Challenging myself, challenging public notions, challenging what it means to be African in the 21st Century.
It is fair to say that while there is a pressing need for Africans not only to be responsive to challenging narratives created by outsiders, for example through the #KOT or Kenyans On Twitter collective that has successfully gone after the likes of CNN and other international news outlets on this area, this is only one side of the multi-faceted battle we face on many fronts.
The struggle will be won or lost depending on how effective our systems of internal challenge can be; How we are able to self-reflect as diverse societies, to constantly recast the mould of citizenship, and where necessary, tear down archaic and self-serving notions and practices? And in a large part, how effectively we are able to set and maintain standards for ourselves to avoid the constant dance of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ that plagues progressive transformation on the continent.
Setting standards for other individuals, let alone diverse societies, is a slippery slope. Universal standards have many informal frameworks that we apply in our daily lives. These include ‘human decency’ and other socio-cultural constructs that run in the background of our daily interactions, a vital attribute for a sensible and just society. But human beings fall prey to our baser instincts on one too many occasions for a general understanding of how to treat each other to assure our security and prosperity. And so, we turn to the rule of law – an umbrella that formalizes these interactions between people.
In 2010, Kenya ushered in a radical new constitution to, among many other functions, set the standards for citizens in their relationships to the state and each other. This constitution has been cited and heralded across the continent and beyond for its gall to consolidate historical inequities and tip the balance in favour of the common person, forging a covenant between them and the state with independent institutions to ensure that the rights of stakeholders are protected. Although the constitution has already seen its fair share of watershed moments, none may be were quite as profound as the nullification of the August 8th election of Uhuru Kenyatta.
By ruling that an election is ‘a process and not an event‘, the Supreme Court of Kenya opened up a new dimension of standard setting in Kenya that has caught many in the political circles at a loss. The difference in the standards that are used to assess ‘a process rather than an event’ is at the heart of the discussion – procurement, stakeholder consultation, security and system preparation. Even the Kenyan electorate have now been bestowed with a new appreciation for their responsibility as stakeholders for everything that happens before they cast their ballot. And the independent commission tasked with facilitating the election tried desperately to wink at the court and the constitution to get a free pass as so many other institutions have done, but were met with intransigence and fidelity to the law and standards of the land that they have yet to recover from.
There is no doubt that the political situation in Kenya during this election period has had deep consequences on how the relationship between politics and independent institutions continues to proceed in the country since 2010. But to lament the path that we are on would not only be foolish, but irresponsible. If not now, then when will we ever set our standards and hold to them as Africans? The tide is shifting in countries such as Togo, South Africa, and many others where citizens and institutions have found themselves compelled to dispel a climate of silence and obedience to the will of individuals in power.
Kenya has set its standard on what it believes is an electoral process that protects the rights and will of its citizens. Whether we can hold and defend this flag planted in the ground is the question we will answer following the vote on October 26th.
Author: Binagwaho Gakunju