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Kenya 2022: The most boring election | Elections

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Every five years, the editorial boards of foreign media remember that Kenya exists. Well, perhaps that is an exaggeration that undermines the stellar work that athletes do in keeping the country’s name on the lips of every town that dares to host an international marathon. Still, it feels like every five years when an election is on the table, the eyes of the world shift towards East Africa like vultures circling a carcass, salivating for another clash of titans and even for violence. The pieces almost write themselves – say something about “tribalism” (sorry, ethno-nationalism) and primordial hatreds, slot in a few lines about dynastic competition and maybe throw in an allegory about the savannah. A laundry list of tropes that are vague enough to hold the attention of distant audiences that need to periodically be reminded of tragedies in Africa™ in order to feel something and be made grateful.

The fallacy at the centre of this is that democracy is something that happens every electoral cycle. Somehow over the last 30 years, not just in Kenya but around the world, the idea of democracy has been bled dry of any real meaning and distorted into a caricature of a stick figure dropping a piece of paper into a black box. This is the triumph of the democracy consultant: successfully translating complex social systems into two-year plans and 10-point performance indicators that must be attained before the donor’s budget cycle closes. But it is the tragedy of the people. These indicators simplify difficult things and come at the cost of infusing meaning into the way we shape our societies. Democracy has become hollowed out into the performative act of voting, and not the hard and boring work of building societies that make sense for the people who live within them.

Those of us who live in Kenya and are invested in its wellbeing, and not merely spectators to the electioneering that happens every five years, know that democracy in the country is in trouble, regardless of what happens on August 9. The Jubilee administration which infects both major platforms in this cycle has been primarily governing by fiat for the last 10 years. The executive has hollowed out key civic institutions in service of expensive, ill-thought-out, debt-making projects that have brought the country’s economy to its knees. And now we are stuck with expensive baubles that have made billions for the foreign companies and governments that build them but make no sense in the…

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