Democracy is a negotiated settlement

President Ruto with CASs at State House

President William Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Prime Cabinet Minister Musalia Mudavadi take a group photo with the 50 newly sworn-in chief administrative secretaries at State House, Nairobi on March 23, 2023.

Photo credit: PCS

Did you know that snakes have ticks? Some are blue in colour and are eventually transferred to cattle where they infest hard-to-reach spaces and cause serious illness because they are so poisonous. Enough to make your skin crawl.

I spent a day in a cattle market in Isiolo, the lower reaches of northern Kenya, feeding my insatiable curiosity about our country and mixing with those at the bottom, the ones that we have forgotten. 

I was particularly taken in by the role of women in the animal trade, where Rendille women — so tall, slender and with unbelievably long necks reminiscent of the Na’vi in Avatar — sometimes bringing only one sheep to the market, induce a vertiginous sensation by their unfamiliar proportions.

The luxury to walk the mud, jostle with traders, observe these ancient interactions bringing together many diverse tribes and cultures and see — but ignore — the discourse from this level, is a rare treat. I have no wish to spend the rest of my life in upcountry markets but I welcome the change of view.

I want to play the angel’s advocate about the country’s current predicament: those who think that talking to each other is bad are hotheads on Twitter or in government and protecting their sinecures. 

Democracy is a negotiated settlement, dialogue does not mean half loaf, it is how business is conducted. Their creeping sense of exclusion is as poisonous as those blue, snake ticks.

If you do not respect others and give no quarter, you will be popular only with the extreme wing of your base. The majority are moderate and are more comfortable with a reasonable, centrist and inclusive dispensation.

Appointing an election body without broad involvement is to guarantee that the outcome of the next election too will be contested.

Kenya Kwanza has instituted a truly fundamentalist winner-take-all form of government. In my neighbourhood back in the village alone, the number of career civil servants who have just been sacked “to create room for others”, if my neighbours are to be believed, is large. 

I have seen these folks giving me ‘the look’ — chin driven into the chest, the wide open eyes staring with intensity — they usually give before they shout: “Ng’ino Gitonga bring my panga!” A higher percentage of people in Meru voted for President Ruto last August than in Uasin Gishu. I don’t vote here, I am not part of the politics, and I certainly want no part of this emergent buyer’s remorse.

Courting trouble 

But I also do know that if you expect people to love their country, pay their taxes and so on, it is courting trouble to withhold the full benefits of citizenship on the basis of tribe or party affiliation.

The country never belongs to a ruling party, it belongs to everyone. In a system such as ours, for a government to exist, so must an opposition. The opposition are not a pariah or a political abomination, they are a necessary part of our system of government. 

The government is not tolerant; it does not appear to grant the minority the right to be heard or allow its own views to be moderated by dissenting voices.

Many people believed that 50 Chief Administrative Secretaries is not reasonable in the current environment, certainly not if those appointed are old election losers looking to live off the diminishing fat of the land. Neither has it demonstrated in deed its respect for the voter since it took over.

A government signals that it cares for the welfare of the voter by appointing a government of the best, the most competent and “cleanest”.

It’s a balance between rewarding loyalty and therefore minding its electoral future, and governing for the benefit of the voter. Kenya Kwanza has erred on the side of its own interests.

The people are hurting, the government is spending. There really is no other cause of inflation but the government's inability to control its expenditure. More than Sh800 million has gone to creature comforts – namely vehicles – and half a billion a month to the CASs, many of whom do not really need a salary from the public and the majority of whom will make little or no impact.

I am of the view that Kenya Kwanza over-communicates and is consequently over-exposed. People switch off from hearing promises over more promises, it erodes credibility and believability.

And credibility is the first rule of power. Any time a man of substance opens his mouth should be an event to behold, with the mass holding on to his every word. But this can’t happen if there is never a quiet moment.

The 2022 election, I am afraid, is not closed, the pronouncement of the Supreme Court notwithstanding and irrespective of the number of gongs hung on the chest of former IEBC boss Wafula Chebukati.

There are questions, puzzles and conspiracy theories which provide critics with footholds to continue to impeach the legitimacy of the government and you just can’t tear gas doubts out of their minds.

Maybe tear gas and protests are what people want. But if a country can’t sit down and argue over its disagreements, well then we have bigger problems than snake ticks.