Defending Democracy; My Four Lessons

By Billy Osogo

Every 15th of September the United Nations rallies the world to commemorate the International Day of Democracy as an avenue to highlight the importance of participation of all members for the proper functioning of democracy.

This day also provides an opportunity to review the state of democracy in the world, while acknowledging that democracy is more of a process than a goal. The full, effective, and fruitful attainment of ideal democracy enjoyed by all and sundry can only be reached through the unlimited support of the international community, national governing bodies, the civil society, and individuals.

This year’s commemoration comes at a perfect time for me, considering that the fourth module of the African Biblical Leadership Initiative (ABLI) program which I am part of courtesy of ELF-Africa focuses on good governance and Pan-Africanism. This module also digs deeper into central themes of democracy such as policy, legislative affairs, and electoral processes.

Kenya has been a democratic state since our independence albeit with varied degrees of success. Throughout the four administrations our democracy has been tried and tested. Yet the will of Kenyans to be governed democratically has remained unbowed. The overwhelming success of the 2021 referendum which midwifed the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, is proof of this. In honour of this day, here are four lessons on democracy that I have learned so far:

  • Sound leadership requires sound character.

In one of his sessions in ABLI, one of our facilitators, Duncan Juma while talking about self-awareness opined that;

“Discipline has everything to do with the things that don’t come to you easily.”

For our democracy to thrive, the governors and the governed alike must cultivate and maintain an unshakeable culture of discipline. Principally, this would encompass the discipline to submit to the rule of law. Our character as a society directly impacts our leadership and inevitably, the quality of our lives.

  • Continuous learning

In her book On Leadership Frances Hesselbein wrote:

“As never before, leaders need to be both constant learners and effective teachers.”

Democracies just like life, are seldom perfect. No one can claim a monopoly of wisdom on how to run a democracy. As history as shown us, whereas there are certain universal elements that underpin a democratic state, there’s no one-fit-all model. Citizens must work together in harmony to continuously create such a democratic state. This would involve genuinely listening to each other, welcoming divergent views and finding a workable consensus that addresses the most pressing needs of the most vulnerable among us.

  • Embracing diversity

Kenya is a collection of diverse individuals in every imaginable sense. Our strength lies in harnessing this diversity and channelling it towards achieving our common good. Article 10 (b) of our Constitution lists some of our national values as; inclusiveness, equality, human rights, non-discrimination, and protection of the marginalised. If we are to build a truly vibrant, representative, and functioning democracy, we must put inclusion right at the centre of our governance. Children from every part of Kenya, despite their uniqueness, should be able to look at their leadership and see themselves therein. It is possible. With dedicated and intentional leadership, we can build a truly representative state.

  • Leadership is about service to others

One of the elements of the ABLI program is a community service activity, which is used to emphasise leadership as service. Leadership exists not for personal gratification but to serve others. As Irungu Houghton of Amnesty Kenya noted in his book Dialogue and Dissent:

“As some remain preoccupied by ‘just us’ politics, we must remain adept at ‘justice’ politics.”

Self-gratification and entitlement have however remained perennial killers of selfless leadership. Today we have more self-seeking individuals running for elective seats on the banner of change and development, promises they are never keen to keep, but only to use to woo the unsuspecting gullible voters.

When all is said and done, it should be repeated that democracy is a daily process that all, especially duty bearers must embrace and entrench as a culture and not just as another feel good catch word.

The writer is an ELF-Africa Fellow 2021 under the ABLI program who sees his role as contributing to a Kenya guided by a fully implemented constitution.