Friday, May 12, 2017

The inexorable churning

I wouldn't say this to their faces, but almost all aspiring parliamentarians (and their counterparts to county assemblies) have little idea of what it means not only to be political leaders, but elected representatives as well. Like other politicians, they have healthy egos that have persuaded them that they, and they alone, have the capacity to not just identify the challenges their people face but have the capacity to lead the people in finding and implementing solutions. All those other politicians who came before them are held hostage by greed, venality and corruption, the detritus of failed systems that are soon to be swept away by the purity of the mission at hand.

Many of them have some semblance of a public profile by the time they decide that the only way they can make meaningful change is by entering government as elected representatives. Some are businesspersons, others are professional persons like doctors or lawyers, still others are trade unionists, retired civil servants, and others come from the high-pressure world of civil society. 
It has been at least three decades since Kenyans joined political parties en masse, and so it is unlikely that many aspiring electoral candidates are card-carrying, lifetime members of any political parties. It is why s many of them seem to start new ones (after all, the old ones are the reason why they are entering politics in the first place) or buying their way into the old parties (after all, the incompetence of the older representatives cannot be allowed to stymie "development"). As a result, few of them know much about political parties, political organisation and mobilisation, electoral law, parliamentary procedure and practice, government procedures or political representation. They make it up as they go along.

Many are precocious, though, and if they are successfully elected will pick up the skills they need fairly quickly. The majority, however, must attend training seminars or workshops in order to know what to do as elected representatives. Needless to say that despite their sometimes obvious intelligence, few of them are natural politicians and are, almost always, easily manipulated into obvious traps, especially in regards to one of their most important roles as elected representatives: oversight of the executive branch.

Few humans will admit that they are ignorant of things; few politicians will admit that they know jack shit about the political process and the institutions that underpin it. Some will resist being publicly chastised, responding belligerently and rudely to suggestions that they are not ready. Others will hide behind armies of supplicants, sycophants and "communications" consultants. Because of this, for the past three decades, our political process has been hollowed out; each successive election has weeded out experienced (though corrupt and corruptible) political hands and replaced them with inexperienced (and easily misled and manipulated) political neophytes, thereby, ironically, entrenching corruption and the impunity it engenders.

It would surprise many of them to learn that there is nothing novel about their insurgent political careers. Kenya has always had outsider, insurgent politicians who have generated a lot of light but very little useful heat.You would have thought that with the incessant action by the Seven Bearded Sisters and the luminaries of the Second Liberation Movement that the national discourse would have cracked the hard nut that corruption has proven to be. You would be wrong. The same problem that bedevilled the Seven Bearded Sisters in 1978 is the same one that proved the head-scratcher to the Second Liberationists in 1992 and which will surely for the new generation of men and women who come into political office with a determination to lick corruption once and for all, come hell or high water. They will discover that corruption is the hell and the high water.

If they are to avoid the pitfalls that have befallen the arrogant but ignorant idealists of elections past, it is imperative that they set aside what they know and try and learn what they don't know in the weeks or months they have before their election. As with any corrupt system, the most important aspect of it is that which is written down: the Standing Orders and the Hansard. Both offer insights as to what can and cannot be accomplished by and elected representative. They offer clues about how relationships are forged between the MP and members of the executive branch, the MP and members of the judicial branch, the MP and other MPs, the MP and private-sector movers and shakers. Make no mistake, in order to succeed in changing the system, all these relationships are important; sooner or later even the Lone Ranger needs sidekicks and allies.

Some of the most disappointing MPs happen to be intelligent, well-meaning do-gooders who believed the lie: One Man can change everything. What they did not know is that they were not the Mahatma, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mother Teresa, Princess Diana or Nelson Mandela. What they forgot is that it took the Mahatma almost forty years for both satyagraha and ahimsa to form key plans of Indian political philosophy, that Dr King was not just eloquent but he was preternaturally intelligent or that it took almost twenty-years for the whole world to acknowledge that Madiba was right and that the Boers were full of it. Their ambition must be tempered with the realisation that change is incremental and frustrating and might never come to pass in their lifetimes. If they persist in the bubble of their God-complex delusion, the voters will cast them aside like yesterday's trash. In politics there are no permanent friend or permanent enemies - just the inexorable churning of politicians, one after the other.

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