You know it is an election year when every public statement is contested and every private conversation is laced with cautionary or explanatory remarks. Last weekend, the Catholic Church launched its civic education material to be used during the five weeks of Lent – booklets entitled Peaceful and Credible Elections.
However, no sooner had the elegantly-designed booklets come off the printing press than complaints emerged about the choice of title. Some opined that the title should have been ‘Credible and Peaceful Elections’. They said that the only way to guarantee a peaceful outcome is a credible, fair and professional ballot. Others opined that Jubilee wants peaceful elections while Nasa is more concerned about a credible vote.
Pope Paul VI once said that peace is the fruit of justice. Today, Kenya is so polarised that even a fair ballot is no guarantee of a peaceful conclusion. No wonder then that many families are planning to relocate during August and that two million Kenyans did not even bother registering as voters. The penchant to use threats and violence has become so regular that we can definitely expect localised violence in the run-up to party nominations at the end of next month. This is already evident in Mount Elgon, Baringo and Kerio Valley.
There are wards with up to 50 candidates vying for the position of MCA. The aspirants have mostly heard about the easy money and overseas junkets. There will be less tension and interest in the positions of Woman Representative, Senator and MP. However, we can expect a lot of friction around the contests for County Governors. The incumbents have the advantage and the cash to campaign while still in office while many fancy being driven around like mini-presidents with a host of outriders.
Noteworthy is the final piece in the Catholic civic education programme, which dwells on ‘Leaders of Integrity’. Ultimately that is what the church and nation wants and needs. After all the campaigning, nominations and voting will we get another bunch of crooks or could this ballot provide us with decent, honest, humble, hardworking leaders? In other words, could our vote really bring about change or should we just stay at home?
Judging by what has happened in the last decade, Kenyans of integrity, excellence, experience and proven ability are spurning public life. This is illustrated not only at the ballot but in the appointment to constitutional commissions and high public offices. Commissions, as a result, are dominated by mediocrity and rent seekers depending on patronage for appointments while hopping from commission to commission. This, of course, suits the Executive who are happy with weak commissions with low budgets who do not challenge abuse of office.
It all appears rather hopeless. However, the whole aim of the Lenten campaign is to call citizens to engage in public matters. Citizens need to rediscover their power and ability to set the agenda. They are not mere spectators or helpless victims, but parents and citizens who must speak out, take the heat out of campaigns and tame the hatemonger. The majority must not be intimidated by a handful of treacherous politicians. Good civic education always empowers the weak and disturbs the powerful.