Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ballot-sized stupidity

The Constitution is not cast in stone and it is not as inflexible as the My-Way-Or-The-Highway political classes would have you believe. We, understandably, made the process of amending the Constitution an onerous one; no one should monkey with it willy-nilly. Some of the amendments to the Constitution can only be concluded after a positive result from a referendum, such as amending the Bill of Rights or the functions of Parliament. But, when it comes to altering the date of the election or the nature of representation, no referendum is required!

I have argued that our political problems are as a result of a failure of imagination. Take this current loud impasse over the ballot-printing tender. You would be forgiven for thinking that weighty constitutional issues were at stake rather than the petty jealousies, political insecurities, egotistic mule-headedness and sheer testosterone-fuelled arrogance associated with the men seeking the highest office in Kenya.

Everything we need to solve the August 8 challenges can be found in the Constitution; the Elections Act and the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act are merely Parliament's expression of the sovereign will of the people as set out in the Constitution. First off, even at this late stage, there is nothing that stops the elected classes from reconvening and initiating a rapid process of amending the Constitution (yes, I am well aware of the 90-day rule when it comes to constitutional amendments) to provide for a new election date. What stops these men and women from doing so is that they are invested in an election calendar that highlights all that is different among them, as opposed to what unites Kenyans in general. Unity doesn't win elections, as the painfully divisive 2013 general election demonstrated, but discord and conflict. In their scheme of things, elections are not opportunities to identify the best and brightest or to confer on them the privilege to lead us to greatness, but opportunities to settle scores, feather nest eggs and "eat".

Secondly, save for a committed minority that decrees that constitutional purity should be maintained at all costs, most Kenyans would welcome a political system that served their needs: food, water, healthcare, affordable housing, security, safety and opportunity. Few Kenyans are willing to invite at constitutional crises simply because the "Constitution is sacred" and can't be amended to iron out political wrinkles of great consequence.

Third, whoever advanced the canard that Kenya will one day have a perfect constitution, a perfect government and a perfect political class needs to have his bare behind introduced to a eucalyptus switch. That shit isn't cool. No liberal democracy in the world has a perfect constitution and Kenya is no exception. Even if we had taken fifteen years to draft the Harmonised Draft, it still wouldn't have been perfect and the political class that shepherded it would never have been perfected. We have, on numerous occasions, allowed the perfect to be the enemy of the good, and this imbroglio over the ballots is just the latest example and the public procurement process handmaiden to that demonseed.

Fourth, we are hostage to a narrative that clearly isn't working for the vast majority of Kenyans: the proposition that the Government of Kenya can only be elected in the form that it has been for fifty-four years, the reason why political stalwarts are sweating bullets over where and by whom ballots will be printed. The moment that we realise that (a) the Constitution isn't cast in stone, (b) that we don't have to elect a government in this way without betraying the constitutional principles of representative government and (c) that for us to build a government that works for us, we should invite all voices into the debate without preconceptions, we might actually start to solve some of our most intractable political problems. Ballot-printing is the least of our problems.

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