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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Who Will Bell The Cat?

Less than three years after we promulgated a new constitution, meant to herald a new era of democratic governance, our polity is facing a severe crisis of legitimacy. Today few Kenyans believe their MP represents them. Half the country thinks the presidential election was stolen and the revelations of IEBC incompetence threaten the credibility of the entire March General election. Untrammelled rent-seeking by the new county authorities and petty arguments over the appropriate manner of addressing housing and transporting governors and their wives are making a mockery of devolution. We are now the fourth most corrupt nation in the world.

The system is broken. So why aren't we fixing it? Why aren't we even talking of fixing it?

I think we may be seeing the consequence of a deficit in accountability. We are already well past the point at which our shamocracy pushed honesty and prudence out of public office. Now that the thugs and tribalists have taken over, they are systematically deconstructing our national identity and replacing it with ethnicities. This fracturing of identity makes it much harder for the people to mount collective action to punish thieving elites.

One of the primary ways (by no means the only one) the masses can enforce accontability is through elections. But we live in terror of elections. And with good reason. Elections work, when governments are evaluated on their performance, and when citizens watch whether governments keep their promises, and oust those that don’t measure up. Such accountability improves the provision of public goods, boosting incomes and welfare and reinforcing the sense of national belonging.

However, in poor and diverse societies such as ours, electoral competition undisciplined by accountability and enforced rules curtailing scope for cheating as well as constraints on the exercise of power, can be very dangerous indeed. Politicians are evaluated on their propensity for patronage, further polarizing the fractured identities and leading to higher risks of violence.

We don't have to look far for examples of what happens when we stay on the road we are on. Cote D'Ivoire and Somalia have been through this. The former was once Africa's economic miracle and is now a basket case. The latter is one of it's most ethnically homogenous societies, which has been tearing itself apart for more than two decades. We ourselves had a taste of it in 2007.

The lack of accountability and fracturing of the national identity is the road to hell. It is why we are deathly afraid of elections. When accountability for the deaths of 1500 Kenyans is swept under the carpet in the name of a fake reconciliation, when we elect thugs to public office and turn a blind eye to electoral malfeasance in the name of peace, we are just storing up further troubles down the road.

It is also proof positive of the hollowness of our democracy. A free people should have no reason fear electoral contests. And to the extent that we do, we are neither free nor a people.

So what is to be done? The politicians will not fix it. Their unrestrained greed for power and prestige is a big part of the problem. Also, the president and his henchmen do not want to broach the issue for fear of having to acknowledge that their victory is stained. None other than the Deputy President has openly declared that the IEBC, despite its manifold failures, did a "fabulous job." Presumably he meant in installing the ruling clique's preferred candidate. In Parliament, a similar reluctance to highlight the problems springs from similar motivations: impugning the integrity of the system impugns the legitimacy of all incumbents. It was telling that when calling for reforms, the opposition CORD alliance threatened to boycott the next General Election. But that's in five years time! The system needs to be fixed today.

No. We have to look elsewhere. And we have a ready example from our recent past. It was a coalition of civil society, churches, media and disaffected politicians which mobilized the Kenyan people and the international community to stand up to the Moi dictatorship in the 1990s and to demand accountability. This coalition can be re-formed. But for that to happen, we need to shake off the fear and ignorance that seems to infect its parts.

Civil Society must come out from hiding and find the courage to speak out. The media must rediscover its core function of informing the public. The lobotomising of the news must stop and journalists should go back to being newsmen and not performing monkeys. The church (and the mosque) must rediscover their moral centres. And politicians must reacquaint with principle. Most importantly, the silence must stop. If this is done, then the people and the international community will regain their voice, just as they did twenty years ago and force reform on the elite.

But all this takes courage. It takes leadership. So the question is: In a nation where we have turned men into mice, who will bell the cat?

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

if we can't find the s/he to bell the cat... then i call out GATHARA 2017!! :)

mbagara said...

Good post.
I think, that as Kenyan, when it comes to elections we are so focuse on getting rid of the problem that we do not consider what we are replacing it with and therefore end up with the same kind of leaders.
As the church and civil society try and rediscover their societal roles in regards to accountability, the media should be taken to task. I have a bone to pick with them.
Nowadays they are more focused on entertainment and opinions rather than news and facts. That is why many of us have moved to the unregulated social media which itself is not the most reliable source of information, but is currently outdoing the media.
I think they need o realise that they have the power to change society.
I could complain all day, but my anger adds no value if unaccompanied by action.

mukusya maundu said...

This is spot on. Something should be done, now!

Anonymous said...

the only problem i have with your call for a revolution is that the people you want to head said revolution only react and call for changes when they dont get their way. same people you want to lead this so called revolution have never done anything for anybody. they have been in power for over 30 years and the areas they headed have the worst misery.

The civil societies are nothing but personal businesses offering services for the highest bidder. obviously you are just some spoilt brat whose father stole thousands from the people who needed it to fill your head with stupidity. really you have no knowledge of the misery this revolution will visit on the poor and the women and children. Raila has been with us in kibera and has done nothing so dont even go there. he gives us 50 kshs to go and throw stones when he needs us otherwise he has no need for us.

Just look at the insecurity he has visited on Kisumu. look at what his partners are doing in busia on their own people. you are just some very sick person to think that we need more bloodshed that has been shed.

By the way, you dont even have a heart for your tribesmen that were killed in a church by the same people you want to lead the revolution? what sort of human being are you? if your children were rapped and your wife's pregnancy forced out in the most babaric way, would you still be opening your stinking mouth? this is what happened to our people in kibera as well under your leader Raila. its what happened to people in eldoret. its what will happen with your so called movement. why can't your brain perceive of a better way that is peaceful to bring changes. you must be a bastard surely.

Anonymous said...

As much I like your blog, and as much as I would like to share plenty of views with you, elections as they stand today are merely a side show, to make that wanjiku imagine/ feel that she has some say in the affairs of this country or any other imaginary State for that matter. Democracy is a myth, why do I say that, well, please look up the definition of democracy in the latin sense and compare it to the definition of democracy in the western sense, how can one word mean the exact opposite of its original definition! talk of cognitive dissonance.
A point I am trying to make is that to dispel the myth of elections all I will need is one instance where there are no elections and a successful society prevails, that I am sure you can easily find.
A point to ponder, when we say the system is broken, do we truly understand what and how the system works? what you have in that British creation named "kenya" is a polyarchy and nothing less
A few wise words from those wiser than I
"The general election is a very essential movement that seeks to enlist all prisoners of hope, voters for change and seekers of power.
It is a fundamental activity akin to the world cup or olympic games, but with real life painful consequences for the bitter losers, ritualistic participants and the rest of the passive population.
That is why we, the people always needs something to look forward to such as a very expensive national exercise - a constitutionally guaranteed excuse with a several billion shillings price tag attached to it - to distract us for a couple of months with a temporary collective feeling that often deludes the majority of us into believing that we are in control of our lives and nation's destiny.".
One more question for the road, why is it that we cannot have a twitter or facebook revolution in 'Kenya'? I mean why has it not happened? my point is that, we have to understand how the system has been set up to truly understand it.

My two cents worth, other than that a great blog you have going