Each 5 years, the editorial boards of international media do not forget that Kenya exists. Effectively, maybe that’s an exaggeration that undermines the stellar work that athletes do in retaining the nation’s title on the lips of each city that dares to host a world marathon. Nonetheless, it appears like each 5 years when an election is on the desk, the eyes of the world shift in direction of East Africa like vultures circling a carcass, salivating for an additional conflict of titans and even for violence. The items nearly write themselves – say one thing about “tribalism” (sorry, ethno-nationalism) and primordial hatreds, slot in a number of traces about dynastic competitors and possibly throw in an allegory in regards to the savannah. A laundry listing of tropes which might be imprecise sufficient to carry the eye of distant audiences that have to periodically be reminded of tragedies in Africa™ with the intention to really feel one thing and be made grateful.
The fallacy on the centre of that is that democracy is one thing that occurs each electoral cycle. Someway during the last 30 years, not simply in Kenya however world wide, the thought of democracy has been bled dry of any actual that means and distorted right into a caricature of a stick determine dropping a bit of paper right into a black field. That is the triumph of the democracy marketing consultant: efficiently translating advanced social programs into two-year plans and 10-point efficiency indicators that should be attained earlier than the donor’s finances cycle closes. However it’s the tragedy of the folks. These indicators simplify troublesome issues and are available at the price of infusing that means into the way in which we form our societies. Democracy has grow to be hollowed out into the performative act of voting, and never the arduous and boring work of constructing societies that make sense for the individuals who stay inside them.
These of us who stay in Kenya and are invested in its wellbeing, and never merely spectators to the electioneering that occurs each 5 years, know that democracy within the nation is in hassle, no matter what occurs on August 9. The Jubilee administration which infects each main platforms on this cycle has been primarily governing by fiat for the final 10 years. The manager has hollowed out key civic establishments in service of pricy, ill-thought-out, debt-making initiatives which have introduced the nation’s economic system to its knees. And now we’re caught with costly baubles which have made billions for the international corporations and governments that construct them however make no sense within the native context, and that we are going to be paying for at usurious rates of interest for generations. A railway line that solely runs midway throughout the nation. An elevated toll highway constructed to serve the wants of expats who don’t vote or pay taxes in a metropolis through which solely 15 % of individuals commute by personal automobile.
Public participation that’s imagined to carry civilian oversight into key laws and spending is a farce. We write submissions that by no means get learn, we go to hearings that by no means get correctly documented, we file instances in court docket just for judges to resolve in accordance with the regulation, and to be rotated out when the regulation doesn’t rubber-stamp the chief’s agenda. Solely an article printed in a world newspaper may get the federal government to retreat from plans to chop down an iconic tree that’s older than town itself. Protest, outcry and court docket orders weren’t sufficient to avoid wasting the estimated 4,000 timber which were decimated across the capital during the last 5 years.
The schooling system is in shambles. In opposition to the recommendation of native consultants, the bellicose minister of schooling has compelled by way of a curriculum that’s hurting youngsters and fogeys equally, however the instructor’s unions, hollowed out as leaders abandon the abuse and violence they’re subjected to in favour of electoral politics, stay silent. When the pandemic hit, tons of of 1000’s of younger folks learning in boarding colleges had been evaded their households for nearly a whole yr with out public session or engagement with their dad and mom, and no measures to assist them course of that trauma. 1000’s of youngsters, nearly double the variety of ladies versus boys, didn’t return to high school. Austerity measures triggered by poor financial planning imply that the most important college within the nation is planning to eradicate its humanities and social science departments, as lecturers and college unions stay silent. Not one of the avenues to protest and specific dissent are working. And when youngsters do protest, the federal government threatens to gather their identification info and penalise them by denying them entry to larger schooling. The one means they handle to get our consideration is after they set their colleges on hearth.
Worldwide crises are beating on the door as effectively. Oil costs are the best they’ve ever been in historical past. The pandemic nonetheless looms giant. Local weather change has delivered the fifth cycle of failed rains and the specter of famine hovers over a lot of the nation. Impartial media has been hollowed out by state seize and financing crises. But none of that is on the electoral agenda. As an alternative, we’re being handled to a farce through which main candidates are each claiming the putative victories of the final 10 years whereas actively disavowing the identical authorities that they’ve been vocally and visibly part of.
(That is the half the place you say: “However it may very well be worse, at the least you’re not Different Nation X!”. It may very well be worse, nevertheless it needs to be higher and that’s the function of democracy.)
This election isn’t fascinating, and it’s intellectually dishonest to anticipate us to contort ourselves into pretending that it’s. Crucial issues in Kenyan democracy have already occurred or are occurring in locations that shallow, just-add-water storylines is not going to see; in between election cycles, exterior the capital, inside native authorities, in establishments like commerce unions and protest actions. There’s nothing profound occurring on the nationwide degree – a constellation of males who had been handpicked for energy by an ageing autocrat and who’ve by no means had actual jobs utilizing a rustic to keep away from coping with no matter that reveals about how they’ve chosen to stay. Contorting this second to go well with this endless seek for a conflict of titans is a boring and uninspiring distraction from the true work of democracy. We’re bored. We’ve been at this for at the least 30 years. Thirty years of watching the identical solid of characters circle round one another, promising the world and delivering chaos. Thirty years of pretending that after we’re achieved combating one another they received’t meet up on the nation membership and smile at one another from throughout the bars that we’re not allowed to enter. Thirty years of pretending that their youngsters don’t attend the identical colleges or play in the identical polo golf equipment. We’re bored.
And that must be all proper. Vital issues may be boring – they usually are. Maybe the largest mistake the world has made is to lean into the glamourisation of politics. The collective embrace of the concept that politics is meant to be entertaining has led us down a rabbit gap that has culminated in cultures of misinformation, inordinate spending, and the collapse of essential conversations into content material. Possibly this concept that politics is an limitless repository of content material and media fodder is the rationale why the politics of so many international locations has descended into showmanship and pantomime. Possibly politics is simply imagined to be arduous and boring.
I’ll vote as a result of my grandparents and great-grandparents had been denied the vote by a racist colonial authorities, and that is the least I can do to honour their reminiscence. However I achieve this understanding that voting and elections don’t a democracy make. Enable me to solid my ballots whereas stifling a yawn and studying a ebook, refusing to reply 19 questions on “dynastic competitors and primordial hatred”. Essentially the most fascinating factor about democracy in Kenya isn’t this election.
The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.