Electile Dysfunction. The inability of a country to conduct a successful election and satisfy the expectations of its citizens.
Every other day, I meet people suffering from a pre-election stress disorder and pre-August jitters. They constantly ask those who appear attuned to the pulse of the nation. “Will we survive August?” There is a genuine case for concern. The innocence was shattered in 2007. No one wants to be a sitting duck again so there is wisdom in considering the risks to person, family and property.
Keeping up with the political show, the parade of prospective candidates and the constant intrigues, theaters, cunning and scandal has become a social skill set that is just as involving as keeping up with the English Premier League. One has to watch a lot of TV. Not that it will save you from voting in an idiot.
The election season is a period of stress for both the political aware and apolitical citizens. There is greater anxiety when one is not emotionally invested in any of the competing parties. I encounter many undecided voters, mostly younger people, who are totally apathetic to the general elections. There are not even interested in a protest vote. Voting is overrated they tell me. What’s the point? Like a casino the game is rigged against you. The house always wins.
It is not easy persuading the apolitical to see the value of voting with a straight head. They complain. The rules are made to be walked over with impunity. The cynicism is valid. In a country such as Kenya with its rich history of election debacles one cannot help but develop a healthy suspicion in the face of political optimism. The seasoned do not place too much faith in the institutions tasked with conducting elections.
That might explain why several Kenyans talk of life-after-August. When we get back to business as usual. The month of August is akin to an imminent inconvenience that you might as well psychologically prepare for like the El Nino.
Meanwhile, the silly season is in full swing. Political aspirants are now peacocking in full splendour. Talking heads are busy analysing every move in our TV stations. Happy portraits hog every advertising space, competing to gain sway from billboards to plastered posters, on every bare wall or lamp post by the roadside. Politicians are the nicest people now, generous with their resources and time. Citizens know it is a small window of opportunity. Once they are elected they become inaccessible. It is the nature of the business,divide and rule, separation of the classes.
Election season is a good time to shake down politicians and aspirants. Dan, my cousin who lives in the village, my man on the ground, tells me that the traffic of benevolent aspirants has increased significantly. On a good day, he hardly walks to the shops before someone accosts him, demanding to know if he has an ID and slapping 100 shillings into his palm.
Candidates are weighed for likability. Sometimes you just like a man because he made a good first impression on you. He said some nice things about your old problems and you nodded in agreement. The new politician appears with an attention grabbing sheen, cheery and brimming with hope and the audacity of optimism. They can be the seductive hero you have been waiting for.
A good personality can win you an election. If one smiles a lot and dance well like Ali Mwakwere, people remember the good memories and how you made them feel. It is really a game of feelings. The candidate who seems to be aligned with what one is feeling gets the vote. You could be a cash strapped, non-achiever who had poor grades in school but as long as you have good graces, people respect that. That is how Abduba Dida, an insignificant man beat more seasoned politicians in the 2013 election. Dida, a former school teacher, represented the everyday man, daring to challenge the status quo. His stand on issues was not half as important as his familiarity. People vote for the person that closely resembles their story and the person that they think they are.
Ideally, voting should be informed by political ideology. But those are absent or at best not emphasised. Values are something to put up on an office wall like the Lord’s Prayer, glanced at from time to time as a source of inspiration. They are not be taken literally.
The choice of voting, seems to be between a candidate one can tolerate and one that you cannot stand. Kenyans are more likely to be motivated to vote when you put someone on the ballot that they hate. A protest vote against something is more the style. Politicians know that anger channeled in the right direction is currency. Every time that a vote is branded as a rejection ala Brexit, the passions and enthusiasm for civic duty are high.
My advice, treat the aspiring candidate like a blind date. It is okay to expect to meet the one but treat them like pictures of food on a menu. The actual meal never ends up looking as good as the picture. But we still keep hope alive. That is how to cope with Electile dysfunction.