Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Kenyan Politician

Society, they say, gets the leaders it deserves. It may be wise for Kenyans to reflect on this saying especially during this election season. In Kenya, leaders are defined as councillors, MPs, Presidents and aspirants for those positions. We can therefore paraphrase the above aphorism- we get the politicians we deserve.
Some people would say that democracies propel the best in a society into leadership positions. Many more would aver that a democratic process produces what represents the average view of the majority, that leaders in a democracy would reflect the average situation in a society.
I disagree with both positions, especially on the Kenyan political scene. Judging from our political history, it would appear that our democratic process tends to throw up individuals who will not fit into any other area of our social life. Thus many unsuccessful businesspeople turn to politics, as do unsuccessful lawyers, doctors, teachers, professors etc. Politics has turned into a playground for failures and retirees, and it is no wonder that the people into whose hands we leave the affairs of state many times have no idea what to do with the power we hand them.
I also disagree with the earlier assertions partly from a selfish point of view: I believe I am an average Kenyan, and very few of our ‘representatives’ represent what I believe in. If I was to agree that they represent either the best or the average among Kenyans, I would have to agree that the average Kenyan has many obnoxious attributes, a few of which I will enumerate.
Laziness would be the first attribute I would give the average Kenyan based on the behaviour of his representative. They work the fewest hours and waste no opportunity to avoid their responsibilities, but they expect their regular pay check at the end of the month. They perfect the art of procrastination, waiting until the last minute to begin doing what they must do, taking the maximum allowed time, and them asking for more.
Greed and hankering after quick wealth would have to compete for honours with laziness. For our politicians, leadership positions are opportunities to enrich oneself, their family and friends. They will steal, blackmail, grab, and use all means at their disposal to become as rich as possible in the shortest possible time.
Dishonesty would follow as a key attribute of the average Kenyan. Our representatives have no compunction singing the praises of one individual or idea today and without batting an eyelid change their tune the next day. This change would not be motivated by any amount of deep soul-searching, but would result from some such personal misfortune as defeat in nominations, or the offer or promise of a position in government, or even an exchange of some sum of money or property. Our ‘leaders’ will paint each other as monsters in daylight, while dining together in the evening and laughing at their daytime theatrics.
A final attribute I would reluctantly bestow on the average Kenyan would be either low intelligence or plain ignorance. People who sprout profound wisdom when not in politics suddenly start saying the most ridiculous things in public and expecting everyone to believe them. The tragedy is not that they say such things, but that a large segment of the population actually believes them and takes them seriously.
Because I am reluctant to accept that the average Kenyan possesses the attributes enumerated above, I disagree with the precept that our politicians represent the attributes of the best or the average Kenyan. I think we take politicians far too seriously in our country, and end up expecting too much from them. Politics and elections are a matter of life and death to politicians, for that is where they earn their living from. But they are not, and must not be made matters of life and death for the average Kenyan.
This is why it puzzles me that we are quick to take up machetes and hack our neighbours to death during election seasons, and then turn and blame politicians for inciting us. We run into streets and brave police bullets while stoning strangers on behalf of politicians who wouldn’t care less if we live or die.
If we agree that politicians do not represent the best, or even the ‘average’ among us, then we must behave a bit more responsibly and put politicians squarely in their place. We must treat them with the indulgence we would give a person who cannot take responsibility for his actions. We should give them very little responsibility, watch them carefully every step of the way and refrain from blaming them for ruining things, for that is what is expected of them.
The alternative would be to accept that we are all like our politicians, God forbid!

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