By Shadrack Muyesu
In some ways, I am like MacDonald Mariga; I have never voted and I am not about to. While this has never stopped me from questioning government excesses and having expectations, I am afraid that it is a luxury I won’t be enjoying for too long. Voting has become a de facto necessity enjoying a status above the entire realm of rights as the unwritten qualifier to these rights. We say that men are born with rights yet subtly emphasise that they do not deserve these rights unless they vote.
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Say you do not vote and you’re quickly ostracised from society; you can neither hold a job nor discuss freely with peers. The belief out there and one which will soon find itself in our laws is that, like taxes, voting is a duty mandatory without which one has no right to question government. So much so that it has emerged as the only way by which the ordinary man can participate in government.
Kura Yako Sauti Yako so the slogan goes.
The end of rights
Yet voting is not a duty. In fact anyone with an inkling of how government works will confirm that only rarely has the ballot process influenced the destiny of government. My view is that world-over, the age of rights ended at the turn of the century.
The last time we had an election in Kenya is in 2002 and anyone who didn’t vote then would be naïve to expect an equally fair process in future.
In line with the cyclic theory of government, liberal democracy has run its course. The world is sprinting towards authoritarianism and it’s the people who are going to demand it. For the people, the same ones who so elevate the vote, the good government is one which is built on economic success. They will take a few casualties if the prize is a seat at the table of the global financial elite.
And they are right. While, in years gone by, the power of a country would be measured in the strength of its armies, today, producers and those with the highest purchasing power dictate affairs. It’s no longer a race for arms but one to control the factors of production. This cannot be achieved when there are too many people speaking. In Kenya alone, popular sentiment is for the Constitution to be bastardized so as to reign in on wastage and achieve double digit growth like some of our less free neighbours.
For the ruling elite, those who view government as a business, the Republic is too important a commodity to be left in the hands of the ordinary man. When people offer themselves for office it is their business interests they are moving to protect. Every decision, every alliance within or without, however innocuous, is a step towards consolidating gain. It no wonder therefore that those at the helm belong to the powerful oligarchs of the old and that those who fight hardest for power are those who stand to suffer the most from a stint outside government. Anyone else is merely a pawn in this high stakes game- to be traded and sacrificed at the behest of the grandmasters.
Last to debunk is the misplaced notion that I have no right to ask questions when I do not vote. I enjoy rights by virtue of my citizenship. These rights can only be taken away by operation of law
They don’t do it openly. When people are addicted to freedoms, yanking them away suddenly, no matter what they say, only begets a revolt. To legitimise their claim to power and mask their nefarious intent, they give the people a semblance of control in the so called voting rights while retaining control over the all-important socio economic factors. It is a strategy that is well hidden in the liberal democratic constitution. On one hand we have a universal suffrage and on the other the Constitution advocates for social Darwinism and capitalism in which the strongest survive. Competition looks good on paper until we recall there are those who, starting from a position of advantage, will lord it over the masses by controlling everything, from the education we receive to the news we consume.
Education and news are especially powerful tools whose potency has been multiplied by advances in information technology. The result is an artificial citizen who lives on every whim of these ruling elite. The bourgeoisie influence opinion. In return the people keep them in power. In some ways therefore, Louis Henkin’s observation that human rights enjoy a prima facie presumptive inviolability and that they triumph over economic goods remains true. Yet what is certain is that in such an environment, voting is not the way to change society, not when the masses are products of an algorithm.
So then, while we who shun the ballot appear foolish, it is simply because we understand that politicians are not charities. At his very best, a politician is an ethnic entrepreneur and an intellectual whore. Any process that legitimises his posturing doesn’t resonate with our psyche. And therefore, with same vigour with which we are denied rights, we also tell the voters that when they lie down with dogs they shouldn’t be surprised when they come up with fleas.
Yet what is certain is that in such an environment, voting is not the way to change society, not when the masses are products of an algorithm
Voting is not a duty
Voting is not a duty; it is a right. Anyone who suggests otherwise commits the purposivist error of reading into the Constitution an intention that the drafters never had to start with. Indeed, if voting were a duty, it wouldn’t have been easier than to simply say so in the clear wording of the Constitution.
Secondly, like every other right, the right to vote is invoked at the discretion of the right holder. As a registered voter, I choose when to vote and when to make a judicial claim in case it’s taken away from me. In demanding that every responsible citizen votes, it mustn’t be lost on us the real beauty of this right, the right to vote for a candidate of one’s choice. If no one tickles your fancy, stay away until a favourable candidate comes along or better yet, offer yourself for office.
Last to debunk is the misplaced notion that I have no right to ask questions when I do not vote. I enjoy rights by virtue of my citizenship. These rights can only be taken away by operation of law. Apart from the right to vote itself, there is no right that is premised on one’s identity as a voter. Going back to the social contract, as a tax payer and a law abiding citizen, the State owes me a lot of things regardless of whoever is at the helm. If i don’t get these things, the law allows me to ask questions or in the extreme necessity, revolt.
Credit to the Constitution of Kenya 2010, Wanjiku today is more powerful than she has ever been. Far beyond voting, she has the power to influence policy through inter alia, petitions to parliament and public participation; the power to recall rogue representatives; seek information; sue the State for breach of duty; demonstrate and picket. But this power is useless in an environment of ignorance.
Arguably, the alternatives are much more effective when we consider that they are not contaminated by the artificial vote. What’s more, when making your case before a jury of peers, the results are much more obvious. A judicial bench won’t listen to a plea with the ears of a politician.
Even for parliament, a plea before a house committee is much more focused and can be followed upon, in court and elsewhere. And for the influential voices on the social web, what better way is there than to marshal like-minded Kenyans into removing a rogue member from office? But we’d rather rave and rant as we wait for the next election.
Meanwhile the country rots. (