Pound of Flesh: Elections, Electorate, and Echelons.
Updated: Nov 11, 2022
The moment of truth is upon Kenyans as throngs queue to cast their vote today.
RAYMOND B. KANIU
An election offers a nation the opportunity to measure the growth or deterioration of a country’s ability to select leaders as much as it is an indicator of who is to lead (the elected), the voters (electorate), and the period of leadership (echelon) for the agreed term according to the law and the social contract therein. Those elected will exact their weight in legislation and provide the checks and balances of governance needed within the three branches i.e. judiciary, executive, and legislature.
Kenya has come a long way since independence and has risen above the main argument against independence by the Legislative Council of Kenya (LegCo) that Kenyans were not ready to self-rule. The sweeping pressure around the continent at the time - notwithstanding the valiant efforts of those who bled for independence and those who negotiated for it - led to the British handing over the country back to the people. Those who were in the loop, the independence heroes, were also the first to receive land ownership and the privilege to choose the land location and size. It is why most independence leaders were/are some of the wealthiest landowners in Africa. Time has revealed and corrected some of those errors while creating new ones. Like Rome, Kenya will not be built in a day and it has been and will continue to be a journey across generations to realize her full potential.
Prior to independence, Kenya was economically ahead of nations like Malaysia, whose economy presently stands ahead of Kenya. Of course, paths to development since that time have been different and to compare would be futile. But it begs a thought of why and what happened to slow that growth over the same period. Approximately six decades removed from independence, Kenya has began to take the true responsibility of her actions, or lack thereof, in propelling herself forward. Especially at a time when a change of guard in the makeup of presidential candidates is taking place. A massive part of that realization is how, who, and why we elect the leaders we choose to lead us to Canaan.
Earlier elections were branded by ethnic factions, unfulfilled campaign promises, violence, and a long tenure of the one affectionately known by his three-letter name - Moi. Some of those elements still ring true but are gradually fading and ushering in a more demanding front against a backdrop of a youthful and technologically savvy population using modern tools to hold leaders accountable. Moreover, the world is inundated with too much information in terms of campaign promises/pledges, smearing stunts, unchecked facts, misinformation etc., but no filters or a way to formulate a perspective based on the information presented. How the public receives information has changed. Communities that pressured their own to vote for someone based on their family or friend’s choices have the option to use different sources of information, which should remarkably improve how we perceive leadership and make decisions at the ballot. Almost everyone now has an opinion about anything and a complaint about everything, making it more difficult to convince the public. The elections are still not ideal with occasional interruptions as reported yesterday in Mombasa and Kakamega, but they have improved remarkably. The new generation of ICT practitioners - Kenya being the first country in Africa to include coding in both primary and secondary curricula - hold promise of utilizing emerging technologies like blockchain to facilitate incorruptible elections in the near future.
The makeup of the presidential candidates has not changed much, but it also appears like this will be the last election to include the old guards, a reference to both age and era. The resilience of one who is running for the same number of times as years that he will potentially be president is on full display and now that he doesn’t have any opposition from his peers from the old guard, he might have a chance. The other, a harbinger, in its mildest form, of what is to come. Of course, their age is also indicative, and against the medium age of bursting youthfulness, a modern rebelliousness casts a shadow in the next years of presidency. It will give way to a wider representation of that demographic. The counties too and their constituencies will also be voting for their local leaders. An eclectic mix of candidates from Mombasa to Lokichokio and from Mandera to Migori.
Kenyan politicians are some of the most well paid in the world and the allure of running for office has taken more of a monetary motivation than an intrinsic one over time. A growing trend across the world, which produces lackluster leadership in the same way one can tell a teacher who is teaching out of passion as opposed to the salary at the end of the month. That is why discontentment of leaders by the electorate a few years into their term is most evident in global communities. In the last elections a candidate openly admitted that he was interested in running for MCA for the money and the business connections it would bring. One would have expected the primary reason to be because he wanted to develop the constituency and leave it in better shape than he found it. Across the board, such is the character of those voted into power. They seduce the public with their words and deter them with their lack of action. However, there are a precious few who end up developing their constituencies and fulfilling their promises.
Curiously, what kind of leaders would run for office if we took their salaries and pensions off the table. It could put a twist on elections and campaign practices. It would foster a campaign reverse innovation, with candidates having to prove themselves through pure leadership motivations. If only wishes were horses, we would all be riding in chariots. Corporations too should be part of the electorate due to the large influence they have on elections before, during, and after campaigns. You will find, upon closer scrutiny, that more elected leaders around the world spend more time during their tenure trying to win the next election - campaigning and “fundraising”- than fulfilling their promises. Whether that is the fault of the electorate, or the elected remains debatable; but what is clear is that the electorate mirrors the elected, and vice versa. Bad and good leaders do not elect themselves. What constitutes bad or good leadership is both subjective and objective. What we choose to pay attention to becomes us.
Other factors at play include an increasing public debt, a declining value of education, youth unemployment, a changing national identity, regional integration through the East African Federation, bilateral and multilateral agreements, and a streak of global creeping crises like climate change that would render the duration of this reading longer than the reader’s attention might allow. Suffice it to say, the new leadership will have a tall mountain to climb, and it is the public’s hope that the elected will have the lungs for it because leading in this era will be the most difficult in modern history. But Kenyans are built for marathons and channeling Kipchoge will require training.
The majority of the population is young and has often cited that the leaders in place are out of touch with their reality. The age difference of leadership and the general population suggests that those in power may not be around to inherit the fruits of their work and would not express the same tenacity as one who would. Changes in this echelon will occur faster than our ability to react to them. Reconciling these differences and planning for both the short-term and the long-term will be key. What the elected should do is create a strong foundation for the next election cycle so that those who take over could build higher and farther than their predecessors. It is of considerable importance to material progress.
In the words of Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, “We trifle time: I pray thee, pursue sentence.” To which Portia replies: “A pound of that same merchant's flesh is thine: The court awards it, and the law doth give it.” So go out there and get your pound of flesh.