The Politician cartoon strip warns, "Election promises are like babies...Easy to make, hard to deliver."
We need to pay close heed to this warning as we are finally in that season when all manner of sweet, juicy, succulent promises will be happily thrown our way. With the election fever upon us, elected politicians are in a spot of bother; there is no guarantee - save for a select few - that they will return. And for those select few, there is no guarantee that they will ascend to the highest office in the land - which they all hungrily covet.
It is not that we do not know that we will be liberally told "sweet nothings" to ply votes from us. It is a kind of ritual that seems to afflict politicians globally, for as the former leader of the USSR Nikita Khrushchev lamented: "Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river." Perhaps it all has to do with the notion that "politics" is derived from the words "poly" meaning "many" and "tics" meaning "blood-sucking parasites"?
So why does our political leadership get away with it? This is the problem with Kenya. And this problem has a name. It is called impunity: or the manifest lack of political accountability. For some reason, we continue to shield, feed and nurture it; refusing to summon it, call it to account and cast it out forever.
Watching the political migrations currently happening as different politicians party-hop in the name of "democracy" and the "freedom of choice", it must be submitted that Kenyans are no closer to holding their leaders accountable than a decade ago; when it was hoped that the exit of the independence Kanu party would finally usher in a new stage of political maturity.
At that point President Kibaki, as he was being sworn in, exuberated: "The National Rainbow Coalition represents the future of Kenyan politics. Narc is the hope of this country...see what a gorgeous constellation of stars we are, and just look at this dazzling mosaic of people of various ethnic backgrounds, race, creed, sex, age, experience and social status. Never in the history of this country have its leaders worked so hard together as one indivisible entity with one vision."
We now have the benefit of hindsight to show us how naïve we were. However, has there been any accountability for this failure by Narc to produce the political Canaan it promised as the "future of Kenyan politics"? Even more important as we head into the next elections: has there been any accountability for its failure to live up to the majority of the promises it made when campaigning in those heady last days of 2002? How do we expect those now offering themselves for the presidency to keep their promises if we have not properly closed the accounts of their predecessors?
For those who may have forgotten, in 2002 Narc promised to:
- Deliver a new constitution within 100 days of ascending to power and accelerate reforms.
- Run a lean, professional and corruption-free government.
- Exercise zero-tolerance to corruption, right from the top.
- Attain annual economic growth rate of at least six per cent per annum.
- Provide free primary education for all children.
- Provide quality, affordable and accessible healthcare.
- Respect, uphold and protect civil liberties and press freedom.
- Maintain unflinching fidelity to the rule of law and protect integrity of the constitution;
- Guarantee and ensure the security of every Kenyan.
- Exercise utmost fiscal discipline by reining in on extravagance.
- Nurture constitutional democracy as the central unifying public philosophy for the people of Kenya by promoting good governance.
- Ensure transitional justice by holding past perpetrators of injustices against the people of Kenya accountable for their actions;
- Construct 150,000 low-cost housing units per annum.
- Create 500,000 jobs per annum.
- Transform Kenya into a competitive environment for investment.
- Ensure equitable and fair distribution of national resources
These were sixteen promises. A generous evaluation would show that NARC adequately lived up to only one of these promises - the provision of free primary education for all children - while partially or somewhat fulfilling at least three others - the attainment of an annual growth rate of at least six per cent per annum, the respect and protection of civil liberties and press freedom and the transformation of Kenya into a competitive environment for investment.
So we have twelve unsatisfied promises. The constitution was not delivered in one hundred days; it took the trauma of post-election violence in 2007 to galvanize us to overhaul the old constitution establish a new, progressive constitution. The government is neither lean nor corruption free - the 43 or so ministries established as part of the political patronage machine makes government bloated and effectively creates a vehicle for unprofessionalism and corruption. Zero-tolerance of corruption, whether at the top or bottom is a myth - a cruel political fable spun whereas the reality is that corruption is still the way we conduct business.
Healthcare is neither of satisfactory quality nor is it affordable or accessible. This is why media headlines have recently been dominated by the National Health Insurance scandal. Since 2002, infidelity to the rule of law and the constitution has continued to dominate Kenya. Insecurity is pervasive: the tragedy here is that the dangers to the Kenyan citizen are as much posed by the pervasive criminal gangs as the venal security agencies.
Various reports have continually highlighted government extravagance and "good governance" remains a rhetorical phrase to be used especially when trying to appease donors. There has been no transitional justice - even the most recent violations related to post-election violence have become politically inconvenient to address. There is no data demonstrating the achievement of the promises of low-cost housing that is humane as well as the creation of half a million jobs per year. Finally, where is the evidence to show any attempt to equitably distribute national resources?
Alas! We were taken for a ride. So beware: election season is upon us. There, for sure, will be countless election promises. But, to make them count, we have to hold our politicians accountable.
The writer is the Kenya Program Manager at the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa.