Every 5 years, the editorial boards of international media keep in mind that Kenya exists. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration that undermines the stellar work that athletes do in conserving the nation’s title on the lips of each city that dares to host a world marathon. Still, it looks 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 one more 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 a couple of strains about dynastic competitors and perhaps throw in an allegory concerning the savannah. A laundry record of tropes which are obscure sufficient to carry the eye of distant audiences that have to periodically be reminded of tragedies in Africa™ to be able 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 thought 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. This is the triumph of the democracy guide: efficiently translating complicated social programs into two-year plans and 10-point efficiency indicators that have to be attained earlier than the donor’s price range cycle closes. But it’s the tragedy of the folks. 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 change into hollowed out into the performative act of voting, and never the exhausting 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 bother, 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 pricy, 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 highway constructed to serve the wants of expats who don’t vote or pay taxes in a metropolis by which solely 15 % of individuals commute by non-public 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 circumstances in courtroom just for judges to determine based on the regulation, and to be rotated out when the regulation doesn’t rubber-stamp the chief’s agenda. Only 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 training system is in shambles. Against the recommendation of native specialists, the bellicose minister of training has compelled by 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, lots of of hundreds of younger folks learning in boarding colleges have been refrained from their households for nearly a whole 12 months with out public session or engagement with their mother and father, and no measures to assist them course of that trauma. Thousands of kids, virtually double the variety of women 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 identification info and penalise them by denying them entry to greater training. The solely approach they handle to get our consideration is once they set their colleges on fireplace.
International crises are beating on the door as effectively. Oil costs are the best they’ve ever been in historical past. The pandemic nonetheless looms massive. 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 could possibly be worse, but it surely must be higher and that’s the objective of democracy.)
This election is just not 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 swimsuit 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 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 accomplished preventing one another they gained’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 are bored.
And that must be all proper. Important issues will be boring – they usually are. Perhaps the most important 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. Maybe this concept that politics is an countless repository of content material and media fodder is the explanation why the politics of so many international locations has descended into showmanship and pantomime. Maybe politics is simply presupposed to be exhausting 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 accomplish that figuring out that voting and elections don’t a democracy make. Allow me to solid my ballots whereas stifling a yawn and studying a ebook, refusing to reply 19 questions on “dynastic competition and primordial hatred”. The most fascinating factor about democracy in Kenya is just not this election.
The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.