AFRICANGLOBE – Although democratic elections in Africa have been problematic due to three obvious obstacles — lack of civic education, poor electoral laws and a culture of ethnic politics — things are not as bad as they might appear.
It is true that a great deal has changed in many parts of the continent, but Kenya seems to be retrogressing. It is, therefore, foolhardy to argue that business can be usual even after the worrying trends that appear to be unfolding in the country three months prior to the much anticipated March 2013 elections.
When I say a great deal has changed in Africa, I mean most countries in Africa are slowly embracing a culture of free and fair elections such as Ghana, Malawi, Angola, South Africa and Nigeria.
It is surprising that Kenya does not make it on the list of African countries that hold peaceful elections, yet less than a decade ago, it seemed to be one of the democratic pillars in Africa.
The Kenyan story is slowly changing from being a model of African democracy to that of a failed State. The question is why?
I will refer to two of the three obvious obstacles mentioned earlier but pare them down two — lack of civic education and a culture of ethnic politics.
With the promulgation of the new Constitution, it is only fair to accept that Kenya has made a significant step in the right direction regarding clear electoral laws and, for the first time, we are witnessing integrity court cases regarding the clearance of political aspirants before elections.
Citizens of Kenya are Also Responsible
However, the focus should not only be on politicians since they are not alone in the derby. The electorate is an equally important player, but little has been done to motivate it.
The last-minute voter education may not do much, which perhaps explains the poor voter turnout in parts of the country.
Nevertheless, this is not the time to cry wolf since the clock is ticking.
What is worrying is the current political theatrics starred by presidential aspirants. They make politics look like a lifetime career and the presidency a jackpot. The kind of unity displayed is based on tribal alliances rather than issues.
Attempts of looking at voters as mere numbers with price tags akin to consumer products on the shelves of a supermarket are short-lived. What I am certain of is that Kenyans can reject ethnic hatred, which apparently worsens every second as we get closer to the election.
Who should be blamed for the repeated acts of violence each election year? Kenyans have themselves to blame and should be reminded of the narrative of the ostrich that buries its head in the sand, fully convinced that it is safe while in reality its entire body is exposed.
The country cannot afford a repeat of the 2007-2008 post-election violence. If it were not for the intervention of Benjamin Mkapa, John Kufuor, Kofi Annan and women like Graça Machel who went out of their way to mediate, the Kenyan story would be different.
Africa is currently on an economic take-off, with the continent registering consistent growth of over 5 per cent in the last couple of years. Kenya is East Africa’s economic giant and it ought to lead the region politically, economically and socially.
The last thing East Africa and the continent need is political instability that will act as an impediment to economic take-off. Kenya owes Africa a peaceful election. Africa will never forgive Kenyans if they squander this opportunity.
Dr Ogenga is director, Tazama Media Consultants, and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute of the Advancement of Social Sciences’ Sociology Department, Boston University, USA.