Kenya and Elections Lemonade

Kenya held elections recently. The process itself was largely peaceful. There were countable incidents of disturbance, but hey, Rome was not built in a day. Voters turned out in large numbers forming queues of unprecedented lengths. (Although word on the street is that Coop Bank members are used to such…I digress). The patience with which Kenyans waited for the results (elections were held on Monday and results were officially announced on Saturday) is something to write many a journal articles about. The only problem is that the status quo carried they day.

If social media and daily conversations were anything to go by, then Kenya would have a different president- somebody new if you will- or at the very least someone with a SMART plan of moving the country forward. Instead we have an old guard-in the sense that he has been recycled through the political machine a number of times. Moreover, the president-elect and his deputy have cases pending against them at the ICC. I guess that’s the something new in our presidency.

The results of this election made one thing clear- we, as a nation, are several election cycles away from issue-based politics. The ongoing discussions about the presidential results in print, broadcast and social media emphasize our tendency to vote along ethnic lines. We are of the mentality that our lives will only get better if a person from our community is in a key leadership position.

Our previous presidents are partly responsible for this. Their presidencies were all based on patronage. Positions of power were allocated not to the qualified but those who had pledged undying allegiance. They assumed office and immediately forgot that they were sworn in as “President of Kenya” and not “President of Region X.” They went about developing their towns and those that their cronies belonged to. All the while we sat and watched. At the end of the day we left believing that the only way our communities would be uplifted is if our fellow tribesman is the president.

The tactic employed by the previous presidents was perhaps a self-preservation mechanism. However, it isolated communities from each other, created animosity, brewed fear and fueled an ethnic divide that will take generations to bridge. By so doing, these presidents and their shadows cemented our “it’s our turn to eat” mentality. A mentality that has further been solidified by the utterances of leaders who thrive on divisive politics. Think about it, a few individuals have done this to our country.  Why do we continuously let them? Why do we allow them to turn us against each other? Are we really that afraid of getting rid of the status quo?

We held our first presidential debate this year. Did anyone ever think we would see the day when all the presidential aspirants would gather in one room and present their case? I certainly didn’t. It was a great moment to be Kenyan! Such pride we all felt. Millions tuned in to hear what the aspirants had to say. They were prepared too. Sure there were some fumbles and allergic-to-answering-questions moments but for the most part they took it seriously. For the first time it seemed that they finally understood that Kenyans hold the key to State House.

During that debate period voters seemed to be more interested in the proposed solutions to our country’s issues rather than ethnic allegiance. Post-debate discussions  were vibrant, complete with analyses of the feasibility of each candidate’s action plan. Change was imminent. So what happened between the debates and Election Day?

Well, some call it the tyranny of numbers. Others claim that the election was simply a referendum against the ICC. There are several other theories out there. The jury is still out on this blogger’s theory.

We have already seen what our leaders are capable of. It’s time for us to hold them accountable- all of them not just the president and his deputy. We need to take the initiative to find out what they promised and ensure that they deliver. It’s time to speak out against injustices not just against our fellow tribesmen but against Kenyans. The effects of poverty, illiteracy, human rights abuse and underdevelopment do not discriminate based on tribe.

Yes, the status quo carried the day, but by holding them accountable we can ensure that the days of empty promises are well behind us. We can put every aspiring politician on notice – let them know that leadership is for serious contenders and it’s no longer an avenue for self-enrichment. All the institutions we say we want to change/reform are run by human beings. Once we change our individual mindsets then we will be able to change institutions.

We have a long way to go as a country but I believe that change starts with each of us. We can no longer afford to leave the future of our country in the hands of a select few. As Dida said, “I have seen tough life until I got tired. Everyday things would get tougher until I gave myself two options – either flee the country or remain and become an agent of change. I chose the latter.”

The candidates who won (whether it was your preferred candidate or not) made many promises. We collectively have to ensure that they keep each and every one of them. Keep a scorecard and call them out on their lies. In the next election, pull out the scorecard and take note of who did what, when and how. Then use your vote to show the jokers exactly where the door is. The ballot revolution has only begun. Yes, this is definitely one of those make lemonade out of lemons moments.
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