By Viscount Francis K’Owuor.
September 14th 2017.
In Plato’ s Republic Socrates talks about philosopher king, an idea according to which the best form of government is that in which rulers are philosophers. His main objects are virtue and justice. In this ideal political system rulers are dedicated to what is good for the city rather than for themselves. “Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide…cities will have no rest from evils…there can be no happiness, either public or private, in any other city”, he says.
There are two qualities that define who a philosopher is; inherent motivation to gain full knowledge of reality; and an unfailing love for wisdom and truth. As a result a philosopher ruler makes decisions as guided by the ultimate good of the governed. In contrast, rulers who are unmoved by philosophy govern by opinions, beliefs and self-interest. Most importantly, philosophers have the intellectual capacity to make inquiry into the nature of any particular problem and propose a well thought out set of solutions. Dissimilarly, rulers who do not strive toward the common good in most cases are more predisposed towards problem creation than problem solving.
Perhaps, that is what informs Socrates’ criticism of democracy as a system of government—According to him democracies tend to have all the vices of the many, because most people hate to be tested in argument. Their choice of rulers is consequently rested on the whimsical and transient.
Nothing vindicates Socrates better than some of the choices Kenyans made in the last general election. The election of Babu Owino as MP for Embakasi East, Moses Kuria as a MP for Gatundu South, Mike Mbuvi Sonko as governor for Nairobi, Ferdidand Waititu as a governor for Kiambu, just to mention a few, puts into focus the workings of a democracy. Without any malice whatsoever these leaders cannot be said to be nearer to virtue and justice. All information touching on their background is in the public domain, including their questionable academic credentials save for Babu Owino.
‘But will not democracy both undermine the stability of the social order and generate mediocrity, as government by the wise is replaced by government by the many? Further… … might not the legislative power of the majority be deployed to subvert the liberties of minorities?” Martin Loughlin asks.
Interestingly, Babu Owino and Moses Kuria are some of the emerging popular leaders in Kenya. They command a huge following despite their failings in character. All of them have been caught on the wrong side of the law. Babu Owino’s coinage of the ‘tibiim’ and ‘Tialala’ slogans aptly captures democracy as its worst form. Tibiim is an onomatopoeia imitating the sound of a gunshot, while Tialala imitates the sound of a machine gun. For one who is allegedly part of the underworld it is not surprising that he conjured up such kind of slogans. And the masses embraced him without any reflection on how such traits of character would impact on his leadership.
This brings forth the question; can the masses be trusted with important decisions touching on governance? Is democracy the best form of government? What implications would more leaders of Babu’s character have on governance? What lessons can we borrow from parliament as it were between 1992 – 1997 when it was populated by the best brains we had; James Orengo, George Kapten, Wamalwa Kijana, Martha Karua, Paul Muite, etc.
Methinks that we either embark on a massive civic education drive to address the fault lines in our democracy arising from popular ignorance and apathy, otherwise we will need to change our governance system altogether. High political culture is what will be brought to bear on our political institutions to produce good results. Without a change in our political culture economic progress and social stability will remain elusive.
The writer is a Political Scientist and Human Rights Activist based in Kisumu.