Nancy Mburu: Why we must all join the murky world of politicians

"My people perish for lack of knowledge." (Hosea 4:6)

WE can juxtapose this Biblical verse with the age-old saying that politics is a dirty game. But the dirt has rubbed off on us. Or why else are we in this situation?

Blame it on our blind trust, naÔvetÈ and hero-worship.

We, the people, did not want to get into the murky waters with power-hungry sharks, so we shunned politics. We were right, given the viciousness with which the power struggle played itself out, for instance, in last year’s General Election.

It wasn’t just the presidential poll results that were a problem: We saw vicious intra-party violence erupt during party nominations, where some aspirants even threatened electoral officials with guns.

Women aspirants were particularly unlucky for they were brutalised and humiliated, in an attempt to coerce them to forgo their democratic rights. One was gunned down in Nairobi under mysterious circumstances. This gets me thinking: Why weren’t the hooligans who disrespected women ever prosecuted?

We saw how party stalwarts fought over the nomination slots. Some individuals nominated themselves, others forwarded parallel lists and yet others arm-twisted their party officials to give them nomination slots. Later, two new Members of Parliament were also murdered in unclear circumstances.

And even now, our overstretched courts are inundated with the highest number of election petitions seen in the country’s history.

With this degree of violence, is it any wonder that we recoil at the thought of joining politics? We are better off hanging out here as the masses. It is much safer and more dignified, or so we think.

What we do not realise is that politics determines our very existence. It determines whether we enjoy peace, whether we have good roads, whether our children go to school, whether our homes have safe drinking water, whether we have food, whether we have security and generally good governance. It is because of politics that some of our brothers and sisters are still living in displacement camps.

There is good and bad politics. We have only been exposed to the bad, where the actors are adept at seeking cheap publicity by bashing each other. Our politicians act all sanctimonious, shifting blame to their rivals, as exemplified in the Cabinet stalemate. They clash in private, and then come out publicly to blame each other over private deals we are never privy to.

What Kenyans were nor told

When President Kibaki and Prime Minister-designate Raila Odinga exchanged smiles and publicly signed the power sharing deal, they did not tell us about the fine print. They did not tell us there was to be portfolio balance or whether civil service jobs were part of the political deal. They did not tell us about ‘powerful’ and ‘weak’ ministries.

‘Ordinary Kenyans’ know something is terribly wrong, but we are groping in the dark as to precisely what. PNU and ODM closed ranks and came up with a bloated Cabinet of 40, with an equal number of assistant ministers, despite much public disaffection. The two sides now want public sympathy because they have failed to agree on how to share the spoils, yet they are the direct beneficiaries.

The ordinary people are not informed on issues regarding good governance. The civil society and the disgraced Electoral Commission have not conducted intense civic education to inform the public. ECK is only seen to work when urging voters to register in big numbers, irrespective of whether the latter eventually elect bad leaders. They never tell the common man and woman what to look for in leaders, because casting the ballot is itself not enough.

Ordinary Kenyans must take deliberate steps to arm themselves with knowledge. They now know they cannot entrust the country to politicians alone.

Our leaders belong to the old school, where they listen more to their hardliners and members of their ‘Kitchen Cabinets’, than the people. They are unable to break free and reason as individuals.

We need alternative leadership and a strong citizens’ movement. Pushing for comprehensive constitutional review is a starting point as it will give us water-tight institutions independent of each other. We must know the nitty-gritty of every political decision and deal, since they affect all of us. If we continue to wallow in ignorance, we shall perish, as we nearly did after the elections.

An informed people are an empowered people.

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