BUILDING THE NATION

BWIRE: Ruto speech at Carter museum and what it means for democracy

Since achieving a liberal democracy might take time, we must educate our children on the basics of democracy.

In Summary
  • Core aspects of democracy need to be respected at all times.
  • This includes fairness in everything, freedom of the citizens and all institutions that serve them and of huge importance the integrity of elections.
President William Ruto in Atlanta, Georgia and other officials.
DEMOCRACY: President William Ruto in Atlanta, Georgia and other officials.
Image: PSC

There's a section of President Ruto’s speech that captured my attention, when he spoke at the Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta on Monday this week.

He said: “It is crucial to view these developments as the natural consequences of our constitutional framework, which establishes a representative democracy, mandates the separation of powers, enforces checks and balances, and prevents any single branch from acquiring absolute power. Additionally, it enshrines fundamental rights and freedoms, empowers citizens to actively participate in processes that affect their interests, and safeguards the freedom of expression and assembly.”

He also added: “In several countries, we have seen unconstitutional changes of government that have threatened democratic gains. Consequently, this is a crucial time for reflecting on the need to strengthen democracy worldwide.”

After reading this part of his speech, I calmly put my coffee down and asked myself, does our President see the extent to which “kwa ground vitu ni different”? Loosely translated to, to what extent does President Ruto know that the level of democracy that we have is not exactly what is reflected in the indexes out there for our beloved country?

According to the latest V-Dem Institute Democracy Report 2024, Kenya is on the grey zone in terms of democracy. This means that it is neither an electoral democracy nor electoral autocracy, it is in-between these two. It is however luckily not a complete autocracy and unfortunately, it is not a liberal democracy neither. Meaning, we are somewhere almost there and we are at a very vulnerable stage if we do not strengthen and support our institutions.

A lot has improved, Kenya is now decentralised and more power is going to the counties and to the grassroots level yet there are still has traces of dynastic kind of power struggles between ethnic groups. Money and corruption to buy power is a sort of almost cultural thing; the so called ‘deep state’ are a creation of this. Many citizens feel that power  is for the ‘chosen few’, and their opinions, votes and participation don't count.

If we are not careful, Kenya can easily become an autocratic state. Signs of such are a shrinking media space, muzzling the freedom of citizens to discuss political issues in any platform or fear of hearsay and ensuring limited freedom of academic and cultural expression. When these  are on the sure checklist of any country, then the signs of democracy are low. Luckily, in his speech, the President also alluded to having a vibrant media space and an active civil society. Having this to action should be the next big question.

So what does this mean? Core aspects of democracy need to be respected at all times. This includes fairness in everything, freedom of the citizens and all institutions that serve them and of huge importance the integrity of elections. Improving these three indicators in all sectors in upcoming states like ours should be on our President's to-do list.

Since becoming an almost liberal democracy might take time, we must invest in educating children on democracy, having mandatory civic training in institutions and taking advantage of the civic potential of the internet, as well as getting a lot of regional and international support.

Lack of a strong democracy is detrimental to developing countries. For instance, after the Arab Spring, which was a wave of pro-democracy protests and uprisings that took place in the Middle East and North Africa beginning in 2010 and 2011, democracy instead broke down further and has never returned.

Communications researcher and scholar, currently pursuing Peace and Development Work Studies in Sweden. [email protected]

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