Each 5 years, the editorial boards of overseas media keep in mind that Kenya exists. Properly, maybe that’s an exaggeration that undermines the stellar work that athletes do in conserving the nation’s title on the lips of each city that dares to host a global marathon. Nonetheless, it looks like each 5 years when an election is on the desk, the eyes of the world shift in direction of East Africa like vultures circling a carcass, salivating for an additional conflict of titans and even for violence. The items nearly write themselves – say one thing about “tribalism” (sorry, ethno-nationalism) and primordial hatreds, slot in a number of traces about dynastic competitors and possibly throw in an allegory concerning the savannah. A laundry record of tropes which are imprecise sufficient to carry the eye of distant audiences that have to periodically be reminded of tragedies in Africa™ to be able to really feel one thing and be made grateful.
The fallacy on the centre of that is that democracy is one thing that occurs each electoral cycle. Someway over the past 30 years, not simply in Kenya however all over the world, the concept of democracy has been bled dry of any actual which means and distorted right into a caricature of a stick determine dropping a bit of paper right into a black field. That is the triumph of the democracy marketing consultant: efficiently translating complicated social programs into two-year plans and 10-point efficiency indicators that have to be attained earlier than the donor’s finances cycle closes. However it’s the tragedy of the individuals. These indicators simplify tough issues and are available at the price of infusing which means into the best way we form our societies. Democracy has grow to be hollowed out into the performative act of voting, and never the onerous and boring work of constructing societies that make sense for the individuals who dwell inside them.
These of us who dwell in Kenya and are invested in its wellbeing, and never merely spectators to the electioneering that occurs each 5 years, know that democracy within the nation is in hassle, no matter what occurs on August 9. The Jubilee administration which infects each main platforms on this cycle has been primarily governing by fiat for the final 10 years. The manager has hollowed out key civic establishments in service of costly, ill-thought-out, debt-making initiatives which have introduced the nation’s economic system to its knees. And now we’re caught with costly baubles which have made billions for the overseas corporations and governments that construct them however make no sense within the native context, and that we’ll be paying for at usurious rates of interest for generations. A railway line that solely runs midway throughout the nation. An elevated toll street constructed to serve the wants of expats who don’t vote or pay taxes in a metropolis during which solely 15 p.c of individuals commute by personal automobile.
Public participation that’s speculated to deliver civilian oversight into key laws and spending is a farce. We write submissions that by no means get learn, we go to hearings that by no means get correctly documented, we file instances in court docket just for judges to resolve in response to the legislation, and to be rotated out when the legislation doesn’t rubber-stamp the chief’s agenda. Solely an article revealed in a global newspaper may get the federal government to retreat from plans to chop down an iconic tree that’s older than town itself. Protest, outcry and court docket orders weren’t sufficient to avoid wasting the estimated 4,000 timber which have been decimated across the capital over the past 5 years.
The training system is in shambles. In opposition to the recommendation of native specialists, the bellicose minister of training has compelled by means of a curriculum that’s hurting youngsters and fogeys equally, however the trainer’s unions, hollowed out as leaders abandon the abuse and violence they’re subjected to in favour of electoral politics, stay silent. When the pandemic hit, tons of of hundreds of younger individuals learning in boarding faculties have been avoided their households for nearly a complete 12 months with out public session or engagement with their dad and mom, and no measures to assist them course of that trauma. 1000’s of youngsters, nearly double the variety of women versus boys, didn’t return to highschool. Austerity measures triggered by poor financial planning imply that the most important college within the nation is planning to remove its humanities and social science departments, as lecturers and college unions stay silent. Not one of the avenues to protest and specific dissent are working. And when youngsters do protest, the federal government threatens to gather their identification data and penalise them by denying them entry to increased training. The one means they handle to get our consideration is once they set their faculties on hearth.
Worldwide crises are beating on the door as properly. Oil costs are the very best they’ve ever been in historical past. The pandemic nonetheless looms giant. Local weather change has delivered the fifth cycle of failed rains and the specter of famine hovers over a lot of the nation. Impartial media has been hollowed out by state seize and financing crises. But none of that is on the electoral agenda. As an alternative, we’re being handled to a farce during which main candidates are each claiming the putative victories of the final 10 years whereas actively disavowing the identical authorities that they’ve been vocally and visibly part of.
(That is the half the place you say: “But it surely may very well be worse, at the least you’re not Different Nation X!”. It may very well be worse, but it surely must be higher and that’s the objective of democracy.)
This election isn’t attention-grabbing, and it’s intellectually dishonest to count on us to contort ourselves into pretending that it’s. An important issues in Kenyan democracy have already occurred or are occurring in locations that shallow, just-add-water storylines is not going to see; in between election cycles, outdoors the capital, inside native authorities, in establishments like commerce unions and protest actions. There may be nothing profound occurring on the nationwide degree – a constellation of males who have been handpicked for energy by an ageing autocrat and who’ve by no means had actual jobs utilizing a rustic to keep away from coping with no matter that reveals about how they’ve chosen to dwell. Contorting this second to go well with this endless seek for a conflict of titans is a boring and uninspiring distraction from the actual work of democracy. We’re bored. We’ve been at this for at the least 30 years. Thirty years of watching the identical forged of characters circle round one another, promising the world and delivering chaos. Thirty years of pretending that after we’re finished preventing one another they gained’t meet up on the nation membership and smile at one another from throughout the bars that we aren’t allowed to enter. Thirty years of pretending that their youngsters don’t attend the identical faculties or play in the identical polo golf equipment. We’re bored.
And that needs to be all proper. Necessary issues might be boring – they typically are. Maybe the most important mistake the world has made is to lean into the glamourisation of politics. The collective embrace of the concept that politics is meant to be entertaining has led us down a rabbit gap that has culminated in cultures of misinformation, inordinate spending, and the collapse of essential conversations into content material. Perhaps this concept that politics is an countless repository of content material and media fodder is the explanation why the politics of so many nations has descended into showmanship and pantomime. Perhaps politics is simply speculated to be onerous and boring.
I’ll vote as a result of my grandparents and great-grandparents have been denied the vote by a racist colonial authorities, and that is the least I can do to honour their reminiscence. However I accomplish that figuring out that voting and elections don’t a democracy make. Permit me to forged my ballots whereas stifling a yawn and studying a e book, refusing to reply 19 questions on “dynastic competitors and primordial hatred”. Essentially the most attention-grabbing factor about democracy in Kenya isn’t this election.
The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.