News 2008


When Voting Rationally is Not Betrayal

Business Daily (Nairobi)


11 February 2008

Nducu Wa Ngugi

In a representative democracy voting is a fundamental exercise without which its content becomes devoid of meaning. Voting is therefore the cornerstone on which any pragmatic application of democratic ideals must begin.

Politicians are by proxy the cement which must be mixed with careful measurement so that the coagulating aggregate strengthens and adheres to the fundamental aspirations of any democracy and its institutions.

Campaigning for political office is not a formality, but a vehicle through which the politician tells their audience where they intend to take them once elected.

If that particular brand of political posture does not conform or come near your socio-political and economic stance, then you shop around for one who does. Failing to find one, there is an option to lobby or debate and argue for your political views to be heard.

These engagements are healthy for a nation for it is through them that we begin to emerge with a uniting vision of where we have been, where we are and where we need to go, together.

We therefore support particular candidates because we feel strongly that they are the best positioned to point us in a progressive direction or at least get us started on that journey. And yes, we do get passionate and overly enthusiastic as we try to get our candidates into office.

There is nothing absurd about these impassioned deliberations. In deed, they are a welcome vocation because politics is about all of us and not just the few. This is an engaging democratic process that gives visibility and voice to the people. Political leadership then begins to look like, feel like and behave like the people because it is part and parcel of that fabric.

Where we have problems is when we be become blinded in our enthusiasm and begin to align into ethnic affiliations and resort to violence and murder.

For a representative democracy to live up to its promise, we must understand and hold dear that there is nothing inherently wrong with a Kikuyu voting for a Kikuyu if they feel that is the candidate that best
represents their vision for the country at that particular time. Or a Giriama voting for a Giriama, a Luo voting for a Kikuyu or a Maasai etc.

Therefore if you campaigned, voted for or endorsed Raila Odinga, President Kibaki or Kalonzo Musyoka, you exercised a democratic principle and in fact a guaranteed constitutional right. No one has a right to call you a traitor if you are a Kikuyu who supported ODM and voted for Mr Raila.

There is nothing sacrilegious about a Kikuyu voting for a Luo or vice versa. And no one has the right to call you a Kikuyu chauvinist or a Kikuyu sympathiser if you are a Kikuyu or Luo respectively and voted for Mr Kibaki.

In Western democracy, particularly in America, we see the same sentimentalities emerge time and time again. Senators Barrack Obama, an African-American and Hillary Clinton are in a heatedly race for the democratic ticket. While both represent historic epochs in American history the conversation has been about gender and race.

Should the African-Americans who vote for Mr Obama be seen to have voted purely on race or because they feel that he is the best suited to lead? What of the white women who support Mr Obama or the men who support Mrs Clinton? Are they traitors to their gender and race?

These are legitimate questions which beg to ask the question where democracy ends and gender-racialist practices begin. In a country where blacks are a minority and women are generally under-represented in political office, race and gender do matter.

And the argument here is that racial or gender loyalties are much at play here in the United States as ethnocracy was in the Kenyan presidential race. We cannot deny that fact.

However, those who decide to vote "outside" their race or gender must be allowed the freedom to do so without being labelled. Democracy in its finite wisdom acquiesces to the belief that we are fundamentally different in our views inside and outside the familiar. It is therefore logical that even members of the same family do not necessarily have to vote for the same issue come election time.

We must have the wherewithal to believe that a lot of good people voted with their conscience.

But in the December 2007 presidential elections it was evident that an overwhelming number of voters chose to ethnocise the democratic process by voting purely on tribal allegiance.

The escalating violence that has left hundreds of thousands displaced is systemic of a renewed xenophobia bred by no political ideology but by ethnocratism. What we need now are voices of reason. Unrelenting reason guided by the search for truth, justice and unequivocal reconciliation.

We cannot cure that which ails us if we misdiagnose the illness by colouring the symptoms with nicely worded phrasing and sound bites or even photos with palm-tree lined backdrops.

We must search for truth behind this ethnic cleansing and escalating violence for it lies there with the people. We must find out who is backing the perpetrators and with what promises. Allegations of high-level sponsorship of the well organised attacks must be investigated fully.

Those sponsoring this violence and those carrying it out are both guilty of genocide and have to be charged with crimes against humanity. Justice will not prevail for the murdered innocents if they are not brought to book. It is only when we have these murderers behind bars that we can begin a process of reconciling our peoples and replacing the dispossessed.

To ensure that we never go through what one intellectual, in a precarious misnomer, called "growing pains", we need to start a soul searching dialogue between our peoples. The economic rifts that separate the haves from the have-nots must be bridged with comprehensive socio-political reforms.

But even as we do this, we must come to the table clean and without demands except that we are all in this together.

If we must perish then let it be because we dared to dream of an equitable Kenya for all, but not to retain Party of National Unity or Orange Democratic Movement. There are worthier causes to live or die for.