Kenya Risks Being Sold to the Highest Bidder

Published on 15th March 2016

A time existed in Kenya when electoral contestants debated on the same podium and used a uniform campaign calendar. I recall in my constituency, the late Hon. Martin Shikuku, used to be slotted to speak last. Reason? Constituents would literally walk out on other speakers if he spoke first. Each candidate had to showcase their oratory skills and in-depth understanding of issues. Currently, the electoral process has degenerated into who can deploy more money to the electorate, carry out voter bribery, manipulate development projects in their favor and wield skewed media coverage. It is democracy to the highest bidder.

What motivates this money driven democracy? Governments anywhere are the biggest customer or client one can ever get. Government is that type of client that spends someone else’s money and cares less on returns.  The government is synonymous to “Mali ya Umma;” public property that belongs to all of us and therefore to none at all. People are motivated to seek electoral positions to channel the flow of money into their enterprises. Some are simply keen to protect what they have already amassed having served as shadow managers of existing political class. Democracy as practiced in Kenya and by extension many African countries is not about the peoples’ aspirations.

The unfettered love to milk public coffers dry at all cost is analogous to the strangler fig tree (Ficus Aurea). The strangler figs are vine-like trees that start as tiny seeds that fall on the branches or roots of an existing huge tree of another species. The young tree encases the host in a tangle of roots and trunks, ultimately strangling it to death. Corruption was once “something small” but is now “something big” measured in billions of shillings.

Kenya’s history is rich with examples of how short term focus and corrupt deals wiped out ethnic chiefdom after another in pre-colonial times. Corruption has derailed African nation-states from their core mandate. Nation-states are no longer keen to position Africans to be key actors globally. Instead they simply protect pseudo chiefdom interests. Vast resources are deployed to protect short term individual political interests under the guise of national interests.

Corruption benefits competing geopolitical interests. It breeds leaders without focus. It makes states to implement the agenda of other countries that can supply them with money. Kenya is a strategic gateway to East and Central African countries. It is a hub and a pulse center for any party keen to gain access in the region.  Democracy to the highest bidder approach simply means Kenyans are either in the process of losing their country and or they lost it already.

Kenyans should stop being anonymous and roll their shirts to work, invest in the youth (our children) and mentor them on values of self exertion and industry. As individuals, let us nurture a constituency with stake in the country. It’s time we reconstituted the old style politics where aspirants sweat issues and not money! If we do not act as individual citizens, Kenya risks being sold to the highest bidder.

By James Shikwati, Founder Director of Inter Region Economic Network (IREN)

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