Political & Social Empowerment


Kenya’s National Assembly

Venerable African statesman and revered world leader, South African President (emeritus) Nelson Mandela once postured, “Education is the greatest equalizer, the legitimate bridge between penury and privilege.” He was most certainly accurate in this assessment. He may be long deceased but his sentiments ring ever so true & are more piquant today than at any other time. Over the course of history, these feelings have been corroborated by many more sapient commentators not less Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia who once posited in a 1956 speech, “The main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth.”

Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia

At the time of authoring this piece; Chairman of the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Mr. Wafula Chebukati had quite promptly pulled out a slightly-aged skeleton from the closet that is currently the subject of great consternation & brouhaha! To paraphrase, he may have pulled the rug from under a few feet. Reminiscent of the contents of phantom pirate Davy Jones’ treasure trove in the movie: Pirates of the Caribbean & the Dead Man’s Chest, Mr. Chebukati had unfurled a forgotten scroll of legislation that had been kept in an oven hidden from sight and was baking prime just for this exact epoch in our nation’s history. The timer has slowly been tapering to nought! It may not be entirely the fault of the current crop of legislators, because we lose nearly 70% of our political leaders every polling cycle but contemporarily, strictures of Section 22 (1) (b) of the 2011 Election Act are ripe for implementation. Reading that Article Verbatim, “A person may be nominated as a candidate for an election under this act only if that person is qualified for election to that office under the constitution and this act and holds, in the case of a Member of the National Assembly & Senate – A Degree from a University recognized in Kenya or incase of a Member of the County Assembly – also A Degree from a University recognized in Kenya.” The law was to be applied post-factum (after the foregoing) to the Elections of 2017, giving ample time for compliance. The impact of this law is that once enacted, any current and future aspirants to elective office in Kenya are duty-bound to be the holders of veritable Degrees from recognized universities pursuant to clearance to contest an election. Along the way, everybody got rather busy and we were caught up in the razzle-dazzle of life that we forgot all about it. The dredging of this gem of history has been the cause of untold misery to those unconversant with its existence. If ill-at-ease could exist as a setting on the Richter scale, then that would be the reading of the political landscape (ground) in vogue. Sections of the afflicted are most assuredly out of the blocks swinging, putting on philosophical hats and inundating our print and visual media with voluble remonstrations to this law aimed at saving their derrières! On the floor of the august house, all of a sudden legislators who are renowned to nocturnally patronize brothels, shebeens and all sorts of dastardly establishments are today accurately quoting the Biblical Books of 1st and 2nd Samuel whence King David was the most effective and lionized of Israelite Kings yet he never set foot inside any university!

Forget about the aforementioned statistic on Parliamentary decimation. This provision as currently worded has the ramification of instantly wiping off nearly 50% of Kenya’s Members of both the National and County assemblies in the impending elections. In the ‘Avenger’ franchise box-office imagery, Thanos will soon snap his fingers! Though previously, only the Head of State – President and his Deputy, additional to the County Chief Executive – the Governor and their Deputies who were the first victims of this Law, today its impact is all-encompassing as per the Elections Act No.24 of 2011. Talk about a casus belli with some hell-bent on rolling back this law.

IEBC Chair, Wafula Chebukati pursuant to Election act no.24 of 2011 pronouncing himself on the matter of Academic Qualifications for Contest Elective Office (Courtesy of NTV)

The proponents of the stricture including nominated MP on an ANC ticket, Hon. Godfrey Osotsi were effusive in support for the piece of legislation. He vociferated to The Standard newspaper, “This time around the law should be implemented without any more impediments as the aspirants were accorded sufficient time to comply with the law and acquire degrees. Additionally, it is unsustainable to have inerudite legislators if we need to improve the quality of debates and legislation.” Fairly reasonable arguments in my book. On the leeward side of the divide is where we segue with the malarkey. Some argue that we need ‘integrity’ more than inane academic papers in Kenya. Whilst the rest idly yammer ad nauseam about ‘experience’, loyalty, faithfulness and probably every virtue under the sun. Coincidental is that many either intentionally leave out or completely forget about wisdom. For them, cunning and conniving is ultimately a more valuable currency for their trade than any nous to get tangible work done for the polity but that is the politician for you. Always thinking about the next election and personal gain, with the best interest of the hoi-polloi only an afterthought. Of course, the usual pretentiously ultra-pious but realistically hypocritical and charlatan-infused brigade is never far from sight.

Contrary to what peddlers of empty rhetoric will have you believe, according to figures within my purview from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics which are bolstered by UNESCO, Kenya had a literacy rate of slightly over 81.5% in 2018. The figure is most certainly projected to rise exponentially especially with our bullish Cabinet Secretary for Education, Prof. George Magoha bulldozing policy for almost perfect transition rates among the various tiers of education. Moreover, our Universities churn out approximately 50,000 Graduates annually with some institutions today having biannual convocations. This begs the question, how can we in good continence justify having the future prospects of these many graduates tidally-locked to policy generated by men and women who have significantly lower levels of education than they? Why should we continue having partially-competent geriatrics undertaking the crucial task of leadership while one of the most highly-skilled labour force is left underemployed or worse still unemployed, regaled with ceaseless fables about being ‘the leaders of tomorrow’ while selling roasted maize and drumhead cabbage on our thoroughfares? If I am to be queried on the subject matter, I would unequivocally declare this as the lifetime opportunity for the much-touted inter-generational succession and injection of new vibrant blood into the leadership elite. It is about time for the nimble and lettered to imbue our political spaces with the audacity of hope while making a break with the sordid past of half-baked legislation that is conservative and reeks from the quiescence of overindulgence with fellows who should by now be relics from a time bygone! Lest anyone get their knickers in a twist, I value the invaluable input of experience from our seniors but if that should be misconstrued to become experience in pilfering public coffers then it is about time to put the kibosh on the practice.

The loudest chorus against the products of the ‘ivory tower’ of scholastic pursuit is by those that invoke ‘integrity’ and righteousness as more poignant qualifications for public office in antipathy to the vacuous degree certificate. Indeed, volumes have been reserved in our national dailies to purveyors of what I can only revile as brown-envelope journalism canvassing as members of the 4th Estate who try to hammer this point home. The rest cite Article 38(3) of the Constitution that furnishes without unreasonable restrictions, every adult, duly-registered citizen with the right to be registered as a voter, to vote by secret ballot in any election/plebiscite and unabashedly be a candidate for public office. Today, I seek to nullify that benighted and intellectually bereft narrative. How do you ascribe integrity most likely encapsulated in a national mantra adjunct to many other such lofty ideals to characters whose lack of enlightenment denies them the insight to even appreciate what that is? Reminiscent of the Lord Jesus Christ’s parable of the sower, can you reasonably sow seeds onto parched land, rocky outcrops or a field of tares and thorns while expecting a bumper harvest? Enlightenment in this anecdote is equated to fertile, well-tilled, cultivated and watered ground. Those waxing lyrical about virtues they can never muster should be prevailed upon to substantiate if any lawmaker can possibly legislate integrity any more than the strength of character & dutifulness resplendent in onerous men like the violently-slain, former IEBC ICT Manager Mr. Christopher Msando in 2017. I certainly do not expect this from men who in times of crisis have the effrontery to go gallivanting in the Maldives on ostensible agricultural benchmarking workshops. Heeding to the lifelong philosophy of esteemed plutocrat, Warren Buffet that has certainly held him in good stead in the pecuniary sense, “Honesty is too expensive a gift to expect from cheap people!” Where Chris Msando treaded with bare feet, many of the lily-livered poltroons we have as political apparatchiks would never dare set foot even in safety boots and hazmat suits! The great medieval, Italian commentator on governance, Niccolò Machiavelli in his treatise, ‘The Prince’ lampooned men who pronounced their valour from the rooftops in peacetime whose knees would invariably quiver like jelly in the trenches of battle! That is a sound assessment of the chatterboxes that try to roll back the educational requirements for the crucial responsibility of legislation and oversight.

Lest we forget the Martyr of Kenya’s Fight For Electoral Justice: Christopher Msando. “Honesty is too expensive a gift to expect from cheap people!”

To continue whipping this donkey deceased or not, the argument about leaders of integrity being sacrosanct to literate ones falls flat on its face. This is because for an eon we have tried all sorts of machinations to enforce integrity including paying our legislators exorbitantly so that they do not sleepwalk into the temptation to raid the public cookie jar purporting to eschew the surly bonds of poverty. We have tried electing moneyed individuals into positions of authority but it has all come a cropper, where the rich will always try to feather their nests further. Moreover, the current conundrum reminds me of the deductions of a particular African sage. In his observation of all phenomena in toto, he had surmised a few things regarding academic qualifications pertinent to Africa.

Ultimately A students will end up working for C students.

B students will find themselves working for Government.

Suffice to say that the C students are deemed unemployable and will try all sorts of endeavours pertaining to business where they will eventually succeed.

D students will work in the Police and the Armed forces.

E students who are considered the backwater of society will become Magicians, Diviners, Clairvoyants, Sorcerers, Preachers & most poignantly Politicians.

The fallout from this hierarchy is that though the A, B and C students eventually create the policies to govern a nation, ultimately if push comes to shove and some megalomaniac becomes power-hungry, it invariably falls to the armed forces to either prop up that character or dispatch of them. At the end of the day, each of the above people will come for either prayers or charms/amulets to protect themselves from the evil eye of the other man, coincidentally from the E students and at a premium. The seekers of protection include our politicos, their acolytes & surrogates albeit layabouts. Ultimately, the fate of the entire society is controlled by the D and E students, which never ends in any discernible mirth for the undersigned.

Getting people with the highest academic and professional qualifications is not merely a matter of prestige but one of imperative. If for many other professions, a relevant University Degree is a prerequisite for the job, why would we leave legislation, oversight and stewardship of the entire nation and its future prospects to men & women devoid of the same? Education more so at the tertiary level is not primarily domiciled in hammering home basic skills but is more about soft skills and honing philosophical reasoning. That is where the formative courses like Development Concepts and Application 101 with regards to development of the State and Society find utility. This is one facet that will certainly be missing in one with only basic numeracy, literacy & debating skills external to ever setting foot in the hallowed halls of a University Lecture hall imbibing from the omniscient Professor. The political class is often a mirror of society. Here, the citizenry becomes the weak link as we idolize and indulge the so-called ‘hustlers’ that came from the gutter, riding on money and populist rhetoric to public office.

Pandering to self-preservation, claims will always be made that the entitled leaders feel qualified! However, does their development record echo similar sentiments?

A startling inquiry: How are we ever going to convince future generations that education is valuable enough to be deemed ‘the key to success’ when we are led on autopilot by the unscholarly that frown upon the acquiescence of know-how? This caliber of mediocrity is certainly costly. It becomes an exercise in futility trying to inculcate meritocracy when men and women feel whim, genius, bravery and charisma as political operators is more important than actual skill, competence and qualifications. In times gone by, thoughtful philosophers like Plato & Socrates found a few ignominious loopholes with democracy. Not that they opposed wholesale the system instead only that they both preferred a version of it christened ‘epistocracy.’ Epistocracy is described as a form of democracy that is of, for and by the enlightened. This is the belief that only the rational belong anywhere near a ballot box! In his musings, Plato remonstrated against a system that allowed anarchy to be shrouded as freedom. Socrates was deeper in his opprobrium equating democracy to a ship. He gave the anecdote of a merchant who had acquired a ship at exorbitant cost. He questioned, rather figuratively that if this ship was to be safely involved in a voyage to any particular destination, who was the right man to captain it? Would it be judicious to select any Tom, Dick & Harry on the seafront who claims to possess folklore of the ocean hitherto recounted by his grandfather or wouldn’t it be preferable to hire a person with verifiable experience in maritime and nautical rigmarole with a few voyages under his belt? Socrates ultimately got into hot water over his conscience. Eventually sentenced to death by imbibing hemlock by a small jury of only 500 people, today the rationale in his exemplar tales are clear for the conscientious to see. Chinua Achebe in his book, ‘A Man of The People’ cast an indictment on society evidenced in how his protagonist politician and Minister for Culture, Chief The Honourable Micah A. Nanga pulled the strings to attempt securing a scholarship abroad for his would-be challenger, Odili Samalu. Prima facie, his intentions appeared noble but the truth burst forth that he did all this as he preferred Mr. Samalu engrossing himself in “chewing books like yam” all the while leaving the murky arena of realpolitik to seasoned spinners of yarn like himself!

Socrates analogy on unenlightened Democracy as a ‘Ship of Clowns’

Today, the entire global community is in the throes of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the Information Age. In building upon the foundations of the generations that came before us, knowledge and data are key drivers of our jalopy into the future. Globalization means that Kenya is part of a newly-founded global village. Can Kenya that has in the past primed herself as a pioneer in technology and innovation in not just Sub-Saharan Africa but the continent at large afford to today be relegated to the trailing edge of the same due to retrogressive leadership? How do we tool our communities to effectively confront the pristinely-minted global challenges whereas we haven’t the stewards possessing the nous on these new frontiers? It is no longer feasible to avow that we can aptly solve today’s challenges with the tools pried from yesteryears. Indeed, a growth mindset cannot be indoctrinated into the unenlightened any more than you can coach a diminutive kinsman to be 7-foot for a successful basketball career!

Our nation intently needs to revert back to the factory default-setting of ideological politics. Long lost are the halcyon days when political debate in Kenya was conducted on the basis of ideals, principles and dogma! We read and watch documentaries on the likes of Arwings Kodhek, Charles Njonjo, Tom Mboya, Mbiyu Koinange, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Ronald Ngala among a plethora of post-independence political luminaries differing on matters of principle and nothing personal. Indeed in 1966 when some MPs closed ranks with Vice President, Hon. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga in ditching KANU for the opposition outfit KPU and doubtlessly falling afoul of the Kenyatta government, among their ranks included heavy political hitters from Luo-Nyanza joined in solidarity by former Kapenguria 6 member Hon. Bildad Kaggia of Kandara Constituency, Hon. George Fredrick Oduya (Mt. Elgon West), Hon. Joseph Nthula (Iveti South) and a full panoply from the rank and file of Kenya much to the chagrin of Kenyatta. Today that would be as unprecedented as dodo eggs when looked at in the prism of Kenyan politics degenerating to primarily be organized not on political party ideology but on the fickle chalk circles of ethnic balkanization. But how did we get here? It was all the product of a catabasis from having the well-educated and intellectually sound getting elected to having other irreverent considerations like fealty, tribe, monetary inducements and violence. Conscientious leaders got ganged up against and even assassinated in cold blood. The ramification of all these is in the degradation of the quality of debate, the type of legislation in the house and interests of the members. Important functions of the legislature like deliberations on important bills, parliamentary oversight and critique of legislation is sabotaged when we lack well-trained men and women to crunch the numbers and connect rhyme to reason. Today even debate on taxation becomes party to populism when those who support an item on the floor of the house disingenuously disown their pronouncements when in the public gallery. Consequently, the newfangled Leader of the Majority Party in the National Assembly; Hon. Amos Kimunya was forced to quip that we can no longer afford to slow down the horses just to have donkeys catch up! As mentioned in the paragraph above, our match into a bright and alluring future powered by information will only be hampered by having too many hackneyed individuals not possessing the requisite wherewithal in the higher echelons of political power.

Instructive to note, is that despite the best-laid plans, we always end up with a myriad of lacunae and loopholes in policy albeit legislation which curtails any hopes of the popular agenda fructifying. This is majorly attributable to decision-makers who lack the import of foresight or even the basic capacity to make projections into future trends from data, logic and even empirical wisdom. Invariably, many a time you can only see what your mind’s eye has been trained to see! But why is this the case? Your guess is as good as mine! A popular Kenyan standup comedian, who at the point to authoring this piece is in the throes of overt real-life marital strife once during the good times performed a skit about the disconnect between up-to-date information on the disbursement of government funds and an inkling on the same by the ‘mwananchi.’ He bemoaned the times that government had slated money for a project yet both the President and the proletariat are none the wiser on the disbursement. This is absolute bliss for the run-of-the-mill politician who will gormandize the funds and end up not being accountable to anybody on the pilferage accrued. No project would be forthcoming! The Citizenry have definitely dampened their expectations with regards to holding their leaders to account. In a time such as this where the national government has been found wanting, Civic Education would be within the remit of an altruistic leader who would revel in growing with his polity. An empowered populace is critical in holding political operatives to account.

Gladiatorial jousts will be our portion if we continue putting other considerations superior to intellectual competence in electing our leaders.

It should be deemed an indictment on our collective intellectual aptitude as a nation that despite the existence of Laws governing leadership and qualifications for it, we still prefer to pander to nebulous sensibilities like gut instinct, charisma and idiosyncrasy in picking our leaders. It is true that leadership ability is innate and divinely-bequeathed. However, the aforementioned qualities are naturally supposed to be peripheral and contingent to where the law is judged short-handed with other remedial measures lacking.

Shifting gears to one of the core pillars of our current regime’s manifesto among the Big 4 agenda, Enhanced manufacturing (Industrialization). At advanced levels, industrialization is actually a complex activity that can best be comprehended by the experts, technocrats and professionals on the same. I have pondered over things pursuant to our current lagging behind as an economy and have come to an incontrovertible conclusion. We have over the years suffered a dearth in professionals among our political and national executive elites to drive the agenda of industrialization. A cursory look at the professional profiles of the last three Chinese Leaders shows a conspicuous trend. It should not be lost on anyone that China is growing to a behemoth of World Economic puissance as a direct consequence of being an industrial power and is currently a predominant Kenyan bilateral albeit financial partner.

Xi Jingping (2013 – Future) Chemical Engineer (Quinghua University)
Hu Jintao (2002 – 2012) Hydroelectric Engineer (Quinghua University)
Jiang Zemin (1992 – 2002) Electrical Engineer (Shanghai University)
If China had decided to exercise laissez-faire on matters of governance thereby voting in Enchanters, Buddhist monks, Circus Clowns and all varieties of oafs based only on their charisma, would half of the glory we witness today be manifest?

Invariably, it is not a matter of conjecture why China is on the fast lane to large-scale industrial proliferation. Not to split hairs here but I am left to wonder, If China had decided to exercise laissez-faire on matters governance thereby voting in Enchanters, Buddhist monks, Circus Clowns and all varieties of oafs we see in their movies, based only on their charisma, would half of what we witness today be manifest? This brings me to the point that people without tertiary-level qualifications are unlikely to value industrialization as they just won’t comprehend it. Preferably, they would revert to what they know best which is partisan adherence to traditional lore! Decisions will become a function of emotions when sound rationale is not possessed by the responsible. It also becomes an exercise in the buffoon arts to expect people with inferior qualifications and by extension competence to be able to oversight effectively the Head of State, their Deputy, The Governor and his Principal Assistant. Today, we have budgets that range into trillions. I feel it is unfair to expect people who may never have encountered that figure academically before to dexterously compute and discuss such cartoonishly large sums. They will start thinking they are counting confetti! Then and only then will somebody start imagining a ceaseless stream where they can draw without the owner noticing.

At the end of the day, no matter how many times your local politician fallaciously invokes ‘Wanjiku’, ‘jamaa wa boda-boda’, ‘mama mboga’, ‘mbogi wa kuchoma mahindi’ among others, Politics will eternally be a game of personal interest. Conversely, Leadership entails solving societal problems decisively & conclusively leaving your jurisdiction empowered. When we have characters without the best interest of the populace in their hearts, then dishonesty will be the lowest common denominator. We often hear in the media that public interest litigation has been filed in the high courts by some obscure ‘Nairobi businessman’. Far be it from anybody imagining that it is just some sacrificial initiative by any common-Joe. At the end of the day, whatever civil initiative that is afoot will always be marshaled by the intellectual elite from the civil society, the bar (for advocates) or some makeweight acting on behalf of a parliamentarian. It may be de rigueur for the common man to be hoodwinked into electing all sorts of scandalous dingbats into public office citing their predilection to ‘kukula na sisi’ (sharing whatever he has with us) but when all is said and done such characters will end up immuring us in sacrilege adjunct to being anathema to any prospects of progress in our society. As the old axiom goes, “Knowledge is potential power”, most poignantly in the prevailing information age.

By dennismukoya

I am a consummate thinker of new solutions which I passionately endeavour to implement.

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