9 February 2013

Kenya: Season of Promises and More Promises

Once again, 'Manifesto Season' is upon us. Assurances, pledges and vows are in the air. Four weeks until this great country's 5th General Elections, and camps are rolling out their blueprints in colorful extravaganzas. I bet Uhuru Kenyatta himself has not read his. Neither has Raila Odinga. If they had, some inadequacies would not appear in those very 'carefully' constructed pledges of commitment.

A manifesto, in essence, is a public declaration of policy and aims. The word itself is derived from the Latin manifestum, meaning clear or conspicuous.

The Communist Manifesto, probably the most notable, begins with the famous words '...The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.' One would imagine that Marx and Engels penned these words with a passion borne out of beliefs, which 165 years later constitute Politics 101.

So, have Kenyans, in the latest banquet of promises, been served a game-changing manifesto? Hardly. What has been dished out are ideologies salvaged from the bins of our partisan history.

They are what my boss would call original and interesting. Where the original parts are generic, ambiguous, and worse still, uninspired. The interesting parts are reminiscent of the KANU, PNU and DP manifestos. In short the original parts are not interesting and the interesting parts are not original.

The Jubilee Coalition this week transformed the Kasarani stage into a high tech marvel, while the CORD coalition dazzled Kenyans with a film of smoke and fireworks.

I somehow find it hard to imagine a Kenyan somewhere reading a manifesto, and saying to their family over the evening meal; 'at last change is nigh!' Why? Been there, done that. Kenyans have reached record highs of skepticism. We have officially been numbed to promises.

The Jubilee manifesto has a chapter aptly named, 'Land Reforms: A property owning democracy' The content reads; '...Millions of Kenyans today have no property to call their own, yet remarkably, only 20% of Kenya's land is privately owned.

Public land is 13% of the land in the country with 67% being community land, which has been traditionally managed by local authorities, with communities who actually live on it having little benefit. A significant portion of private land is untitled, with poor records of ownership, which in some areas is made worse by absentee landlords.'

Who are the ' absentee landlords' of whom you speaketh?? Of the 20% of the land in Kenya that is "remarkably" privately owned, what percentage is held by those in the Jubilee Coalition?

It is a bit audacious for a person with so much land to include a clause that criticizes people with so much land. This is a classic case of not only living in a glass house and throwing stones, but also putting those damning stones in your MANIFESTO; Your roadmap for the next four years.

Does Mr. Raila know that Chapter 4 in the CORD Manifesto quotes (without acknowledgement) Jean Jacques Rousseau's Social Contract? Probably not.

No big deal anyway. However, the obviously well thought out document denounces corruption in all its forms, including nepotism. This comes weeks after the Odinga family is scandalized for forcefully placing various members of their family in nomination slots, causing uproar in Nyanza.

That is why, among numerous other oversights, I am convinced both gentlemen barely skimmed through the pages of the document on which the next five years of their potential tenure is founded on.

So how do we consume these manifestos? We find holes in them. There are multiple flaws in the 'Blueprints'. On the one hand we will criticize the empty promises but demand that there be more, otherwise it just confirms to us that they were thought out at the last minute and strung together for the purposes of campaigns.

Why, for instance is infant mortality omitted from the manifestos, while Kenya ranks dismally in the W.H.O infant mortality index, tying with Cambodia and Azerbaijan in the late hundreds?

Two, they could've been more pragmatic. How exactly will the would-be Jubilee government execute the promise of solar laptops for each school going child?

And a daily packet of milk, for good measure? And two vehicles for every police ward (when do they get them, and do they come with inexhaustible fuel vouchers)? Lofty promises.

Granted, Policy and Party agenda are rarely on Kenyans', let alone politician's lips. We are not blind to the tragic fact that our votes are cast on the aspirants personality, charisma and, the elephant in the room, tribe. That is why candidates can shift parties like the ocean tide; frequently and in opposite directions.

I propose that that Kenya should have two main standing parties, so you are either in one or the other. And their ideologies can build over the years.

Our war on tribalism will not be won unless we eliminate some of the drivers, party and coalition politics being but some of them. Then maybe we can shift from power dynamics and focus on issues.

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