It is only befitting that the deadline for voter registration should be marred by torrential rains. The argument in recent days, all over the news and prime-time television, on radio, driven by celebrities and all people of note [sic!] has been that all good Kenyans of age, should register to vote.
The euphoria surrounding the activity, and the propaganda and peer pressure (if you can consider all voters equal, in some sense) has been amazing. The result? Nairobi and the metropolis have recorded the highest percentage of registered voters while other areas lag behind. One might then ask, what ails the Nairobi area, or what ails the other areas? The actual question is dependent on where you stand on the philosophical basis of voting in a sham democracy.
If you stand on one side, the Nairobi voter is one sheep in flock, driven to the registration centres by constant media and peer influence. If you stand on the other, the ‘rural’ voter is apathetic, unwilling and uncaring about whether this country goes to the dogs. The truth is, this country went to the dogs at Independence, and the dogs are still gnawing at whatever is left. In actual sense, the ‘rural’ voter has done more to explore his or her conscience before voting than the Nairobi +metropolis voter.
Google ‘Bad leaders are elected by good citizens who do not vote’ and you will see how much this quote, often attributed to Plato, has been (mis) used in the Kenyan media and blogosphere. Its use is basic, it implies that all thinking men and women must partake of the voting process for it to be legitimate. It also assumes that the voter is spoilt for choice, that there are good leaders and bad leaders. Anyone who seeks to understand the human soul knows that good and bad are engraved within each beating heart; Hume used this to explain why deities, in their portrayal in Christianity (and Islam), cannot be right even on the very basis on which they are built.
Is the apathetic (non) voter the only thinking man in this country? No actually, there are people who have weighed the matter and seen it fit to participate, and it is well their rights to do so. The large majority has followed the African way, to make and make make-that one’s civic duty is not done until one’s neighbor has done likewise. The logic is right, methinks, but the methods are all wrong. The apathetic voter, like the quintessential atheist, has good reasons for being who he is. The registered voter feels that it is within his rights and responsibility to barrage the unregistered with memes, constant barraging about how his action is of significance and, if all else fails, force and denial of rights. Way to go Kenya, deny a man or woman his rights to make him fulfill his civic duty, there is no better campaign for the democracy we strive to be like that. There is a thin line between an online campaign and cyber bullying.
Is the rural voter wrong to question the Biometric Voter Registration kit? The questions are often apathetic, and reek of propaganda, but at least someone questions the process. The BVR database will contain, at the end of elections, at least 14 million records of Kenyans above the age of 18. The CID’s database currently contains a little over 4 million records of criminals, a manual system that has taken over two decades to build. The BVR process has collected double that in a month or less. So where do your records go when all is said and done? In an age where we are becoming increasingly paranoid about biometric data, does it matter? Should we ask? The average voter, herded to the registration center, would say no, that we should trust the government institution to do right by us. True, Hobbes’s basis of a social contract was that we have to give up certain rights, here the right to privacy, to build and sustain a government that would in turn protect us. Is the government protecting you, or me, for that matter?
Kenya is a peculiar country, even for the region of Africa where it is located. With the age of the Internet, the man of reason is becoming a fossil. Consider the advice from the Ombudsman to lock out two MPs from vying in the next elections. The two, one would say, have acted in an uncivilized way in a civilized country; they have ignored the law and acted like men who have escaped from the confines of an asylum. That is what we would say if we were a civilized society, which we are not, no modern society is civlised in sense of the word. The truth is that constituents of Embakasi and Makadara have perhaps had more of their issues taken care of, the crude methods notwithstanding, than most constituencies. What the Ombudsman’s office implies is that the other 222 MPs and ex officio leaders are fit to run for office. Which then begs the very question asked at the start of this exposition; are bad leaders really elected by those who choose not to vote?
The current crop of leaders vying to be the chief executive of the land are all, except a few candidates whose propects are too low to even consider, members of the prestigious August house. If we have all agreed that save for a few good laws, all our leaders are selfish and conniving, how then can a good citizen be made to choose between bad leaders? Does it even matter, one might ask, when we all know that Kenya as a country is suspetible to repeat the Tharaka-Nithi debacle (anyone who had both eyes and ears aleart in 2007/8 knows) where our votes were made inconsequential by the stroke of a pen.
Democracy, at the scale we try to operate, does not work. Athenian democracy, the purest form of them all, failed and was replaced by an empire which survived for longer than the democracy had. Even Plato’s work in the Republic implies that what we need is a philosopher-king. I would argue that a monarchy cannot work in our fractured society, but we need men and women of reason to vote, as opposed to everyone who can. We are a banana country, where survival outside the core group, whether tribal, age or gender-based, sexual orientation-based, social-media based, or any other, is improbable. As a society, we are already bound to each other in more ways than one, but we have made reason a collective instead of an individual process. Now, men of reason are considered apathetic, uncaring about their future and that of their children. To others, individual thinking is almost a crime, and that participating in the voting process is of some significance in determining the future of a country.
The bitter truth has been that in giving up our rights to constitute a government, we did not envision that we would be shafted so. At least in a dictatorship you know the government is shafting you all the time, and you become a full-time skeptic, in a democracy you wake up feeling sore, and you are never sure whether your neighbor or the government did it, and whether you gave your consent when you cast your vote.
The legal maxim ‘the burden of proof lies with him who asserts, not him who denies’ best characterizes this situation. If you registered as a voter, why did you do it? Think, its not illegal yet! Think outside the generic argument and social conditioning, think beyond the flock mentality and the memes on your timeline.
When all is said and done, we are masters of our present and future, our decision to vote notwithstanding. The man who chooses not vote does so in his own right, and he should not be forced, either passively or actively, to participate in a process he does not think is of any significance to his life. To force such a man into the flock is to proclaim the fallacy of democracy, that whereas the minority will hardly ever have their way, they must be seen and heard for the process to be legitimate. The decision of who will lead this country will be made in a boardroom, and then passed down through the media, traditional and digital, and fed to us through different channels and methods. Like willing sheep we will elect a new crop of leaders from an old crop of leaders, and then the process will begin again. In the background, the man of reason will know better than to expect the voting process to be the grand solution to the many ailments that continue to shaft this country.
Our country reeks from years of being shafted by a political class that is representative of our rotten self-interests We reek of being herded to validate decisions made in the interests of a few. We are so used to the stench that we do not know how to live without it, so we rise up each morning and hope we will find out it has all been a bad dream. Our country needs a revolution of thought and reason, a break from social and poltiical conditioning where each man and woman can be his own. We need to wash ourselves of the flock mentality, now made easier by the lynch mobs on social media. We need a shower, or a bath, whichever we can do without being afraid, desperately.
(Almost as soon I published this, a friend inboxes ‘Jee Rafiki yangu wa fb, una kura?’)