Some time back on my twitter timeline I witnessed a tetchy exchange that led me to ask whether or not we understood the relationship between the government and the people it is meant to serve and I am afraid that few of us understand what that relationship is or what it is supposed to be like. Government is a many-limbed monster held together by laws, policies, politics, inter-personal relationships and coercive forces. As an entity, Government is impersonal and almost always destructive and self-destructive. As an agglomeration of humans, humans contained in ministries, departments, agencies, commissions, offices, boards, committees, task forces, working groups, entities, legislatures, services and all those other units that comprise "Government", Government is not a flick-the-switch easy-to-understand-or-control entity.
It is why when we insist that Government can be fixed by electing the "right people" that I fear we don't know what we want or what we are saying. Take my department, as an example. It is not particularly large - the whole entity barley has 1,000 officers. The senior-most officer is unelected but yield enormous power. The majority of officers are permanently employed and to dismiss any of them from service follows a processionals that is time-consuming and expensive. The majority of officers will never interact directly with the members of the public - we are not what is known as a "customer-facing" organisation. The ones that do interact with the public do so in incredibly intimate ways. The strange thing is that not even the senior-most officer has absolute say on the legislation that governs the functions of our department even though he has overall say over the policies the affect us. It is also important to remember that theses policies are not made in a vacuum - they are made in the context of larger Government policies, which have been made on technical, procedural and political grounds, with political grounds playing an outsized role.
We have tried piecemeal solutions in the past. They have almost always failed. From the appointment of the Ndegwa Commission in the 1970s to the Golden Handshake Era of the Dream Team of the late 1990s, piecemeal solutions have been the preferred way for dealing with the inexorable deterioration of public services in the light of the increasing role of political considerations in policy-making, law-making and the appointment of public officers. It should be fairly obvious that if we elect bad politicians, they will make poor political decisions. And if political decisions play an outsized role in public policy and legislation, then it follows that policies and laws will be inherently bad. However, the reverse isn't necessarily true in light of the sheer number of changes that have taken place over the past forty years: electing "good" politicians alone will not guarantee the decline in public services.
It is the for root-and-branch changes that are driven by the people. Top-down changes in which the political elite decide what we should get have failed. It is time for a bottom-up approach in which the people tell the political elite what they need and punish the political elite for failing to provide it. The key lies in taking over the existing political and social institutions by our sheer numbers. How we do so remains the hardest nut to crack because few of us have shown any true interest in doing anything about the state of our political or social institutions.
We are very vocal about our participation in elections and every now and then, we are very violent about our political colours. Whether we are incited to violence during elections is, in my opinion, irrelevant compared to our the style of our political engagement. In 2013, I was shocked to find out I was a registered member of The National Alliance party. I knew - or had a very good idea - how my identification details had been used to make me a member of a political party in neither supported nor wished to be associated with. Like many others, I couldn't even be bothered to write to the Registrar of Political Parties with instructions to strike my name off that party's register of members. This apathy pervades the whole country - there are few true believers, let alone committed card-carrying members of political parties anymore. And it shows. Political parties continue to nominate thieves, thugs, rapists, embezzlers and murderers, and may of these characters become waheshimiwa every five years - or whenever a by-election is held.
Before we can even begin root-and-branch reforms of public services, we must demonstrate our commitment to change by joining political parties that reflect our values and fight within those parties to make sure that those values are upheld. We must make the era of briefcase political parties a thing of the past. We must bring all our skills and knowledge to reforming the primary vehicles for determining political policies that affect us, sometimes in intimate ways. If we don't, we will elect Moses Kurias and Babu Owinos who will continue to have outsized roles in public policies and we will end up with dead citizens every time we protect potholed roads.