Each 5 years, the editorial boards of overseas media keep in mind that Kenya exists. Properly, maybe that’s an exaggeration that undermines the stellar work that athletes do in holding the nation’s identify on the lips of each city that dares to host a global marathon. Nonetheless, it seems like each 5 years when an election is on the desk, the eyes of the world shift in the direction of East Africa like vultures circling a carcass, salivating for one more conflict of titans and even for violence. The items virtually write themselves – say one thing about “tribalism” (sorry, ethno-nationalism) and primordial hatreds, slot in just a few strains about dynastic competitors and possibly throw in an allegory in regards to the savannah. A laundry record of tropes which can be obscure sufficient to carry the eye of distant audiences that must periodically be reminded of tragedies in Africa™ with a purpose 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. In some way during the last 30 years, not simply in Kenya however around the globe, the concept of democracy has been bled dry of any actual which 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 advisor: efficiently translating complicated social techniques into two-year plans and 10-point efficiency indicators that should be attained earlier than the donor’s price range cycle closes. However it’s the tragedy of the folks. These indicators simplify troublesome issues and are available at the price of infusing which means into the best way we form our societies. Democracy has grow to be hollowed out into the performative act of voting, and never the onerous and boring work of constructing societies that make sense for the individuals who reside inside them.
These of us who reside 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 chief has hollowed out key civic establishments in service of pricy, ill-thought-out, debt-making tasks which have introduced the nation’s financial system to its knees. And now we’re caught with costly baubles which have made billions for the overseas firms 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 p.c of individuals commute by non-public automobile.
Public participation that’s presupposed to deliver 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 circumstances in courtroom just for judges to resolve in accordance with the regulation, and to be rotated out when the regulation doesn’t rubber-stamp the manager’s agenda. Solely an article printed in a global newspaper might get the federal government to retreat from plans to chop down an iconic tree that’s older than town itself. Protest, outcry and courtroom orders weren’t sufficient to save lots of the estimated 4,000 timber which were decimated across the capital during the last 5 years.
The schooling system is in shambles. Towards the recommendation of native consultants, the bellicose minister of schooling has pressured by a curriculum that’s hurting kids 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, lots of of 1000’s of younger folks learning in boarding faculties have been avoided their households for nearly a complete 12 months with out public session or engagement with their mother and father, and no measures to assist them course of that trauma. Hundreds of kids, virtually 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 remove its humanities and social science departments, as lecturers and college unions stay silent. Not one of the avenues to protest and categorical dissent are working. And when kids do protest, the federal government threatens to gather their identification info and penalise them by denying them entry to larger schooling. The one method they handle to get our consideration is once they set their faculties on fireplace.
Worldwide crises are beating on the door as properly. Oil costs are the very best they’ve ever been in historical past. The pandemic nonetheless looms massive. Local weather change has delivered the fifth cycle of failed rains and the specter of famine hovers over a lot of the nation. Unbiased media has been hollowed out by state seize and financing crises. But none of that is on the electoral agenda. As a substitute, 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: “Nevertheless it might be worse, at the least you’re not Different Nation X!”. It might be worse, nevertheless it ought to be higher and that’s the goal of democracy.)
This election is just not attention-grabbing, and it’s intellectually dishonest to anticipate us to contort ourselves into pretending that it’s. An important 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 may be nothing profound occurring on the nationwide degree – a constellation of males who have 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 reside. Contorting this second to swimsuit this unending 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 forged 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 gained’t meet up on the nation membership and smile at one another from throughout the bars that we aren’t allowed to enter. Thirty years of pretending that their kids don’t attend the identical faculties or play in the identical polo golf equipment. We’re bored.
And that must be all proper. Necessary issues might be boring – they typically are. Maybe the most important mistake the world has made is to lean into the glamourisation of politics. The collective embrace of the concept 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 countless repository of content material and media fodder is the explanation why the politics of so many international locations has descended into showmanship and pantomime. Possibly politics is simply presupposed to be onerous and boring.
I’ll vote as a result of my grandparents and great-grandparents have 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 realizing that voting and elections don’t a democracy make. Enable me to forged my ballots whereas stifling a yawn and studying a ebook, refusing to reply 19 questions on “dynastic competitors and primordial hatred”. Essentially the most attention-grabbing factor about democracy in Kenya is just not this election.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.