This is a bad-natured, angry, political column. The state of Nairobi makes me unhappy because it points to the kind of vaporous politics we have in the country. The Kibra by-election makes me even more unhappy because it exposes the flimsy, shabby, fatuous, fallacious, misguided process by which we elect the wrong leaders.
Two weeks ago, when air pollution reached dangerous levels in New Delhi, the Indian Supreme Court hammered the state authorities, accusing them of “gimmickry” and only being interested in elections. It was outraged that the state government was not doing more to tame the air pollution — at its peak comparable to smoking an astounding 50 cigarettes a day — to which the authorities had responded by allowing driving, on alternate days, odd and even.
The air quality question in Delhi is a complex issue, relating not just to the internal combustion engine, Indians’ love for motor cars — which are driven badly and noisily — and the ubiquitous bajaj is gloriously manifest, but also to geography, topography and a teeming population burning up stuff in their gardens. The bajaj are fitted with LPG engines, which helps a little. The Indian city also has a better mass transit system than Nairobi, but is a huge city with lots of folks and it takes a lot to move them around.
I imagine a situation where Chief Justice David Maraga or one of his judges tries to hold our governor, Mr Mike Sonko, to account for air quality, demanding that he provides scientific proof that his policies have a chance of keeping residents healthy and safe. First, he would have to find the governor who would have either repaired to his castle in Mua Hills to escape his political enemies or engaged in the merry and generally puzzling exercise of counting tram cars — possibly dreaming of building such a system in the misty future — in Montpellier, a French resort city on the Mediterranean.
Our political system is not designed to give Kenyans capable and honest leaders but to favour a nascent plutocracy, whose wealth is coveted and admired on don’t-ask-don’t-tell basis. There is no stigma associated with stolen wealth; Kenyans will love you if you are wealthy, irrespective of how you got that way.
The magic of America — before Donald J. Trump — is its ability to find and promote incredibly talented and committed leaders and put them in charge of its affairs. The military, even in the midst of all the corruption and tribalism, is one of Kenya’s strongest institutions because of its attempts to institute a merit-based system.
What am I driving at? In the Kibra by-election, it appears that no one was interested in the relative leadership qualities, or lack thereof, of Mr McDonald Mariga, Mr Eliud Owalo or Mr Bernard Imran Okoth. Even those of us in the media treated that aspect of the electoral contest as somewhat uninteresting.
Mr Owalo is politically experienced, having gravitated around the Raila Odinga orbit. I remember Mr Mariga because of his promise to have bhang legalised and Mr Okoth as Ken Okoth’s brother. As to what they brought to the table, only their masters know.
This really was not a contest between the candidates, but between their puppet masters: Mr Odinga, the opposition leader now in cooperation with the government, and Deputy President William Ruto, who is in government but might as well be in the opposition, given the level of rivalry within Jubilee between his faction and the one around President Kenyatta.
How is a matchup between Mr Odinga and Mr Ruto of any benefit to the people of Kibra, who are in deep economic, social and medical trouble because of their environment?
The political class is going to present proposals to amend the Constitution at some point. Left to them, they will make proposals that are to the benefit of their class, principally by creating more jobs for more plutocrats. This is not necessarily a bad thing because it stops them from inciting their tribesmen to burn the country. But I think we should reject these amendments unless they respond to our needs as ordinary people who pay all the taxes that our dear leaders use to buy T-shirts that cost tens of thousands of shillings.
First, educating the people about democracy and government should be mandatory. We’re trying to be a democracy in a country where even the leaders don’t get the concept. Secondly, money should be set aside for civil society and the right of the people to mobilise against the government better protected. It should be a crime to interfere with civil society.
Thirdly, Parliament should be properly set up with an upper and lower House, each working as a check on the other. Fourthly, the Constitution should be cleaned up to give life to the integrity chapter. Fifthly, some clever person should find a way of making the Judiciary accountable.
I don’t have the space to list all the mostly half-baked ideas flooding my mind. But any amendments that do not address the cause of our problems — corruption, tribalism and disregard for patriotism and sacrifice — should be rejected out of hand and the plutocracy advised to continue using the Constitution as it is.
After all, this is really the Constitution they wanted, not the one we dreamed of.