There is an African proverb that says that it is only a fool who hears the “music of the spirit” and begins to dance to it instead of running inside for shelter. In 48hours, 19.6million eligible voters will go to the polls to decide the future of your country, Kenya, the giant of East Africa and the fourth coordinate pillar, holding up the African continent to prominence.
In developed countries, elections have always been moments of national stress. The stress results from the fear of uncertainty of what a win or loss will mean for their candidates, parties and their values and future. In developing democracies like in Africa, the national stress gets even higher and sets the tone of the national consciousness months before the main election. The winner takes all mentality and weak institutions of our judiciary, security, and electoral systems leave more paranoia towards the elections and post elections reactions from the actors and their followers.
Similarities Between Kenya And Nigeria
Permit me, my dear brothers and sisters, with a feeling of a hindsight, to draw up similar patterns in your elections and that of my dear country, Nigeria, 2years ago. Yes, we had a sitting 58year old president running against a 72year old former military dictator who had toppled a democratic government in 1983 and was running for the 4th time in 2015.
The major election themes were shrouded by the noise and vitriol of the campaigns, drowning out common sense from the prisms of an agenda of transformation, from the then incumbent right and the cacophonous agenda of change ringing from the maelstrom opposition. The opposition, of course, was actually an alliance of strange bed fellows with the sole aim of wrestling power from an incumbent minority.
For Nigerians, among the issues that occupied the front burner of discussions in the build up to the election were a presidential candidate who deliberately refused to show up for a presidential debate, increased activities of Islamic fundamentalist in the north east, and its propensity to affect the turnout of eligible voters on the day of the election; anchoring campaigns along ethnic and religious lines, High proliferation of corruption across board, the fate of the national confab report, the dwindling economy, even though Nigeria was the biggest economy in Africa at the time and the high cost of living for the citizenry.
Two years after Nigerians elected their leaders, Kenyans, as stipulated by their constitution will on Tuesday go the polls to choose their own leaders. Ostensibly, the issues before you, are all the same with ours. You are ambivalent about re-electing a 55year incumbent president and son of your first president or electing a 72 year old former prime minister, and son of your first vice president who is running for the 3rd time.
The major election themes are anchored on the prisms of an agenda of transformation from the incumbent Jubilee party, and the change anthem from the opposition NASA- which also is an alliance of strange bed principals-Raila Odinga, Moses Wetangula, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi whose sole aim is to sack the incumbent occupant of the coveted state house.
Just like in Nigeria, the frequent and increased activities of the Al-Shabaab in Lamu and insecurity in the region as election approaches has been alleged to be politically instigated to suppress voters turn out. Kenyan elections to me has always looked like an ethnic census, the nation gets split down the middle with political leaders always relying on the backing of members of their ethnic group.
70% of the Kenyan population are made up of the five major ethnic groups, so presidential candidates need to forge ethnic alliances to get a majority of the votes and it will be no different in the voting pattern, on Tuesday. High cost of living even though the Kenyan economy grows at 5% rate every year, the high unemployment rate, high proliferation of corruption in the top machineries of government, just like the CONFAB in Nigeria, the recommendations of the truth, justice and reconciliation commission, the distrust for the independent electoral and boundaries commission and the judiciary have been the major burner issues of this electioneering period, for Kenyans to make their choices.
Dear Kenyans, in Nigeria, the then opposition had a field day. They had bamboozled their way into the seat of power not because they had a better or much more feasible blueprint for turning around our fortunes as a nation, but they had successfully owned the media, bullied the incumbent government to a point of almost submission and had a better deal in the ethnic alliances that were formed. They also spread the spirit of fear and uncertainty that there would be no more Nigeria if they had lost the elections, a parallel government to the government would be formed, and the 10million assured votes propaganda, was also a scare tactic employed here as well.
We got also to a point where the fear in the land was so palpable that you could cut through it with a butter knife. Economic activities had come to a halt, everyone just wanted the elections to come, and go. This is the point, I suppose you are too, as a Nation. I write to you, to let you know, that these fears were our greatest impediments to making rational choices. Most of us were made to make our choices based on our emotions and not reason. We barely questioned our candidate’s history, temperament, alliances, health and abilities thoroughly enough to entrust our collective destinies into their hands. We were blind by ethnicity, by religion and most of all by hate.
The result of our decision was that 8months into our new administration, we got into an economic recession and almost got to a depression. States, had to borrow to pay salaries, our manufacturing sector shut down completely, health and transportation sector was in comatose, foreign companies ran out before they got soaked in, thousands lost their jobs in one fell swoop, the cost of living had quadrupled, inflation had gone to 16%, interest rate 22% and we were just getting started.
Personally, I had long argued that we didn’t get into an economic recession but an intellectual recession. A country is a mindset, and the thinking and mind of her leader can propel or hinder her to progress or retrogress respectively. In elementary economics, there is something called recovery space, this is the gap period between the end of an administration and the beginning of another. There are big and important economic actions needed to boost confidence during the recovery space. My new government neglected this theory, and by the time they realized, we were already, a ship hit by the iceberg. It then didn’t matter anymore how much money was put into the polity to stimulate the economy, it became a question of the idea that will govern the amount of money put into the polity that will stimulate the economy. These were the facts, we failed to put into shaping our decisions in choosing our leaders because we were overshadowed by artificially created divisions.
My brothers and sisters, as you head to the polls, I want you to confront your fears and break the traditional jinx. I would hope that you would decide beyond the artificial divides created by the political class to keep you perpetually divided and at war with each other. I would hope you look at the future of your children and not your ethnic group as you make the very important decision.
The Choice Is Yours
The beautiful country of Kenya is bigger than the two dominant actors and your country would remain after these actors might have left the stage. Vote for the issues that you want addressed and not for the language the leader speaks, vote for who you feel, will make your country safer. Do you want your troops in Somalia withdrawn or you want them to remain and keep an eye on your borders, do you need the recommendations of the truth, justice and reconciliation commission implemented, do you demand that corruption be fought to a standstill and whose approach do you prefer, do you need social security, or a better pay for your teachers. Who amongst your candidates is less desperate, who would be more gracious in defeat and save the country a healing process from another 2007 post-election crisis.
These are choices you have to make as you stand in front of that polling unit. In Nigeria, we have all awoken to the reality that politics and governance has gone beyond party ideologies. From the Left to the right, the more things change, the more it remains the same. So we are now interested in personalities, character, and competence and not political parties. I would want you, to have a pilot feel of this new paradigm. Poverty, unemployment, high cost of living, economic and political exclusiveness, insecurity HAVE NO political party. so please, make a decision to defend your country not your political leader, your country not your tribe, your country not your religion.
Kenya has always been a destination for many in Africa and beyond. There are very few countries that possess the pristine natural beauty embedded in your coast. I still look forward to another well deserving holiday in one of the best unspoiled beaches in the world with the widespread palm vegetation right there in, Diani. Then take a trip to the luxury Manda Bay and Shela white sand resorts in Lamu, then cross to enjoy the unforgettable party that the annual safari sevens brings in its pure glory. The tasty Nyama choma at Olepolos, the night life extravaganza of the Westland and Hurlingham pubs and clubs, then crown my visit with a tour to Africa’s top wildlife viewing parks in Masai Mara. This is Kenya, to the world. This is the Kenya that must be protected with your votes on Tuesday. The doors of Kenya must be open to the world to come in, invest, trade, develop, holiday and enjoy because Kenya is the wing of Africa. After the elections, you all can raise your head high, and respond to that African proverb, that when the “music of the spirit” begins to play, Kenyans don’t run inside for shelter, Kenyans come out, and chase the spirits away!
Huenda sisi wote kuiishi watu united, educated, prosperous chini ya Mungu.
Mungu Kubariki Kenya!
Writes from Nigeria.