I am humbled to have been invited to participate in this important and timely forum.
The assembly of iconic civil society institutions at this time is a notable milestone.
However, the fact that you have convened to discuss democratic elections and people’s effective participation in them, is not only a reminder that eternal vigilance is the price we pay for democracy, it is also a sobering notice to pay closer attention to the growing threats faced by our democracy.
Strong and effective national institutions grow out of a robust constitutional framework and through the deepening of democracy. Our strong civil society movement is indispensable for both endeavours.
I do not take for granted my invitation to join you today, and must use this early opportunity to state that I am very alive to the fact that my relationship with many actors in this space has not been as cordial as it should be.
I will go so far as to also state that any administration’s attitude towards the civil society actors need not have been as feisty as it turned out.
There is space for all of us to do our best to bring matters to a more diplomatic footing.
I have been on a journey to explore possibilities of enriching each others’ work and experience through a more productive framework of engagement.
I am not just saying this because elections are around the corner, or because we are discussing elections, or because you have invited me to speak here.
For a few years now, I have gone out on a limb to cultivate working relationships with personalities in this space.
A number have been hostile and many have been anxious to do it confidentially, while some have been more receptive and encouraging. Throughout the process, I have been enlightened and a very unique and transformative perspective of how the public as well as the private sector impact society and affect the rights of citizens both positively and negatively.
I appreciate the channels of engagement we have forged and I am optimistic that our best days are ahead of us. I therefore do not take this forum for granted and am truly grateful for the opportunity to participate.
Questions about elections: who votes, where, when and how; whether votes are accurately counted and the resultant democratic decision really matters.
These direct our attention to foundational values and principles that underpin the essence of our state. Democracy and the sovereignty of the people are fundamental defining values, and voting in elections is an important, but only one of the various ways in which people express themselves and exercise their sovereignty.
Through elections, the people democratically appoint those who will exercise sovereign power on their behalf and for their benefit. They also express their preferences and opinions on certain issues and also participate in democratic decision making.
The notion of electoral justice encompasses the means and mechanisms for ensuring that electoral processes are not marred by irregularities, and for defending political rights.
In the Kenyan context it means putting in place measures that ensure the entire electoral cycle and processes are fair, regular, transparent to both political players and citizens.
Rather than just focus on the election day itself, it must cast its net wide to focus on the political environment that precedes the election and whether this environment facilitates or impedes fair electoral outcomes for all.
We must address the extent to which voters are enfranchised, what is the level of voter registration and the integrity, openness and verifiability of voter registration frameworks, systems and technology.
The character of political parties, capacity for fairness in primaries, their internal dispute systems, and the independence of the regulator. Issues of Campaign financing, electoral management body composition, integrity, capacity, readiness, perceived fairness, use of technology, openness, procurement systems and independence from capture are critical to a free and fair election.
In addition, electoral dispute settlement mechanisms and processes including the Judiciary and party tribunals are critical components to a just election.
Apart from elections, the people also may go before courts, demanding adjudication, so that state officers exercising sovereign power on their behalf and for their benefit can evaluate whether decisions and actions violate the sovereignty of the people, or align with their constitution.
The people can also petition Parliament to attend to an issue, or mobilise, organize, assemble, protest, demonstrate and picket, and in all these instances, their voices must be heard and attended to effectively.
For this to happen, the people have unique institutions that must exist outside the reach of formal state institutions in order to effectively check the public sector and preserve democracy.
Civil society organisations intensify political networks within society, and catalyse people’s movements and keep the people’s representatives and their institutions from falling into lethargy or abuse.
They amplify voices and strengthen linkages between social and political actors to ensure that no one falls into the shadows of both the public and private domains, and that no one is left behind.
The media shine an unwavering spotlight upon all these interactions and facilitate democracy by curating the social and political agenda for discourse and action.
The constitution gives us a self-regulating and self-enforcing framework for deepening democracy. For our republic to actualize itself, democratic participation must be robust and informed. This implies that the sovereignty of the people must be honoured in word and deed.
A free market that defaults into monopolies is a recipe for gross inequality and desperate poverty.
Similarly, a democracy which defaults into patrimonial consociations of ethnic cabals sows the seeds of autocracy, marginalization and the collapse of accountability, checks and balances.
The idea that citizens must lie dormant, in a form of political hibernation, in between elections, or that their only function in a democracy begins and ends at the polling station is sacrilegious.
The usurpations permitted by such thinking have attracted consistent harsh rebuke from the courts, exposing a stubborn primitive instinct of the political class- the heedless default to constitutional amendment to cure what, in reality are failures of political imagination.
The abuse of constitution making and constitutional change to serve unconstitutional ends is a dangerous enterprise aimed at destroying the foundations of this republic.
Truth be told, we must be embarrassed by the backwardness of thinking that occasionally advertises itself in the name of statecraft.
Over a decade into the new constitutional dispensation, some of the controversies keeping our institutions, especially the courts, busy, should not be arising.
The determination to stretch, strain and sever institutional tethers and anchors are visible manifestations of active impunity which require all citizens to stand together in order to defend hard-won guarantees.
Thus, we must be cognizant of the defining features of our operating environment so as to be proactive in securing credible elections in a political abounding with diverse threats to our democracy in terms of credible, free and fair elections.
Institutional shortcomings, combined with rising impunity and disregard for legal constraints, are setting the stage for patriots and change-makers to assert themselves and not only save the day, but also set the country firmly towards democratic consolidation, electoral justice and constitutionalism.
Contemporary political economy is centred on the power of the individual. Modern capitalism compulsively locates its advantages in the consumer’s preferences, and is constantly innovating new ways to detect and satisfy fleeting propensities.
Understanding the individual’s makeup and general disposition goes hand-in-hand with tracking and mapping her every momentary switch in personal comportment.
The idea that monopolies can design one product and compel consumers to adapt to it is audaciously retrogressive and assured of failure.
In governance, citizen-centered approaches are likewise devolving public policy attention to how individuals can best be served. Diversity now enjoins us to pay attention to the granularities of choice-formation even where preferences are aggregated.
Much more than this, our constitutional dispensation centres governance on the individual citizen as the central actor in the formulation of ‘We the People’.
The rights of the individual are therefore directly connected to the idea of the sovereignty of the people. Their choices matter. Their voices matter. This is why every event involving them must be carefully managed to amplify their choices and voices.
I am an advocate of the power of the people to not only participate in enterprise and governance, but also to directly make choices that transform their own lives and our nation for good.
I believe that the ideas of sovereignty of the people, democracy and Kenya as a Republic, are inseparably connected to a people-centred governance of the state and society.
As I conclude, It is therefore my strong submission that just as I champion a bottom-up model of economic governance, I also champion a bottom-up model of political governance, with equal vigour.
I am saying this because for our democracy to truly work for all of us, the citizen at the polling station must have the final say in any election, and it is our collective duty to do everything we can to defend and advance her opportunity to speak and be heard.