Ideas & Debate

Compromises that politicians must make within days

Nasa supporters during anti-IEBC demonstrations in Kisumu. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Nasa supporters during anti-IEBC demonstrations in Kisumu. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

One has a sneaking suspicion that the coming fortnight will represent Kenya’s walk on the wild side.

The backdrop to this zero-sum game? Opposition group National Super Alliance’s (Nasa’s) “no reforms, no elections” mantra highlighted by a presidential election withdrawal. Jubilee’s electoral law amendments that will tempt responsive court action. That’s just the start.

What of Nasa’s belligerent promise to accelerate mass action, now scheduled daily amid televised assaults on persons and property?

Or the equally aggressive anti-demo “diktat” by the Jubilee administration (or is it the National Security Advisory Committee, or the Acting Cabinet Secretary) in a country that is supposed to celebrate freedom of expression and movement through our world-lauded progressive Constitution?

Depending on which side of the table you’re sitting, this is either a great moment for democracy or a bad one for development. At least that’s what our talking heads and voices on TV and radio tell us.

This ongoing political-legal gamesmanship will hurt all Kenyans. In truth, we are now at the point where the “digital” team wants an analogue election, while the “analogue” people prefer a digital election.

Clearly, the discourse has now moved beyond the state of the economy, to the state of the nation. Don’t be fooled by day to day bureaucratic blather; we’ve lost the GDP growth discourse, the debate around SDGs or the commitment to AU Agenda 2063 goals.

Our “winner takes all” political system prevents a rational mix of political compromise and respect for the demands of the Constitution. “One-up manship” is the permanent normal.

In this context, Kenyans might usefully reflect on three unexpressed concerns as we progress towards anarchy.

First, the state of the economy? By this I refer not to GDP, but the state of our core socio-economic indicators. Despite all manner of official food security pontification, drought and famine now stalks 19 counties at the time of writing.

The state of the new education curriculum, in a week in which the World Bank linked poor education to youth unemployment, is in flux.

Health care is more about strikes than actual service. Land, shelter, water and housing are still national questions 50-plus years after Independence.

Factor productivity (capital and labour) and trade (the most common basis for income) are other questions we may want to ponder. After months and years of politicking, how are we doing?

Second, what’s our fiscal state? With continued uncertainty around the fresh election (both revenue and expenditure), it is easy to think of Treasury’s recently published Budget Review and Outlook Paper as a tabula rasa — a blank slate of normative fiscal possibilities at an abnormal fiscal time.

Knowing full well that politicians never pay their electoral costs personally, how much of the national fiscus is financing high profile political defections prior to the re-run date? And how does that link up with the notion that a Sh12 billion fresh election bill has to be supplemented by Sh8 bilion in security-related costs?

Equally, what is the state of fiscal disbursement to counties as the true points of service delivery to citizens? Tough questions — we need to answer them.

Finally, and most alarmingly, what is our social state? Start with young MPs fighting within the precincts of Parliament.

Assess every single TV talk show, and the aggression among younger politicians on opposing sides of the political divide. Our social fractionalisation is younger, and more incendiary.

It is easy to blame our politics as a systemic problem. It is even easier to blame the polls referee IEBC for its bungled electoral preparations, a subject many highlighted at least a year before the election.

An increasing number of Internet blogs and forums describe the future of Kenya as eminently dystopian, a veritable Animal Farm in which, to paraphrase George Orwell, “those animals that were more equal than others continued to observe one another with an abundance of caution, while the rest of the creatures looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again, but it was already impossible to say which was which”.

It is said that “politicians, like ostriches, prefer to bury their heads in the sand; thereby exposing their thinking parts”.

Without political compromise, we are headed on a path of anarchy.