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Letters to the Editor - Re: Awaaz Issue 1/2017

Volume 14, Issue 2  | 
Published 26/10/2017

I appreciated most especially, Tandon’s points about the intact neocolonial state which is Kenya. I would love to hear more on the possibilities for a vanguard political party in EA in 2017. Did our window close on that possibility or is there still hope?  I also agree entirely with Yash and Jill’s point that the problem with (neoliberal) democracy is elections, and that if we are to make progress with our constitution, our politics must fundamentally change. The current electoral system to me, presents the very reason why this change has not been possible. 

Firoze’s article was absolutely incredible, and touched on so many of the issues I share on why elections are a blind alley we should deeply rethink our engagement with. I agree, they have not and will not move us any closer to real emancipation, justice or dignity within the framework of a colonial state that refuses to respect our humanity. We have never had a real chance to meaningfully renegotiate our social contract with the state. Our cultural, economic and political subservience to the West has trapped us into believing there is no alternative. 

To my mind, the quest for a fair election is - at best - a mirage in a neocolonial state that thrives on crony capitalism. In foundationally dysfunctional political economies, we surely cannot hope to be liberated simply by insisting on correctly counted votes. ‘Democracies’ that must protect predatory and highly extractive rent seeking cannot also protect its citizens, and we must stop imagining that it can. We cannot afford the electoral system we currently subscribe to, in every sense of the word. The cost is currently too high (in terms of the actual bill of $50 million, the anticipated and real loss of property and lives, as well as the corruption scandals that always precede it) and the benefit too low (in terms of the product of leadership we receive) for us to continue to logically push a broken system for (50+ years) that continues to violently undermine us collectively as a people.

We need to think of alternatives suitable for our context as low income and divided multi-ethnic countries. It must – by design - be a system that over time brings greater cohesion, not division. It must heal, not hurt us further, it must lead to the development and improved wellbeing of actual people (not companies at the expense of people as the neoliberal system suggests). If the electoral system we have is not meeting those criteria, then it needs to go.

My bottom line is that this electoral model was a product of thought. Its alternative will be the same. Rejection of the neoliberal ‘electrocacy’ model does not mean that we prefer dictatorships. I am just saying that just as the dictatorships failed the democracy test, our current electoral models have also failed the democracy test. Free and fair elections is a fallacy the same way free trade is, in the context of a grossly unfair international economic structure. 

A few more quick reasons why this model is just not going to work:

  • We place too high a premium on resources outside of Africa to determine how elections should be run.  There is just not enough local applied intellectual resources to meaningfully decide what democracy should look like in Africa (as the model is already prescribed by those that fund it) or financial resources so that the process does not dig us deeper into debt. In the absence of real local autonomy and agency in deciding what democracy models can and should look like in Africa, we annul any possibility of sustainable development or meaningful democracy. If the experts and funders are always outside of us, then it is not that Africa has been marginalized, but that Africans have been marginalized in deciding the direction of Africa’s development and democracy.
  • Election sidelines the very people it says it includes. It preys on the poor, it manipulates the unemployed and uneducated and does not address the root cause of their problems.
  • It provides an illusion of choice rather than any actual choice as elections are so easily manipulated and purchased by oligarchs. (2013 Kenyan elections).
  • This system sustains and entrenches violent kleptocracies and oligarchies, because it is an easy way to make them look ‘legitimate’.
  • It promotes and enables corruption of both national resources and society values.
  • Elections in our context are a zero-sum game, it is competition that is too costly to lose (ask Besyige or Museveni) and people are the collateral damage.  We really must desist from believing that superficial civic education two months before the elections, and a frenzy of court cases are silver bullets.
  • In instances where it cannot be bought or made into a popular fiasco of personality competition, the results are derived by excessive use of fear and force.  
  • The process is too often reduced to a competition of who is more popular rather than who is more capable (if we don’t even run companies like this, why do we want to run governments like this?)
  • Elections have never once led to meaningful economic  structural change in Africa even in their best case scenario (ask the South Africans) as the current electoral system is far too intertwined with capital elitist interests (i.e. Trump).
  • If we cannot trust each other enough as a country to even PRINT our ballot papers in the country, then surely, bad elections is only a symptom of much deeper problems in our society. It is already a broken society, and elections will not make it better.

In my prediction, 20 years from now, our children will be asking ‘now what was all that about?!’  Not searching for an alternative and pushing for its implementation is a proposition much too costly for us to ignore.

Sarah Nkuchia


Letter by Jeanne Hromnik for AwaaZ 2/2017:


Re: John Sibi-Okumu's review of my brother's book A Passage to Kenya. The review is a very good one, as is almost all of John Sibi-Okumu's writing, but contains some errors -- my grandfather did not come to Kenya as an indentured labourer and the suggested revision of the book's title to A Passage to Kenya and Goa makes no sense. Otherwise, I am in agreement with the review and, in fact, tried to make some of the same points with my brother when he was putting the book together.

Letter to Zarina Patel dated 14.08.2017


Dear Zarina,


I was very sad to read the very thoughtful memorial that you have written in regard to Dourado. In the early 50' s when we were students in London he was at Middle Temple and I was in Gray' s Inn and used to occasionally meet in the Common Room of Lincoln Inn and also attended various lectures. Although we never got to know each other well he was always polite and humble.

Could you if possible, convey my condolences to his family?

I have also read the memorial for Sir Andy Chande whom I knew slightly. I know his brother, Chuni quite well.

Very much appreciate yours and Zahid Rajan efforts in the publication of Awaaz.


Kind regards,


Zahir Malik

Senior Counsel