Our Turn to Eat: The shame that is vote buying culture


Voters queue at Dandora Primary School in Nairobi County during UDA nominations on April 14, 2022.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The Voter, a scorching and elegiac short story that brings out some of the evils of Nigeria’s electoral system.
  • Achebe clearly loved and waxed nostalgic about Nigeria but it obviously tormented him like an abusive lover.

“Chief the Honourable Marcus Ibe was not unprepared. He had drawn five months’ salary in advance, changed a few hundred pounds into shining shillings and armed his campaign boys with eloquent little jute bags... Roof was the most trusted of these campaigners.

"We have a Minister from our village, one of our own sons," he said to a group of elders in the house of Ogbuefi Ezenwa, a man of high traditional title… "We believe every word you say to be true," said Ezenwa.

"We shall, every one of us, drop his (ballot) paper for Marcus… Tell Marcus he has our papers, and our wives’ papers too. But what we do say is that two shillings is shameful." He brought the lamp close and tilted it at the money before him as if to make sure he had not mistaken its value.

"Yes, two shillings is too shameful… Marcus is a great man and does his things like a great man… today is our day; we have climbed the iroko tree today and would be foolish not to take down all the firewood we need.’”

These words are from Chinua Achebe’s, The Voter, a scorching and elegiac short story that brings out some of the evils of Nigeria’s electoral system. Nigeria haunted Achebe all his life. He wrote with urgency and a peculiar restlessness. 

He must have felt like the German soldier-poet Erich Dwinger who had been haunted by Soviet Russia, a country he had fought in during the Second World War. He writes in Wiedersehen mit Sowjet-Russland (A Date with Soviet Russia) as he crossed into the country after the war to tread again on Russian soil:

“In a few minutes I shall feel under my feet that secret land which I loved as much as I hated it; which satisfied me as no other country did and yet let me hunger as none had done before… in whose hot deserts I had thirsted and in whose icy tundras I had wept because of the cold … that (land) which robbed me of five years of my young life but which repaid me ten-fold with a wealth of experiences… The long-forgotten smells came back: old leather mixed with the odour of sour bread, the stink of coarse Russian tobacco and there was also a new smell, a gamey odour, the sort of smell met with in gypsies…. most noticeable among the captured Mongolian troops”.

Like the way Russia followed and stuck with Dwinger, Nigeria followed Achebe everywhere he went — even when living in the United States of America — the memories of its people, soil, smells, sights and sounds stuck with him as he continued writing about them.

Achebe clearly loved and waxed nostalgic about Nigeria but it obviously tormented him like an abusive lover — he spent his time excoriating the country’s swashbuckling and swaggering politicians, highlighting in fretful retrospective drift the floating anxieties of a newly-independent country and capturing the fractures, splinters, fadings, erasures and complex contours of the country’s economic, cultural and political landscape.

The Voter is a story that accurately captures what is happening in several parts of Kenya as we head to the August 2022 general elections. Funny, deftly constructed and intelligently refreshing, The Voter confronts one of the issues that bedevils our political culture: vote-buying. In the earlier-quoted paragraph, the voters expect to be paid before they can vote for Marcus. They expect to get as much “firewood from the iroko tree” (money) as possible in exchange for their votes; it’s their turn to eat.

And that’s a problem that Kenyan political aspirants asking for votes are facing. In some places, political aspirants are told to their faces that they shouldn’t expect any votes if they don’t “part with something”. This has led to several problems.

The first problem is that people who aspire to be politicians are forced to amass a lot of wealth; sometimes even through dubious means so that when the time comes to face the electorate, they can have “something to give”. This encourages corruption.

Worse still, after they get into office, some politicians become even more corrupt to make enough money to buy votes in the next electoral cycle. This culture of vote-buying is one of the things that encourages endemic corruption; aspirants know it’s sometimes very hard to win without dishing out money to prospective voters. Reportedly, a few politicians have won without dishing out money to the electorate but that’s most likely the exception.

The second problem due to a culture of vote-buying is what was described by Aaron Erlich, a Canadian professor, when he wrote that, “Vote buying breaks the link between candidate performance and winning elected office.

It leads to decreases in the quality of services provided by the government. In other words, vote-buying is a problem because the most suitable candidates may not win office, and the candidates that win will not be the best candidates to represent the interests of their voters”. We should shun the culture of asking for or accepting money from politicians in exchange for our votes. Our votes are our passports to the Kenya we want. We should therefore properly vet and choose leaders carefully, reflectively, and intentionally.


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