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Mt Kenya succession race demonstrates perils of democracy.

Like capitalism, democracy is facing its worst crisis. And like capitalism, democracy is yet to convince thinkers that it is the safe form of government.

Winston Churchill exposed the dilemma of democracy when he famously and wittingly described it as "the worst form of government, except for all the rest".In Africa, the second liberation has put nascent democracies at the mercy of demagogues and charlatans who smooth-talk and buy their way to power.

It is in this context that the First Annual Mount Kenya "High-level Uongozi Forum", a platform of academics, policy thinkers, corporate and public leaders held on July 5, 2019 called for a serious rethinking of democracy in order to secure development in the face of the divisive 2022 succession politics.Ancient Greece's most enduring and admired legacy is democracy.

The idea of democracy underpinned Kenya's new Constitution. Like many world leaders and celebrities, Kenyans visiting Greece like to be photographed at the Parthenonthe ancient temple on the Athenian Acropolis dedicated to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war whom the people of Athens considered their patronwhich has become a byword for democratic values.

African thinkers draw parallels between Athenian democracy and pre-colonial African societies, which share the idea of "absolute consensus" as the basis of democracy. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere often reminded his audience that our forefathers would "sit under a big tree and talk until they agree.

"But two of Athens' greatest philosophersPlato and Socrates remained highly suspicious of democracy, openly warning their fellow citizens of its pitfalls. In practice, democracy is a poisoned chalice.

In his Book, Six of The Republic, Plato describes Socrates, the founding father of Greek Philosophy, trying to get a fellow Greek known as Adeimantus to understand the the flaws of democracy.Comparing a society to a ship heading out on a journey by sea, Socrates asked Adeimantus who he would prefer to be the captain of the ship: Just anyone popular or those people educated in the rules and demands of seafaring.

Adeimantus was emphatic he preferred the one with knowledge of seafaring.Socrates then pointed him to the serious flaws in democracy, any grown-up person (over 18 years) should be fit to judge or vote on who should be a ruler of a country.

For Socrates, voting in an election is a skill, not a random intuition. Voting needs to be taught systematically to people like every vital skill such as medicine or engineering.

Letting citizens vote without an education is just as irresponsible as putting them in charge of a ship sailing into a stormy sea. Simply put, Kenya's recent experience with liberal democracy is that universal suffrage without the requisite knowledge and wisdom is a dangerous game in air-diving without a safety net.

Socrates' own tragic experience of the foolishness of voters reveal the ugly underbelly of pro-democracy ideologues who use ruthless means to punish critics.In 399 BC, the thinker was tried by a jury of 500 Athenians on trumped up charges of corrupting the youth of Athens, which decided his case by a narrow margin that he was guilty.

He was put to death by hemlock! The trial was as tragic as the condemnation of Jesus by a Jewish mob.But by emphasising on enlightened voting, we run the risk of being accused of being elitist.

In the age of populism and people-centered thinking of policies pathways, it would be foolhardy to propose that only a privileged few should ever vote.In a sense, the anti-colonial struggle in Africa was all about the right to vote for all.

But the right to vote comes with the need to cultivate skills for deep rational thinking to make informed choices about who should govern.This is not an advocacy for an exclusive intellectual democracy.

True, democracy is birthrightjust like the choice to train as a medical doctor. But we need to connect vote with wisdom and temper our birthright of democracy by knowledge or citizenship education.

As Socrates aptly puts it: "There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance".Failure to base African democracy on solid knowledge and wisdom is hurtling Africa's nascent experiments with the idea down the path of demagogy and populist leadership.

Another of Socrates parables is critical for our understanding of the context of the right to vote. In this routine democracy, voters swayed by money and cheap promises, tend to make irrational choices.

In Ancient Athens, a rich, charismatic, smooth-talking wealthy man, Alcibiade, successfully exploited the citizens' desire for easy answers and handouts, eroded basic freedoms and pushed Athens to a disastrous military adventure in Sicily.Africa's new democracy are putting into office smooth-talking populists and charlatans, turning elections into the absurd choice between a doctor and a sweet shop owner, where the latter tragically wins!Ahead of 2022, democracy in the Mount Kenya region is facing a unique test.

For the first time in over fifty years, the region is facing the prospects of not voting one of its own kith-and-kin as president.In 1963, in the first competitive election that ushered the country to independence, they had Jomo Kenyatta.

In the 1990s, they fronted Kenneth Matiba and Mwai Kibaki as alternatives to Daniel Moi in the 1992 and 1997 multi-party elections. The historic 2002 election was a two-horse race between two scions of Mount Kenya region: Uhuru Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki (2002-2013).

And President Uhuru Kenyatta has been at the helm since 2013.In the run up to 2022, the region is witnessing the most intense scramble for its vote, putting democracy to a severe test. Here, the election of demagogues poses an existential threat to decency and development.

Professor Peter Kagwanja is a former Government Adviser and Currently Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute, Nairobi.
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Publication:Daily Nation, Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya)
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jul 6, 2019
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