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?

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The End of "Accept and Move On"?

For the first time in a long while, there's reason for hope. Hope that the veil of darkness and silence that had descended upon Kenya following the election has begun to lift. It may be that it is always darkest before the dawn but just as those of us insisting on an examination of what went wrong were beginning to feel anachronistic, a typically Kenyan piece of political theatre seems to have brought the whole "accept and move on" charade to a screeching halt.

It all begun with Kethi Kilonzo's nomination for the Makueni senatorial seat left vacant by the death of her dad and ended with the incompetence of the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission put on full display. Today, it is immaterial (though it shouldn't be) whether Kethi lied about being a registered voter and whether she presented fake, forged or stolen documents to bolster her case. The spotlight is squarely on the IEBC which has been shown to have used differing standards to register voters as well as an inability to maintain an accurate and consistent record of how many voters it had actually registered, whom they were and when it registered them.

Coupled with its inability to verify that info on voting day following the widespread failure of the electronic voter identification system as well as the inability to verify vote counts following the failure of the electronic results tallying system, this inevitably calls into question the credibility of the election and its declared result. That doubt is further reinforced by the fact that more than four months after the election, the IEBC is yet to publish the full results of the election amid reports of difficulties explaining the one million voters who seemingly only voted for their choice of president but not any of the 5 other races, behaviour that no electoral observer seemed to have witnessed.

The Kethi show has exposed the rot behind the wall of silence and denial and, in the light of its revelations, it seems Kenyan society is beginning to wake up to the possibility that it may have been the victim of massive fraud. This awakening is being led by the media. "Today there was an all-out war by the media on IEBC, did we miss the bus three months ago?" tweeted KTN journalist Dennis Donsarigo after apparently suddenly discovering the multiple voter registers. The Law Society of Kenya also seems to have realized that letting the IEBC conduct an audit of its own performance is not necessarily a good idea. "There is no way you can audit yourself that is why we have started our own independent investigations that would look into IEBC's conduct following the last polls," declared its chairman, Eric Mutua.

Aside from the IEBC, there is another institution that will need to be scrutinized. Given all the inconsistencies, incompetence, contradictions and outright fraud that is being brought to light, the Supreme Court of Kenya's declaration of the election as free and fair looks tenuous indeed. Basically, the court would have us believe that a dubious voter registration exercise, dubious voter registers and a dubious vote tally delivered a credible election. Chief Justice Mutunga and his 5 colleagues have some explaining to do especially after they refused to consider all the evidence and issued a joke of a judgement.

Finally, we may feel the need to re-examine the constitution and electoral laws. For example, we clearly need to have a longer period between the actual election and inauguration to allow for proper hearing and disposal of presidential petitions. Other issues arising from a proper audit of the roles played by the IEBC and the Supreme Court in this tragicomedy may also point the way to other necessary legislative reforms.

But, more than all these, I hope it will lead to a real soul-searching among the Kenyan people. How could we let ourselves be so easily blinded and misled? How were we so easily stampeded into our tribal stockades? How did we end up with a government headed by persons suspected of the most heinous crimes against humanity, a senate and parliament peppered by suspected drug barons and ex-cons and whose members seem only keen on self-aggrandizement? How is it that our devolved county governments seem to be little better? How come all our politicians seem little more than bigoted tribal kingpins, what John Githongo describes as "Kenya's most committed tribalists, thieves, liars and anti-Kenyans"?

The book Wars, Guns & Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places by Paul Collier offers some interesting insights. His research reveals that democracy, at least as practiced in the ethnically diverse societies of "the bottom billion" -what used to be called the third world- has led to increasing polarisation, increasing conflict and has driven the honest and meritorious out of public life. Sound familiar? The key phrase there is "democracy as it is practiced." For we do not really practice democracy. What we have is a shamocracy: it looks like democracy but is really nothing more than a sham: elections but not the power of choice; constitution but not the rule of law; a free press that tells us nothing; the language of tolerance and universal rights, but none of the protections. It turns out, however, that while actually being a democracy is very good for poor countries, pretending to be one can be very bad. And that is what we've been doing.

It is time we got back on the reform bandwagon and became serious about democratizing. Only this time, we must begin by reforming and democratizing ourselves. We must stop the pretense. And we must begin by insisting on the rehabilitation of civil society, our guiding light in the dark days of autocracy (which, by the way, is way worse than pretend democracy). Actually, we should beg their forgiveness for the way we have allowed them to be mistreated and misrepresented. Thereafter we must together begin the task of self-examination. The now-forgotten TJRC report would be a great place to start.

This can be a proper Jubilee year, not just in name, a fake foisted on us by a bunch of politicians. It can be the beginning of a period of recollection, restitution and forgiveness. We can begin to understand the and resolve the problems of the past and put those ghosts to rest. And we can together agree on what needs to be done about the last elections and begin to chart a way forward. If we do so, in 5 years time we can celebrate a true milestone along the path to real democracy and nationhood.