I remember what breakfast was on the morning of March 4th, 2013. Hot mandazi that needed to be pinched carefully to avoid searing my fingers, and over-sugared, black tea. Like a lot of my agemates, it was my first time voting, and I had stayed up all night from the excitement. The polling stations were opened at 5 a.m, I queued at 6 a.m and had voted by 11 a.m, an indication of the masses as opposed to the efficiency of the IEBC. None of the candidates I voted for won, but the hours spent on the line were worth it.
Nine years later, it’ll be my generation’s third election. It’s impossible to speak collectively, but I’d say I’ve gotten less idealistic, and more pragmatic now, and in the last elections in 2017, one candidate that I voted for won, which is progress in my book. In between the time between 2013 and 2017, I’m sure that we’ve all learnt that politics isn’t always what it seems, and it was pleasing to see more people willing to compromise for candidates we would rather have been fined than voted for five years before.
A painful, publicized lesson was that while voting was my democratic right, the decision on who governed us was only worth the paper that we had placed our marks on. The people that counted the votes matter more than those that actually voted. A heart-breaking moment back then, but an important lesson in an election year for one of Kenya’s most important elections in a long time. The stakes are high and the consequences, both good and bad, will be felt for generations to come.
In an election that will be as close as close can get, Raila Odinga will square off with his one-time ally, William Ruto. As usual during election time, and sadly for the state of our economy and governance, most Kenyans will abandon critical thought and employ emotions during this period. Rumours will be more important than facts, and stereotypes about the ineptitude or competence of certain people and tribes will be revived. The election will be held in August and our common sense will be gone till September.
I recently bought a mandazi during a trip to Nairobi and compared to the one I bought in 2013, it was a smaller, less fleshy snack, even with inflation considered. The presidential vote winner in 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta, has reigned over a period that has been emblematic of the politics that have seen our society in a constant state of economic, social, and intellectual decline. Mandazis and portions in restaurants have gotten smaller, while the bills for rent, cooking gas, petrol, and food have gotten bigger. His brand of politics, which isn’t unique to him and is steeped into the overall Kenyan political culture, is designed to keep the masses invested in a ‘change is coming tomorrow’ mirage while they are robbed and mismanaged in the present day.
Both leading front runners, Raila and Ruto have tainted pasts. Allegations of grand corruption, nepotism, and totalitarianism abound but the average Kenyan voter has, through a potent twin mix of an education system designed to stifle critical thought and willful ignorance, ensured that one of them will occupy State House next year.
Granted, Kenyan politics is an expensive affair, because most voters care little other than expecting anyone in contention for a seat will have to buy their attention, and hopefully their vote. From the outside looking in, it’s a very foolish decision, but it’s understandable for someone who understands context. Most politicians aren’t in it to better the lives of the electorate but their own and their families and associates. Because of that, the voter feels that he has to get something in return, regardless of the short-termism of their decision.
A scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours scenario, only that it is a lop-sided arrangement that benefits the elected more than it does the electorate. To ask the voter to vote in a sensible, incorruptible person into office is only a small part of meaningful change, and not the change itself. The Kenyan system is engineered to favour the chosen few at the expense of everyone else; it’s evident in budgetary allocations, in who gets billions in bailouts, which crimes and vices are criminalised and which aren’t, and whose voice, life, and experience are amplified and accorded hero status.
A complete overhaul of the Kenyan leadership would be a good place to start, but by strengthening institutions and following up on issues that affect us, we would have a better, more meaningful life. Whether Raila or Ruto is President in September isn’t as important as whether we will allow the winner to get away with violating the constitution, implementing populist or whimsical financial policy or ignoring campaign promises.
While a majority of the population has suspended critical thought, it is now that politicians are using their brains on overdrive. Pitting families, clans, tribes, religions, and social classes against each other in their attempt to win the required majority of votes. If most of our people’s brainpower is gone until September, we are better off digging in and tightening our belts; start preparing for higher basic item prices, runaway corruption, and a widening gap between the wealthiest and the poorest.
The McDonald/Big Mac index informally measures the purchasing power equality between two currencies, how much can one currency buy, in McDonald’s hamburgers as opposed to the host country’s currency. Juxtaposed for context is the Mandazi/Smokie index, our generation’s litmus test for gauging the state of the economy, and it has been very harsh on Uhuru’s term, he has increased the price of a smokie from Ksh 20 in 2013, to Ksh 35 in 2022, while mandazis have drastically reduced in weight and size. This has happened as more important foodstuffs and products have had even steeper increases, punished the ordinary citizen, and had more people living hand to mouth.
If we suspend our thinking and abdicate our political responsibility to those that understand complex issues at a basic level, I have a feeling that we will not only get smaller mandazis and costlier smokies but steeper taxes and slower societal growth.