By Phoebe Nadupoi
As debate on impunity, corruption and maladministration rages, one thing is becoming more and more evident: our country is experiencing a governance crisis. One way in which this has been manifested is through the quality of our leaders. There are all manner of accusations; if it is not a claim of land grabbing, it is bribery or attempted rape. This has not only put on the spot the kind of leadership we have, but has also made conspicuous the sort of society we are. It has repeatedly been said, rightly so, that leaders are only as good or bad as the society to which they belong.
Bad governance happens in various ways and at different levels. As such, to attack the problem, it is necessary for all the actors at all these various tiers to take appropriate action. Whereas attention is mainly directed at various oversight institutions, I am persuaded that we cannot make meaningful strides if citizens do little or nothing to change this landscape. I say this because citizens have a right to take part in the affairs of the state and it is in this way that democratic principles are strengthened. I will share two experiences to elucidate this.
In November 2014, as I was driving up Lang’ata Road near the Madaraka roundabout, a range rover in front of me screeched to a halt in the middle of the road. I put on hazards to warn motorists behind me and was getting ready to alight to find out what the problem was. A crowd had quickly gathered around the car. Lo and behold, it was “Prophet” Victor Kanyari who had suddenly decided to stop and say a quick hello to his “fans”. My consternation at his road behaviour aside, here was a man who had, weeks before, then been the subject of public debate after an expose by KTN’s Jicho Pevu for allegedly conning Kenyans in the name of God. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keriako Tobiko, had even initiated a probe on grounds of false pretence, cheating and conspiracy to defraud. But there he was – a celebrity.
And before you conclude this is an isolated incident, there have been numerous instances when Kenyans have been warned against this or that politician – mainly on grounds of integrity – but gone right ahead to vote for the self same people, even if they have alternatives, perhaps to let those who care to know that they have the power in their hands. Well, they do.
I am reminded of yet another incident. Growing up as a young in a village in the heart of Kajiado, I did not know much about democracy or even the rights and obligations of individuals, but some things were quite obvious. It was, for instance, commonplace for politicians to negotiate with a man during electioneering periods to get not only his vote, but that of his wife (or wives) as well. There was this particular girl who was much older than me but definitely under 18 who was rushed to get an ID card because the father needed her to have a voter’s card. The voter card was – maybe still is – an important negotiating tool. Depending on the negotiating power, one (mainly men) would perhaps secure a plot, some money or just anything. A dry spell would follow until the next electioneering period when yet another opportunity to haggle for something more attractive would present itself. Hardly ever did accountability in leadership or other desirable principles feature in the negotiations. Would such people ever have a voice to demand better service or question anything? Your guess is correct.
I am yet to witness our citizenry get angry because of abuse of power, or any other malpractice in public office to an extent of demanding resignation of the public officer in question. Largely, the herculean task of keeping watch, questioning and participating in governance in general has been left to the civil society and media. I am by no means suggesting that these institutions need not do that. The media are frequently referred to as the Fourth Estate – a phrase introduced by Edmund Burke in 1987 – because of the power they wield and the oversight function they exercise. This means they represent the public by holding government and those exercising delegated authority accountable on behalf of the people. Civil society, on the other hand, has earned its legitimacy in Kenya by advancing public interest; it has played an important role in expanding democratic space and checking government by speaking truth to power.
At its best, the public consumes news on ills, such as corruption, that threaten to impede our growth as a nation and wonder, lament, and move on until something bigger happens. In some instances, however, the public will come out fighting for or against a leader in question depending on whether they have the same linguistic orientation, or have the same political persuasion. This is particularly often demonstrated on social media.
That institutions entrusted to entrench good governance need to find solid ways of addressing issues bedevilling us cannot be overemphasised. It is, however, necessary for all Kenyans to realise they have a critical role to play if the country is to realise the desired change.