So this morning, I remembered that I felt the same way during the TNA carnival four years ago when I wrote this post. If you didn't know that I wrote it in 2012, you would think I wrote it yesterday. But the only difference is, this time, is that I'm not that excited about voting. Since the IEBC demonstrations by CORD, my sense is that politicians decide how to share power and resources, and the citizens are simply there to give the charade some numbers. Our voice does not really count.
My gratitude goes to Chifu wa Malindi for preserving the post. Thank you for being a griot. A historian.
Why I'm going to vote
I don't want to vote in the upcoming Kenya general elections. And I'm angry because I think that it's hardly a coincidence that I don't want to vote.
But since the damage was done, I decided check the facebook page to which the ad was linked. The page had 5,000 friends and counting.
On Sunday, I successfully managed to avoid the news and so I was able to momentarily forget the launch. (Thank God for church). But when I got home, the news - you got it - covered the campaign. Good Lord, hadn't we had enough? Then I hear that the launch was choreographed in 5 Kenyans towns, carried live on several TV channels. And the news clips showed Uhuru giving a speech in a way that we accept when it's in America - with a speech teleprompter and platitudes in sound bites about faith and unity - but which sounds awkward on a Kenyan stage.
Uhuru had beaten his competitors to being omnipresent in Kenya. The other big wigs, Raila and Mudavadi, were in Mombasa, but none had had the kind of mediatic presence that Uhuru had managed to pull off. Everyone seemed to be impressed (the media and 5,000 facebook friends), yet I found the whole scenario obscene. It's obscene to boast about how much money one is going to put in a political carnival when we the people have to pay more for food and fuel. It's obscene for Raila and Mudavadi to trade accusations about who was more corrupt with the other, while citizens starve and remain unemployed because that corruption hogged up the funds meant for the poor.
The obscenity is not the politicians' words; it's in the politicians' expectation that ordinary citizens would cheer as each politician competed with the other on how much harder they can squash us under the weight of their greed, selfishness and cynicism.
This lack of regard for us as human beings is shocking, and its ubiquity is overwhelming. Its effect is that I now feel that it doesn't matter what I think or vote, because whoever wins will win because they have the money to wear down Kenyans' resolve and intellect.
I felt sad, and then I got mad. I got mad when I realized that the sadness and resignation are precisely the effect that the politicians, their media and public relations consultants want to have. Their strategy is to bombard us with their crassness until we walk to the ballot box in a daze and vote for whoever's voice is ringing loudest in our ears.
That is characteristic of our neo-liberal age. Propaganda, and use of military coups and government sanctioned persecution to "choose" leaders, has now given way to media blitz, backed up by private militias. I don't have to appeal to your intellect to vote for me; I just need to bombard you with my image (not even message) until each individual who does not support me feels isolated. And then to chase away any hesitation, I can pay some unemployed and desperate young men to sing and wave pangas outside your door. It doesn't matter that probably few people support me; what matters is that I convince you that everyone is on my side.
This can't be democracy. Democracy isn't supposed to make me feel weary. Democracy isn't supposed to make me not want to turn on the radio and tv for yet another unhelpful conversation about politics. Democracy isn't supposed to make me feel disrespected. Democracy isn't supposed to be a lottery where I hold my breath and hope that there are more citizens who vote like me so that my candidate wins. It is me - the voter, the ordinary citizen - who is supposed to win. Democracy is supposed to make me feel like a citizen. It is supposed to make me excited to turn on the news because I want to hear what great things other citizens have done.
One of my favorite thinkers, Lani Guinier, says that without collective political engagement, elections become mere moments of choice for citizens who then give up their dignity until the next round of elections. In Kenya, elections have become a shopping spree where one chooses a candidate like a product on the shelf; based on the packaging label, which is normally ethnicity and the size of one's bank account.
Guinier says that for elections to be meaningful, we the people need to be the ones deciding the agenda - not asking politicians what their agenda is, as Jeff Koinange encourages citizens to do in his show "Face the nation." The health of election campaigns is not in interviews or debates; it's in conversations where we the people decide what the problem is and what needs to be done, and then find the leader who will engage us to determine the best way of getting to where we want to go. We the people must not be fooled by the media into treating election campaigns like interviews. Leadership isn't a job; it's a commitment.
So despite not wanting to vote, I'm going to vote. Probably with my eyes closed, because right now I don't think it matters who gets the most votes. The candidates are all ethnic variations of the same rotten thing. In the meantime, I have to do the difficult work of being constantly politically engaged, and of persuading another five people to take the next class I may offer on political thinking and political education. I say "may," because the work is emotionally draining and intellectually exhausting. But I refuse to be worn down by the media blitz, the political charades, and the politicians' obscenity and cynicism. That's why I'm going to vote.