Saturday, March 9, 2013



By P. Anyang' Nyong'o

10th. March, 2013

I watched on the IEBC screen as the Presidential Election results were being announced. I saw Paul Muite somewhere towards the tail end of the results, obviously with no sign of ever climbing to the top ranks. My friend Gitobu Imanyara had called a few days earlier and had conceded defeat, calmly explaining how messy the whole voting process was, and the counting was even worse. We now waited for the final results of the presidential tally.

I started wondering about what we did in the eighties, nineties and since the advent of multi-party politics. Why all our attempts to get state power have not succeeded. I was thinking about the noble ideals that have brought changes to this country, the commitment of the people who preached these ideals and the final incorporation of these ideals into the constitution that we have today. Why can't there be a combination of prevailing ideals and idealists wielding state power? Is this combination possible to achieve through democratic elections during a transition from authoritarian to a democratic regime?

A new generation will have to come up in Kenya which will continue the process of democratic transformation of our politics to make social progress have social democratic content. That must be the permanent agenda of all progressive social forces. But then this requires real political organization beyond the formal political parties. A consciousness that change is people- based, and that organizations are simply a reflection of the interests of the people, is important. In this regard the progressive nationalists who organized movements for independence had much greater awareness of reaching the souls of the people and unmasking retrogressive ethnic consciousness than we have today. But then what happened when they acquired state power?

The discovery of oil, coal and other minerals creates a big problem for us and complicates the transition to democracy. Authoritarian regimes simply solidify their rule when they have access to oil wealth and use it as largesse to spread to the middle class in exchange for the compliance of this class. It is easy when you have tremendous wealth to play around with, and in a society where a substantial number in the middle class is hungering for primitive accumulation, to perpetuate what appears as a legitimate regime. It is also much easier to legitimize this regime periodically through state controlled elections from time to time. That perhaps spells our future.

Creating a majority through semi competitive elections has never been a problem in such societies. Mexico did it for a long time under the Institutionalized Revolutionary Party. Other examples are to be found nearer us at home. The question is: does this really worry a substantial number of people to make possible the coming into being of a string political movement to implement real transition to democracy?

Ghana set a good example after several years of military rule and semi competitive elections. One hopes the experiences of the recent election does not take us back. Mozambique's experience is worth paying attention to. More interesting is the long experience that Mauritius has had with democracy and socio-economic progress. But here comes the issue of elites, their values and their culture.

In East Africa only Julius Nyerere stands out as a President who went out of his way to create a national elite with a national political culture, a step which was cardinal in nation building and in laying the foundation for democratic politics eventually. What happened after Nyerere died is a different story, but Tanzanians still have a head start in creating a modern nation if only the elites could expand the sphere of democratic political culture and institutionalize it.

The language of politics is equally important. Here in Kenya now we have the language and we are looking for the practice. The constitution is written in the right language, says the right things and hopes that a culture will be built using this language and institutions will be created to implement this language. People will also come to power who speak and believe in this language.

So far we have a believable chief justice. His whole adult career has been a search for democracy and a struggle to bring democracy to our nation. He now heads an institution which must speak, practice and live by this language if aggrieved Kenyans are to see the benefits of speaking this language. But he is one too few in the judiciary. Is there a possibility that he may find himself a loner in a place where formally people accept the language but in reality they don't speak it?

We are in for challenging times in our country. Very challenging. Perhaps more challenging than most people imagine. But it is our country and we must live here, toil here and die here. But one thing is certain: the struggle for any form of change is always the responsibility of very few people, and these few, in whichever society, must always be found somewhere. As Vladimir Lenin once wrote: "better fewer but better". A luta continua.