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By: Michael Mugwang'a
We are living in an upside-down world. Western democracies are looking less and less democratic, less and less inclusive. At the same time, African nations including our own, are striving to make the right changes. In the last two years, the two great bastions of liberal democracy, the UK and the US have deserted their reputations of islands of moderation and stability, and begun embracing radical ideas and leaders, from both sides of the spectrum. France has experienced yellow jacket riots (and responded with police brutality) on a level not seen on the continent of Europe since the downfall of communism. All across the democratic world, there has been a real rise of the extremes, both on the right and the left. And what unites these extremes is, unfortunately for Europe, the politics of exclusion.
The likes of Viktor Orban in Hungary maintain power with vitriolic alienating rhetoric towards immigrants. Even the powerhouse of the EU, Angela Merkel’s Germany has not been spared. The AFD, Alternative for Germany, a far-right wing outfit has appeared from nowhere to be a major political player on the German political scene. In recent local elections in East Germany the AFD, a non-entity just a few years ago, has become the second biggest party. Again, their rise is built on the fiery foundations of hate and divisive slogans which place ethnic groups against one another.
And what about in the world’s largest democracies? The US has Donald Trump who has embraced white nationalists to bring him, and perhaps keep him, in power. He has used the proverbial racist dog whistle to rally certain “tribal” groups behind him, while encouraging hatred towards other groups just because of the language they speak or the colour of their skin. Let’s not forget that the so-called leader of the free world called Mexicans “rapists” and labelled immigrants as “animals”.
Meanwhile the biggest democracy in the world, in terms of the population under it, has Prime Minister Modi, a jingoistic Hindu nationalist who has a controversial record of stoking racial tension, and who is threatening to strip millions of Muslims of their Indian citizenship. Modi has used divisive rhetoric during his entire march to the peak of Indian politics. Furthermore, his recent resounding electoral victory will provide a further tailwind to his exclusive policies.
And all the while, here in Kenya, we are trying to go in the other direction, doing all we can do build a new inclusive political culture. We are clamping down on hate speech and ethnic campaigns. We are working to remove tribalism from the national political discourse. And we are trying to diffuse the power, devolving from centralised winner-takes-all politics, to a fairer, more representative decentralised model. Indeed, it’s highly ironic that for decades it was the EU and the US who were critical of ethno-politics in Africa, tribal rivalries, and leaders in our continent who use divisive rhetoric to win elections.
So as we move towards what appears to be an inevitable referendum on constitutional reform, we must learn from our fellow democracies. Brexit was an exclusive, divisive turning away from the EU and a clear message that the UK was turning its back on immigrants. The referendum and the campaign leading up to it were awash with nationalist slogans encouraging the voters to “take their country back” and “regain” British sovereignty.
In Kenya’s multi-ethnic, regional democracy, we cannot afford any more division. Now is the time for unity and peace. The path towards this referendum has so far been paved in an attentive manner, with each and every county playing its part in the fact-finding mission. As we move towards the revealing of the plan, we must all hope that it is kinclusive, a special type of Kenyan inclusiveness.
The plan must make Kenyan’s political system more representative. It should ensure that more minorities have louder voices. It should disperse power away from an exclusive president, who, by definition can only be representative of a small part of the Kenyan population. Our country is a developing democracy, yet to be perfected. So perhaps now is the time to look without as well as within and see what conditions create peace and progress.
They are the conditions of inclusive, not exclusive, politics. “Kinclusion”, not Brexit.