Kenya’s political eclipse: Part IV

Mass Action

Kisumu residents poured into Kisumu streets in their thousands in their second mass action that had been sanctioned by the Azimio la Umoja Coalition leader Raila Odinga.

Photo credit: Rushdie Oudia | Nation Media Group

Today, in Kenya’s Political Eclipse Part IV – my last instalment in this series – I focus on what must be done if Kenya is to have a prayer of ever becoming a democracy, or returning to the path of genuine experimentation with the project of democracy.

You’ve read the three prior pieces in this genre and so you already know I take a very dim view of Kenya’s political culture. Like most of my readers, I am a native of Kenya, and there’s nothing I would wish more than for the success of our country. But I am no fool, or liar – I am not so drunk with the Kool-Aid of patriotism that I can’t be critical of our country.

A patriot is a person who loves his country but who harshly critiques it when necessary. In particular, he, or she, must even foment revolution against his own state or government when it goes off the cliff of humanity. In fact, a citizen who doesn’t revolt against a savage and oppressive state is a traitor.

So is an apologist of dictatorship and a corrupt, murderous regime. It’s incumbent upon all citizens to stand up as one and say nyet to a corrupt, immoral and illegitimate regime. That’s because state power comes not from itself but from the citizen. That’s why the highest office in any country is that of the citizen, not any officer. We constitute the state.

Here, I outline the key imperatives that Kenyans must internalise to return to the path of democracy. First, we need as a country to develop a new moral code in our political culture and personal ethics. In other words, we need a new political identity.

Our moral fibre as a people lies in the toilet of political waste. And it starts in our homes and schools. We no longer teach our children what’s right and what’s wrong. Even when we do, we don’t mean it because they see us say one thing, and do another. We raise our children to mimic us and become hypocrites. We lie without flinching. As a country, we need to raise morally responsible citizens.

Second, as a people we must believe in something greater than ourselves. Everything can’t be about me, I, and myself. Everything can’t start and end with me. I can’t always put myself at the centre of the moral universe. Our runaway individualism wrapped in extreme egoism is our undoing.

That’s why we produce so many thieves, land grabbers and heartless people. We don’t often talk about the software of our being and yet without a moral compass a household, a community, an organisation, and a country are lost to the wilderness. We need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves who we are as a people. What’s our national character and zeitgeist? Who, in fact, is a Kenyan?

Highest democratic ideals

Third, we can have the most elegant constitutional and legal documents that spell chapter and verse the highest democratic ideals. Take for example, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and the Supreme Court, or the Judiciary writ large.

 There’s nothing inherently wrong in the design of both the IEBC and the Supreme Court, or any of the other important institutions of the rule of law and democracy. But we must remember that institutions, no matter how lofty, do not run themselves.

The norms that govern them must be brought to life by living, breathing persons. If officials live in a moral void, or are decrepit human beings, then nothing good can come out of those institutions. A drunk driver will kill you.

Fourth, we must practise the politics of ideology. Our politics suffers from the poverty of philosophy and the philosophy of poverty. In other words, we haven’t understood the two major political persuasions on which the modern democratic state is founded. In the republican model of state — out of which springs political democracy — there are generally two political orientations.

These are the right or the left with their permutations. The right creates a mean-spirited state devoid of empathy. A state governed by a political class beholden to rich corporate interests at the expense of the poor. The left seeks a thick welfare state that’s inclusive and committed to social democracy and social justice. It tames markets and the excesses of capitalism.

Lastly, no state in history has ever prospered without a great elite. Elites with a national purpose always understand what’s at stake. As long as states and boundaries exist, national elites must internalise their roles as the guardians of the democratic project to maximise the happiness for the largest majorities of their people.

This can’t happen without broad-based prosperity. In Kenya’s case, our elite suffer from acute myopia. Their minds are stunted by primordial ethnicity, which kills higher intellect. They use ethnicity to silo and enslave their communities. That’s why Kenya isn’t a nation but only a country with a state and government. That’s what we must overthrow.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School, The State University of New York. @makaumutua.