Celebrating East African Writing!

Iran better than Kenya; where is my vote? By Marvin K. Tumbo

Do you get the feeling that Iran might just be better than Kenya as far as the various Human and Civil Rights go? Although we could be similar as far as corruption, vote rigging, media bans, and the blame game, they are far more tolerant of peaceful dissent than we are.

I must say I was impressed to see women for the first time getting involved in active campaigning during the electoral process in Iran. The leading lady who was involved in the campaign process was in the person of Mrs. Mousavi. And that was not all, not only were women active in the campaign process, they are now more than ever vocal, vociferous and no longer victims as has been the case in most Muslim countries that see women as second tier citizens. I had this big smile on my face as I saw these young, gorgeous, educated and eloquent ladies making their case in front of the camera, with men behind them, nodding. Better still, the anchor went ahead to say that there were more women in Tehran Universities than there were men… no wonder the men were behind the women, nodding. And that was a great thing to see, first because it crashed the view that all Muslim women are the sat on, submissive, illiterate, uneducated, subjugated type, and second because it showed that women are on the path to something greater not only in Iran but in the greater Islamic faith.

Iranians were organized in their pre-election campaigns, with debates, rallies and as expected in most democracies, there was also mud slinging and all other underhand tactics that opponents use to get an edge over their counterparts. But the mostly used, illegal, yet most preferred by incumbent regimes has been vote rigging using state machinery and influence. We saw it happen in Kenya in the 2007 elections and it is claimed to have happened in the Iranian elections last Friday. If you have read my Blog for a while now, you will know that I don’t think much of Kibaki; and neither will our history. If it were not for the part of learning from history bit that people are always encouraged to do, I would have preferred a blank be put in the years that this guy was and will be president. That said; Iran is now going through the same problem we did when Kibaki rigged his way into office, though various differences emerge and which define both the similarities and differences in Human and Civil Rights issues of both countries.

First of all, I have not heard that much about how the alleged rigging took place. It probably did and if so, it was the slick kind of rigging that Moi had perfected where ballots get lost without a trace. Kibaki was crude in his rigging; in fact, the crudeness of his rigging defines his leadership style and subsequently the mess after mess after me that we continuously find ourselves in. This guy was so crude that in his defense, he became childlike saying, “the others also did it”. Do you remember when you were a kid and you got caught red handed doing something you wasn’t supposed to be doing, your first cause of action would be dropping dime on your siblings hoping it would lessen the punishment you would receive or thinking it suddenly made things right if the others did it too. So Iran is stuck with claims of rigging and the President is having a rough time settling into office as opposition organizes rally after rally after rally, demanding a rerun. In retrospect, do you find it curious that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Kenya prior to the elections? He might have been taking advice on the do’s and don’ts of the rigging process and the aftermath.

It is no wonder that Cartoonists are having such a field day comparing the Iranian post election debacle with Kenya’s and there was one actually showing Ahmadinejad wondering whether to call Kibaki, Raila, Mugabe, or Tsavingari for advice.

After Kibaki stole the elections here, I was furious. It was my first time to vote and to have my vote violated like that destroyed something in me. “Have you no shame?” are the words of my high school principal which came to mind every time I saw that man on TV. Our principal used to ask us that whenever we had done those things that cannot be mentioned during the day. Here I found myself wondering; what makes a man drive a country to the precipice and yet feel not even an ounce shame? Iranians now say their election was stolen and are demanding a rerun and not a recount because as was the case here, a recount will do nothing to make right the wrongs of a flawed process. But unlike Iran, we had a tougher time dealing with Kibaki and his henchmen for they had a greater motivation to protect their turf; greed and delusions of grandeur. Rarely before had the Civil Society in this country been that active. Their demands that the Government acknowledge our Human and Civil rights automatically made them enemies of the state. This was like a thief stealing from you and then going ahead to block your only road to the courts to seek justice.

“Where is my vote?” so read (and rightly so) the placard of a young Iranian woman who is one of the many people who have been protesting the flawed reelection of Ahmadinejad.

Kenyans like me whose votes meant nothing since the race had been decided way before it started also wondered, “where were our votes?” but unlike Iranians, we did not have the luxury of protesting. I wanted to but too many people were getting shot and killed. As I said, I was really angry because my first time to vote saw my vote not count. Rigging is the worst thing you can do in a democracy because it kills the faith in the whole process and when people lose faith, chaos and anarchy reign because fear becomes the next avenue of consolidating power – which is what is happening now if you unveil the Mungiki, the extra judicial killings, the assassinations, and the appointments to crucial positions in the country. Though these appointments, alignments and positioning usually come up to ward off any attacks, they have instead, on the contrary, become the launch pads of attacks themselves. But I digress.

Because of the rigging, I felt this urge to go out to the streets to look for my vote. I felt this deep compulsion to put the president to task, and ask him where the hell my vote was. I felt compelled to do my best, in my small way, to make this president’s stay in office the worst ever, beginning with continuous demonstrations reminiscent of the ones in Thailand. But I did not get to do any of those things because the Government did not let me. My right to free speech, right to assembly, and most of my other fundamental human rights were suspended though a presidential decree because my exercising them would not augur well for any illegitimate Government. Of those who dared demonstrate, over 400 died from police bullets. And as far as I am concerned, this government still owes me a demonstration that I should have gone to when Kibaki stole the elections.

I expected Iran to ban demonstrations like Kenya did which it did; I also expected them to reign in on the media, which it also did but went further to also block many social networking sites and other popular sites that can be used to disseminate information. That is in many respects similar to what happened here after the elections. But there is also a marked difference in the way that those dissenting with the ban were dealt with. Similar to Kenya, opposition supporters still went to the streets daily since the elections, and will probably continue to do for the foreseeable future. The ban is still outstanding, and in the first days of the demonstrations, there were 7 deaths (now said to have risen to 15) reported and fewer or none thereafter; it is bad but at least the number is not over 400 as was the case in Kenya when the police shot and killed demonstrators. There was dissent in both places yet there were more deaths here.

Some of you will argue that the demonstrations were banned for national security, BULLSHIT! Once again, this was a lame excuse to deny Kenyans their fundamental rights and freedoms, both of which are guaranteed in our constitution. The opposition in Iran has defied the order banning demonstrations and went ahead to organize theirs, everyday of the week since the elections. That presents us with another marked difference. I wanted to carry a placard asking where my vote was because like many Kenyans who have since swore not to vote ever again; I felt aggrieved by some insolent corrupt old men in office who stole my democratic right using government machinery. I may have voted for them but the whole point of democracy is for the majority to have their way and for the minority to have their say. But when the minority have their say and then force their way; hegemony, autarchy, oligarchy, are the words and not democracy. Iranians defied the ban and yet I do not see the chaos that Kibaki foresaw when he banned demonstrations here and his force killed over 400 people in the crack down on dissenting demonstrators. I only see swarms of people, marching silently in the streets of Tehran, having their say. Was that so much to ask for?

This is usually the point where most Kenyans start taking sides, labeling me as a sympathizer or hater of one party or tribe or another. Put that aside for a while and consider this. Kibaki stole the elections (no arguments there) and got sworn in under the cover of darkness; which was as good as stamping his face with a GUILTY sign. Come the next elections, the next party will as easily rig itself into power and nobody will have the moral authority to question them because, “hey! You did it too” seems to do as a valid justification. You’ve got to make a stand somewhere, and since this was my first time to vote, and my vote did not count, I will make an example out of Kibaki, the culprit who in this case stole my vote and not in the way that a girl steals my heart.

Iran has banned the media from broadcasting the protest but as I have come to see, Iranians are a resourceful lot. They have found ways of accessing the banned websites using proxies. I heard of a program called TOR that people in those countries that block access to certain websites can use to access those very sites. This program tricks the system that those accessing the sites are doing so from beyond the borders yet they are in those very countries and cannot be detected, thus the proxy bit. In this information age, it is almost futile to try and stop or suppress the flow of information whether by bullet or by bans. It is this blockage that ignited fears of rigging in the first place in Iran. During the Election Day, the opposition could not communicate because their primary communication channels were jammed with help from the Incumbent, effectively preventing coordination and communication from the different voting centres across the country. In a democracy, elections should not only be fair but must also be seen to be fair; a point that most Kenyans seems to miss as they consistently argue about who was right and who was wrong.

I was watching ‘Freedom of Speech,’ a stand up comedy by Eddie Griffin where he talked about the fight between Christianity and Islam about who the messenger was between Jesus and Mohammed. To which he said with finality, “Fcuk who the messenger was! The question is; did you get the message.” That is the whole point that I am trying to make with regard to democracy in Kenya. Fcuk who won the election! The question is; was it free and fair?

The ban on the media in Iran showed me something else about Iran. There are close to 23 million internet users in Iran. It gets better. Iran has the highest per capita bloggers in the World. It is said that there are over 60,000 bloggers in Iran. These are like 60,000 media houses. Try banning them or controlling what they write; it is migraine making affair. As luck would have it, most of these bloggers support the opposition and they are active as ever having their say and the world is watching, reading, and tuning in. In comparison, there are relatively very few bloggers in Kenya and our internet penetrations levels are abysmal to say the least. But the potential is there and that is what counts. I myself love blogs because of their interactive nature as merits and demerits of a post are dissected but more so because it is the purest form of unrestricted freedom of speech. Here, I will have my say regardless of a ban, the threat of a bullet, and I can do it from a bunker. I was not a blogger yet when my vote went MIA but I am now and I will make sure I write until words fail me.

I hate being made a fool of especially if it is done by fools. It is not that the fools lied and I bought it, rather, it was that the fools lied, cheated, stole, and they made sure that there was nothing I could do about it without having a having bullet go through me. This country owes me a demonstration through which I would have demanded that my vote not only be counted but also must also count. This country owes me a placard that should have read, WHERE IS MY VOTE? This country owes me and every other right thinking Kenyan who never got the chance to express their disappointment, discontent and utter disgust of the electoral process an avenue to finally vent these out through our guaranteed rights to assemble. And for every peaceful protest that the opposition in Iran go for, this country owes me a chance to prove that all I wanted was to walk, demonstrate for my vote, dissent peacefully, carrying my placard, having my say, and then going back home. This country owes me that and I swear I will have my say, one day, and not just in this blog but also in Uhuru park which Ironically means Freedom, that many Kenyans were denied.

In retrospect, can you imagine how embarrassing it would have been for the Government to expect utter chaos but like Iran today, only get hundreds of thousands of people, walking silently, dissenting peacefully? It is my belief that the police were put in place to bring the chaos so that the Government can have yet another excuse to reign in on peoples rights and freedoms.

Iranians are better off than Kenyans in as far as they have handled themselves after their election. Similar yet so different, wouldn’t you agree?

© Marvin K. Tumbo 2009

If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Friday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.


One comment on “Iran better than Kenya; where is my vote? By Marvin K. Tumbo

  1. Kamundi Henry
    June 23, 2009

    5 is what I give it. This piece is not a story but an article revealing the author’s comparative opinion between Kenya and Iran. The author is also partisan in his analysis and places claims that are challenge-able. However he writes well. But I insist, this is not a story.


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