ELECTIONS AND SOCIETAL RENEWAL: Reflections on Kenya and Mauritius

Elections are the lifeblood of democracies. They provide an opportunity for people to reflect upon what has gone before, the state they are in and how they should grab the polls to make their voices heard and in so doing shape their future and that of their children. But we also know that elections are not enough to meet the aspirations and expectations of the citizens. The disappointment and disillusionment of Mauritians with ‘lalians lepep’, which came to power in December 2014, makes it very clear that elections are not enough. It is the quality, competence, ethics, moral positionings that men and women standing as candidates which can make a significant difference. But a lot depends on whether the citizenry is enlightened enough to vote intelligently and contribute to the refashioning and renewal of their societies. And for that matter, they should have meaningful choice but when electoral systems remain blocked and big money continue to influence elections, the playing field would continue to remain unlevelled.
The eyes of the world are currently riveted on Kenya. Thousands of international and continental observers/journalists have flocked to this Eastern African country, signaling Kenya’s geopolitical and strategic significance. As the 2 main contestants for the presidential position- Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent president, leader of the Jubilee party and Raile Odinga of ODM, an affiliate of the National Superalliance (Nasa) intensify their campaigns for the top most position, Kenyans worry about the possibility of violence erupting, reminiscent of the 2007 election related violence.  Accusations of vote rigging, ethnic and tribal strife and economic distress contributed to the explosion of the cauldron claiming thousands of lives and displaced people. Opinion polls for the forthcoming elections have consistently reported a neck to neck outcome. The latest poll by Infotrak and Ipsos predict that there will be a minimal percentage difference. Needless to say that such situations often lead to candidates not accepting the results, fanning violence.
This coupled with the mysterious murder of Chris Msando, a senior official of the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission has contributed to the growing ominous signs of a descent into violence. The wounds and psychological trauma that some communities experienced some 10 years back in the aftermath of the 2007 elections are still present in various pockets of Kenyan society. Yet almost every Kenyan speaks about the need to maintain peace. They allude to Ghana-Africa’s poster child of democracy as a model to be emulated.  Kenya has still not found the likes of President Mahama. Where losers often cry foul when defeated, Mahama conceded defeat and ensured a peaceful transition.
Mauritius also used to be a poster child of democracy but there is growing realization in many spots across the globe that Mauritius’s ‘peaceful’ alterations of government camouflage many other tensions   and malpractices. For instance the ‘papa piti’ deal makes one question the very nature of Mauritian democracy.  The ease with which some people become highly legalistic and hide behind the constitution is shameful. Current Mauritian politics with the multiple scandals has become a source of embarrassment at the international level. The recent declaration of a senior minster referring to a ‘Jihad’, telling us that he is prepared to take a gun and shoot the leader of the opposition, that of a senior representative of a socio cultural group at Grand Bassin, a few months earlier, (in the presence of the prime minister) saying that ‘nou ki faire elections’ are important examples of how peace is threatened. Overlappings between ethnicity and religion in Mauritius may not be the same as those between tribalism, religion and ethnicity in Kenya but what is common is that politicians thrive on ethnic politics, at the detriment of the nation. The campaigns in Kenya have once again whipped up a sense of ethnic division and difference. The new constitution of 2010 has brought some significant changes including devolution but despite this, the Presidency is still considered as the utmost main prize. This implies that a lot more needs to be done to address inter-ethnic mistrust and competition. In Mauritius, divisions run deep, threatening social cohesion. Residents of certain localities expressing their discontent at the idea of other ethnic groups settling in their vicinity is a stark reminder of how challenging diversity management can be in Mauritius.
It is perhaps useful to remind us of Desmond Tutu’s words of wisdom. Archbishop Tutu argued: ‘God’s dream is that you and I and all of us realise that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, goodness and compassion.’ As Kenya goes to the polls on the 8th of August, let us hope and pray that whatever be the outcome of the elections, the contestants accept them and pave the way for a peaceful transition. The thousands of eyes focused on Kenya will then be able to see that this beautiful East African nation is making progress, ready to join the ranks of the poster child Ghana. This, however would not be enough, because such peace is only temporary. Peace can only be lasting when democracy actually delivers on development and allows for the regeneration and renewal of society. Mauritius too has to take note since the elections will not take long to come! The Think Tank Mauritius Society Renewal believes that good starting points for Mauritians to rethink their democracy and development is for ordinary citizens to mobilise, participate and promote citizens engagement and to revisit their constitution. Mauritius Society Renewal therefore invites all Mauritians who wish to bring their contribution to the debate to join us for the workshops of  17th of August and 2nd of September. Further details will be provided via the media very soon.