The fallacy of democracy

When popularity eclipses integrity, the sane should be worried

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BY Alfred Mosoti

When the winds of change wept cross Africa in early 1990s, many Kenyans allied to the then opposition believed the new system would finally emancipate them from post-independence tyrants, thereby bringing a paradigm shift in governance.

Their hopes were further elevated when Section 2A of the old constitution was repealed transforming the country into a multi-party state, and enabling opposition parties – Ford-Kenya, Ford-Asili, Democratic Party (DP) and others) – to compete with the then ruling party Kanu, in the 1992 General election and subsequent polls.

After Kanu won, the opposition assumed a watchdog role, putting the government on toes by agitating and lobbying that it guarantee basic liberties such those of the press, free speech and the right of assembly, which had until then been curtailed. In short, democracy was meant to tame imperialistic tendencies the one party dispensation had nurtured.

However, sceptics, like retired president Daniel Moi, were apprehensive of the new system and forewarned Kenyans the “premature introduction of multipartysim would lead to civil unrest and its disastrous consequences” – 1991 African Demos, Vol 2. Even though his intention was rather selfish, for he sought to retain absolute power, Moi’s oracle has come to pass.

Looking back down the memory lane, any objective critical observer will arrive at the conclusion that, by and large, democracy in Kenya – representative of many other African democracies – has failed, or been made to fail. This narrative is in harmony with what Hans Hermann Hope in “Democracy – The God that failed” observes.

Locally, citizen participation in politics has been limited to, the electoral process to a periodic voting ritual after every five years; then relegated into spectatorship till the next season. Even the local public participation fora occasionally held at county and sub-county levels seems just to be a formality. 

What we have is in stark contrast of the version of democracy Cleisthenes designed in 507 BC, which was also echoed by the legendary Abraham Lincoln as a “government of the people (the masses), by the people (the masses) and for the people (the masses).”

Canada, UK, France and Germany are classic examples of mature global democracies. In Kenya, the system primarily serves elite interests, and the needs and aspirations of the masses are given secondary or tertiary consideration.

Our Greece-pioneered system has had negative consequences albeit to different magnitudes in both mature and young democracies.

Today, the expansion of personal and social liberties is to blame for rising abortion, divorce, betting, irresponsible use of social media and even the series of student strikes in schools over flimsy reasons.

To paraphrase what the late political analyst Waweru Mburu (when he hosted Yaliyotendeka at Citizen Radio) often said, Kenyans are divided into two mega tribes; the elitist wealthy minority, where politicians belong, and the poor proletariat (wananchi) where majority of us belong.

With this in mind, the ugly ethno-political rivalries which so often threaten to break Kenya’s socio-economic fabric are not essentially because of tribal interests at stake, as is often purported, but rather; a national contest between the elites (wenye nchi) versus the public (wananchi). It is why Mburu often warned us against pushing political contest to violent levels.

It is ironical that political violence, which often takes ethno-political dimensions, is viciously fought among the proletariat but only ‘passively and diplomatically’ amongst the bourgeoisie political elites

Properly, each of the 42 original native tribes have got their share of suzerains and the proletariat, as attested to by economic stratification in every other town, with rich and poor sections, and each village with its own tycoons/landlords and peasants/labourers. These two domains, wherever they are to be found, share similar joys, sorrows, predicaments and desires with the two major defining traits between the two classes being politico-economic muscle.

It is ironical that political violence, which often takes ethno-political dimensions, is viciously fought among the proletariat but only ‘passively and diplomatically’ amongst the bourgeoisie political elites.

Former Bumula legislator Bifwoli Wakoli, is remembered for his drily sarcastic statements, but this one stands out, “We the politicians (elites) are like devils; we incite you (the masses) to fight amongst yourselves, but we maintain cordial relationships despite our ethno-political differences. Do not be too gullible as to take all we say as gospel truth!”   

Nevertheless, while neither excusing nor condoning heinous politically-driven crimes, the actions of disillusioned supporters can be attributed to the side-effects of our distorted ‘breed’ of democracy, which exalts candidates’ external traits rather than intrinsic ones.

It is disgusting that in the Kenyan electoral process, ethno-economic factors and thuggish characteristics are given preference over personal virtues and professional achievements, which leads to me the suggestion that when popularity eclipses integrity, then the sane among us should be very worried.

No wonder, during nominations, a party would rather sponsor a corrupt candidate that possesses shrewd mobilisation skills and who is well versed with intricate and delicate rigging techniques, and win, as opposed to an enlightened and virtuous candidate who sticks by the rules of the game, and lose.

This explains why many upright contestants hardly secure elective posts, hence buttressing the farce or cliché, “politics is intrinsically a dirty game”. For instance, despite the fact that Mike Sonko was in the infamous List of 20 and was indicted by EACC over corruption and poor performance with regard to chapter Six, he still got Jubilee’s nod at the expense of a proven performer in Peter Kenneth. Sonko’s mismanagement credentials, barely one year on, is the stuff of nightmares. The script is no different in almost all of the counties!

Since, ideally, leadership is about experience and integrity rather than popularity and opulence, it is therefore both paradoxical and disgusting that under a democratic system, the oft-quoted tyranny of numbers often ellipses integrity of candidates. With such a skewed path to elective posts, very few credible leaders make it.

As history does often attest, after years of endurance, the disillusioned public inevitably turns violent. If social injustices cannot be addressed through diplomacy, dialogue and/or the ballot, then it will happen through the bullet. Again, history is replete with examples. (

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