Monday, 25 February 2013

Retraining The Kenyan Public on Issue-based Politics

- A reaction to call by Sunny Bindra on Kenyans to "blackout Politicians"
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By Ochieng Akuno (email the author)

I have just read the article posted by one SUNNY BINDRA on Sunday 21.02.2010 in DAILY NATION NEWSPAPER urging Kenyans to blackout politicians and instead concentrate on personal development. While the article highlighted a number of brilliant ideas that Kenyans actually need to embrace, there were however a number of misleading calls on Kenyans that are likely to be detrimental to the country if embraced by readers. As a peace-loving Kenyan who is keen to see his motherland progress to full democracy, I do hereby, in this spirit, write to avert this possible poisoning of the minds of millions of Kenyans reading the newspaper and pursuing what was good for their motherland.

If a politician, any politician, holds a rally in your area, can you afford to ignore it completely? In the 21st century, can we afford to stop buying newspapers just because they highlight stories from political scenes in the country? If television news bulletins highlight reports on our politicians, can we afford to switch them off? These are some of the proposals put forward by SUNNY BINDRA to Kenyans amid efforts to contain the impasse that befell the ruling coalition. However, for any rational Kenyan of sound mind, the answer to these questions is “NO” and by answering “YES”, we will be neglecting our common responsibility bestowed upon us by virtue of our citizenship of The Great Motherland-Kenya. I salute all Kenyans for their increasing public awareness and public consciousness on how the country was performing. The increasing public bickering in the political scenes, peaceful demonstrations and general keenness on following public scandals and other corruption matters are indicators of how well we execute our collective role of determining what becomes of Kenya tomorrow – this will go a long way in deciding whether tomorrow Kenya  becomes a failed state or not.

Therefore attempts to convince Kenyans to ignore politicians and instead rather concentrate on personal development can only be seen as a backward move and an attempt to detour a citizenry on the right track, pursuing what was good for their motherland – more so in determining the political future of this great nation.
However, I should not be misconstrued and here we read with Mr. Bindra from the same script: Escalating individual interpersonal violence between Kenyans in the name of holding different political opinions, to the extent of killing each other as witnessed in the 2008 post-election violence, must be condemned in the strongest terms possible. The fact that I support candidate A while you support B does not provide us grounds to go violent against each other – Kenyans must mature and stand for good ideals rather than show emotions while taking political decisions.

“Man muss das als gegeben hinnehmen: Demokratie ist nie bequem”-Theodor Heus (1884-1963): These are German words meaning: “One has to put up with it as it is given: Democracy is not comfortable”- The words of Theodor Heus (1884-1963). This is the fact that Kenyans have not fully understood; they are however making every attempt to do so.

Merriam Webmaster dictionary defines democracy as a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections. Therefore “free and fair elections” and “majority rule” are two integral elements of democracy. These two integral components make the realization of democracy always elusive especially in a multi-ethnic environment like Kenya. Determining the “majority” by way of election has often boiled down to ethnic violence resulting into dictatorship of the “minority” by the emerging “majority”.

As Kenyans strive to understand and embrace democracy, they need good guidance and supportive policies and institutions with mechanisms to promote ideals of democratic practice and good governance before they take part in any voting exercise. This is what Kenya needs - not misusing the youth to dictate the way people vote or at its worst, scare Kenyans from participating in the voting exercise. As highlighted above, democracy is not comfortable either, what therefore means that, to be able to live with the weaknesses of democracy as a system of government, we must train our citizens on true meaning of democracy and what it requires of the citizens to have a fully democratic system in place.

That Democracy is not comfortable means it takes a lot of give and take between the “majority” and the “minority”- this calls for tolerance between the two. As the minority nurse their wounds having lost the election, the majority must understand and appreciate the existence of the minority as they take over the government and the running of public affairs.

In my opinion therefore, Kenyans shutting their ears to politics is not the best solution in addressing political impasses whenever they arise. What Kenyans need is maturity in the manner they express their discontent on public matters. This maturity will only be realized if we strengthen our democratic institutions. This calls for everybody to play their part, it’s a task that cannot be entrusted exclusively on any individual or institution, not the police, not the Kenya anticorruption commission, not the judiciary, not the attorney general, not the parliament, not the provincial administration, not the civil service, not the teachers, not the NGOs, not ordinary citizens, not the rich, not the poor…neither is it the Ogiek nor the Maasais but ALL KENYANS.

We need a government that will understand and respond if its citizens hold peaceful demonstrations for that is a wakeup call on public discontent in the way the public affairs are run. If an ordinary citizen steals Ksh. 100,000,000, he will be immediately arrested, taken to police cell and charged in court. However if a minister steals the same amount from the taxpayer - from a kitty meant for providing education to our children - a commission of enquiry is set up on the matter and Kenyans must therefore wonder what the courts are meant for. It becomes even more frustrating when the implicated minister finally goes scot-free and the taxpayer has lost additional funds to the commission that was set up to investigate the matter. It’s therefore time for Kenyans to demand equal treatment, if setting up the commissions of inquiries is the way to go then let it apply to all Kenyans. We are not more criminals just because we are not ministers: a thief remains a thief and MUST be charged!

Now I know from personal experience that anything negative happening within the boundaries of a nation does not simply end within those boundaries but do have far reaching consequences beyond the boundaries of a nation. In his article, Mr. Bindra talks of Kenya’s strategic location making it suitable for investment. However, to my surprise he adds that nothing has changed: In a country where government ministers are looting the economy and citizens are demonstrating to stop the crisis – an adult of Mr. Bindra’s calibre can’t see what has changed! That is very disturbing and obviously "disturbing" is an understatement. Maybe the word scandal has become so popular in Kenya to the point that it’s nothing new ( it's normative and we need to start by stigmatizing it if a change for the better is anything to expect ). I can only recommend that the media should stop referring to stealing public money as SCANDALS, let them use the word STEALING so that the thief can be brought to book e.g. Ksh 100 million has been stolen from the ministry of education instead of a scandal of Ksh 100 million has occurred in the ministry of education. If Mr. Bindra lost Ksh 100 million am very sure he will not sleep until the culprit is brought to book but if Kenyans go demonstrating on the streets over their stolen money, just because their country has reduced them to that level, it appears Mr. Bindra finds that offending!
I want to bring it to the attention of citizens like Mr. Bindra that Kenya’s strategic location makes it a suitable business destination only as long as it’s a country in which the rule of law is observed – no businessman of sound mind would wish to do business in a country where corruption is the order of the day! To this end Mr. Bindra, you therefore realize personal development which you urged Kenyans to concentrate on can only be pursued if good governance and the rule of law is observed, which unfortunately is not the case! For nobody will pursue personal development successfully if they were unemployed – the same unemployment results from misappropriation of public funds and the associated negative image sending investors away from Kenya. I therefore salute Kenyans who made their voices heard by taking part in peaceful demonstrations against public officers involved in corruption. To these Kenyans you earned my respect and made Kenya proud by ensuring the demonstration was peaceful and free from acts of violence.

To Kenyan public officials involved in corruption please it’s time we realized that we are not doing justice to our motherland! Kindly listen to my plea and let’s move the country forward – stop corrupt practices! The negative image we are sending of our motherland is far reaching and affect Kenyans not only in Kenya but also abroad, you are painting us black please stop it!.

Finally I am very saddened to report that our motherland, Kenya is ranked among the 10 worst countries in the world in a recent study on Democracy Ranking 2008/2009. Campbell, David F. J. and Georg Pölzlbauer of The University of Klagenfurt, Faculty for Interdisciplinary Studies (IFF), Institute of Science Communication and Higher Education Research (WIHO) Vienna, Austria conducted the research assessing democratic performance of countries through a two year period. The study conducted by Campbell, David F. J. / Georg Pölzlbauer (2009) put Kenya position 94 for the years 2002/2003 and position 86 in the years 2005/2006 in a sample of 103 countries worldwide. Among the countries trailing the list during the 2002/2003 years were: Lebanon (position 96), Guinea-Bissau (position98), Burundi (position 102), Mauritania (position 95), Ethiopia (position 99), Central African Republic (position 101 ), Zambia (position 97), Nigeria(position 100) and Yemen Republic (position 103). Our neighbours Uganda and Tanzania took positions 80 and 89 respectively. Among the top 10 best performing democracies worldwide were countries like: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Austria, Australia, and Germany in that order.

The report therefore implies that an investor would therefore prefer Uganda or Tanzania as destinations of investment as opposed to Kenya. This is a perception that all Kenyans must endeavour to change in order to win back the international confidence when it comes to peace and political stability in the region. I have an idea for Kenya on the way forward as far as building of a strong democratic system is concerned. Countries that have attained full democracy status have made it a culture and an integral part of the day-to-day life of their citizens. Maybe we could borrow a leaf from these countries and on this note I have a leaf from Germany to suggest to Kenya. In Germany there are institutions known as Landeszentrum für politische Bildung – State centres for Political Education. This is a country that knows and appreciates the fact that sending an illiterate/uninformed voter to go and make a decision at the polling station is not doing justice to the country. So, Germany as a country runs these centres to train her citizens on political matters throughout the year whether there are elections or not. Among the duties bestowed on these institutions are: To inform the citizens about political events taking place, present decisive criteria on political issues, make political and government policies understandable and shed light on the background/basis of political matters so as to secure the critical consciousness of the citizens. In other words, the German government trains the citizens to be critical and not just loyal.

In Kenya, the duties named above are scattered between the provincial administration, politicians and the electoral commission and how effectively they are performed leaves a lot to be desired. I would like to inform Kenyans that German laws are written in German – which is the mother tongue of the citizens and despite that, they still run centres to train their citizens on political matters. This just highlights how badly Kenya needs such centres because Kenyan laws are written in English which is not the mother tongue of Kenyans and nobody is going to make any constructive political decision without understanding basics of Kenyan law and generally how government functions.

I am quite sure that the taxpayers money spent on running the commissions investigating scandals would be well spent if Kenya hires lawyers to simplify and synthesize the basics of Kenyan laws and train citizens on politics at various stations countrywide.This will go a long way in realizing the much needed critical conciousness of Kenyans and will reorient the Kenyan public towards issue-based politics, a people who will not take on arrows, bows and spears but rather the pen and the ballot paper in shaping their destiny!


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