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What a new government can and can’t do for you

Mar 17, 2013 Leadership, Sunday Nation

And so we wait some more. We have a new president-elect, but must wait to have a new president. For there is the not-so-small matter of a court case challenging the result.

Most people I have spoken to, from all sides of the political divide, are suffering from severe election fatigue. Many would just want the result confirmed, whatever it is, so as to get back to their daily lives. Many would want due legal process to be subordinate to the economy. Many would like us to be pragmatic.

I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that, good people of Kenya. We have rules for a reason. We spent a generation fighting for a new constitution for a reason. We reformed our judiciary for a reason. We can’t now just override due process because it’s inconvenient. If we break one rule now, we will find it equally convenient to break many others on a different day.

I have no idea whether election offences were committed. I am not equipped to make that decision, nor do I have the facts before me. But I must retain great faith that the people and institutions that do, will do what is right. That’s called the rule of law, and it isn’t optional.

While we wait, however, it is probably worth clarifying what we are waiting for. I get deeply disturbed when I see the importance our people attach to electoral contests: the irrational exuberance with which they celebrate when ’their’ candidate wins; and the depths of depression to which they plunge when ’their’ candidate loses.

There is a deep perception that a win by your candidate brings goodies and freebies and development in tow. That resources and funding will flow to your region if your contestant wins; that gravy trains will set off in your direction once ’one of your own’ bags the trophy.

The reality of life is very different. Individuals contest elections, not communities. Individuals win or lose them, not entire regions. That we still conflate an individual’s political dreams with our own development is a sign of immaturity. And we really must grow up.

We are not children, and our politicians are not our parents. No politician will come to your house to fill your pot, pay your children’s school fees, guarantee your health, or boost your career.

Our lives are our own, and no one else’s. What happens in the average person’s life is affected mostly by what that person does for himself or herself, not what a government or leader does. And while we sit and wait for government to help us, guess what we’re not doing? Helping ourselves.

Let’s be clear: both governments and leaders of governments remain crucially important. Governments enforce law and order; secure property; protect human rights; provide common infrastructure and public assets. I have written on this page, way back in 2004: “This is the work of a government that works: to guarantee freedoms and manage regulation. Freedom without regulation leads to a ’matatu’ society.”

Governments may have a vital role, but it is a limited one. Governments do not create wealth; they only create enabling environments. Wealth comes from the private efforts of private individuals and enterprises. If you want to make a mark in this life, you’re going to have to do that mostly through your own doing, not the bequests of others. If your plan in life is to wait for help, you have no plan.

That is why the identity of our leader is less important than the nature of leadership and the strength and integrity of the institutions of governance. That is why the case challenging the election result must happen in the background rather then the foreground of our lives. That is why the best thing we can do for ourselves and our nation is to get on with our lives.

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