The world must laugh at us. Our leaders are suffocating in a wild jungle dance, nervously competing to register voters. It is a matter of life and death. For the past two weeks, Kenya’s political kingpins have been feverishly running amok in their tribal backyards, whipping up aboriginal sentiments, petitioning populations to register.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) kick-started the process in a fashion reminiscent of where the Christian Good Book says, “In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. And all went out to be registered, each to his own town (Luke 2:1).”
“And President Uhuru also went up from State House Nairobi to Central Kenya to be registered. For, he was of the house and lineage of Mount Kenya. And Raila Odinga went out to Kisumu and to Siaya. And Kalonzo Musyoka . . . . (Luke 2 : 4 – 5).” The country has been cast into an urgent frenzy, hunting for an ethnic tyranny of numbers.
Without the voter’s card, you cannot be allowed to drink. You may not even ride on a hazardous motorbike, christened boda boda. Nor can you take the Christian Holy Communion. A man is not allowed to partake of suspended congress with a woman – not even if she is his lawfully wedded wife. You must be excused to imagine that you are married to a ballot box.
Amidst the frenzy is a two-month old doctors’ strike, with no end in sight. Public universities’ lecturers went on strike a week ago. Nobody seems to be interested in where this will end up. But the pick of the basket is the drought and famine ravaging diverse parts of the country. Millions are at the risk of dying of famine. Compared to the need to register voters, however, these are not important concerns. You can enjoy your congress and crown it with the Feast of the Eucharist, if you want.
Is it the case of the fabled country that had parodies for managers with sleepwalking followers? The country’s public hospitals have shut down for two months. Nobody knows how many people have died as a result. Nobody gives you any figures. Yet the people and their leaders tremble and itch to find out which tribe has registered more voters than the rest.
To paraphrase British writer and statesman, Sir Harold G. Nicholson (1886 – 1968), our political class is “a bunch of mere hucksters in the market of governance, battering the happiness of millions with a scented smile.” For their part, the citizens are sheep staring in the eye of a Zombie Apocalypse, but still expecting to survive. We are the dead.
We are morally, intellectually and emotionally dead. The world is increasingly getting safe for democracy. Yet, as Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928) would say, Kenyans still wallow in “re-robbing the earth’s wormy dynasties in their old gilt, to dazzle anew the globe.”
Hence, President Kenyatta finds the time to sing in mother tongue on a regional radio station, but none to go to Turkana to witness the plight of the famished. When he eventually makes it to Marsabit, it is not to fellowship with the miserable, but to seek votes – from the starving and the dying. He gravitates in the safe havens of the town centres, insulated from the harsh realities of the scorching hunger. Oh, how Kenya must miss Moi!
But if the ruling top brass has upturned priorities, so too is the political opposition. Someday they will be sitting somewhere, wondering how they lost golden opportunities. Kenya’s opposition lacks the killer instinct. When in hard times a country’s unmoved official leadership selfishly sinks into the innermost sanctums of its ancestral strongholds to galvanize an already subservient electorate, an informed opposition seizes the chance to strike.
Raila Odinga and his team lost the chance to descend on Marsabit, Turkana, Pokot and Baringo. They failed to take relief food to the starving and to glow in the media as Uhuru and Ruto mobilized their relatives to vote for them. I expected them to mobilize food donations from the Cord governors and from other well-wishers, to beat Jubilee at its own game.
Fancy this succession of images. First there is an agitated president and his deputy. They holler animatedly to clannish crowds. They implore them to come out in huge numbers, “to protect uthamaki.” They call everybody names and issue threats and innuendo.
Then comes a succession of images of opposition leaders, mingling with the wretched of the earth. When they are not in the famine zones, they are visiting hospitals across the country, addressing the plight of the sick. They meet with the striking medics and university dons. They plead with them to return to work. They promise to address the grievances once they ascend to power. With this, they would not even need to mobilize their own tribal mobs. However, wisdom is a lonely orphan.
Parliament began its final session like a moribund institution. It was business as usual. Amidst the crises in the food, education, health and leadership sectors, Parliament did not seek a motion of adjournment, to discuss on the emergencies in the country.
Governments are constituted to guarantee the security and happiness of the citizens. At independence, Kenya’s founders pledged to secure the country against poverty, ignorance and disease. When the country’s health, higher education and food sectors are in a mess, government has clearly failed.
Why do they want you to vote for them when they have already failed the test of leadership? In the words of the 28th US President, Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924), “Peoples and provinces should not be bandied about like pawns in a game.” Yet, everywhere in Kenya, the leaders trade them about with impunity. And their victims think that the presidency is a tribal trophy, an end in itself.