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Needed: An election-proof country

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the elections to be done with. Regardless of who wins what, this campaign has not done the country any favours. We have all conducted ourselves very badly. Campaigns seem to bring out the worst in us.

Who gains from elections? Certainly, the people who peddle newspapers, airtime, posters, tee-shirts, billboards and alcohol live for them. This is the time their sales experience a five-year spike; this is boom time. But for everyone else, it is a time to witness a collective lowering of standards and a descent into chaos.

Politicians have, of course, led the race to the bottom. Election time is when they truly come alive; it is also the time when they show us what they’re truly made of. What is revealed is never pleasant to look at. Elections generally confirm that we are led, in government and in opposition, by people we would rather not know.

Let us look at the two main camps. The PNU side is actually doing damage to the country in the name of electioneering. A new district or two is doled out every few days (I’ve lost count), as well as the vague promise of other ‘goodies’ (which is what essential things like schools, clinics and roads seem to have become). The gains made so painfully in Nairobi city have been reversed by decreeing that hawkers can return to make a nuisance of themselves.

Matatu crews, newly emboldened by presidential support, have become more unruly than ever, and can actually be seen taunting policemen and other road users. Was the support of this rabble so important to PNU? Does anyone see a link with the grotesque road carnage that has ensued over the past few weeks?

Is the ODM side any better? Nope. If ODM’s bigwigs are to be believed, they will transform this country into a Singapore in no time at all (sceptics believe a Cuba is the more likely result). It is apparently child’s play to give Kenyans double-digit growth, a new constitution and a corruption-free state. As well as remove regional and social inequality and tribal animosity. A sensible voter might consider all those to be very difficult things indeed, all requiring deep insight and dedicated, sustained action.

Politicans of all shades have been doing what they do best: giving cynical handouts, making crazy promises to all and sundry, and fanning the flames of ethnic unrest. All the while counting on the low intelligence and poor discernment of Kenyan voters to make these ploys work.

Voters, sadly, have been proving them right. They have been queuing up for fifty-bob handouts and believing one astounding promise after another. Community leaders are busy signing ‘MOUs’ protecting their narrow interests with all possible leaders. We seem all-too-ready to turn on our neighbours when our ears are filled with hate-talk. When you see armed men storm the huts of their fellow villagers in Kuresoi and attack grandmothers and small children with machetes, you have to wonder what values the average person out there truly espouses.

Meanwhile the economy (election-related boomlets aside) is on hold. Everyone is playing a watch-and-wait game: some fearing a change in government, others fearing more of the same. “Kazi Iendelee” vs “Kazi Iaanze” means no “Kazi” is being done at all. Civil servants are generally absent without leave, parastatals are frozen. Investors are hanging on to their money, troubled by uncertainty. Thinkers have suspended all non-political thoughts.

Why is the outcome of this election so important to so many of us? Why are the names, the faces, the tribes and the personalities of our next batch of leaders so critical, so worrying? It is because we have yet to construct a nation. We are still flimsy enough to be blown away by bad leadership. Other countries deal with their bad leaders; we are dealt with by bad leaders.

Rather than expending so much money and energy worrying about elections, we should be thinking about strengthening the institutions and values that would make us an election-proof country. We should be able to go into elections and out of them without blinking. We should be able to observe a procession of leaders, good and bad, come and go without spending a sleepless night.

Did Nixon damage the USA for good? No, it was strong enough to deal with him and move on. Will it really matter whether Brown or Cameron is the next leader of Britain? Hardly. And who even remembers the names of China’s procession of anonymous leaders? It is the idea of China that takes precedence, not the identity of particular leaders.

Politicians are not going to give us a politician-proof country. It is in their interest to keep their voters ignorant, fearful and under-exposed. But it is very much in our interest not to pay too much attention to their kelele. An election should be an interesting contest, nothing more. Our futures should not hinge on the outcome. We will have truly progressed as a nation when our elections happen in the background.

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