With the coming into being of the reformist constitution in Kenya in October 2010, there is a growing need to build a democratic political culture in our country. This will help us realize tremendous gains in socio-economic development, respect for human rights and governing by the rule of law.
Such a culture involves, among other things, respect for the principle of citizenship in the public sphere, consciousness of civic responsibilities among citizens, the nurturing of democratic institutions and claims to rights and entitlements derived from the constitution.
But this opportunity to nurture and build a democratic political culture is likely to be fudged, delayed or missed altogether if the key players in the political arena do not see the need for it, or even if they see the need they may not be particularly committed to the conscious nurturing of such a culture due to preoccupation with the politics of expediency and opportunism.
Where a democratic political culture is being nurtured, political behavior is usually guided by fairness, tolerance, civility, abhorrence of extremism of any kind, decent bargaining, a give-and-take approach to conflict resolution and a deep commitment to the harmonious reproduction of society.
We do, however, live at a time when the politics of both extremism and exclusion seem to be in ascendancy. We are witnessing situations where politicians seem to prefer to issue ultimatums as conditions for getting what they want out of political processes rather than relying more on bargaining and the politics of give-and-take.
What is even more disturbing is that whereas the reformist constitution makes it very clear that the only legitimate institution that politicians can use to get state power is the political party, not much attention is being paid to the need to nurture political parties as perhaps the most important institutions in this process of democratization.
To the contrary, the politics of exclusion has been pushed to the forefront of political struggles with a vengeance; and with that has come the nurturing of the culture of fear-mongering and an atmosphere of neo-fascism around certain ethnic big wigs. A democratic political culture stands to be undermined and not to be nurtured. Any party like the ODM struggling to nurture this culture is under threat from the anti-reformists.
The ODM, in this atmosphere of insecure fear-mongering politicians, is currently under attack. Unfortunately sections of the media have joined this cabal of crusaders against democracy by publishing and broadcasting sheer propaganda against the party in attempts to cause tension and disagreements within the party.
I was appalled to watch a news report on Citizen TV last Thursday night purporting to report on the ODM NEC meeting the previous day. According to the reporter, the meeting had seen a contest between Odinga and Mudavadi supporters over changes in the constitution. There was no such thing. In any case the meeting unanimously agreed to change our constitution in line with the new nomination rules.
To add insult to injury, the reporter went on to say that we had failed to take our membership lists to the Registrar of Political Parties on Thursday due to disagreements over the constitution. A lie – pure and simple. The Registrar was in Machakos for a seminar and requested us to take our papers on Tuesday April 10th. See you there Citizen.
In any case, the issue of a constitution does not arise with regard to filing in membership lists. The ODM constitution is already with the Registrar. When we change it we shall notify her in good time before the elections. Unlike other phantom parties, we are not a bus waiting for a driver; we exist in reality.
As if the propaganda of Citizen was not enough, the Saturday newspapers this weekend have choreographed their reports on the goings on in ODM as if the reporters are being coached by a single evil mind. We happen to have a good guess of who this fellow would be; he is definitely not an ODM member. Hence his machinations and his conspiracy theories will soon come tumbling down like a pack of cards.
Why do I say so? Because we are determined to do our things constitutionally, procedurally and without giving in to any intimidation or fear-mongering whatsoever.
Let us remember that the ODM is the only democratic party in Kenya today. Undermining the ODM is undermining the democratization process in our country.
We pride ourselves of having party leaders who have been elected by the people democratically. Other phantom parties are waiting for self-appointed leaders to dictate to them who leads them from the grassroots to the top.
We pride ourselves of having leaders who have been in the trenches with the people for many years. These are democrats tested by the painful struggle against the authoritarian rulers of yesterday and today.
We pride ourselves of having leaders who have fought for democracy for most of their adult lives and believe in democracy; they don’t just use democracy opportunistically to get into power.
We pride ourselves of being the home of the YES campaign which brought our reformist constitution. The YES campaign did not just begin in 2010; it began with the progressive nationalists such as Jaramogi and Kaggia soon after independence. The wakombozi then took it up under Moi and the Young Turks brought it to this very day.
ODM is home to all these democratic struggles. It shall survive the onslaught of the anti-reformists of today and ensure that democratic governance and devolution are entrenched in the political culture of our nation.
Nyong’o is the ODM Secretary General.