Monday, November 14, 2016

Some would rather vote for a dead gorilla

Many, including myself, were dumbfounded by the fact that so many Kenyans could deliberately choose candidates who might have participated in the slaughter and mass displacement of fellow Kenyans, and who had yet to clear their names of these charges. Rasna Warah, The Daily Nation
Few Kenyans truly have an intimate relationship with their elected representatives, whether serving in the Executive branch or legislative branch of Government. But many have a transactional relationship with them — do some thing for me and I will vote for you. Very rarely is this transactional relationship coloured by questions of ethics or morality; after all, the provision of public goods or services such as water services, healthcare services, bridges, roads, electricity supply or good schools and teachers has very little to do with whether your elected representative is a good man or a bad man. All that matters to you is whether he can bring home the bacon or if you believe that he can bring home the bacon.

In 2013, when Kenyans went to the polls to elect a new government under its still shiny-new constitution, they were faced with the choice of whether or not to elect two men who had been indicted at the International Criminal Court for their alleged role in the 2007/2008 post-election violence that led to the deaths of scores of Kenyans, the displacement of hundreds of thousands, the destruction of billions of shillings in property, the sexual violation of hundreds of thousands and the deep ethnic polarisation of the country papered over by an alliance between the aforementioned ICC indictees. A majority of voters, by a slim margin, ignored the allegations against the two men and today, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, are President and Deputy President of Kenya.

At the beginning of this month, the United States chose to elect a thrice-married misogynist, sexist, racist petit Caligula accused of sexually assaulting at least a dozen women, whose business is being tried for defrauding thousands of US citizens and who bragged, at one time, of how smart he was for using the US Tax Code, which he thought was a bad thing, to not pay twenty years of US federal income tax.

In Kenya, as in the USA, few people actually worried that much about the morals of their elected representatives; the only question that seemed to matter, beyond the popular media trope of the ethnicisation of Kenyan elections, was whether the elected representatives could bring home the bacon. What I find surprising is that the evidence that had been used to indict Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto had not been tested in the cauldron of a criminal trial; they were, so far as any supporters of the rule of law would have it, innocent of the charges. They had a right, as much as any other Kenyan, to offer themselves for election despite the grave accusations against them or the horror expressed by those who opposed them, including members of the Fourth Estate and the civil society.

Secondly, it is impossible to square the declaration of a free society if that freedom is subject to the dictatorship of the moral minority who determine, without public debate or sanction, who is and who isn't morally eligible to stand for election. We have been litigating the 2013 election since Raila Odinga lost and one of the key elements of that litigation is the ICC indictment against Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto. We are either free to choose whom we wish to elect or we are not; there is no middle ground.

Thirdly, we ignore the dictatorship of the moral minority at our peril. Do not get me wrong; I did not vote for Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto in 2013. I believed they were unqualified to hold the reins of power. But I didn't agree with the unexamined declaration that Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka were Kenya's saviours. This narrative had gained currency on the vocal endorsements by civil society stalwarts, members of the donor classes, foreign diplomatic missions and liberal intelligentsia, which decreed that the ICC indictees were beyond the pale and that their election would have adverse consequences on Kenya. This liturgy decreed that the sins of Messrs Odinga and Musyoka were irrelevant; the only sins that mattered were those of Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto, an illiberal thought if there ever was one.

One of the elements that seems to link the 2013 Kenyan election and the 2016 US one is the rebellion against one liberal narrative that was consecrated one presidential campaign as legitimate and the other as not. Few Kenyans, or US citizens for that matter, want to be told whom to elect and when they remain unpersuaded, few Kenyans or US citizens will respond kindly when they are collectively indicted as stupid, insane, lazy, brainwashed, sexist, misogynist, supporters of rape culture or any of the vile adjectives liberals are fond of using against those who disagree with their liturgy. This rebellion sometimes leads to the election of men or women we personally find repellent.

If there is one lesson to be drawn from both the elections of UhuRuto and Donald J Trump, it is that if you want to lose an election for your favourite candidate, label all those who disagree with your pet ideas as stupid, insane, lazy, brainwashed, sexist, misogynist, supporters of rape culture and similar vile terms. It is almost guaranteed that if those people go to the polls, they will not vote for your candidate. Some would rather vote even for dead animals as 11,000 voters did in the US by voting for a dead gorilla.

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