Kenya’s learning curve in democracy

Reforms since the tribal-fueled violence of the 2007 election should help Kenya set an example for a continent in need of fair and peaceful elections.

AP Photo
Kenyans queue to cast their votes at dusk at a polling station in downtown Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, Aug. 8.

When Kenyans cast their ballots on Aug. 8, they were not only voting on the issues and candidates but also to ensure the future of their democracy. This is important for the rest of Africa, where fair and free elections are still a rarity. If Kenya can demonstrate a learning curve in holding credible and peaceful votes, the rest of the continent will take note.

The key test in this election are reforms implemented after the violence of the 2007 election. Did they lessen Kenya’s ethnic divisions? The two leading presidential candidates, the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, did play to their tribal bases. Yet they also reached out to other tribes.  And compared with previous contests, their policies represent very different approaches to governance, from poverty reduction to corruption fighting.

The post-2007 reforms included constitutional changes that work against the ethnic divide, devolve power, and improve the voting system. In addition, the  rising population of urban youth is more digitally connected and civic-minded. More than half of registered voters are under the age of 35. They demand activist government that is inclusive and focused on growth, not on winning spoils from government by ethnicity.

While Kenya’s economy is growing at a fast clip, it faces stark inequality in land ownership and a worsening in corruption. About half of the country’s 48 million people live below the poverty line. Kenya is also burdened by refugees and violence spilling over the border from Somalia and South Sudan. The newly elected president must tackle all of these problems. That task is made easier, however, if the election is seen as fair. A return to the kind of postelection violence experienced in 2007-08, when more than 1,000 people were killed, would set back Kenya – and Africa.

That is why so many international groups were supporting this election, which is one of Africa’s largest with some 16,000 candidates. With that global focus, many Kenyans turned out to vote simply to ensure a resilient democracy.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Kenya’s learning curve in democracy
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2017/0808/Kenya-s-learning-curve-in-democracy
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe