHOOD, DEMOCRACY AND CONSTITUTIONAL DECENCY BEING TESTED

1 Jan

KENYA’S NATIONHOOD, DEMOCRACY AND CONSTITUTIONAL DECENCY BEING TESTED

By Javas Bigambo, Interthoughts Consulting

The centerpiece of the development of nation states is the nature and quality of each nation’s politics, and politicians.

From antiquated Greece to modern third world and developing countries, politics is the stuff that makes or breaks nations.

Political leaders determine each country’ development agenda, foreign policy direction, tax regimes and development budgets, even though most politicians are irredeemable hedonists.

That is why it is beyond dispute that the unequaled power and subtlety of politics inadvertently makes elections a matter of universal interest. Agreeably, dependence on transparent democratic decision-making and veneration for well-structured political institutions makes national progress possible.

A democracy that makes proper use of knowledge, regards public participation, accountability and good governance ends up benefiting the denizens more, than a democracy that is blind to corruption, embraces tribalism and nepotism to the chagrin of the masses, and rides on the wheels of inevitable folly.

To determine the respect of institutions by a government, judicious use of public resources and development plans that work, democracy demands that governments renew their social contract with the people by conducting periodic elections.

For this very reason, Kenya heads to yet another election cycle in August 2017. However, owing to riches of selfishness, self-aggrandizement, limited imagination, profound vacuity, tribal interests and an indifferent electorate, anxiety is already building up over the general election, just as it has been the case in all previous elections. Kenyans’ commitment to democracy will once again be tested, question is whether it will be found to be sturdy.

Every electioneering in an election cycle in Kenya comes with stunning exuberance, energy, flaunting of ignorance, narrow interests and cut-throat competition, and mass excitement wrapped in the valiance of contestants.

Regrettably, the 2017 election in Kenya will be won by the presidential candidate with the highest ability to craft compelling propaganda and ethnic arithmetic, altogether laced with campaign messaging replete with unprintable profanities, expenditure of looted public funds, choreographed policy bravura that cannot be remembered after elections and borrowed ideas from which nothing is learned.

This has cemented the place of Kenyan politicians in the canon of global politics. Political ambition and agenda ordinarily should constitute of sterner stuff.

Political literature from which much can be learned is composed of a collage of profiles, some legendary, while others can consign you to a shrine of tears.

Across Africa, and through the prairie of Kenya’s political history, it cannot be mistaken that politics is the most misconstrued and misguided profession, where some seek personal wealth, others seek old age consolation, some use it to protect their wealth, and only a few join to lift a people from dark valley to majestic heights of development.

Hence, politics remains a strange and yet compelling thing all around the world. Progress has been baked and served through the crucible of visionary leadership, and new national or global agenda shaped by leaders now remarked as legends in history, because they chose the better and altogether rare path.

Ambition by itself is not a bad thing, but ambition mounted on ego, driven by emptiness and supported by greed can only be calamitous.

For politics, Brutus murdered Caesar in Shakespeare’s compelling play titled Caesar; for politics, Trump quit business to join the most intricate career and caused the most absurd and baffling political contests ever imagined; for politics, the world has been treated to the most distinct and awe inspiring orations in the leadership Abraham Lincoln who preserved the Union; John F. Kennedy who led America through a new frontier that took the USA to the moon; Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton with his silver tongue; Tony Blair with crafty persuasiveness; Adolf Hitler with amazing convincing power; Tom Mboya’s profound agility; Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Barack Obama with exemplary mastery of communication and soaring oration;

president-barack-obama.jpg

Barack Obama, America’s 44th President and the world’s most compelling orator in modern history.

Freeman Mbowe, Chuka Umunna among a slate of great communicators and latter day orators, who have distinguished themselves as weavers of words.

Politics has been the stage for all of them, yet history profiles them differently.

What messes up Kenyan politics is the erroneous thought on the part of politicians who think that political power is their natural and lifelong entitlement.

I hold it firmly that no politician must be permitted to act as he or she pleases.

fireplace

Javas Bigambo sharing a thought with opinion leaders and compelling young political leaders in Kenya.

The dictates of democracy are such that the collective wishes of a people must necessarily be the guidepost for national growth and aspirations, which, in our case, are enshrined in the Constitution by what is firmly referred to as national values, which sadly make no meditative sense to Kenyan politicians.

The Constitution must be revered second to the Bible or Quran. When political leaders surrender good judgment and reason to beasts of the bush, their sycophants hauntingly rise to personify absurdity that is a departure from the civility that defines national decency.

Nationhood cannot be perfected when politicians and individuals entertain disregard for constitutionally established institutions, or disrupting the esteem of constitutional offices they hold, or even worse, watering down independence by surrendering democratic power or management of elections to foreign powers or institutions.

Ours must not continually be a disfigured homeland, misguided by apparitions and politicians’ phantasmagoria, which lead a whole nation into sanctioned darkness by the people’s own inaction.

Due to diminished wisdom and reason, Kenyans have experienced tragic elections in the past, the worst being the 2007 Post-Election Violence.

2007-pev

Images from the 2007-2008 Post Election Evidence that shook the foundations of our democracy and put a nation’s conscience to shame.

Honesty and sobriety was washed off the inner beings, and anger was permitted to flourish. For no reason whatsoever must violence be given a chance, ever, because of elections. There must be no reason for anyone to orchestrate violence after the August 2017 elections.

We should find counsel in the wisdom of Thomas Paine who once wrote “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

Kenyan democracy, through every election cycle, must be ameliorated by the unadulterated growth of truth that no politician must make his or her followers burn our country and other people’s property, and that as ordinary citizens, ours is the harder task of defending our democracy, yet not the less.

This is a noble purpose we should pursue to a noble end. The mere display of fierce ambition by politicians need not be the gasoline we use to burn that which generations of Kenyans have, through toil and sacrifice, built up.

To reduce our elections therefore to merely to an arithmetic of tribal groupings and electoral victory being merely a function of tribal arithmetic, and not a function of progressive ideas supported, is to postulate a frail thesis that tribes build nations and not brilliant ideas of visionary leaders.

This is what President Uhuru Kenyatta should know, this is what Opposition Leader Raila Odinga must not forget. It is precisely what CORD/ NASA and Jubilee Party should reflect on.

president-uhuru-kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta who will seek re-election in the August 2017 general election.

 

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Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who will lead an onslaught against Kenyatta’s re-election bid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The writer can be reached through jbigambo@interthoughts.co.ke