Each 5 years, the editorial boards of international media keep in mind that Kenya exists. Nicely, maybe that’s an exaggeration that undermines the stellar work that athletes do in retaining the nation’s title on the lips of each city that dares to host a world 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 an additional 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 traces about dynastic competitors and possibly throw in an allegory concerning the savannah. A laundry listing of tropes which might be imprecise sufficient to carry the eye of distant audiences that must periodically be reminded of tragedies in Africa™ with the intention 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. By some means over the past 30 years, not simply in Kenya however all over the world, 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 chunk 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 have to be attained earlier than the donor’s finances 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 way in which we form our societies. Democracy has turn into hollowed out into the performative act of voting, and never the laborious and boring work of constructing societies that make sense for the individuals who dwell inside them.
These of us who dwell 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 manager has hollowed out key civic establishments in service of pricey, ill-thought-out, debt-making tasks which have introduced the nation’s economic system to its knees. And now we’re caught with costly baubles which have made billions for the international corporations 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 street constructed to serve the wants of expats who don’t vote or pay taxes in a metropolis by which solely 15 p.c of individuals commute by personal automotive.
Public participation that’s purported 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 instances in courtroom just for judges to determine in response to the legislation, and to be rotated out when the legislation doesn’t rubber-stamp the chief’s agenda. Solely an article printed in a world newspaper might get the federal government to retreat from plans to chop down an iconic tree that’s older than the town itself. Protest, outcry and courtroom orders weren’t sufficient to avoid wasting the estimated 4,000 bushes which were decimated across the capital over the past 5 years.
The schooling system is in shambles. In opposition to the recommendation of native specialists, the bellicose minister of schooling has compelled by means of a curriculum that’s hurting kids and oldsters equally, however the trainer’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, tons of of 1000’s of younger folks finding out in boarding colleges have been evaded their households for nearly a whole yr with out public session or engagement with their mother and father, and no measures to assist them course of that trauma. 1000’s of youngsters, virtually double the variety of ladies versus boys, didn’t return to high school. Austerity measures triggered by poor financial planning imply that the biggest 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 id info and penalise them by denying them entry to larger schooling. The one approach they handle to get our consideration is after they set their colleges on hearth.
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 giant. Local weather change has delivered the fifth cycle of failed rains and the specter of famine hovers over a lot of the nation. Impartial media has been hollowed out by state seize and financing crises. But none of that is on the electoral agenda. As an alternative, we’re being handled to a farce by 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: “However it might be worse, a minimum of you’re not Different Nation X!”. It might be worse, but it surely must be higher and that’s the goal of democracy.)
This election is just not attention-grabbing, and it’s intellectually dishonest to count on us to contort ourselves into pretending that it’s. A very powerful 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’s nothing profound occurring on the nationwide stage – 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 dwell. Contorting this second to go well with this endless 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 a minimum of 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 performed preventing one another they received’t meet up on the nation membership and smile at one another from throughout the bars that we’re not allowed to enter. Thirty years of pretending that their kids don’t attend the identical colleges or play in the identical polo golf equipment. We’re bored.
And that must be all proper. Vital issues will be boring – they usually are. Maybe the largest 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. Perhaps this concept that politics is an limitless repository of content material and media fodder is the explanation why the politics of so many international locations has descended into showmanship and pantomime. Perhaps politics is simply purported to be laborious 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 figuring out that voting and elections don’t a democracy make. Permit me to forged my ballots whereas stifling a yawn and studying a ebook, refusing to reply 19 questions on “dynastic competitors and primordial hatred”. Probably 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 replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.