A new history and the right not to vote

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Shadrack Sharu Muyesu

A century of pages later of what, according to me, was very thorough research work, all I did obtain in complement from my dissertation supervisor was the cold warning: “Thou shall not shall not loose heed of the centuries-old constitutional values in the quest to sound controversial… thou shall not sacrifice the old rules of law at the altar of innovation!”
Yet even that couldn’t wipe the innocent glee of satisfaction off my face because all I heard was the shouting praise of novelty, albeit one delivered in such subtlety. Why? Because he had just confirmed everything I thought about myself: reckless, mad, unconventional and ingenuity. And to me, far beyond a grade, that was the greatest praise because after all, the greatest inventions of our time were once the perceptions of a crazed mind. All of them, the engineering and commerce to social grands in Karl Marx’s Marxism, Vladimir Lenin’s Leninism, Mao Tse Tung’s Maoism, Josef Stalin’s Socialism, Madison’s Separation of Powers, the old Democracy of Socrates to modern liberal democracy… all of them.

It’s this madness that prompts me to question Francis Fukuyama’s elevation of liberal democracy. In his widely acclaimed treatise, “The End of History and the Last Man”, Fukuyama presents liberal democracy to be the height of human political intelligence beyond which there can never be a better system of representation. The right to participate in government, generally the right to vote presents the cornerstone for this system and is defined as a right in universal suffrage. That is alright. What I contest, however, is the notion that liberal democracy is the best system for all jurisdictions. Even third world countries and the most diverse of societies such as ours? I think not.

A new history

You see, there things that are not just for us. One of them is the one-man-one-vote “truth”, opinion polls and political debates. Some could even say democracy but that presents a slippery slope really and I do not wish to go down that route. I have argued elsewhere even as I continue to, that as laudable as democracy is, the right to vote is not a gift for the cretin. It is not a right to be enjoyed by the average Third World man.

The substance of liberal democracy is the existence of a government that is elected by as many of a country’s citizens as possible, and as an outcome of periodically and consistently held elections. Liberal democracies allow free trade and subscribe to capitalist ideals where every man grows on their own. The government’s duty in such jurisdictions is restricted to creating an enabling environment to facilitate this growth as well as providing social security to the most threatened of its citizens. This, according to Fukuyama, is the only way to achieve what he has concluded to be man’s primary interest – the need for recognition and appreciation amongst his peers.

For this system to work properly, two very integral ingredients have to exist. Foremost, the masses need an education. Secondly is to have a common interest and therefore a common powerful voice, the masses ought to share in a common history and culture or at least, have a single nationalist spirit. Only a good education can guarantee that the citizenry understands its rights, best interests and therefore the government that best suits them. It is the basis of good choice. A common ancestry or, at least, little diversity, streamlines interest. The most diverse societies are also the most diverse in terms of thought and interest, which means many conflicting goals and interests. This has always meant just one thing: distrust among the citizens and the tribes they represent.

While the presence of these essentials define many western societies, Third World jurisdictions such as ours not only suffer an acute crisis in education but also “enjoy” so many histories (tribes) in one. Simply put, we are too many, unlearned and wholesomely poor. How then do we expect the traditions of liberal democracy to applicable to us and as well as they are applicable in the West? Before I continue, I must point out a common characteristic with both western and third world countries – the question of poverty.

Though poverty heavily influences choice, there exists a stark difference between a poor learned man and a poor unlearned man.

Even in liberal democracies, one thing above all influences choice and that is self-interest (to which end Fukuyama’s sentiments hold true). The difference between the learned and unlearned poor is that while the while the former thinks about his foreseeable future, the latter is influenced by his immediate interests. The average man in the West is likely to be influenced by “what do this man’s policies portend for my small business in the future?”

The man in the heart of Karatina or in the lost world of Migingo will only think of “can this man give me anything to eat tonight? I haven’t eaten in days!” The end result is a policy-driven campaign in the West as opposed to a bribe-run one in Kenya.

This situation is made worse by increased diversity. Whereas most people are corporates or business persons in the capitalist world, we in Kenya are everything, from traditional circumcisers to pastoralist, subsistence farmers and “career politicians.” The things that define us are very diverse. Scepticism for the other tribe drives us to align ourselves with the person best placed to understand our problems and therefore help us or at least ensure that we are not worse off. This circle of persons expands outwards, from close family to tribal kingpins (the Minimax Regret Strategy theory). Different from our tribes which are very formidable associations that we harbour such a sentimental attachment to, what is ideally a tribe in the West is a race comprised of scattered members who hold zero relation to their mates. That is why we shall always elect our own, Chapter Six be damned.

When people influenced by the factors highlighted above vote for their own, a damning result emerges. At the end or every election two groups of disgruntled citizens emerge: the smaller tribes who lost (predictably, since elections in third world countries lacking all the hallmarks of an advanced liberal democracy are basically a population census of the tribes) and the highly influential learned minority, mostly the civil society. While the unlearned tribesmen are thinking “those people are going to kill us”, the enlightened civil society and others, like them, fear “another tribal government with corruption as usual”. The dissatisfaction of both groups is what Fukuyama sought to solve in the first place – the need for recognition!

The right not to vote

Tribes and the enlightened civil society likely react differently to election outcomes; in extreme cases there will be civil unrest with civil society pushing for change through law.

Understanding the perils of authoritarianism or totalitarianism, they create a system that will not only protect their status but also limit the dominance of the larger tribes and invoke ideology as the basis of deciding election outcomes. The result can only be one – Moderate Deliberative Democracy where the most immaculate of democracy concepts are fused – universal suffrage and justification. Simply the justification of choice, in Moderate Deliberative Democracy, everyone participates in the election process but only the informed elites get to make the final choices on law representation in a colligate structure.

At the end, everyone would be happier than they would ever be in Fukuyama’s liberal democracy – the true end of history.

Liberal democracy is not for us, that is uncontested. Elections loom though and the choices are Judas and Barnabas. The jury is the average yet very large cretin horde (the unlearned poor tribal man). The referee is a relation of the cretin while those holding the cameras prostitute their services to the highest bidder. As a smoke screen to mask their actions, the cameramen call a debate (which they moderate). Predictably, the debate ends up as mudslinging contest in a festival of clowns with little or no appreciation of what their duties-to-be entail. Meanwhile, with each bundle of mud hurled, the citizens cheer. Poor and unlearned, the citizens are as good as their clown politicians.

The presidential debate of 2013 had no bearing whatsoever on the election outcome, with the seemingly ‘good performers’ performing dismally in the General Election.

“Don’t complain when other people make the decision for you!”

That was the response I received when I shared these sentiments in a Facebook post. As a measure of an answer, where is the wisdom in cheering a game where the rules are, because of our histories, so fundamentally flawed and the contestants, by history or design, recycled relics of a corruption age who stand guilty or innocent depending on the place where they are doing their campaigns? Where is the wisdom in choosing one between a thief and murderer or between two thieves?

In furtherance, the biggest mistake we have made as a people is the belief that we ought to vote even when we do not know enough. I dare say, without fear of contradiction that, far beyond sitting out an election, the biggest threat to good governance is voting without a genuine reason or voting on misinformation! This is what the IEBC banners and their musicians do not tell us!

Granted, yet where do we obtain the truth? From the cameramen? All they ever give us are unassessed political stories with zero analysis of manifestos or even their economic viability. News today is political propaganda, complete with “guest” political analysts that offer anything apart from their unbiased opinion! I digress.

But there is civic education!

There is no civic education. In the least sense, what we have are day discos and politicians disguised as educators. Yet even if it were there, civic education hardly interrogates policy. And even if it did, we see, we forget, we vote for our tribe anyway!

Because the law says so…because in a democracy, free and fair elections are the only thing that legitimize the government.

Perhaps so, but the law only grants voting as a right, not a duty! Though some rights shall not be foregone, the right to vote certainly does not fall within this realm. As such, it is my constitutional right to forego it. With or without a vote, I retain my right to complain courtesy of constitutionally protected rights towards which the state has an obligation, irrespective of whoever is running it. When I voted for the Constitution of Kenya 2010, I entered into contract with the government of Kenya and as long as I pay my taxes and obey the law, I reserve my right to expect, with or without a vote.

A legitimate, constitutionally-elected government will be the outcome of a free and fair election next year. But it will still be a corrupt and flawed government as usual. Why? Because of our poor appreciation of history! Meanwhile, until I am satisfied with the field, I shall not only not vote, but I shall share the wisdom in not voting as well. Condemning this decision would, even as Heather Lardy agrees, amount to a denial of my right to free speech.

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