Our idea of democracy is warped; oligarchs are calling all the shots

Friday July 12 2019
Kagwanja Photo

Residents of Ganda in Kilifi queue to vote at Maziwani Primary School in a past Malindi parliamentary election. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


In my view, Kenya’s practice of democracy is actually nothing like that; it is an oligarchy. Democracy in its purest form does not, and can never exist, simply because it is impossible for everybody in a State to agree on how it should be governed.

What we have are several variations of representative democracy which also depend on the criteria used to elect these representatives. This is where our idea of democracy becomes blurred. When the representatives of the people refuse to listen to the people and only look after their own interests, then that cannot be democracy.

Democracy in Kenya, as elsewhere, is being oiled by money and those who contribute the highest amounts effectively own the politicians. This essentially means that when men of means, those with vast wealth, fill the coffers of candidates during election campaigns, they usually exact specific promises whether in the form of high office (say diplomatic postings), lucrative tenders and other forms of crony capitalism, jobs for relatives (nepotism), and other considerations which are highly irregular but commonplace.


This is just one of the ways in which our democracy has been diluted. What is to be feared is the kind of influence these donors to political con men have on the policies that should benefit the common man.

In many instances, some measures are rammed down the throats of ordinary Kenyans with the singular aim of benefitting relatively few people who remain anonymous.


Most contributors to campaign finances do not publicise their benevolence; they use lobbyists, be they local or foreign, to push their cases.

It has become increasingly difficult for even a member of a county assembly to be elected in Kenya, however deep his or her pockets may be. Without a “sponsor” or five, it is well-nigh impossible — the voters expect too many bribes.

So far, the most highly lucrative jobs are those of MPs and governors. To be elected an MP today, one needs a huge war-chest running into millions of shillings, and the amounts increase astronomically for those who would be governors. This latter is perhaps the office most lustily coveted after the presidency, for our governors have expanded their mandate so tremendously they are now wielding untrammelled power — so long as they keep their MCAs happy.

All attempts to impose ceilings on how much money in the form of donations a candidate can legally receive and how much he or she or a political party can use during campaigns have foundered on the rock of self-interest.


In fact, it would be a miracle for a person of modest means to be elected to political office. As a result, the cost to the country has become heavy because meritocracy has progressively been sacrificed at the altar of Mammon.

Is it any wonder that we keep electing dunderheads whose only accomplishment is to finesse the art of graft?

Is it any wonder that immediately after their election, MPs seek all means, fair or foul, to feather their nests by creating one legalistic loophole after another with the singular aim of robbing the taxpayers?

Indeed, it appears that many MPs, and their Speaker, spend more time plotting how to plunder than they do on legislative duties, and they are becoming more creative by the day.

So far, I have not heard any cogent argument why MPs feel they need to be paid millions of shillings, or why none of them quits due to pecuniary embarrassment. Most of what I have heard is pure humbug.


The point is that our so-called democracy has evolved into a rule of the many by a few — rulers who have perfected the art of robbing the poor and then giving back peanuts during harambees and other forms of philanthropic tokenism.

This artifice has a long history, but we the people never seem to learn.

Oligarchy is inextricably linked to business — the bigger, the better. Many businesses, and individuals with serious money, habitually contribute huge sums to political parties, presidential candidates and others who are likely to wield major influence in the political arena after a successful election. It is a highly-calculated gamble that pays off handsomely.

For these lucky ones, so long as they control the money, they know for sure they will control the country’s politics.

The downside to this is that such individuals never care whether misguided government policies hurt the majority so long as their interests are safeguarded.


You will rarely ever hear them complain about excessive borrowing or taxation; they probably reap from the former and certainly know how to evade the latter. They won’t make noise about lack of hospitals or drugs. Why should they when their children fly abroad to the best hospitals, and their insurance covers take care of everything?

Until socio-political turmoil brought on by greed and inequality erupts, anyone sounding the alarm will always be deemed to be shouting in the wilderness. But when the die is cast, the oligarchs and their political puppets will realise there is nowhere to hide and all the money they have stolen cannot help them.

Mr Ngwiri is a consultant editor; [email protected]