By Khalid Khalid   

What motivates the elected representative to steal?

The frequency with which this question has been asked has given it rhetorical semblance. However, if examined carefully – and juxtaposed with the facts at hand – it leads not only to an answer but also to a plausible justification.

Leaders are born and raised in culture, by people and a surrounding environment. The culture at the centre of this piece is the Kenyan culture. At every level of leadership we have leaders and those leaders have peers. The majority of Kenyans have the habit of being in haste, of equalling or surpassing our peers. There is a certain level of urgency in being ahead; this is the culture we have created.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with being ahead, there is need for discussion on the “how”. For the most part, the answer to that is “any means possible”. Those in the bureaucracy have found themselves in this peculiar position, having so much power and public money at their disposal with little or no consequence at all. It is this money that enables one to trample one’s peers in a flash, just by signing off money to the self or misusing privileges and giving up every shred of conscience.

The elected ones are at a greater urge to prove to their peers their superiority. The standard today is, “here is a man with millions of public money, and a host of blue eyed equally ambitious peers”. It is this “culture” that propels those in positions of power to steal. I will now take liberty to focus the scope on the elected leaders.

Familiar cycle

Election year is upon us and Kenyans are getting the usual political fever, with politicians crisscrossing the country – with their four-wheel-drive vehicles, the only ones that provide access to their constituencies owing to poor roads; roads for which they have ample resources to carpet and re-carpet, but which they have chosen to buy/hire this their 4WD monsters with. Voters are streaming in and out of venues, bomas and jamvis having lent an aspirant their ears, and endorsements bought through notes at which they clutch on their way out.

A familiar cycle, through which every aspiring politician has to go through, entails securing a venue, motivating people to show up (through hand-outs), help them to go back (again, hand-outs), an amount popularly known as “something small for mama watoto”, a euphemism for bribes given for putting up, for hours on end, with hubris.

There are areas in the country, such as Nyanza, Central and Rift Valley where parties, not the people, “decide”. The misconception here is that because voter bribery is not extensive, less is spent. But the fact is that aspirants are leeched off of every penny looted or worked for, during nominations. Hiring agents to financing flamboyant displays, appearances of pre-eminence and also funding displays of proximity to the party leader (a figure that can guarantee victory) is often a very costly affair.

‘Owed’ by the people

The pastoralist region is a different case altogether. Whilst politics in these areas is characterised by clan loyalties, campaigning in these famine-stricken, marginalised and poor areas is an unusually expensive affair. People in such areas are less concerned with political ideologies and are not easily impressed by the idea of political participation, obviously due to other inconveniences of life. Politics here is a case of which clan is more superior, dominant or keen on unsettling the status quo. It’s a question of pride and identity. This, in turn, means each aspirant must heavily invest in his clan not only to win their hearts but also improve local life; this includes settling debts for other people, paying off “blood money”, and even buying household items in extreme but not uncommon circumstances.

These politicians, by the time they get to office, have not only incurred so much in financing their election, but have also accrued serious amounts in debts. As a consequence, their terms in office are divided into two. The first phase involves political hibernation, where the politician focuses on paying his debts. It involves but is not limited to stealing from public coffers, re-channelling development funds for own use, and rent seeking. The politician makes tactical and limited appearances in his/her constituency.

The second is the “vulture phase”. This involves the politician appearing at all funerals, weddings, graduation ceremonies – it also involves self-inviting to events and aiming for the microphone. The politician picks up philanthropic tendencies by participating in so many charities that people forget s/he had been missing. This phase normally has the politician gearing up for the next election therefore carrying out menial works and launching dummy projects. The people’s money is used to finance the re election.

The vulture phase is characterised by serious looting – the people get to receive money that was otherwise theirs, but owing to the greed of the voter for money and the generosity and philanthropy of his leader, which then requires an elaborate looting mechanism to ensure, not a periodic, but a sustained supply of money the people. It is mastery.

Elections are expensive and competitive everywhere in the world; this much cannot be denied. But mature democracies do not have the effect of depleting the resources of the hopefuls before they rise to positions of service; they have the effect of voting in a very humble character, appreciative of his path, struggle and people, and who is willing to uphold the ideals of the people who put trust in him.

Monetary politics

In our case, every government seems similar to the last if not worse; every election season, Kenyans fight the same monster – corrupt leadership but without a demand for transparency in campaign funding, development scheme or record, individual morality, and the desire to entrench good governance.

Our kind of politics is that which promotes the desire to acquire quick money from those intent on leading others; voting on the basis of how much money is poured, not merit; of which aspirant “wants it more than the rest”; of crowning the greediest and hungriest, at the of risk repeating the same mistakes every time.

In the words of Joseph de Maistre, “Every country has the government it deserves”. ^

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