civic education
Caption for the landscape image:

Education matters in governance

Scroll down to read the article

There is a place and time for robust education to impart in citizens, young and old, the simple fundamentals which go a long way to elevate our discourse, deepen our democracy.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Reflecting on governance in general, and on the vexed subject of corruption in particular, inexorably impels attention in the direction of two salient phenomena, and firmly tethers it there.

Consequently, they have become extremely potent and irritating emblems of the obscene and intensely provocative advertisements of vulgar misconduct, flagrant impunity and intolerable lack of moral bearings.

Certainly, these phenomena deserve deeper investigation. For instance, understanding the nature and causes of the chronic ideological pathology inherent in the political culture. This culture is defined by a tolerance for the perverse understanding that stark cash-based electoral transaction can be a viable substitute for discourse on issues and political mobilisation based on reasoned engagement, and the overt conviction that incumbency confers impunity in terms of limitless latitude for the arbitrary abuse of public power and resources.

These two logics are connected. Our elections are critical junctures to reaffirm and renew the social contract, which entails the exchange of fundamental obligations between the electors and the elected. This exchange requires the parties to engage on the basis of full information and a mutual understanding of every facet of the contract. Free expression and rational mechanisms of campaigning are fundamental. Such structures enable responsible citizens and conscientious leaders to use the democratic process in advancing the common good.

Sacrosanct mechanism

Over time, this sacrosanct mechanism was hacked with a moneybags movement of cynical political operatives, who distract the community from reasoned engagement and on the issues that ought to constitute the proper terms of the social contract, and divert its attention into meaningless spectacle and inutile histrionics. The result has turned democracy into a contest to determine who will stage the most awful din, splash the most cash and degrade themselves with the most tragic displays of revolting vacuity.

The immediate result of this system is a collapse of representative democracy, because the agents not only have no understanding with the principal to guide their operations, they also lack the capacity to discharge their office. A legislature of mute tribesmen whose reflexive attitude to public issues is to vote “yes” is a cardinal instance off this failure. The quality of public policy and service delivery suffers since there is no prospect of meaningful input from agents explicitly mandated to provide leadership in this respect.

The other malignant consequence is that the leader elected through this charade operates on the incorrigible conviction that they purchased tenure for value, and have thereby become exclusive masters and proprietors of an illimitable mandate to do as they wish.

This conviction is reinforced by the disingenuous misapprehension of the nature and purpose of democratic competition itself, according to which the idea of “the public” represents power and resources that subsist without a defined owner, and are absolutely invested by the fact of incumbency upon the winner of an election. Thus, authority and funds under an elected leader's control are in reality personal resources to be dispensed according to their whim and fancy.

Without a working grasp of what “the public” constitutes, defining corruption as reprehensible transgression in a way many politicians can appreciate, is work in futility. The idea that public authority and resources are not at their exclusive disposal goes against the incumbent's conditioning. That explains the difficulty in appreciating the seriousness of corruption, and the instinctive responses: that they won an election, and that there is no complainant and accuser to the extent that the abused resources are without a known discrete owner. It also explains why many politicians see corruption charges as fundamentally political, and outrageous victimisation of elected leaders.

Political mobilisation

The reason for aggressive political mobilisation to thwart anti-corruption efforts, is that an effective onslaught against corruption effectively degrades the primary incentives for seeking elective office, and reverts politicians to contend with a social contract they cannot comprehend.

Finally, one might ask why politicians seek visibility through displays of dazzling extravagance and the exhibition of flamboyant consumption. At the root of the failure is a deficient education, including moral enlightenment which deprives a person, otherwise endowed with immense wealth, of an appreciation of both aesthetic and utilitarian implications of various articles, leaving them to resort to the shortcut of employing price as a proxy for value and quality. This is why acquisitions must first and foremost be reputed to be exorbitant, and their appropriateness is invariably a secondary consideration.

There is a place and time for robust education to impart in citizens, young and old, the simple fundamentals which go a long way to elevate our discourse, deepen our democracy, enhance political agency and promote governance, and it is here and now.

The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya