The silly season is upon us. “Silly season” refers to our election cycle. But it is a misleading characterisation of our kind of politicking. The phrase seems to imply a period of amusing activities which offer comic relief from the hard life of earning a livelihood.
If only our politicking were so innocuous! From now till the elections in August 2022, we will witness politicking that is foolhardy in the extreme, tribal to a crude level, narcissist to a pathological extent, delusional to disorienting heights, and violent to horrifying depths.
Politicians will insinuate that other ethnic groups are the enemy of their community. Some will claim persecution of their communities. Others will claim that their ethnic group is special and demand the deputy presidency and a certain number of positions in the civil service. Some will claim that God is on their side while calling their opponents agents of the devil. Others will be crowned tribal warlords at elaborate ritual ceremonies broadcast faithfully by our media with running commentary by professors and lawyers. Some politicians will invoke their ancestral spirits of war.
We will see goons beating opponents. Political sycophants will abandon their education and, foaming at the mouth, declare that their candidate cannot lose, only rigged out.
Jobless youth will be paid a few coins from looted billions to disrupt opposing campaign rallies. Criminal gangs will miraculously reappear and offer their violent services to the highest bidder. And Kenya, like in past election cycles, will titter on the edge of an apocalyptic precipice.
The Kenyan political culture has for long been defined by politicians. To the Kenyan politician, politics is a game in which there are no holds barred and no prisoners taken. Its ultimate goal is to win at whatever cost. The role of elections in a democratic matrix is lost in the cacophony of hate speech, scare or warmongering. The idea that elections are a means by which an electorate chooses those who are best placed to advance their welfare is lost in our nihilistic practice of politics.
I once asked a very educated colleague who and why he had chosen for the positions of Governor, MP, Women’s Representative and Member of County Assembly. He struggled to remember some of his choices. As for the why, he told me proudly that he had voted for “a three-piece suit”. In other words, the personal integrity, experience or education of people who would be in charge of billions were not considerations in his choice. He had sacrificed his own welfare and his children’s future at the altar of politics of tribe and party.
My colleague is just like the millions for whom voting is an activity separate from governance. Immediately after we vote, we begin to complain about bad roads, thievery and crime.
We agree on the kind of leadership qualities needed to solve our problems. But this intelligent discussion will be forgotten in the nihilistic and violent frenzy of the next election.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator