Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It’s unfair to blame middle class for weak nominations

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 27 January 2013

During the recently concluded political party nominations for various positions across the country, an idea emerged that is now gaining so much credence as to acquire the appearance of veracity. This is the idea that the Kenyan middle class failed to use its influence to get good leaders nominated for the elections, resulting in a choice restricted only to under-educated, uninspiring fellows.

This idea emanated from the observation that Kenyans on social media were almost unanimous that the likes of Ferdinand (Clifford) Waititu, Mike Sonko and their fellow travellers have no place in the governance of any unit in a modern state. Despite this unanimity, Kenyans went ahead and gave these individuals overwhelming support in the party primaries, ensuring that at least some of them will win in the forthcoming General Election.

Bolstering this argument is the perception that the social media set represents the Kenyan middle class, and that this class is sufficiently populous and influential to determine the direction the vote will take. These are perceptions that cannot stand close scrutiny.

Firstly, social media is now available to Kenyans of all classes, seeing as the Internet is accessible to almost anyone with a mobile phone in this country. The sentiments being expressed on social media must, therefore, not be assumed to be largely (or exclusively) those of middle class Kenyans, but those of Kenyans with Internet access.

Secondly, the assumption that cities like Nairobi (and perhaps the entire country) are made up of largely middle class families is completely fallacious. Nairobi is a city of the poor, and Kenya, as we all acknowledge, is a largely poor country. Assuming that the middle class vote would have made a difference in the nominations, or even in the General Election, is therefore very presumptuous.

For instance, perhaps two thirds or more of the Nairobi population lives in extreme poverty, and only a tiny minority constitutes the true middle class. It does not make sense to expect that this minority group in Kenya can influence the opinion of the majority poor. In any case, their needs and aspirations are on opposite ends of any social, political or economic spectrum.

Finally, the assumption that the middle class is so influential that all it takes for them to make a difference is to “educate” everyone else and show up at the polling station is equally fallacious. Influence, that intangible thing, does not necessarily follow wealth.

While it is true that the middle class usually has the most to lose under incompetent leadership, it is not always true that members of this class understand or even care about this fact. Often, those that understand and care are a minority, and their influence can only go so far.

The long and short of it is that it is grossly unfair to blame an economic minority for the “failings” of the majority. If the leaders nominated by the political parties are weak and incompetent, it is the leadership of political parties that should be blamed for allowing them to run in the first place. Parties have the responsibility to vet and select aspirants in a manner that ensures that no matter which one of them wins, the country would remain in good hands.

However, like the man said, we always get the leadership we deserve. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Asssociation and a senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; @lukoyeatwoli

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