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Monday, July 31, 2017

Our duty as citizens does not end when we cast our vote

After over half-century of self-rule the colonial creature is still alive, breathing and starting to thrive. Kenya’s path has not been linear or even. Kenya’s path has been complex, bounded and directed by its colonial heritage and often severely contorted by its contrived creation.

Exactly one week from today, tens of millions of Kenyans will converge in polling stations across the country to exercise a fundamental constitutional right. Kenyans above the age of 18 will mark six ballots and cast their votes for representatives of their choice.

The country has been on campaign footing for nearly three years. But the electioneering process kicked off in earnest with a mass voter registration exercise early 2017. Leading politicians literally camped in their so-called strongholds to encourage new voters to sign up.

After about nine weeks of intense political activity, thousands of kilometers have been traveled. Billions of shillings have been spent. Millions of words have been used to describe agendas, discredit or even abuse opponents and to persuade voters.

In my view the campaigns, especially between the two top presidential candidates have not been driven by the party manifestos they presented to the voting public. The political conversation has been long on innuendo but spectacularly short on specifics such as jobs for youth, quality health care and education, shared prosperity and food security, national unity and regional integration.

One would hope that the leading presidential candidates would lay out a coherent program on expanding access to quality education by improving teacher quality as well as putting more resources into improving school infrastructure. It’s not too much to demand clean water, well-lit classrooms and clean toilets for our children.

Unemployment is highest among youth who drop out of primary and high school. While they often they lack basic literacy and numeracy, their plight is compounded by lack of basic skills. What was the safe storehouse for Kenya’s unemployed has no more headroom. According to The 2016 Economic Survey report growth in the informal sector is tapering.

The agricultural sector is not thumping. Land degradation, climate change and expansion of settlement is a threat to agricultural expansion. We are in the throes of de-industrialization. Urbanization is chaotic and has failed to drive equitable prosperity. Majority of urban dwellers live in squalid slums engulfed by garbage and denied basic amenities like water, sanitation, security, hospitals and schools.

In just four short days, the campaign dust will settle, the vitriol will ebb, and the country will go into eerie silence. The question is when, how and by who will the real development challenges be addressed?

Voting is a right that comes with an inordinate burden of responsibility and an expectation of supreme discernment. But whether you vote or not, the conversation about our development challenges must not end on August 8th 2017. Leadership must be about results. Not empty campaign promises. We must hold to the fire of accountability, the feet of all elected leaders.

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