My rising stakes in the August General Election and my 20 students on the list

Friday May 19 2017

A ballot box. I knew the forthcoming elections

A ballot box. I knew the forthcoming elections would be of crucial significance to me. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By Austin Bukenya
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I knew the forthcoming elections would be of crucial significance to me. I am neither voting nor running for any office (although I believe I would make a magnificent senator). But I know that scores, maybe hundreds, of my close relatives, all the way from Kisumu through Nairobi, Mombasa, Kaloleni and Kilifi to Malindi, will be actively involved in the exercise.

There is also that small matter of the reading room in my adopted home town, Machakos. It is a definite commitment, but the leadership has got to be right for me to proceed. So, you can see that all the way from the top to the minutest detail of ugatuzi, I am anxious that things should go well.

It is, however, another kind of involvement in the elections that is drawing me out. Looking through the lists of serious aspirants to various elective offices in the country, I was struck by the number of candidates who were my students during my 20-year teaching stint in Kenyan institutions. If, apart from those who sat directly in my classrooms and lecture rooms, you add the others I taught through the theatre, the media and textbooks, then you have a veritable little army of my disciples likely to be part of our leadership for the next five years.

That should be a cause for pride. But it is also a test of the “education” I imparted to them. This will go all the way from the decency with which they conduct their campaigns through to the tangible service that they render to their constituents, the voters.

What, then, do I and my fellow teachers expect of those political candidates that we raised through school and university? My own list is short, modest and, as usual, simple, but quite serious and definite. I expect comradeship, social sense, vision and love of the job.

Do you remember, dear candidates, what we were on all those campuses, along all those corridors and inside all those lecture theatres and seminar rooms? Yes, comrades, that is what we were, regardless of age, rank, riches or region of origin. It was not an empty name.

When your professors, lecturers and colleagues called you “comrade”, they meant that there is a struggle and the only way to win it is to work together in unity, comradeship.

I assume that you are standing in the “nane-nane” election because you want to be part of the struggle for a rejuvenated country, a homeland where every mwananchi has hope and an opportunity to live decently and prosper. The only way you can win the struggle is through comradeship, not only with the wananchi but also with your fellow contestants.

Regardless of your party affiliation, if you are a genuine candidate, you should avoid petty divisiveness on any grounds: ethnicity, region, language, social class or religion. Remember how good it was being comrades on campus and take it onto the national plane.

Social sense was my main guiding principle as a teacher of literature, which is the most human of all the humanities. This social sense, as I might have told you, means self-respect, respect for all our fellow human beings and respect for our environment.

Any of my students who goes into this election determined that he or she will not do anything below his or her human dignity will be a winner, even before the first vote is cast. The same goes for all those candidates who will respect all their compatriots, election officials, voters and fellow contestants, throughout the process. Sure winners, too, are those bent on ensuring that Kenya does not become “a place full of fools”, polluted by noise, dirt (including defacing posters), strife, corruption and ecological irresponsibility.

Politics is not a dirty game. It can only be rendered dirty by those dirty creatures that often invade it. The thought of a significant number of my clean and well-intentioned disciples valiantly coming forward determined to charge and take charge is a source of justifiable comfort for me. I know that the honest voters will not go for mbaya wetu (as Ken Walibora’s play title has it) when there is a mwema wetu (our good one).

This brings us to the expectation of vision. Since most of my students are trained and mostly successful professionals, I believe that what is taking them into elective politics is a vision for their people and their country. I trust that we remember the aspects of transformational action: awareness, analysis, vision, mobilisation, organization and struggle. I assume we know the state of our society and we understand the causes of its shortcomings. The challenge is where we want to take it and how to take it there. A good candidate is one who knows and can explain to his or her people what a better future for them should be.

This underlines what we called love of the job. If you have that vision of the “future golden time”, you must be committed to making it a reality. We know of politicians who think that elections are mere popularity contests. Others, alas, go in expecting to make money and amass privileges for themselves.

These just love themselves. They do not love the job of serving their people. These are the ones who have given us the stereotype of the despicable mheshimiwa that we see in our location only once every five years.

But, as I frequently tell my students about teaching, do not go into it unless you love it. It is the same I would tell honest and serious would-be politicians: do not go there if you do not love your people and you are not determined to do everything to give them a better future.

Speaking of teachers, I hope that those teachers aspiring to become politicians will work to give us a genuinely effective education system. Such a system should seek to optimize our young people’s potential, not to “mediocritize” it through robotic exam-oriented cramming.


Prof Bukenya is one of the leading scholars of English and Literature in East Africa. abubwase-