ABSTINENCE

Who governs Kenya? Democracy by choice, or Plutocracy by design?

Proposing an Arab Spring like revolution is an act of escapism.

In Summary
  • A revolution on the streets to remove the current leadership without re-engineering the political system will only serve to create the next generation of dynasties.
  • We need a system that weakens and holds accountable the plutocratic state capture. We need to shrink the size and role of the State to the basic fundamentals.
Members of parliament and senate at the parliament gallery during the opening of the 11th parliament.
Members of parliament and senate at the parliament gallery during the opening of the 11th parliament.
Image: FILE
If your vote made a difference, they wouldn’t allow you to vote
Mark Twain

“You will not interfere with my ability to make my paycheck”.

This is a line in the movie Social Experiment, which depicts the real life Stanford Prison Experiment. Volunteers were subjected to diagnostic interviews and personality tests to eliminate those with psychological problems, medical disabilities and a history of crime and drug abuse. The final cast of 26 men comprised of those that were deemed to be most physically and mentally stable, the most mature and the least involved in antisocial behaviours.

They were driven out to an isolated building that was set up as a prison. This is where their individuation began. The group was split into six guards and 20 prisoners. The prisoners were assigned inmate identification numbers, stripped naked, deloused, and locked up in cells. Basic rules were outlined and the guards were instructed to ensure that prisoners obey them to the letter. Where infringement occurred, the guards were required to deal with the transgressions commensurately within 30 minutes. The men were promised $14,000 (Sh1.4 million) each if they all managed to follow the rules for two weeks. However, they were also warned that the experiment would end immediately with no compensation at the first sign of violence or quitting by any one of them.

 
 

Shortly, the guards became more forceful in order to make the prisoners obey the rules, including dehumanising them, and when there was defiance, collective punishment was meted out to all prisoners. Gradually, when the aggression was escalated, some guards and prisoners wanted to quit the experiment. But their respective cohorts would not allow them because they did not want anything interfering with their ability to make the $14,000 (Sh1.4 million).

The goal of the experiment was to determine if our behaviours and reactions are situational – driven by the contextual environment – or dispositional – inherent sadistic personalities. The conclusion was that it is dispositional because of the deindividuation factor.

Deindividuation is the state when a person becomes part of a crowd or group and begins to lose their individual identity by becoming immersed in the group’s norms. They lose their self-awareness and personal responsibility as individuals, which include dispensing with their morals, characters and beliefs, and replacing those with the group’s identity and morals.

Have you ever wondered what happens to our fiery public interest crusaders when they get elected to political office where their harsh criticism of the political system dies down almost immediately? Could it be that deindividuation occurs coupled with forces that do not allow them to interfere with the ability of others to make their paycheck?

We have been held captive by the cape and mask moral appeal of super heroes on television and comic books. This has kept us in a perpetual external search for a superhero to save us because we are falsely convinced that voting out all the current politicians, and replacing them with a new set will solve all our problems.

We have been schooled to believe that politicians are elected to represent the public’s interest. But the sad reality is that the goal of any politician is to get elected by all means. After that, the public’s ideologies become irrelevant and the only thing that matters is what the oligarchy or plutocracy wants.

A study by Princeton University that analysed data over 20 years helped to distil this argument. Imagine an XY graph. The X-axis represents public support for any issue and the Y-axis represents the likelihood of parliament passing any of these issues into law. In an ideal world, if the MPs truly represent the public’s interests, then the graph would produce a linear relationship between the X and Y axis.

A linear relationship is one of direct proportionality that when plotted on a graph, produces a straight line. This means that any given change in an independent variable will always produce a corresponding change in the dependent variable. E.g. if 80% of Kenyans support an idea, there will be a corresponding 80% chance that the MPs will pass it into law.

 

Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world na vitu kwa ground ni different (and things on the ground are different).  

Take for example when MPs want to increase their salaries. This often has an extremely low public support yet it has a 100% likelihood of being passed into law by MPs. The converse also obtains. For example the punguza mizigo initiative that had an overwhelming public support but was massively opposed in the majority of our county assemblies. This is known as a nonlinear relationship.

This simply shows that despite Kenya being a democracy, the public’s preference or ideology has a miniscule near zero impact on public policy. So if you have ever felt that politicians do not care for your opinions or feelings, you have been right all along.

But spoiler alert. This is not true for all the people. And when democracy is defined as a government of the people, by the people, for the people, we need to begin asking ourselves; which people?

Let us revisit our graph. If there is an issue that has the backing of a small group of people that collectively have enough clout and wealth, even if this group makes up 1% of the entire Kenyan population, it is likely that their issue will be passed as law in parliament. There will almost always be a linear relationship that is closely aligned to that of the ideal world. This means that if say 90% of this small group are in favour of a certain idea, there is a 90% likelihood that their interest will be made law.  How does this happen? All you need to do is follow the money.

For instance, have you ever wondered why eggs from Uganda are cheaper than eggs in Kenya? One of the factors is that our energy costs are much higher which increases the cost of production, thus making our eggs less competitive. The high cost of power is an issue that many Kenyans have repeatedly complained about. This means that availability and accessibility of cheaper energy is an issue that carries popular public support. But why hasn’t parliament all these years never passed a law that would allow competition of electricity distribution? Yet we all know that competition brings down consumer prices and increases efficiency. Cui bono? Who benefits from the monopoly distribution of electricity?

Wise generals do not engage the enemy in a battle until they are sure they have won the war. Likewise, do not engage in a street revolution to replace the political leadership, until you change the governance system

In recent weeks after the release of the song Wajinga Nyinyi, which aptly captures the plutocratic nature of our politics, talks of a revolution on social media has been trending. This has also been stimulated by the impending arrival of Dr Miguna Miguna next week, who social media users have called upon to lead the revolution.

But proposing an Arab Spring like revolution is an act of escapism. We have been held captive by the cape and mask moral appeal of super heroes on television and comic books. This has kept us in a perpetual external search for a superhero to save us because we are falsely convinced that voting out all the current politicians, and replacing them with a new set will solve all our problems.

I submit that the true authentic superhero lies within us and has the power to cause an effective revolution. That power is abstinence. When we abstain from insulting our fellow superheroes based on their ethnicity; abstinence from corruption and law breaking; abstinence from going to worship on the days that politicians donate harambee money; abstinence from going to funerals of people we hardly know because politicians will be in attendance; abstinence from accepting campaign handouts; abstinence from demanding that political aspirants fulfill traditional conditions set by self-imposed ethnic council of elders; abstinence from voting along ethnic lines; and abstinence from mwizi wetu syndrome, only then will we have the true revolution. The rest is simply balderdash.

A revolution on the streets to remove the current leadership without re-engineering the political system will only serve to create the next generation of dynasties because of the deindividuation factor. Rather, we need a system that weakens and holds accountable the plutocratic state capture. We need to shrink the size and role of the State to the basic fundamentals; a State that protects the right to life, liberty and private property; the enforcement of contracts; and prosecution of those that violate the rights of others.

Finally, my unsolicited advice to Wanjiku is: Wise generals do not engage the enemy in a battle until they are sure they have won the war. Likewise, do not engage in a street revolution to replace the political leadership, until you change the governance system. Stay woke.

If your vote made a difference, they wouldn’t allow you to vote – Mark Twain