Thursday, May 12, 2016

The IEBC box-step tango

The ones who squeal the loudest about the "unfairness" of electoral management bodies, such as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, are politicians whose luck at the hustings was not good. The voters, for whom the loud squealing is purportedly for, don't seem to have an opinion one way or the other. That no longer surprises. To paraphrase Michael Joseph, the eponymous former Safaricom maestro, Kenyans have peculiar political habits.

Kenya's elections have rarely been without incident. Once Kenya adopted the fiction of democratic multiparty elections, it is only the general election of 2002 that was accepted as free and fair, with the ruling party's candidate making a gracious concession speech soon after the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared Mwai Kibaki duly elected as Kenya's third headman. But that is not to say that the election was free or fair; after all, it is the ECK that had presided over the blood-soaked elections of 1992 and 1997 and would lead Kenya to the brink of self-destruction in 2007.

What surprises is that in 1992, 1997 and 2007, voters were passionate enough about the elections that they participated in murder, rapine and arson on a grand scale, yet when the dust settled and a government took office, they forgot about the election management body and retreated back to the corruption-fuelled governance of the country, fighting for every unlawful contract with their government.

Kenya's civil society, and I do not mean the sclerotic NGOists attempting to justify hundreds of thousands of donor dollars, is almost nonexistent and it is being smothered, one person at a time. I imagine this is how a python's prey feels when it is being suffocated inch by deadly inch. At first it is a slimy embrace; in a half-hour it is excruciating asphyxiating death. Kenya's civil society is being asphyxiated because those doing the asphyxiating - notably Kenya's parasitic political class - has adopted a softly-softly approach to things.

A civil society is built on an informed citizenry; Kenyans may be the envy of their continental peers for the number of blogs they operate and the number of tweets they send, but when Kenya's last celebrated author last wrote a thought-provoking treatise in the last decade, you get the feeling that fewer and fewer Kenyans are interested in ideas and fewer and fewer Kenyans are willing to engage in debate of ideas. It is why an ill-thought and incendiary newspaper editorial leads to the expulsion of the editor without the members of the Fourth Estate interrogating the straitened circumstances of their craft, or the dismissal of a conscience-pricking editorial cartoonists elicits cries of dismay but no mass movement to demand his reinstatement.

Old civil society warhorses find themselves more and more alone. Timothy Njoya must look at the antics of Mutava Musyimi and weep. Yash Pal Ghai must look at the insufferable bombast of Kiraitu Murungi in horror. John Githongo must wonder whether his efforts in exposing graft were worth the death threats. A nation incapable of thinking is at the mercy of the ill-informed mob, and it is the mob that keeps the politicians' name in print and the publisher counting the billions that come with advertising shillings. The teargassed protests at Anniversary Towers, home of the IEBC, are proof that Raila Odinga is not interested in a thinking civil society, if he's interested in a civil society at all and neither is Uhuru Kenyatta, Martha Karua or the rest of them. What they want is a mob that will do their bidding without thinking.

It is why, after the next round of "electoral reforms", that the next elections will be marred by unfairness and, quite likely, great violence and the loser will demand new "reforms" and the incumbent will hold out for four years until he has his electoral ducks in a row. Willy Mutunga, the Chief Justice, calls Kenya a bandit economy. Kenya's politicians haven't proven him a liar yet.

No comments: