Tuesday, 19 June 2012

What is Wrong with our Politics?

Something is very wrong with our politics. Why do politicians have such an obscene sense of entitlement to our votes and what gives presidential aspirants the audacity to expect our votes yet they are not clearly defining the issues that affect us and spelling out how they will address them? Just as it has always been, the Kenyan public is taking the forthcoming general election very seriously not because the electorate is acutely aware of the importance of quality leadership in nation building but because it still matters to a vast majority of Kenyans from which ethnic community the president is going to come from.

Tribalism therefore is readily considered what is wrong in our politics. I am however of a different opinion. The strong desire people have of seeing someone from their own ethnic community at the centre of power is no different from the passionate desire we all have of seeing our fellow countrymen winning a gold medal in international athletic competitions even though the individual athlete comes from a different ethnic community than ours and they alone and their families get the direct benefits of the accomplishments. In much the same way, the desire to see our kinsmen ruling the nation is legitimate and proper and demonising that desire and labelling it tribalism is misplaced and rather simplistic.

Politics however, is not athletics but the analogy is certainly valid. Politics is deeply consequential and it directly affects our everyday lives and that of future generations. Therefore, the person who wins an election should matter to every stakeholder and that is why we vote in politics and not merely spectate and cheer as is done in athletics.

Be that as it may, it is not our appreciation of politics’ deeply consequential nature that makes us desperately want to see our tribesmen elected to high office. If that was the case, we would support excellent leaders regardless of their ethnic background. It is also not the imaginary benefits that we and or our community will get that makes us really want to see our kinsmen elected to high office. Deep down we know all too well that it is only a tiny often wealthy minority mostly favoured by birth, education, and friendship who will benefit directly as a result of having our kinsman in the position of power.

Tribalism therefore, in and of itself is not what is necessarily wrong with our politics. The way I see it, tribalism is just but a pretext that is used to keep the ruling elite in power. All the stereotyping and negative ethnic sentiments hurled back and forth by politicians across the political divide is only intended to distract ordinary Kenyans from the real issues that affect our lives and to hide the fact that politicians have no solutions to the serious problems that bedevil our country.

The reasons we are hopelessly distracted and we get caught up in the sideshows is because politics as we know it is a ‘blood sport’ that attracts what I think is extreme interest among Kenyans and extreme interest goes extreme partisanship and sadly, partisanship in Kenya is based on ethnicity. Believe you me; if it were based on ideology, we would by now have made tremendous progress as a nation. I believe ignorance is the principal reason we have no competing ideas in the public square.

Needless to say many unscrupulous individuals who are perennially bankrupt of ideas on how to deal with the issues of the day seek and who only want an easy way into political office for personal gain are acutely aware of this nationwide obsession we have with politics. They are also aware that our partisanship is based on ethnicities and so they have perfected the art and science of preying on our ignorance, inordinate obsession with politics, and our legitimate tribal loyalties. The majority survive by portraying their communities as victims and pathetic losers while a particularly notorious clique constantly impress it upon their kinsmen that the leadership of this country is the sole preserve of their community.

I am however persuaded that a new generation of the Kenyan public is slowly but surely emerging. It is more politically sophisticated and has a good appetite for constructive debates around issues and ideas. It is a generation that has a healthy disdain for stereotyping, ostracism, and wanton ethnic vilification which they are finding is unbelievably hollow even though it has been characteristic of our politics since independence. To be sure, politics will always be marred by mudslinging and needless sideshows and ethnic communities will be trump cards but that cannot be the primary basis upon which the crucial voter decision is made.

The recent death of Professor George Saitoti who had declared his interest in the top job and his colleague Hon. Joshua Ojodeh has helped calm things down and sobered up the ruling elite. The political atmosphere is now conducive for politicians and the media alike to embark on issue-based politics.

Speaking of issue-based politics and competing ideas, what is the economic agenda of the leading presidential aspirants? We have had enough of showmanship with the flashy launches of political parties, what we are now eagerly awaiting for is the launch of party manifestos and we will be waiting to see who will take the lead in steering our politics in the straight and narrow path of issues and ideas.

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