Tuesday, September 12, 2017

KENYA SHOWING HOW TO BUILD A DEMOCRACY

It was the shot heard around the world.

Last week the Supreme Court of Kenya nullified the Uhuru Kenyatta’s August 8th re-election causing jaw dropping shock and unbridled jubilation – depending on which side of the divide you were. The supreme court ruled by the narrowest of margins that the illegalities, irregularities whatever you may call them were enough

The court called for a repeat of the poll within 60 days and since then the Independent Electoral & Borders Commission (IEBC) has set an October 17th date for the show down.

Kenyatta in his initial reaction said he disagreed with the decision but would respect it, but hours later in front of his adoring fans, with emotions running high, he used a few choice words to describe the Supreme Court justices and his political rivals, which had all the do-gooders out in force.

Commentators were split down the middle.

 On the one hand there those who said this set a dangerous precedent especially since no election is perfect and the irregularities were not significant as to overturn the end result. On the other hand there those who argued that the Kenyan judiciary was coming of age and taking its independence seriously, which was a good thing in and of itself....

Both sides were right and wrong.

The idea that we should look the other way because some indiscretions were committed but could not be proved to have affected the poll and therefore we should ignore is wrong. It allows for a constant readjustment of what is right and wrong, badly blurring the line between right and wrong. We do not live I a perfect world but we should aspire to some minimum standards of decency that should be shifted only at the cost of much pain.

True we do not live in Utopia. And true that in our everyday lives there is no clear black or white but rather many shades of gray between the two extremes.

Once you allow a certain moral relativism to be take route in judgement of your actions as sure as night follows day you can expect that our conduct will worsen rather than improve over time.

On the other hand I think the judges are not the real heroes of this outcome but the people who took their grievances to the court in the first place.

There is a lot of cynicism about the working of government institutions and whether they can deliver on their mandate. This negativity then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because then we don’t engage these institutions and they do nothing anyway. It is not for instance the courts’ job to go out looking for cases to try. If nothing is brought to them they will do nothing.

I like to use the example of our local police post. If people break into our homes and don’t report to the police because after all what will they do. When they draw up a budget it will be hard to justify it in your area because not much crime as reported. Therefore your police post will remain underfunded and undermanned.

"The pillars of democracy can only be built and confidence built in them if they are tested. You need to put them on the spot....

We hear only about the demonstrations and confrontation with security during the US civil rights movement of half a century ago. What gets less play is the amount of court action there was, where the movement forced the courts of the land to pronounce themselves on various issues that contradicted the spirit of the US constitution. And it’s not as if all the courts were populated with liberal judges willing to give them a fair hearing.

The demonstrations helped raise awareness but the court rulings helped uphold the law. The fight still goes on in the US but there has been major improvement in many parts.

So the lesson from Kenya is that we cannot give up on our institutions even if it’s convenient to do so, because in doing so when the final day of reckoning comes they will be without teeth due to our negligence.


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