Our peculiar politics and why status quo always remains

By Kamau Wairuri | Updated Sun, May 14th 2017 at 00:00 GMT +3

Recent political party nominations have shifted our attention to our fast changing politics. What with ordinary people — cooks, watchmen and mechanics — being nominated to run in the August 8 election. This appears encouraging because the concerns of ordinary people may finally make it to the agenda.

The high turnover of political leaders at every election, like what we are witnessing this year, makes us preoccupied with the idea of change.

Our attention is often on the ‘fall of giants’, rushing to conclude how much smarter the voter has become. Each time, we see this as the end of ‘business as usual’ and the ‘dawn of a new era in politics’.

Each time, we believe we’re witnessing the final liberation. In this excitement about the change of personnel however, we fail to notice the part of the scenery that remains the same. Too busy celebrating the fall of more than two-thirds of politicians, we forget to ask who remains and why?

It is obvious that most of our current national political leaders have been on the scene for a while.

For most, since the early 1990s. There can be no better illustration than the fact that for two elections in a row, our choice for president will come down to the sons of the first president and his vice-president.

The incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, is running for presidency for the third time while his main challenger, Raila Odinga, is on his fourth attempt. The page boys on either side are themselves sons of politicians or chiefs. And then there’s a hustler somewhere in the mix. The outlier.

True meaning

The nomination of Oburu Odinga and Kennedy Kalonzo to represent us at the East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) is of course another illustration. Oburu has had a ‘change of heart’ and withdrawn his application. I don’t know yet if Kennedy’s contribution to Kenya goes beyond his last name but I hope we will be duly educated in coming days. The point: Once the current leaders have done their part and cannot run for office anymore, we crown the next generation. Giving true meaning to the old phrase ‘The king is dead. Long live the King’.

Stepping aside from the families and looking at the rest of the ‘survivors’, we see the same picture. Martha Karua, Kiraitu Murungi, James Orengo, Anyang’ Nyong’o, the list could go on and on. These are all people whose commitment to public service I actually admire.

But that’s beside the point. They are the same people who were on the front page of the newspapers when I was in primary school. They represented change. They came and never left! Perhaps no expression is more apt to this situation than the words of former USSR Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin, “It has never been like this before and now it is exactly the same again.”

The issue here is a certain elite consensus, displayed in a preference for each other at the high table of national politics, which sees some people benefit from undue advantages in the political competition. This happens through the nature of our political parties — in the past and now. Ours are largely dysfunctional units which are also not competitive.

Political parties have had and continue to have their owners. Case in point, neither of the two main presidential candidates had to face competition for the party tickets. They built their parties, popularised them and then brought them to the negotiation table.

The resources they used for popularising these parties and for rewarding loyalty come from their access to state resources. The party is popularised as championing the interest of the ethnic group and the voters often fall in line.

They largely back those that the parties have chosen. Those that pay up in loyalty to the owners of the parties remain but the system spews out anyone who dares to challenge the status quo. It appears to me that we have been working at changing everything except what matters.

So much so that when the odd hustler manages to wash his hands and sit at the table of Kings, they often appear to forget their roots. Perhaps, this new crop of cooks and watchmen may be different but I’m not holding my breath.

— The writer is a researcher and analyst in Nairobi.

[email protected]


Originally published at www.standardmedia.co.ke on May 14, 2017.

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