Vote for the country, for future generations and posterity

Monday August 7 2017

By BITANGE NDEMO
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“I'd rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed.” 

These words by American evangelist, Robert Schuller, are very relevant on the eve of Kenya’s general election. 

After a botched election in 2007/2008, we had the courage to attempt to do something. We promulgated a new Constitution, which nearly everyone agrees is progressive, but it has had mixed outcomes.

Today, the entire world is watching us. It is for this purpose that in this article, I review post-2010 interventions to build a successive democracy and highlight successes and lessons to learn from where we have failed. 

To succeed as a people, failure is inevitable. However, it is the courage to continue attempting to succeed that leads to success. 

In the field of entrepreneurship, failure is celebrated because you will always learn from failure but never from success.

The implied objectives of Kenya’s constitutional changes were to address matters relating to equality, justice, individual liberties, national unity, and protection of the environment.

Vision 2030 was developed to address these issues. It has three overarching pillars, that is, Social, Political and Economic. Amid the cacophony of political vitriol, we have made tremendous achievement with respect to the implementation of the Vision. 

Save for new challenges that we must overcome, these successes include: devolved governments, judicial reforms, land reforms and public service transformation. Kenya enjoys greater individual freedoms than many African countries.

We also have made significant developmental strides in infrastructure, ICT and education with the removal of fees at primary and secondary level, as well as on the attainment of global development agenda targets.

Therefore, measured against Vision 2030 and constitutional objectives, Kenyans must be proud of their achievements.

UNILATERAL DECISIONS

There are, however, many other areas where we have failed.  First amongst our failures is the political process and it is driving reason for writing this article, as we choose those who will represent us for the next five years. 

It is often said that elected leaders are a reflection of society. The same holds true for the media. As we approach the general election, the air is palpable with tension and copious amounts of intrigue, and no side is losing.

Interestingly, this is a situation where the employer, who in this case is the voter, gets the short end of the stick. 

Our employees, especially in Parliament, let us down as they set their own levels of remuneration, made unilateral decisions that affect the employer without consultation, have no performance appraisal mechanism to which they subscribe, terrorise their employers through neglect and incompetence and selfishness, and do not report on progress.

The records with the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) show many have been hurling insults at their employers while others cheer them on. Curious indeed.

HOPELESS EXASPERATION

Tomorrow we must remember that because democracy or governance is a social contract that places certain people in certain positions to enable them serve those who put them there, it is important that they be selected with the utmost care.

However, the current performance of leaders across the divide, which is normally judged by their rhetoric, has left the electorate with a sense of hopeless exasperation. 

This is further compounded by our tendency to retreat into tribal enclaves, through which we will vote for anyone who appeals to our base ethnic instincts.

With the introduction of universal free primary education, support for secondary school education and the availability of loan facilities for tertiary education, the voter should ideally have become more discerning in his or her choice of leaders.

In addition, the internet connectivity we enjoy as a country should enable us to benchmark with best practices globally. We can draw lessons from countries like Switzerland whose system is simple, developmental and equitable, to the extent that it doesn't matter who the president is. 

We also have a lot to learn from the United States, where independent institutions have stopped the Executive from trampling on the employers’ core ideology.

GENDER EQUITY

This can only be achieved if we hold our leaders accountable. We must reflect on and interrogate their promises, assess their viability and make the right decision.

We must make them unlearn the habit of giving handouts and disappearing from us until the next election. Why do we accept these handouts in the first place? 

Perhaps because we are poor in spirit can can sell our souls at the altar of loose pocket change. Let us interrogate these achievements vis-a-vis what the politicians say and then vote wisely. 

In order to build on what we have achieved, we need to impress on our leaders the importance of having institutions that work to regulate the various sectors of the economy, including the electoral body. 

Give them a chance to grow and become strong defenders of progress and democracy.  This way, the stakes will not be so high that elections become a matter of life and death.

Parliament failed to enforce gender equity. Culture stands in the way of ensuring that our daughters, sisters and mothers have equal opportunities. 

One of the constitutional objectives was justice for all but in the 21st century some of our citizens still yearn for justice and as Helen Suzman reminds us, “I stand for simple justice, equal opportunity and human rights. The indispensable elements in a democratic society - and well worth fighting for.”

It is worth fighting for all human kind to have equal opportunities.

WISE MEN AND WOMEN

For whoever wins the election, the first agenda should be the review of the Constitution in order to incorporate the vital lessons that we may have learnt.  

First, we must sort out gender equity. My proposal is to revert to the original 210 constituencies and have two elected Members of Parliament, a man and a woman.  This will bring a sense of equity without any additional cost.

Within the five-year term, the core responsibilities of the two MPs, besides legislative activities, should alternate between social and economic issues affecting the constituency.  This will be the basis on which to measure the MPs' performance.

The second priority is to provide work to the Senate. It must moderate parliamentary activities. Members of the Senate must be wise men and women who have excelled in their respective carers. This should be the council of elders elected from each county. 

Its term should be a single eight-year term whose election must be held outside of the general elections.  This will provide continuity in the absence of Parliament.

We must never allow political parties to conduct nominations. We can use the French model where there are two rounds of voting. The first round provides number one and two, who will run in the second round. 

This will relieve unnecessary pressure for party leaders to pick sycophants and leave independent-minded personalities. Further, it will deal with the issue of independents who may become machines for hire in the days to come.

HYBRID SYSTEM

On the presidency, the Constitution must do away with the current winner-take-all system. We should adopt the parliamentary system and separate the head of state from the head of government. The winner of the election forms the government while the loser heads the state. 

Our fractious tribal politics require a hybrid system of governance to give the perception of inclusivity. But in the meantime, let us go out and vote with our heads, and not with our hearts and prejudices. 

Let us vote for the country, for future generations and for posterity.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business. Twitter: @bantigito