By Michael Manyibe
Abraham Lincoln, US former president and statesman defined democracy as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. This definition has since guided constitutions of nations the world over. Article 1 of the Kenya Constitution 2010 states that, ‘all sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya’, and that, ‘the people may exercise their sovereign power either directly or through their democratically elected representatives.’
In the Kenyan case, the citizen, who is also the electorate, opts to delegate sovereign power to the president, his deputy, governors, members of parliament, women and county ward representatives through voting. Voting is therefore supposed to be the only way a person can rise to become an elected leader in a democracy. The person in question should therefore convince the people he wishes to serve that he or she is the best bet for the job.
The political aspirant in doing his campaigns is expected to use diplomatic and honest ways to win the electorates to his side. Tyrannical ways like intimidation and use of fear and blackmail are not acceptable.
Even as the letter and spirit of supreme law is to encourage such noble values, its full implementation is not been forthcoming. The 2007and 2013 general elections have been so far the most polarizing elections in Kenya’s history, with the former causing untold suffering to many Kenyans.
With the results being contested citing massive electoral irregularities and malpractices, a section of Kenyans feel that voting has no value and some of them have vowed never to vote again. You may recall just after the March 4th 2013 elections a Facebook page, ‘I will NEVER VOTE in a Kenyan Election’ was created which in just below one week got over 30,000 likes, with over 3,000 actively involved in discussions potent of crippling the electoral process in Kenya.
The voting patterns in Kenya regrettably are drawn along ethnic lines. The recent elections had two major coalitions; Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee and Raila Odinga’s Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD). The calculation was that in the Jubilee coalition, Uhuru could bring to the table the ‘Central Kenya’ votes while Willam Ruto, his then running mate, could bring the ‘Rift Valley’ votes, and the two combined were strong enough to ‘win’ an election, which they actually did.
CORD on the other hand, depended on Raila’s popularity in Luo Nyanza, the Coastal region and segments from Nairobi and other parts of Kenya, and lower former Eastern province which was considered Raila’s running mate Kalonzo Musyoka’s stronghold. This turn of events definitely begs the question: Why go for a multi-billion election when the national census of the various tribes from which popular politicians hail can be used to get us a leader?
Democracy has a vague definition in the Kenyan context with personalities defining it subjectively to favour them. President Uhuru Kenyatta termed the March 2013 election results as a triumph of democracy while his main rival in the same elections Raila Odinga said that democracy was on trial. It should be noted that Raila Odinga and his coalition, CORD went to court to petition to challenge the validity of Uhuru’s presidency, arguing the election was rigged in favour of Jubilee coalition, and that Uhuru didn’t ganner the 50% + 1 votes, a threshold set by the constitution for one to be president. After a spirited legal battle, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Uhuru.
However, the haziness in democracy’s definition is not unique to Kenya. Winston Churchill, who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK) from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955 and a Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1953, said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” It should be noted that Churchill said this of democracy after losing an election.
The famous Latin proverb Voxi populi,voxi Dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God) was used by some politicians to justify their win in the elections. I, in part, agree with them; after all in a democracy the majority have their way while minorities have their say, but I as Alcuin, an English scholar, ecclesiastic, poet and teacher from York once said; “Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.” (And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness).
Voting, if used properly, is a good way of deciding leaders, but it has been proved now and again, that the majority may not be right all the time. The Americans realized this and came up with the Electoral College; it is time that we too thought hard and come up with an alternative system that could best work for us to ensure we have visionary leaders take political office. It is only this way that we can do away with the senseless tyranny of numbers, where the winner takes all and the losers feel isolates in their own country.
Shaping the government of the day is a responsibility that we, as the citizenry, cannot run away from because ultimately it is us who suffer the most when people in power fail to do what they ought to – being the custodians of our interests. Indeed as Thomas Paine rightly put it: “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”
By Michael Manyibe
Reliable sources from the corporate world in Kenya confirm that executives are uncomfortable employing graduates from universities and middle-level colleges, which do not have formal student dress codes. Basing the argument on this premise therefore it is arguably true that graduates from secular learning institutions, which do not have any formal campus attire are vulnerable in the job market. However, whether this is true or not, is not the issue; student dress code debate has been a topic of discussion in many learning institutions around the world- and we too – should have a serious discourse on the rather emotive matter.
There have been two dominant schools of thought, one for and the other against student formal dress codes. Those who support formal dress codes argue that dressing modestly helps one focus better on school work and later at the workplace, besides helping one to avoid being distracted by those whose intention is to show off their ‘bodies’ to their peers. They strongly believe that students should adhere to dress codes imposed by management of learning institutions without question. Norman Mailer, in his 1957 essay ‘The White Negro’ says, “One is Hip or one is Square, one is a rebel or one conforms.”
Moreover, formal dress codes, they argue, bring about a sense of equality as everyone is dressed the same way despite their diverse backgrounds. Suppose they are left to wear whatever they like, you can easily judge their financial background from the kind of clothes they wear. Additionally, since students are dressed in a similar manner, it is easier for the management to ensure security in learning institutions by quickly identifying foreign elements in their compounds.
However, others look at the situation differently; they see introduction of dress codes in learning institutions as hampering students’ self-expression. Samaad Wes Keys, a doctoral student at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education in his article ‘Censoring Self-Expression on College Campuses’ at insidehighered.com says, “The value of higher education is teaching and learning in a context that freely invites diverse ideas, perspectives, and approaches… Policies that unnecessarily restrict student expression in educative environments likely do more harm than good. And, we have no evidence that associates genius with how one looks.”
Wes Keys states that the academy is supposed to create an environment that promotes creativity, diversity and intellectual stimulation not a cult-like atmosphere where each student must drink the conformity Kool-Aid spiked with the conservative ideologies of the past.
Lee Ann Jolley, Leigh Southward & Melinda Swafford, all professors, in their article ‘The Student Dress Code Debate’, say “Adolescents view dress as a symbol of identification, self-expression, as well as a regulator of expected behavior. Since peers are an important influence, and forming peer relationships is a major developmental task of adolescence, they tend to conform to the most obvious aspect of peer culture-dress”.
The dons go on to say that adolescents’ clothing choices may intentionally or unintentionally reveal information about their personalities, backgrounds, interests and contribute to the establishment of a reputation. In our secular and multicultural universities, you can easily point out the religion, interests such as of music, sports or fashion and other aspects from the kind of clothes students wear.
After all is said and done, students should keep in mind that freedom comes with responsibility. I don’t think dress codes should be imposed on students, at least not on campuses; at this stage students are mature enough to be responsible of their own actions. However, mine or my sources’ opinion is not an end in itself- this is but to ignite the debate- let your opinion count- because the debate continues…
By Michael Manyibe
Editorial cartoons are a form of nonverbal communication and are vital to the Kenyan culture because they help shed light on issues that affect many Kenyans. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words but a cartoon normally surpasses the 1000-mark. Nobody reveals this better locally than one Godfrey Mwampemmbwa, popularly known as Gado. His cartoon relating to the Marriage Bill 2013 almost made my ribs crack.
In the cartoon, Gado drew the bride with her wedding dress gracefully spread behind her and the groom with a well-fitting suit on one side, and a priest with his full regalia officiating a marriage on the other. However, this is not what made it ‘rib-breaking; the issue was the words Gado chose to be used as marriage vows. Gado wrote, “Ownership of matrimonial property vests in the spouses equal shares irrespective of the contribution of either spouse towards its acquisition and shall be divided equally between the spouses if they divorce…”
Gado might seem simplistic in his representation of the Bill, but just think of it; doesn’t the proposed law elevate the position of divorce than the very important institution, the foundation of any society, marriage?
We are Africans and our traditions and customs hold the institution of marriage sacredly. This is because our ancestors knew that if the family was stable devoid of threats of any kind, then we will have a peaceful society. Christianity, a religion fundamentally Western, also emphasizes on the importance of the family, hence the phrase, “Till death do you part, for better or for worse.” This should tell you that the Bill parts with very essence of humanity.
Maintenance of spouses after dissolution of marriage, desertion or separation is elaborately addressed, indicating the importance the drafters attached to it. According to the Bill, an order of maintenance by a court of law lapses upon the remarriage of the beneficiary of the order. In another part, it also says that when a person has maintenance arrears at the time of his/her death, the arrears shall be recovered through his properties. For God’s sake, won’t we leave the dead to rest in peace?
Moreover, the Bill in a way forces spouses who may not really have a commitment to put them through the challenges of marriage to get engaged, which means the newly married couples are potential divorcees from the word go . According to Article 76(2), if one refuses to honor a promise to marry, the person who suffers a loss out of the same can sue for damages. This will allow individuals to force themselves on others’ lives despite the other party making it clear that the relationship has no future. A marriage like this one is a mockery since one partner will be feeling captive of the other, and this may lead to unfaithfulness in the marriage.
Gado’s cartoon on Marriage Bill 2013. GADOCARTOONS.COM
The proposed law also has downright contradictions. It states that the court cannot force spouses to cohabit, but in the same vein says that if one of the spouses proves to a court of law that his/her partner has denied him/her conjugal rights without reasonable grounds, the court may order that the rights be restored. This could create a loophole which some couples may use to coarse their partners, especially when the case does not reach the courts because not all are willing to go through the court process. This could be particularly prevalent in rural areas and among poor families.
In addition, the Bill contains what I call ‘verbiage’ as it even regurgitates bible verses, for instance under the prohibited relationships. Some things like people who one might not marry are outlined clearly in Holy Scriptures and have been passed orally in African societies. Therefore including such in a law may mean the courts will be handling petty cases, which otherwise could ably be handled by religious leaders and elders in the villages.
However, the Bill is not all-negative, but also has positive provisions that could safeguard the interests of parties to marriages. The very reason that the Bill aims at amending and consolidating the various laws relating to marriage and divorce is worthwhile since we had too many laws on marriage. The proposed law is also an improvement of Marriage Bill 2012 since it does not illegalize African traditions like dowry payment and the welfare of the first wife in a polygamous marriage, who is often neglected.
Marriage is essentially based on trust between the spouses, which acts as a pillar to strengthen the bond as they navigate through the difficulties that come with it. Therefore, when a law is put in place to policy the institution that cardinally focuses more on division of matrimonial properties after couples divorce, one wonders whether the proposed law is aimed at protecting marriage or otherwise. Nevertheless, it is my hope that as the legislators deliberate on the Bill, they will the guided with the importance Kenyans confer on the institution of marriage, and make necessary amendments so as it is acceptable by most Kenyans.
By Michael Manyibe
University graduates are perhaps the epitome of society in any nation. The rest of society expects the privileged group to have undergone rigorous training and therefore has been equipped with necessary skills and knowledge that enables them to solve social, economic and political challenges facing nations.
However, this perception is drastically changing following reports in the media that a large number of students, both undergraduate and graduate, pay a third party to write their theses, academic projects and answers for take-away assignments.
To make an already bad situation worse, employers have expressed their reservations on the mediocrity of work performed by graduates in their organizations, even those with Masters degrees.
However, this is not news per se; cheating in scholarly work has been in our education system for ages. I therefore feel the media and education stakeholders are missing a point; the focus should not be cheating in our learning institution, but on finding the root causes of the problem and suggest solutions out of it.
So where did the rain start beating us? Recently in one of my classes, while discussing on the topic of corruption we had a heated debate on whether toddlers were corrupt, for instance when they demand to be given something a neighbour’s child possess. The simple definition of corruption according to Wikipedia is any spiritual or moral impurity or deviation from an ideal. Therefore, this implies children deviating from the ideal’ and therefore corrupt.
Opponents thought that toddlers are just curious and there was nothing wrong having the urge to discover new things in their surroundings.
The argument brought to the fore even a core cause of the rot in our education system; it actually emanates from our value system. The loose way in which define our moral standards is messing us up. When my colleagues were asked whether they always give their children what they ask for, they gave a straight No. This surfaces the glaring fact that our value system is shaky, and if we are to rejuvenate it, we need a thorough re-evaluation of the self, and then societal values.
The People newspaper columnist Stephen Ndegwa argues that there is a dire crisis in Kenya’s education system. Ndegwa says, “Genuine scholarship and intellectualism is simply dead. Few people are willing to go through the rigours of higher education because they feel that, at the end of the day, it simply does not pay.” This also confirms our value system is entirely corrupted, and children in some way are victims of the system.
When parents do not discipline their children while still toddlers, when they join school they are normally ‘cheeky’ for the delight of it. As they grow older in primary school, the foundation of our education system they start bypassing school rules, including examination ones and they get worse as they proceed. Whenever the National Examinations are released, Kenyans have witnessed the wits used by Standard eight candidates in cheating. The young candidates are already extremely cunning and treacherous for their age; most of them actually copy from their friends and sometimes sneak notes into the examination room unnoticed.
As they proceed to high school, the ‘cheeky’ students invent even more sophisticated ways of cheating in examinations and the unfortunate circus continues. The problem is that if students continuously cheat in examinations, they lose out in many things taught in class because they know they can always pass examination through other means. Concentration in option A (working hard) decreases when there is option B (cheating in exams), which just could bring the same result. With this turn of events, how then do we expect university students to be angelic when all they did to get to university is cheat?
At the end of the day, it is beyond doubt that every one of us is responsible for the rot in our education system. Undoubtedly, speedy measures spearheaded by government should be put in place to sensitize the public on the genesis of the vice, and guide them on how they can contribute towards a more credible education system.
This article was also published in the Summer 2013 edition of The USIU Gazette, a publication by print media journalism programme at the United States International University- Africa.