The current crisis of trust in the government, the electoral commission, the courts, the opposition, groups, and even the general public is worrying.
This is not a good diagnosis with only a year to the General Election.
The recent by-elections in Malindi and Kericho provided the clearest of signs that trust levels in multiple sectors of the Kenyan society are terribly low.
Trust is a necessary condition for democracy to thrive and for the county’s stability.
While some level of mistrust is to be expected as an outcome of political competition, the troubling reality in Kenya is that critical institutions are suffering dangerous haemorrhage of public trust.
The stripping of a woman in Malindi was not just a crime, but was the clearest evidence of high levels of public mistrust.
The public believed that specific people were determined to undermine the credibility of the vote.
Even if found to have some truth, the idea of dishing out cash to sway people you do not know seems preposterous.
But the existence of such perceptions speaks also to mistrust of the electoral process.
For its part, the manner in which the State dramatised its power through the use of troops is not a good sign in improving State-civil relations.
It erodes political trust. In Kericho, Kanu, which lost the election, questioned “the efficient” speed of transmitting the results.
While few politicians accept electoral loss, the fact that Kanu’s claims garnered front page news coverage, such as one where it alleged that a formula ensured that every vote cast for the JAP candidate was multiplied by 1.5, is a harsh indictment of the declining trust levels even in sectors such as the media, which formerly enjoyed immense public confidence.
The truth of the matter is that we are headed into one of Kenya’s most important elections with our trust levels almost at rock bottom.
Calls for the overhaul of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) are increasing.
Although some of the reasons have more to do with “winner-loser effect”, a situation where election winners have higher trust levels with poll bodies than losers and allegations of graft within IEBC are unhelpful.
The IEBC’s former and current top officials are currently shuffling between Anniversary Towers and Integrity Centre to shed light on allegations of corruption and “tenderpreneurship”.
Ironically, the body investigating their alleged malfeasance, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), is equally wrestling with its own demons, with perceptions rife that it is more of a confessional box, where accused persons enter with the burden of guilt and leave cleansed of their many sins.
Tellingly, opposition leader Raila Odinga has assured his supporters that he will never come to them again complaining of stolen votes after “turning the other cheek in 2007 and 2013”.
The implication is chilling. The opposition has possibly ruled out taking its case before the Supreme Court.
While these sentiments unsettle, they are not without justification. The Supreme Court is embroiled in the worst crises since its formation after allegations of bribery were levelled against a judge. It has massively lost public trust.
Matters have not been helped by the statements of both the President and the Chief Justice who, speaking separately to international audiences, lamented widespread theft in the country and a State captive to “cartels and economic banditry”.
First, it is disheartening when our leaders make public statements that undercut their own legacies.
Second, while Kenyans have a right to question the decisions and direction some critical institutions are taking, the problem with these institutions can be reducible to individuals.
These are the people we should punish. It is reckless to generalise. I have confidence that there are good, hardworking people in the institutions currently suffering a loss in public trust.
Calls to overhaul IEBC or the Supreme Court do not help nurture institutional growth, but rather delay their growth. Still, these bodies must work harder to earn public confidence.
Indeed, all Kenyans must come to the reality that if the country falters yet again, as it did in 2007/2008, no one will be spared the aftershocks. Great nations tenaciously and patiently cultivate trust. We must not despair on ours.
Dr Omanga is a Fellow at the Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge, and teaches media studies at Moi University. [email protected]