It will not be business as usual in Kenya’s politics

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PETER GICHIRA SOLOMON

If there is one lesson that the Arab Spring has bequeathed the rest of the world and particularly Kenya is that no society is stable if it thrives on an organisation that is driven by class exclusion.

The case of Libya is even more perplexing. Though the standards of living were quite high and so were social amenities, the leadership of Muammar Gaddafi failed to integrate the populace into becoming stakeholders in the country’s development.

The law of the land was not facilitative enough to have them own property. There lacked institutions and means that would enable them to capture the value of things that they own or in their possessions. As a result, they could not acquire trust and credit thus they were not capitalised enough to do what they wanted to do. They had been mechanised to depend on tokens. They were therefore not interested in governance, they did not understand what it was all about or what it entailed. They indeed considered themselves poor because they were comparing themselves with those in power but also because they had been reduced to dependants who could not determine their own economic destiny.

They wanted to be free.

In 2002 and 2007 general elections, we sought to have integrity as the key driver of our governance. We had hoped that we shall bring to an end the era that loudly said that “being politician or a top bureaucrat in government meant that you would not only acquire overnight prosperity, but you would also be above the law. As we go to another election we are still struggling to bring this to see that our desire is captured in the people we shall be electing. I bet that it is every Kenyans’ hope that the implementation of the new constitution will get us close to this elusive mirage.

Many of those who will be seeking to get into various political offices will not do so because they are interested in people’s welfare, rather they will be seeking to join politics to achieve economic prosperity as witnessed in past years. It does not matter who they are – religious, scholars, human rights activists and other professionals – they will be diverted from their core values and principles of life and get engaged in the pursuit of personal lust through politics. They will not spare any efforts to propel themselves into their dreams. Their language will be politically correct; they will bootlick and even work fulltime to establish themselves as the leadership of personality cult worship. This is completely opposed to the popular expectation that political struggles should be motivated by a desire for human dignity, peace and justice.

Forty nine years after independence, it is sad that we do not pose for a moment as a nation to ask what happened to the core values and ideology of our several liberation struggles, though admittedly, the Bomas Constitutional Conference was a close attempt. We need to recall that the change from one administration to another, while offering space for the establishment of authentic leadership that serves the interest of the populace, did also present space for self-seekers to quickly seize the moment to assault public resources to meet their personal desires. We have only witnessed the latter and not the former in our entire history.

Our 1963/2003/2007 give us points of references. New governments came in and a park of neophytes yearning for economic/business/cultural elitism became the new political elites. Their lust for wealth uprooted the whole concept of the birth of a new State based on equity, the rule of law and equality and decided to perpetuate divisions through class, ethnicity and individualism to levels beyond what they had found.

Once in power, the political elite abandoned their followers and taking advantage of newly found democracy, introduced capitalistic democracy. Capitalistic democracy, is based in “a political, economic, and social system and ideology based on a tripartite arrangement of a market-based economy based predominantly on a democratic polity, economic incentives through free markets, fiscal responsibility and a liberal moral-cultural system which encourages pluralism. This economic system supports a capitalist free market economy subject to control by a democratic political system that is supported by the majority. It stands in contrast to authoritarian capitalism by limiting the influence of special interest groups, including corporate lobbyists, on politics”. This is according to Wikipedia, the Free encyclopaedia; Capitalist Democracy. This orientation opposes the notion of social collectivism, where the social institutions such as society, religion and family bring moral values to the corporate behaviour of the individuals composing the society.

It would therefore not be strange to hear “liberators” proclaiming that “it is our turn to eat”. The thinking of the political elite is far from the principles of democracy, where the power is transferred to certain individuals by the majority of the citizens with the right to vote through universal suffrage, to manage their affairs. Having participated in the “liberation” of the country bestows to you no prerogative to abuse public resources. After all no one forced you to join the “struggle for liberation”. Indeed, it was wrong for them to have joined the struggle if they would end up becoming modern time oppressors.

It is instructive to realise that the power relations between the political and economic elites, emanates from a self-defined among these groups that they are representative of the majority but without popular consensus. They believe that they own the authority to influence the rest of society using the power which is in their control. They also believe that because they have the political power, they can also control illegitimately, the economic or business power, using their authority over the public resources to reach their set goals. They excluded the rest of society in any decisions being made as they only monopolised intelligence and superior culture.

Wrights Mills a prominent American sociologist, proposes in his book The Power Elite of 1956 that: “this group (elites) had been generated through a process of rationalisation at work whereby all mechanisms of power became concentrated, funnelling overall control into the hands of a limited (oligarch group), somewhat corrupt group”. Indeed, this explains why clerks would overnight rise to levels of ministers, not because there were no skilled personnel but because they were politically well placed.

This reflection surely shows that our political elites have not been interested in the course of the majority in the nation rather theirs is all about private and individual economic affairs. To be more blatant, I need to say that they long stopped to serve the country and the citizens. They long stopped to listen to the cries of the poor and marginalized people, they have been about wealth accumulation wealth to sustain their own selfishness.

They are in tune with the assertions of Thomas Dye in his book Top-Down Policymaking, where he argues that, “US public policy does not result from the demand of the people”, but rather from the elite consensus”. As a result then even when the law is well enacted, it is inefficiently implemented because there “lacks” political will as such would be exposing political and economic elites. This absence or poor implementation of those legal instruments, then provides a smooth framework for both political and economic elites to influence the policy and decision making processes. I hope that this is not what influenced the court on the election date.

It is well known within this country that senior government official have in a record time established multi-million dollar business interests after assuming political positions, extending power and control to their children and other family members and thus establishing wealth dynasties which in their turn play part in elite control of the society. This is not to say that politicians should not have their private and personal enterprise affairs or get involved in business, far from it. The debate here is how politicians and senior government bureaucrats get there? What means they have utilise that enabled them in such short periods of time to accumulate such wealth? The debate goes beyond this to the whole question of the implementation of the legislation on wealth declaration and the handling of the anti corruption commission. What is it that makes politicians uncomfortable with it?

The whole issue am trying to bring to up is that of conflict of interest between political elites business interests. For how long shall we accommodate illegal dealings that steal away peoples credit and capital in the name of “lack of political will”? For how long shall we live with invasion, displacement and loss of private and communal property through under-table dealings by politicians?

I am worried if the Athi River and Syokimau land saga is not dealt with decisively, we shall see increased repeats of the same in many other places starting with the Konza ICT project, the coal discovery in Kitui/Mwingi, the Lamu port project and others which would definitely lead to charged resentment among the populace.

With a constitution that speaks to the mirage that Kenyans have been fighting for, I foresee such resentment boiling off the pot considering the expectations that finally, what stands between Kenyans and their elusive mirage is only the forth coming elections. A slight indication of a “business as usual” approach in 2013 could as well be the very straw that breaks the camel’s back, causing an “Arab Spring” for Kenya.

(Peter Gichira Solomon is a researcher at the All Africa Conference of Churches, Nairobi)

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