Why our politics generate too much heat and very little light

Beyond the hustle and bustle veneer to get the job done, our policy is largely transactional. [Courtesy]

“We live in a contaminated moral environment,” said Vaclav Havel, playwright President of the Czech Republic in a thunderous speech delivered on New Year’s Day 1989 to his compatriots to mark the end of communist hegemony in Europe.

In most of his writings, Havel despised the double life that so permeated the Communist Party; “People say one thing in public and another in private.”

One of the most vivid memories of the past five years is not only the reversal of roles, but also the change in ideology and beliefs in the political arena. And the flurry of past tweets and past Facebook posts has revealed our predilection for abandoning our core beliefs with the snap of a finger.

Havel laments that “concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility or forgiveness have lost their depth and dimensions”. History is repeating itself in Kenya.

Who is worse? Those who said one thing before and have since encountered “enlightenment” and “see things differently” now because of where they are or those who have joined the “oppressor” to despise those who are fallen out of favor?

Make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with politicians finding compromises and building consensus that allow our democracy to function and thrive.

But rejoicing in your adversary’s walk down the hall of shame, while encouraging those we support when they engage in the same – perhaps even worse – forms of shenanigans for which we despised our adversary, it invites bad thinking. Because of poor thinking, our politics generate too much heat and too little light.

Beyond the veneer of fuss to get the job done, our policy is largely transactional; A means to an end; aka jobs-for-the-boys-club. The compulsion to conform; being politically correct and seeing and hearing no evil add up to an zeitgeist where voters don’t matter much.

Those who enter politics do not do so out of love to fix what is wrong; eradicating the inconveniences that hold us back. The problems we face require more than appropriate slogans and the ability to insult your opponent.

Renowned literary critic and novelist Malcolm Bradbury argues that George Orwell’s point in farm animal (arguably the best depiction of political satire in history) is “the failure (to break with the past) frequently lay in the revolutionary process, as its leaders fought to perpetuate themselves as opposed to the interests of those they the revolution was meant to serve.”

“His (Orwell’s) concern was that those for whom such revolutions were intended were more often the victims than the beneficiaries, that indeed their task was to turn against their power-hungry rulers and drive them out.” This sums up Kenya’s litany of false dawns and false beginnings.

“At Orwell,” Bradbury continues, “we could read about our own times, about the corruptions of propaganda, about slogans rewritten to suit the powerful, about the machinery of state oppression, about the good intentions lost and historical hopes sacrificed…”

There is clearly a lack of policy consequence and leadership; Kenya needs a consistent policy.

In his speech, President Vaclav urges his compatriots to say that politics can be more than a “need to deceive or violate the community”. That “politics can not only be the art of the possible, especially if that means the art of speculation, calculation, intrigue, secret deals and pragmatic manoeuvres, but it can be the art of the possible, namely the art of improving oneself and of the world.”

Food for thought: In eight years, then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair made sweeping reforms in health, housing, education, immigration, community policing and security, devolution, international relations – including bringing peace to Northern Ireland – and generally putting the UK on a course of rapid economic development.

It even brought the Olympics to London in 2012, beating Paris, Moscow, Madrid and New York to become the only city to host the Olympiad three times. There is so much to learn from Blair even though we recognize that he did such unsavory things as toppling Saddam Hussein over non-existent weapons of mass destruction lies.

Mr. Kipkemboi is Editor of Partnerships and Special Projects, Standard Group

Comments are closed.