Kenyans must be promised peaceful elections in future

Monday March 22 2010

By MACHARIA GAITHO

For me, one of the highlights of the Pan African Media Conference was President Kibaki lauding the place of MeSpace (sic) and other social websites and new media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, SMS, and blogs as forums for reaching the young, advancing the cause of democracy and fighting corruption.

He’s not as “behind” as he seems, or so his speech writers would have us believe.

Anyway, out of idle curiosity, I searched “Mwai Kibaki” on Facebook and came up with an impressive 609 results, many more pages than available for Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto put together.

Of course chances are high that the President knows nothing about those pages. Most of the accounts are probably owned by cybersquatters. It could be ardent fans, or foes, “borrowing” the name.

Some are fan pages and some are “hater” pages and groups established by individuals he probably has never heard of.

Anyway, in the unlikely event that Mr President does occasionally visit his own MySpace or Facebook account, he would be interested in the volume of the traffic and the drift of conversation.

A casual browse on the Internet today reveals plenty of discussion around the voter registration that was launched on Monday.

Much of it is from angry young people taking the position that they have absolutely no intention of registering because the aftermath of the 2007 polls made them lose faith in Kenyan leadership, democracy and the electoral process.

A common thread is that registering to vote will only be worthwhile if there is a true and honest account of what went wrong in 2007; and if there is rock-solid assurance that the elections will never go so badly again.

As President Kibaki yesterday registered as a voter with the routine call for Kenyans to do the same, an advance peek at his MySpace would have brought home to him the level of anger and despair in a leadership and an electoral system that failed with such tragic consequences.

People lost faith in democracy as innocent people were killed and displaced in the hundreds of thousands.

“I will never vote again” was a common refrain in those early days of the election violence, and those vows are coming up again as compilation of a fresh voter roll begins.

INDEED, WHAT IS THE POINT OF voting if the outcome is death and destruction?

What is the point of queuing for hours on end to cast a ballot when the leaders have their own thieving and violent ideas on how to capture or retain power?

What is the point of it all if at the end of the day, it is about the political classes cutting “come, let us eat together” deals over the mutilated and charred corpses of their expendable voters used as cannon fodder?

Did President Kibaki have that in mind yesterday as he registered as a voter in Othaya?

Did Prime Minister Raila Odinga give those weighty issues the slightest thought in Lang’ata? Will Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Agriculture Minister William Ruto pause to reflect on the betrayal of 2007 as they register with an eye on the next elections?

The President is preparing for an exit with time running out to rescue a tarnished legacy. The others are engaging in shamelessly premature power plays and jostling for positions ahead of the next elections.

But all of them, along with other key players in the political elite, must stop and reflect before they exhort Kenyans to register to vote for them.

They have a lot of accounting to do, and have absolutely no right to extol the virtues of voting and democracy unless they first respond to the cries and worries of Kenyans as may be captured in President Kibaki’s “MeSpace”.

All Kenyans ask for is assurance that the next elections will be free and fair; that the process will be so transparent that the outcome will never be in dispute; and that their so-called leaders will not mislead them into violence, bloodshed, death and destruction.

Those are the reassurance that will invite Kenyans to register enthusiastically as voters, not bland and empty words.

Personally, I would urge every Kenyan to go out and register irrespective of what happened last time. It is only by voting that you have the opportunity to kick out the rascals. If you don’t vote, you forfeit the right to protest if the election is stolen.