Every 5 years, the editorial boards of overseas media keep in mind that Kenya exists. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration that undermines the stellar work that athletes do in holding the nation’s identify on the lips of each city that dares to host a world marathon. Still, it appears like each 5 years when an election is on the desk, the eyes of the world shift in direction of East Africa like vultures circling a carcass, salivating for an additional conflict of titans and even for violence. The items almost write themselves – say one thing about “tribalism” (sorry, ethno-nationalism) and primordial hatreds, slot in a number of strains about dynastic competitors and perhaps throw in an allegory in regards to the savannah. A laundry listing of tropes which might be imprecise sufficient to carry the eye of distant audiences that have to 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. Somehow 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 bit of paper right into a black field. This is the triumph of the democracy marketing consultant: efficiently translating complicated social methods into two-year plans and 10-point efficiency indicators that should be attained earlier than the donor’s funds cycle closes. But it’s the tragedy of the individuals. These indicators simplify troublesome issues and are available at the price of infusing which means into the best way we form our societies. Democracy has grow to be hollowed out into the performative act of voting, and never the arduous and boring work of constructing societies that make sense for the individuals who dwell inside them.
Those 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 government has hollowed out key civic establishments in service of costly, 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 overseas corporations and governments that construct them however make no sense within the native context, and that we’ll be paying for at usurious rates of interest for generations. A railway line that solely runs midway throughout the nation. An elevated toll highway 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 automobile.
Public participation that’s presupposed to carry 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 keeping with the regulation, and to be rotated out when the regulation doesn’t rubber-stamp the chief’s agenda. Only an article revealed in a world newspaper may 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 save lots of the estimated 4,000 timber which were decimated across the capital over the past 5 years.
The schooling system is in shambles. Against the recommendation of native specialists, the bellicose minister of schooling has pressured by way of a curriculum that’s hurting kids and oldsters equally, however the instructor’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, a whole lot of hundreds of younger individuals learning in boarding faculties have been evaded their households for almost a complete yr with out public session or engagement with their dad and mom, and no measures to assist them course of that trauma. Thousands of kids, almost double the variety of ladies versus boys, didn’t return to high school. Austerity measures triggered by poor financial planning imply that the most important college within the nation is planning to get rid of its humanities and social science departments, as lecturers and college unions stay silent. None 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 greater schooling. The solely approach they handle to get our consideration is after they set their faculties on fireplace.
International crises are beating on the door as nicely. Oil costs are the best they’ve ever been in historical past. The pandemic nonetheless looms giant. Climate change has delivered the fifth cycle of failed rains and the specter of famine hovers over a lot of the nation. Independent media has been hollowed out by state seize and financing crises. Yet none of that is on the electoral agenda. Instead, 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.
(This is the half the place you say: “But it could be worse, at least you’re not Other Country X!”. It might be worse, nevertheless it ought to be higher and that’s the goal of democracy.)
This election just isn’t fascinating, and it’s intellectually dishonest to count on us to contort ourselves into pretending that it’s. The most vital issues in Kenyan democracy have already occurred or are taking place in locations that shallow, just-add-water storylines won’t see; in between election cycles, outdoors the capital, inside native authorities, in establishments like commerce unions and protest actions. There is nothing profound taking place on the nationwide degree – 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 actual work of democracy. We’re bored. We’ve been at this for at the very least 30 years. Thirty years of watching the identical solid of characters circle round one another, promising the world and delivering chaos. Thirty years of pretending that after we’re finished preventing one another they gained’t meet up on the nation membership and smile at one another from throughout the bars that we aren’t allowed to enter. Thirty years of pretending that their kids don’t attend the identical faculties or play in the identical polo golf equipment. We are bored.
And that must be all proper. Important issues might be boring – they usually are. Perhaps the largest mistake the world has made is to lean into the glamourisation of politics. The collective embrace of the concept that 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. Maybe this concept that politics is an infinite repository of content material and media fodder is the rationale why the politics of so many international locations has descended into showmanship and pantomime. Maybe politics is simply presupposed to be arduous 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. But I achieve this realizing that voting and elections don’t a democracy make. Allow me to solid my ballots whereas stifling a yawn and studying a e book, refusing to reply 19 questions on “dynastic competition and primordial hatred”. The most fascinating factor about democracy in Kenya just isn’t this election.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.