Why Vote When You Can Sleep?

We’ve gone from a situation where we change the forest and keep the monkeys to simply changing the time we see the monkeys in the forest. As a matter of fact, the only change the Kenyan citizen has ever successfully voted to make is the referendum that saw the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.

Last week I was engaged in a debate with some friends on the ongoing voter registration exercise. Some bright bulb had decided to ask why we should register to vote while the country is going through a crisis in the public health sector and in some far flung corner of the country a biting drought had been mismanaged into an annual event absent festivities. In his opinion, the smart thing to do on Election Day is stay in bed, watch movies and pray against election based violence. Whoever wins, wins and whoever refuses to concede defeat goes to court (hopefully without inciting some youth to carry out acts of violence along the way).

He remained resolute, despite having a voter’s card and a national ID card, he would sit out the cycle of change. Many tried to change his mind with tired reasoning and catch phrases such as ‘it’s your right as a Kenyan citizen’ and ‘your vote is your voice’ and they all ultimately failed. It’s not hard to see why they failed if you look keenly enough and think through whatever reason is given to sway the hearts of the young, the old and the clueless. The reasons are baseless rhetoric repeated until they have no meaning within a democratic context, especially in Kenya.

…the smart thing to do on Election Day is stay in bed, watch movies and pray against election based violence.
  1. Vote for change

Or more precisely ‘Vote for the change you want’. This word Change in Kenyan politics is as hollow as a coconut and similarly as useless in any intellectual debate. What, pray tell, are we changing to? The opposition party, National Super Alliance (NASA) is a collection of politicians whose careers span Kenya’s multi-party political history.  At one point or another all these individuals were in the ruling coalition as ministers, Vice-Presidents or Prime Minister. The ruling coalition is equally a bunch of the same monkeys sitting in the same forest with a former Prime Minister and various ministers rattling the sabre to retain power. Change? What change? We’ve gone from a situation where we change the forest and keep the monkeys to simply changing the time we see the monkeys in the forest. As a matter of fact, the only change the Kenyan citizen has ever successfully voted to make is the referendum that saw the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution. But with its full implementation remaining a pipe dream, the pride of that change has been replaced with the sort of self-ridicule a bad inside joke attracts at a funeral.

In more than one place across Kenya, representatives who have been in Parliament for more than ten years (with no tangible track record) will switch parties and peddle the gospel of ‘vote for change, vote for me’.  Same person but expecting different results…right.

So this becomes an outright lie for most people.

  1. Your vote, your voice.

This used to be my favorite. I mean, who doesn’t want to be heard? But think about it. You vote once in five years. Your representative sits in the County Assembly and for five years gets away with gross salary increments, out-sized allowances, exaggerated trips to bench mark (someone must explain to me how this became a thing) and the title Mheshimiwa. For five years he/she introduces no bills for debate, contributes as minimally as possible, attends the minimum number of sittings so the seat is not declared vacant, fights on the most trivial of things and will be caught in more scandals than makes any good sense. As the voter, you may protest the numerous trips to see a chair made in China but has that ever stopped them from going? Has it reduced the scandals that embarrass the represented people?

So what voice is it exactly that you have in that card? Used once in five years it  stops being a voice, it’s more effectively an emoji.

  1. If you don’t vote, don’t complain

This fantastic line was thrown my way during a long winded debate on Facebook. Somehow, the chap who wrote it overlooked the fact that the government is run on taxes and not voters’ cards. So if corruption is a problem you don’t need to be a registered voter to complain and join a protest, jump in and complain. If you have brought bread today, it was taxed and that tax (VAT) is paying back loans, building railways, paying salaries et al. A voter’s card just gives you the chance to pick the right custodians for the system, and we’ve been failing at that for some time now.

So what voice is it exactly that you have in that card? Used once in five years it  stops being a voice, it’s more effectively an emoji.
  1. If you don’t vote you elect bad leaders

By the time someone says this to you they are hoping to play on your fears. Bad leaders are elected…simple. The only way to be elected is by someone voting. So if you don’t vote you can’t elect a bad leader, or even a good one. In Kenya the definition of a bad leader really needs to be defined before this expression puts many confused people at the ballot. We often see a leader as being bad because of their tribe or who they are running against. So we pass up people with development agenda because they are the wrong tribe or are in the wrong party and settle for some dullard with no vision beyond winning a fourth term. Watch the news after coverage for rallies has ended and you’ll ask mind numbing questions.

Why are students gathered under a tree for class while CDF funds are distributed to each county for such projects? Why should childbirth resemble a death sentence when monies for constructing a hospital are distributed and set aside in County Budgets? Where are the irrigation projects, the sanitation projects, youth empowerment schemes? But we’ve got fat cat politicians driving around villages telling everyone how there will be change and they need to return for a fifth term.

 

So I’m with my friend on this one. It might be better to stay home and watch movies.

Or I could go out there and vote.  But not because of some tired excuse like civil duty. I believe there is a simpler argument to get me out of bed in August. I want to shape my country and make it better. I’m tired of complaining about how my taxes are lost in one corruption scandal after another but seeing the same fat cat politicians rotating seats in parliament. Why should I vote for the area MP in my village when I am older than any evidence of tarmac in the area? He’s asking for a third term so he can vanish into the thickness of Nairobi as the borehole near the school dries up. I want to break this foolish cycle.

My former school mate wants to become an MCA but can barely manage his own affairs. I want to go out there and stop him plunging the country further into a dark hole of uncertainty.  I want to vote against my father’s preferred candidate because he’s been selected on the basis of tribe and not any merit I can write home about.

Where are the irrigation projects, the sanitation projects, youth empowerment schemes? But we’ve got fat cat politicians driving around villages telling everyone how there will be change and they need to return for a fifth term.

I don’t want simply to change anything with my vote. I want to claim a country back from decades of decay and power imbalance. I want to vote for a governor that I can impeach should county funds go missing. Not shake my head as the issue is politicized in the press. I want to vote for an MCA I will see in the village market, where I can ask about the development agenda progress. I want a women’s rep who will propose a bill to provide sanitary towels to girls in schools. Not women known more for confrontation and party affiliation thus deservedly earning the derogatory title ‘flower girls’.

That’s why I’ll get out of bed in August. Find your own reason, but whatever you do don’t do it for someone else or without understanding why you’re out of bed.

 

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