Political lessons for Kenya from #Brexit

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Over the last week the big news all over the world was #BREXIT. Brexit was a referendum in the United Kingdom held to determine whether their country would continue their 43 year-stay in the European Union. As one simple Kenyan explained; ‘‘Britain was in a WhatsApp group with other European countries. On Thursday morning when the other countries woke up they found… ‘Britain left.’’

The ‘out’ political rhetoric was passionate, relentless and mainly false. It stated that an ‘in’ vote meant immigrants would take over British jobs while the EU continued dictating how Britons ran their lives. It explained that the UK’s EU contributions could be more useful in building up the local NHS (National Health Service). It asked Britons to vote ‘out’ to bring back the ‘Good old Britain’ and ‘restore UK’s sovereignty’.

Against the ‘out’ message the ‘in’ team had cold hard facts basically breaking down why Britain was better off politically, socially and economically, in the EU. Literally every single economic analyst predicted that Britain would be worse off if it chose to leave the EU. They even rolled out 10 Nobel-winning economists to explain how the effects of such a decision would affect Britons for many years.

But these ‘sense’ did not count. The passion won over the facts and Britons chose the option that completely defies logic.

But the Brexit vote confirms that the exclusionist ideology; the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ political debate, is gaining traction across the world. This is what Donald Trump has used to move from ‘just another ridiculous US presidential candidate’ to the nominee of America’s ‘Grand Old Party’; the Republican Party; arguably one of the most conservative political establishments on the planet. The Brexit vote message to the world is that the minority radical voices that push extremist positions in society, are winning.

However the interesting thing is that they are not winning because they have suddenly become a majority. They are winning because they ‘want it more’. They are therefore willing to work harder, push their issues more passionately, and organise better, than the majority moderate voices. [The exit polls on the Brexit referendum showed that a lot more people turned out to vote ‘out’, and less people turned out to vote ‘in’, than expected].

The ‘out’ leaders are now planning to take over political power in Britain from the outgoing ‘in’ leadership that included Prime Minister Cameron who has had to resign. Meanwhile less than 72 hours later over 1.2 million Britons have signed a petition asking for another referendum on Brexit. Apparently a lot of those who voted to leave have only now realised the repercussions of their decision.

But the Brexit lesson is even more profound for those of us involved in Kenya’s political dynamics.

The UK referendum is an example of a political elite gone rogue. In any democracy where a political structure can mobilize at least 40 percent of the vote against the government only restraint, honesty and a sense of national obligation will serve the country’s best interests. If such political structure decides to oppose a government position for the sake of political capital the country will suffer. This is constant whether the country is a developed nation, or a developing one.

In Kenya our political elite in the Opposition is behaving like the ‘out’ crowd. They are unwilling to exercise any restraint or be responsible about their national influence. They will lie, push divisive agendas, threaten violence, sabotage Kenya’s security and economic interests, and undermine the constitution to dislodge Jubilee from power. Whatever happens to ordinary Kenyans in the process does not matter.

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