The Good Politician

By Jim India

Lies, corruption, deceit and violence, these words punctuate the definition of a Kenyan politician, and this is putting it mildly. Honesty and decency have no place in the congested field of our politics. Infact, we have made peace with the fact that “politics is a dirty game.”  

Even in some of the richest and politically stable regions of the world, it seems as though democracy is in a serious state of despair, and this is to be expected since the activity that brings it to life – politics – is viewed with a great deal of negativity and anxiety. In the face of this pessimism, some scholars have even opined that “we should burn the whole system down and build something better.” They contend that contemporary socio-political and economic institutions are inherently unfixable and beyond resuscitation, reform, or rescue. 

In his book, The Psychology of Genocide, psychologist Steven Baum cites an old Cherokee tale that tells of a grandfather teaching life principle to his grandson: 

“A fight is going on inside me,” he says to the boy. “It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, justice, compassion and faith. The same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person, too.” 

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.” 

The nation state as we know it emanates from nature, individuals coming together to make families, then families forming communities, and communities forming a nation. But how did we evolve into modern day democracies? Let me walk you through the evolution through the writings of some early philosophers: 

English philosopher Thomas Hobbes published Leviathan – (Hobbes began Leviathan by describing the “state of nature” where all individuals were naturally equal. Every person was free to do what he or she needed to do to survive. As a result, everyone suffered from “continued fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” In the state of nature, there were no laws or anyone to enforce them. The only way out of this situation, Hobbes said, was for individuals to create some supreme power to impose peace on everyone – and in came the supreme King. The sovereign would make and enforce the laws to secure a peaceful society, making life, liberty, and property possible. Hobbes called this agreement the “social contract.” 

Declaration of Independence 

Another philosopher, John Locke later built on the ideas of Hobbes. Locke believed that natural rights such as life, liberty and property were inalienable (impossible to surrender). If a sovereign/king violated these rights, the social contract was broken, and the people had the right to revolt and establish a new government. The King was to act only on behalf of the people for their good and protection. Locke favoured a representative government such as the English Parliament and believed that the executive and courts should emanate from parliamentary legislation. Americans later used this theory in writing the declaration of independence. 

Separation of Powers 

French philosopher Charles Montesquieu published Spirit Laws in 1748, Montesquieu viewed the king as exercising executive power balanced by the law-making Parliament, which was itself divided into the House of Lords and the House of Commons in England, each checking the other. Then, the executive and legislative branches were still further balanced by an independent court system. Montesquieu concluded that the best form of government was one in which the legislative, executive, and judicial powers were separate and kept each other in check to prevent any branch from becoming too powerful. Americans later adopted this theory as the foundation of their Constitution. 

We the People…… 

In 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau published his most important work on political theory, The Social Contract. His opening line is still striking today: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Rousseau agreed with Locke that the individual should never be forced to give up his or her natural rights to a king. He believed in a direct democracy in which everyone voted to express the general will and to make the laws of the land. All political power, according to Rousseau, must reside with the people, exercising their general will. The Kenyan constitutions heavily premised on this theory. 

The concept of democracy, as I have demonstrated above is good, it is meant to serve the people. But ideas, concepts and theories do not execute themselves, human beings must take the initiative to drive such fundamental change. And so, at the risk of sounding puritan, we must entrust such high honour of representation to men and women with the highest demonstrable moral ideals. If democracy, practiced through politics, is the vehicle to a dignified society, then, we cannot risk lowering the bar. At the very least we should invest more in institutions that further ethics among those of us who want to offer themselves for public office. 

I write this in view of the upcoming elections in Kenya, contending that Article 10 and chapter 6 of the Constitution of Kenya should be strictly upheld as the sieve for suitable candidates. And that in so doing, we have a short at getting The Good Politician.  

To go back to the Cherokee story, a fight is going on in Kenya, it is between the forces of evil and the forces of good, and only we the people can determine the outcome of this fight. 
Good luck my country people. 

Jim is a Political Scientist and Communication Expert who comments on current affairs. He is also the Acting Programs Manager at Emerging Leaders Foundation. You can connect with Jim @India_Jim

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