Elections are just a ritual of passing on the graft baton

Tuesday June 30 2020

Burundi's new President Evariste Ndayishimiye delivers his speech during the national funeral of late Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza, who died at the age of 55, at the Ingoma stadium in Gitega, Burundi, on June 26, 2020. PHOTO | TCHANDROU NITANGA | AFP


Burundi has just concluded a presidential election. The new man at the helm has vowed to continue in the ‘Nyayo’ of his predecessor.

In Kenya we know much about that concept. We fell from Jomo Kenyatta’s despotic rule into Daniel Moi‘s dictatorship.

Going by the presidency of the late Pierre Nkurunziza, should the long-suffering people of Burundi expect little relief?

Nkurunziza’s presidency featured harassment of the opposition, journalists and civil society. His regime expelled global news networks and closed a UN human rights office, sparking fears of widespread state violence under the cover of a news blackout.

Indeed, there were reports of summary executions.

Then in a move that totally made no sense, the country expelled World Health Organization staff for raising concern over the government’s nonchalant handling of the Covid-19 outbreak.


These are footsteps President Evariste Ndayishimiye should not follow.

Corruption in Kenya, a vice that Justice Mumbi Ngugi described as “that insidious scourge that has reduced our society to penury” survived the change of government from Moi to Mwai Kibaki. Under Uhuru and Ruto graft is still rife.

Despite efforts of the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji, corruption always finds new loopholes to exploit. And it knows no mercy, whether the money being stolen is meant for Aids/HIV patients, funds for free primary education or, as in the most recent case, Covid-19 test kits donated by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma.

Malawi is also undergoing a re-run of a presidential election after annulment of the first. But since ousting the incorrigibly inefficient and corrupt dictatorship of Kamuzu Banda in the early 1990s, things have hardly changed for the Malawian people. Whoever wins this re-run, too, is unlikely to bring much change in ending corruption and inefficiency.

In Mali, there have been huge demonstrations aimed at ousting the regime of Ibrahim Keita. Protesters accuse him of corruption and ineffectual stewardship that has seen widespread terror attacks by Islamist groups allied to Al Queda. Mr Keita came to power after the ouster of another corrupt regime that was also ineffectual against Islamist terror groups.

There is nothing that excites us as much as elections. No sooner we elect another corrupt and ineffectual regime than we begin campaigns for the next election.

We wave party flags without caring what the party stands for. We wear T-shirts with portraits of our party leaders who are really our tribal chiefs.

We don’t vote for candidates on the basis of a criteria of integrity, commitment to ideals or history of exemplary performance.

And yet, incredibly, we become angry when those we elect turn out to be like the ones we voted out.

Elections are cyclical ritual that takes us nowhere.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator