Chaotic party primaries: what’s wrong with Kenyan politics

It all started with the ODM primaries last month. When the party set out to hold primaries across the country to fill out its roll of candidates, it claimed the exercise would be free and fair, and would proceed smoother than butter over stiff toast. Instead, we all witnessed the exercise get bogged down by constant chaos, sporadic violence and more than one loss of life. Almost none of the primaries the party held across the country ended smoothly.

Predictably, invectives were tossed around, and Jubilee sympathisers promised that their party, for being the more civilised side, would show everyone what successful nominations ought to look like. Then, when the time came for the promised example to be given, Jubilee officials and pundits found that excuses are easier to give than example. Jubilee, too, found itself unable to hold smooth nominations. Again, there was constant chaos, sporadic violence, and more than one loss of life.

In hindsight, one realises that there is very little difference across the political divide, at least when it comes to the way the business of politics is carried out. Both sides are messy, self-serving and devoid of all semblance and appreciation of human dignity. This common malaise is rooted in the effective separation of politics from its purpose; it started when politics stopped being a noble call to service and became, instead, a means of escape from squalor for winning candidates.

For what else can explain the – frankly ridiculous – numbers of political aspirants vying for the already numerous political posts? Could it be that all these people suddenly got stung by the service bug, or is it not that most of them witnessed the changing fortunes of those who have held political office for just four years, while their own fortunes stayed the same – both symptoms of a dysfunctional democracy – and wished to take the same quick route to affluence?

Is it therefore any wonder that the self-interest of these people should create an environment where loss is counted as theft, loyalty is bought and sold by the shilling, dirty tricks are praised for their deftness, and political stands are waived to give free passes to preferred candidates? Does it then surprise you that, once such a shoddy foundation was laid, the edifice of democracy so easily crumbled before our very eyes?

I do not wish to make sweeping generalisations, and I apologise if the foregoing sound like sweeping generalisations. There are, indeed, good politicians out there. And there were moments of sheer nobility and brilliance speckled across the disaster that was the primaries; like when some losers conceded defeat without (betraying their) bitterness. But it would be unwise of anyone, yours truly included, to deny that there is something seriously wrong with our politics.

That we each accuse one side of these ills while excusing the other of the same only serves to highlight our biases, rather than offer any real contributions to the conversation on how matters can be rectified. In fact, the tendency to trade accusations is a potent illustration of the malaise which plagues our political scene. This is what gave rise to the shambolic primaries we have just witnessed and it is seriously disappointing that we pretend not to realise this.

I think we have come to expect too little from politicians. We have stopped expecting nobility, courage and self-sacrifice from them. Instead, now we stretch out our palms for cash handouts, give our ears to ridiculous propositions, and open our hearts to bombastic statements so devoid of meaning, they ring hollower than the tin bells hanging around the necks of zebu cattle (just one of which, by the way, might prove far more valuable than all our politicians combined).

Collectively, we have birthed a toxic political environment that threatens to snuff out the oxygen from our lungs. If we truly love this country, as we flamboyantly proclaim on our Facebook pages and WhatsApp messages, we need to take solid steps to rectify the situation, to course-correct our political narrative. The only other way is downwards; a slide into ever murkier political discourses, ever dirtier pronouncements, ever harsher insults and ever more shameful displays of our own collective ignorance.

Luckily, the nominations are now over and things have become a bit calm once again. But don’t get carried away. This is the calm before the storm, the breath before the plunge. So, breathe freely while you can, because the political temperature is about to rise. And it will rise so fast, it might boil you over if you are not prepared to handle it.

One more thing: remember the rectification I talked about just two paragraphs ago? If we don’t pursue it, Kenya is a political train-wreck waiting to happen.

Feature image: The Standard.

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