Thursday, September 22, 2022

The camouflage of solutionism

I once said this about the Ukweli Party of Kenya: The Ukweli Party isn't unique in this regard. It is merely one more piece of evidence that not even civil society stalwarts have broken from he neoliberalism that many claim to challenge. Instead of building a true political party, supported by its members, active in the community, its founders bought a briefcase, slapped a made-in-Kenya label on it, identified a few vocal civil society faces to stand in a few visible parliamentary elections, and flamed out without a whimper. No one can even remember its officials from 2017.

I was trying, badly, to make the point that solutionism - the overweening narcissism that defines the Third Sector - has so ingrained itself in the political discourse of this country that every political messiah believes that only he can save Kenya and for him to save Kenya, he must register his own political party without, crucially, having the patience to actually build a political movement that a party may represent. In the just-ended general election, it was alleged that because Kenyan political parties are ideology-free zones, it explained voter apathy and a below-average voter turnout, especially in the presidential election. Respectfully, I think this theory, and its corollaries, are horseshit.

The Registrar of Political Parties' records indicate that Kenya has over eighty registered political parties. I would be shocked if Kenyans were able to name ten. Azimio One Kenya Alliance had over twenty constituent parties. I'd be surprised if we could name five. The National Super Alliance that fronted Raila Odinga and Musalia Mudavadi in 2017 remains but an ephemeral image in the mind of a dedicated few while the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy that fronted Raila Odinga and Kilonzo Musyoka in 2013, has been erased from memory. None of the coalitions, from CORD to NASA to Azimio had done the necessary work of building a political movement to promote the political goals of a people; they were mere reflections of the political ambitions of one man who has unsuccessfully sought ultimate political power since 1997.

This is not to say that The National Alliance, the Jubilee Party of Kenya, or Kenya Kwanza, reflect the ideals of a political movement. The victories of their presidential candidates has nothing to do with ideological co-operation among the coalitions' members; merely the consequences of thirty years of ethnic engineering designed to win elections without building robust political institutions.

Ukweli Party attempted to swim in this cesspool. It, and similar also-ran political outfits long since dumped in the rubbish bin of history, are a reflection that civil society campaigners have abandoned the hard graft of political institution-building, for the quick-wins language of their "donors" and "partners". It is a powerpoint approach to political re-engineering: boardrooms full of committed activists who have given up on the outside world who have decided to "do something" and that something, it turns out, is to register a political party, spend a bunch of money of search-engine optimisation and similar internet dark works, pay for thousands of t-shirts, shukas and umbrellas, traverse select large towns on the backs of semi-trailers blasting Amapiano and Sauti Sol out of over-priced rented PA systems and accompanied by skimpily-clad "youth" who have been paid to gyrate suggestively to the quite-often incomprehensible music, without actually engaging with the people they intend to lead on the political questions they want addressed: unemployment, poor educational outcomes, affordable housing and healthcare, people-based policing, food security and human dignity.

Of course the law on political parties is badly written. It makes it near-impossible for upstarts like the Ukweli Party to mobilise on a national scale before registration. But that is only part of the challenge. The other part is that the sponsors of the Ukweli Party, like their other failed counterparts, did not start out with a full deck to begin with. There is no evidence that outside of the Nairobi enclave where the party emerged, Ukweli Party had representatives (or even a poster) in places like Kargi in Marsabit, Rodi Kopany in Kisumu, Matuu in Kitui, Rongai in Nakuru, Sacho in Baringo or Hola in Tana River. It existed solely in the briefcase being its certificate of registration and it failed in its mission because voters are not binders of documents to be carted about by earnest-but-misguided activists.

One piece of proof that these outfits are meaningless has to do with the aftermath of general elections. None of them, not even the parties or coalitions that successfully send candidates to State House, Parliament and county assemblies, ever hold party post-mortems to interrogate their performance in the general election or to address the legislative and policy agenda of the party for adoption by the parties' general membership. The past two weeks has witnessed parliamentary party group meetings only, as if the coalition or political parties are composed solely of elected representatives. The people, represented by the elected politicians, have already faded from public view, and their political views carry as much weight as a puff of smoke. It is why when parties like Ukweli flame out at the polls, they begin the rapid process of fading from public view. They were never intended to be real political parties but merely vehicles for a few men and women to stick their noses in the trough put out by the National Treasury for the lucky few, in the parlance of one of Ukweli's loudest stalwarts, MPigs.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

The Fifth is here - I have thoughts

The inauguration of the fifth is nigh so maybe things are far enough removed from the ruling of the Supreme Court in the presidential election petition that affirmed the victory of William Ruto that we can say a few things that may or may not matter. In my opinion, many of the pundits seemed to have infused the presidential election petition with supernatural powers, capable of transmuting the base metal of missing votes into the gold of a presidential election victory for Raila Odinga. Of course, this did not come to pass and so, they have now turned to parsing the language of the judges of the Supreme Court, especially that tart remarks about "hot air" and "wild goose chase" in respect of some of the lawyers in the case.

I take the position that though a presidential election is important, it is not so important as to form the foundation for overturning courtroom principles, especially the principles relating to standards of proof. I am not one of the lawyers who will claim with any form of credibility that the electoral commission was the paragon of virtue hen it came to the conduct of the presidential election. The antics of the Cherera Rebels and the violence at Bomas of Kenya are proof positive that the commission made many mistakes.

But notwithstanding the mistakes by the commission, the threats, intimidation and violence that the commission and its officials faced were substantial and we must acknowledge that the commission did a better-than-expected job in light of this. In short, the commission's performance in the presidential election as a mixed bag.

What many of us have missed in the sturm und drang of the presidential election petition is the seismic shift in political sensibilities witnessed in this general election. It used to be that the general election was defined by the presidential election, with the down-ticket races struggling to elicit any form of sustained interest. In 2022, the majority of political passions were expended in county elections, especially the election of governors and deputy governors. The issues of development have been devolved to such an extent that it matters a lot who is elected as a governor or deputy governor and whether or not the candidate has a keen understanding of the developmental needs of the people whose votes he is seeking at the grassroots level. The presidency, with its deeply entrenched reputation for theft, looting, grand graft and human rights abuses, is slowly receding in importance and one day, if devolution is not irreparably sabotaged, Kenyans will pay more attention to who is in charge of the county government than the presidency.

We have a sense of this by how ho-hum the presidential election campaigns were. Even with the active intervention of the incumbent president, large swathes of the senior ranks of the civil service, the national security establishment, the national corporate media, and leading figures of civil society, including leading lights of the Second Liberation, the leading candidates barely elicited enough passion to make the presidential election an election o remember. Indeed, it was plain that the favoured candidate could not persuade the people who were being manipulated to vote for him to actually vote for him in such numbers as to be significant.

It is rumoured that the national security establishment fed the favoured campaign with enough bullshit as to blind them to the goings on in the ground. The promise that "the Mountain is with Raila" came a cropper; even with the sensational allegations made in court, it is plenty plain that the years that the president-elect had spent in the Mountain had paid off in spades.

I have no sympathy for the losing presidential candidates. I especially loathe the opportunistic preacher-lawyer and the pro-weed candidates for their inability to transform their presidential election campaigns into principled articulation of hard truths about the body politic. Obviously, the lack of credible corporate media coverage hamstrung them on the messages that they could propagate but the fact that they didn't even try - dry, humourless, un-thoughtful manifestos were the nadir - is an indictment of them, and us, and a painful revelation of how far we have fallen when it comes to public discourse.

I also loathe the way in which the favoured presidential candidate lost the election. He surrounded himself with highly motivated charlatans who had no interest in his victory per se but were interested in electing a puppet they could control long into the future. His campaign's spokesman did everything in his power to paint himself as the incarnation of the late Sharif Nassir, Kihika Kimani and Kariuki Chotara, albeit with a law degree and multiple post-graduate degrees to boot. He spouted the most regressive and fatuous shit that it took great effort to remember that he is a professor of law. When the annals of history are written about this phase in Kenya's constitutional development, this presidential election and its dramatis personae will feature strongly in the "lessons learned" section, with grim warning for future populist demagogues and political opportunists of every shade.

I have no idea how the fifth will rule - he intends t rule, make no mistake. He has managed to maintain a high degree of information security thus far; few people know anything about the inner workings of his transition team. There are few leaks about the shape and form of his Cabinet; who he intends to nominate to senior ranks ion the civil service; how much leash he intends to give to State organs such as KRA, the National Police Service, the EACC and the DPP. I hope you are not one of the naive people who think that constitutional commissions and. independent offices are really, truly independent. In any case, Tuesday, 13th September, beckons. Let us hear what the new rais will say on the day.

They all fall, eventually

The member of the National Assembly for Mumias East is a spectacularly unpleasant character. But he is not unique. A former member of the Na...