Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mwananchi: Why Kenya should have Fresh Elections

By George Nyongesa

Bunge la Mwananchi

NB. There will be a public debate on this topic on Friday 27th March at the Professional Centre (next to Parliament Building) from 1:30pm to 5pm

The most potent question in public debate right now is whether or not to send “moribund President and ineffective Prime Minister” et al packing through fresh elections. The coalition government stands accused of failed leadership - their accuser, the discontented 70% of Kenyans per recent opinion polls and now the clerics. The prayers before the public court are that an urgent decision be reached on whether or not fresh elections should be held right away.

However, this may not be your classic open and shut case since it is clear that the fears put forward in argument are passionately considered legitimate by each side. While this is normal in any trial, each side is dangerously subjective and there is not likely to be a compromise found soon without the introduction of an objectivity criterion.

Indeed, whether we should go to elections now or not, is not a decision that can be arrived at based on subjective passions and neither can it be discussed in a vacuum. It must be considered and understood in the context of the prevailing socio-political environment of our country, because in essence this is the common ground and arena that the two sides operate within and in which they will continue to once a decision is adopted. While each side is rearing and quick to disprove the other’s argument, or will at least try to, the reality of Kenya’s socio-political context is open for all to see it is therefore only this context that can objectively temper our considerations of the merits and demerits of the necessity and timing of the elections. If we find that the returns on the merits of the aye-sayers far outweigh the demerits of the nay-sayers, then it should help even those sitting on the fence to make an informed decision in joining the crusade.

The facts - Kenya’s socio-political context

Kenya is a country that professes to be a democratic state. In this regard, Kenya has historically held general elections every 5 years, according its citizens an avenue through which to participate in the matter of their own governance. The most recent general election was held in 2007 where a record number of Kenyans showed up to entrust their rights to people whom they thought would represent their best interests. However, from the contested presidential results to the prevailing selfish enrichment frenzy exhibited by those occupying office in the August House, Treasury building and State House, it is obvious that Kenyans were grossly fooled in campaign promises and pledges.

Let us train our focus on the coalition government. When contested presidential election results triggered post election violence, deeper underlying issues were exposed and it was clear that if we were to make any progress towards righting the wrongs, we had to take a number of extraordinary decisions. One of such decisions was, in contradiction of our democratic ideals, to accept the formation of a coalition government. The truce government was formed as a result of a failed democratic process and for those that supported its formation the hope was that it was a necessary evil to get us into the work of reforming the State. This hope was reinforced by the subsequent Kriegler and Waki reports and their recommendations. However, 365 days plus later, what has become clear is that the coalition government is not excited at the idea of reforming the state. The coalition partners are just happy to occupy the power seats in contempt of where the seats draw their legitimacy – the Kenyan people.

Unlike other or previous governments in the history of Kenya, over and above the manifestos, campaign promises and pledges of the competing leaders who came together in the coalition, there was an extraordinary mandate of the government. That special mandate was aptly spelt out in the National Accord document that gave birth to the coalition government. The job description of the top leadership of that government was laid out in agenda items 1 – 4. The agendas were: cessation of hostility and restoration of rights and freedoms; solving the humanitarian issues and compensation and resettlement of IDPs; political leadership (euphemistically referred to as power sharing) and the citizenry pertinent issues (the land question, high unemployment among young people, historical injustices, and inequitable distribution of resources - which was erroneously referred to as long term issues).

In all these agenda items, the one that the coalition leaders could claim to have given dedicated attention (only because it serves their interests) is the power sharing agenda. But the agenda items that involve the larger public good such as resettlement of IDPs, looking into citizenry pertinent issues such as historical injustices, land problems, a new constitution amongst others, their dedication has paled in comparison to their enthusiasm in power sharing matters. When the government was formed, people had high hopes that after all it was bringing together a combination of three topmost presidential contenders’ campaign pledges, promises and manifestos. We had hoped that we would have benefited from the tension over what policy should be implemented from amongst these options. However, the tension is only who’s eating what, where and when amongst coalition government leaders. The casualty? The common citizen – the voter.

The priority role of any democratic government is the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms and assurance of security for its citizens both internally and externally. If we consider Kenya in the last one year, can we strictly say that the coalition government has performed well in this mandate? Our President is on record saying that 10 million Kenyans will die from starvation in the next one year. While he acknowledged the risks faced by Kenyans and put out a begging bowl to foreign nations to help feed Kenyans at a cost of approximately KSh 37billion, in the very same financial year the coalition leadership had presided over the loss of KSh 200billion through corruption and mismanagement of national resources.

Who needs government if it cannot at a minimum assure us the right to life in our pursuit of happiness? What the coalition government has excelled in is sharing in the plundering of our public coffers, sharing of our cereal reserves, fuel and other treasures that we are yet to discover, while the threat of starvation has cornered the citizens into eating wild berries, rats and other unmentionables that past freedom fighters would be shocked to know we partake instead of the fruits of the independence they fought for.

The hunger crisis has been blamed on post election violence – but then, who caused post election violence? It has been blamed on drought – but in a modern world where economic scientists have proved that drought has a limited connection with starvation isn’t this an issue of poor government planning? They also blamed it on global financial crisis – but while that problem is global, isn’t it the responsibility of individual governments to craft safety-net mechanisms to protect citizenry from the harsh elements of the crisis? If one looks around the world, leaders are working around the clock designing policies, whether independently or in concert with other nations, to ensure their citizens are cushioned. They are even going further to reassure citizenry so that they keep their trust in the government’s capability to protect them. How much can we say any of this is happening in Kenya? Have you heard coalition partners engage in fiery debate on how to protect Kenyans from the effects of the global economic meltdown? Honestly, in your estimation do you think the current leadership can match the herculean problems Kenya faces with the magnitude of creativity, innovativeness and entrepreneurship that it demands? Or do we have a leadership that hopes against hope that one day they will wake up and the problem will go away?

Economic crisis and social unrest are twins!

The section of the citizenry that is hard hit by the consequences of failed leadership and economic crisis are those lower on the socio-economic chain – those in the villages and in the slums, the plantation and industrial workers – and its foolhardy for the political class to imagine that this lot will suffer peacefully and not pay a not-so-courtesy call to our capital city in this regard. It is inevitable that they will crawl out of the hovels they have long been relegated to and pour into the city streets where they will vent and dramatize their frustration and anger. I doubt that they will suffer in peace in their rat holes while the dogs and cats in leafy surbubs are pampered with meat, milk and biscuits; a meal more expensive than a packet 2kg maize flour that local people can no longer afford.

Arguments for and against elections now

The post election violence seems to have been the first sign to the political class, the rich and middle class that something was terribly wrong. It shook them because they too were affected as the depth of their fellow countrymen’s sufferings were brought right to their doorsteps either live or through news-outlets and they caught a glimpse of what it means for people to be dissatisfied, frustrated and therefore ungovernable. It is no wonder that our legislators’ argument put forward against holding elections now is that they are not ready for a post election violence re-enactment. However, considering the current state of the nation post the National Accord the reality is that whether we like it or not, the re-enactment will occur and it is just a matter of when. And this time round it will not be about tribes but about class struggle. It shall be neighbourhood wars of the “havenots” against the “haves”, the poor verses the rich and the governors and governed. This war is so imminent that if nothing is urgently done to postpone, address or avert it soonest, it could erupt before we finish the argument over whether to have elections now or in 2012.

There are those who argue that we do not have the institutions and reforms that will ensure “free and fair elections” whose process and results are acceptable to both the winner and the loser. I pose the following questions to them: who is supposed to create those institutions? Surely, it is not Mwananchi who is suffering from the consequences of the poor leadership. When the parliament dissolved the electoral body, left a vacuum and went on recess without a back-up plan – what were they thinking? Whose responsibility is it to reform the police force? Believe me if the President and the Prime Minister wanted to reform the Kenya police they would do it overnight. But they won’t because the current police force serves well their interest of detaining us every passing day longer in a colonial state. Whose responsibility is it to reform the judiciary? Certainly not the poor Kenyans who are victims of the abortion of justice.

I posit here that historically no State ever willingly reformed itself. It is the citizenry yearning for better social organization that must force the state to reform. World over, the state’s core always dedicate themselves to maintaining the status quo. They do it lawfully or unlawfully. My misgivings about President Mwai Kibaki or Prime Minister Raila Odinga et al’s ability to lead is born of the reality that it is the coalition partners who benefit from the lack of reforms. Further still, for Kenyans to require them to carry out reform such as to replace the current constitution is to ask them to go against their oath of office. Do we expect them to jeopardise their hefty perks, disrupt mortgage repayment plans and compromise the booty from their looting spree? Shall we peacefully become captive to their con-politics and remain paralysed in failed leadership? Why should the governors use abdication of their responsibilities to argue against the governed demand for fresh elections? No, we must find some nerve to stand up and threaten that it is not going to be business as usual. An election is the language that parliamentarians listen to and therefore we must use that to extricate ourselves from the present captivity. We should not allow the political class, especially our legislators, to use the consequence of their abdication of responsibility to dissuade us from seeking fresh leadership.

There is no doubt that hostility towards the coalition government is not confined to church leadership, but they echo a majority of Kenyans who are alarmed at the paralysis and inertia of the two principals as their troops engage in a scavenger spree looting public resources as the coalition partners walk on egg shells between themselves in self-protectionism. Formation of a coalition government orphaned and left Kenyans without a watchdog to guard their interests and so coalition partners have imperiously agreed to eat in turns. It is obvious that the current leadership is not commensurate to the gigantic task at hand and therefore it is time to get one that is fit for this job. Why should we allow an illegitimate government continue to preside over serious socio-economic and political ills with impunity? The state of our nation has all the ingredients for civil strife and something must give in order to avert the impending calamitous situation.

Closing argument

There is every argument in favour of the case that our country needs a fresh leadership that is clean, lean, accountable and responsive. There is no doubt that is what will move us from the current state of the nation where 10 million are hungry, insecure and victims of human rights violation. That is what shall redeem us from the jungle of scandals of grand corruption, maize and fuel cartels, and political uncertainty. The choice that we have is enduring the prevailing conditions or seeking their alternatives – reforms or no reforms; staying as we are or progressing. Like other human beings, we too would like to see a better life. We would like to see another Kenya born in our lifetime.

Therefore, if the call for fresh elections is what ensures or reassures our belief that another Kenya is possible, why should we stay a day longer on death row? Our responsibility as the governed is to collectively describe our desire, ambitions or the ultimate goal of what we want and for the governors to worry about how to deliver it to us. In the present case, based on the outlined serious shortcomings of the coalition leadership and our desire for alternative leadership, we the people of Kenya, must demand for fresh elections and let our society coordinators put in place the right infrastructure for us to have free and fair elections. Our governors draw hefty perks to ensure that the process and outcomes of our social organization is not disrupted even from post-election violence, so let them worry about that and not make it our problem.


Dear Kenyan, the verdict lies squarely with you. Make an informed decision but make it soon – for justice delayed is justice denied. Your choice for elections now or 2012 is a choice on how long you shall stay in the politics of empty rhetoric. It is the choice on whether to remain a victim of sickening buck passing between the principals or have a responsible leadership. It is the choice of whether to tolerate unexplained assassin bullets and continued lives of fear to deter any talk against impunity. It is a choice over whether we want to be in a free state or police state. It is a choice over whether we want to stay in con-politics. It is a choice to move from the guesswork leadership of the current leadership. It is your answer to the cries of IDPs, the poor, the hungry and the silenced voices of the struggle for your emancipation.

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