Politics: The ideal versus rationale


By Shadrack Muyesu


“…But you also are not able to keep those friends who put you there because you cannot satisfy them in the way they expected. You cannot take strong measures against them, feeling bound to them…”

I lose count of the number of times Deputy President William Ruto’s name has featured in corruption scandals. In the eyes of many, the President may seem dearer but even for him, his presidency and entire fortune is seemingly founded on a historical fraud. What sense does it make, therefore, to expect that their presidency will spearhead a war on corruption, or instigate a thorough land reform?

Perhaps true, but equally true could be the fact that the President is a gentleman after all – one with good intentions yet wholesomely paralysed by law and the nature of our politics. Granted, his only direct power in fighting existing corruption lies in the careful invocation of executive orders. But hasn’t he contributed to the systemic rot in recommending and appointing de facto corrupts? Can’t the zeal demonstrated in whipping parliament to pass otherwise “MP unfriendly” legislation in the recent Elections Law (Amendment) Act, 2016, or even creating the new Jubilee Party be extended to circumventing legal hurdles towards a mass ejection of these corrupts?

Rationally it’s not as easy. For starters, our election system (what Machiavelli would describe as a constitutional principality) prescribes a very special place for kingmakers. For a man intending re-election, it would be foolhardy to attack these kingmakers. Think of any name – unfortunately they are usually the most corrupt. As regards illegal government concessions to corporate and other foreign entities, it’s simply the price the Presidency pays for successful corporate fuelled campaigns – action of which reverberates even to the greatest modern polity where among others, BP and JP Morgan literally dictate policy. Truth is, as in any company, the Presidency has to satisfy the Board and the majority shareholders before it turns the “others” – and we are the “others” for, even as Machiavelli taught, we are patient, and we can be bended in other ways anyway.

“…The wish to acquire is in truth very natural and common, and men always do so when they can…”

A lesson we have come to accept from Hobbes is that man is naturally selfish: all men are a tad corrupt, with the only variance lying in degree and consequence. One of the greatest dilemmas of any “leader” is how to amass/protect their loot, without risking the wrath of the public, by appearing passive to corrupt devices. The intelligent corrupts will act as Uhuru has done – employ someone to play the game on his behalf such that the arising inaction will not be traced to him but rather to the personal cruelty of the appointed. If push comes to shove, as it did for some, they can always protect themselves by retiring these persons comfortably (yet with such a public performance of wrath and disdain) or throwing them under the bus altogether – depending on their strengths or vindictive clout.

The NYS loot, Eurobond and the burnt tasks of Mombasa et al, de facto make the Government’s war chest for another assault on the Presidency for 2017. The Presidency is the puppeteer, Waiguru etc. the puppets, parliament the arena and Kenyans the ignorant Roman crowd that cheers death in the arena only to sleep hungry – illegal, immoral but wholesomely rational in this game of numbers.


“…He should weaken the more powerful amongst them, taking care that no foreigner as powerful as himself shall, by any accident, get established there…”

Usually such antics will be carried out in an environment of blatant tribalism. The Preamble, Articles 10 and 27 say what they say, but to open up important public portfolios to the slightest whims of the Opposition is to parade oneself for an impeachment. What is left of public offices is, in fact, too small to aggrandise all those who aided the President’s assent to power. But is this license to appoint obviously unfit persons? Can’t the Presidency find an honest, qualified hardworking man from its own tribe? Ideally they should, only that hardly does this fit into the supervening mechanisms of want and desire. Similarly, those to be rewarded are almost always politicians – hardly does a distinguished, successful private practitioner become a politician.

A good leader swears allegiance to the Constitution but a politician understands that rewards and loyalty come first. Great politicians may even appoint supposed opposition lieutenants but only when the task is arduous (in fact a sure fail) and the stakes high enough to warrant a stern admonition of the Opposition, yet so low as to disaffect their government should this scheme fail. Remember Raila and the Mau?

We all clamour for the day Uhuru will nominate a Jakoyo Midiwo as his speaker, yet this dream is as unrealistic as Cord unanimously agreeing to the continued speakership of Muturi! Simply, the rules apply both ways; to flout them would be to strengthen the opposition – sacrilege if you ask the great teacher.

Poverty, stalled development and illiteracy

“…Injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less. Benefits ought to be given little by little, so that their flavour may last longer…”

Suddenly the UhuRuto regime is rushing to dish out benefits, and mostly to Opposition strongholds where they have wavering support. Development should have come much earlier. Ideally, it ought to have been the sustained event of their four-year leadership. The problem with the former is that Kenyans have perfected the art of selective amnesia; as elections close in, they tend to forget one man’s initial good for another’s current good.

Sustained development is simply expensive, not least when one recalls that money has to be raised for the elections. For a politician, development is not a duty, and it’s not an act of benevolence; it’s a business. You stake when the returns should be highest!

Where it can’t penetrate (such as Nyanza), the establishment will simply ignore then and, as elections draw in, remind residents of “the need to be in government that they may enjoy benefits.” Alongside illiteracy, sustained poverty is a very important tool for the politician. Men are, by nature, a dissatisfied lot (Hegel, Fukuyama). A poor, illiterate man in a primitive society like ours is, however, rather unique because he believes that satisfaction only comes with the continued well-being of his tribe.

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