Resolution in Kenya provides new insight into democracy

What happens in a presidential election when the results are contested? If you’ve been living in the United States during the past eight years, you may answer, “The Supreme Court just chooses the candidate they like more.”

If you were in Kenya in the past few months, you might offer a different perspective. After the questionable results of the presidential election sparked violence in Kenya – killing approximately 1,500 people – the two candidates have agreed to share power.

According to the BBC, the deal will reorganize Kenya’s government into a two-party coalition and reassign posts based on the two parties’ strengths in the National Assembly. Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, will be given the newly created position of prime minister, which can only be dismissed by the National Assembly. President Mwai Kibaki will retain his post as president.

“We’ve been reminded we must do all in our power to safeguard the peace that is the foundation of our national unity. Kenya has room for all of us,” President Kibaki told the BBC.

Additionally, the BBC reported that two deputy prime ministers will be appointed – one from each party. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan oversaw the deal.

“With the signing of this agreement, we have opened a new chapter in our country’s history – from the era or phase of confrontation to the beginning of cooperation,” Odinga told the BBC.

Cooperation, the breaking up of power and a more representative government – why doesn’t anyone talk about these kinds of politics in the United States? Of course, the major parties unite to pass some bills, most of which likely spell out the next freedom that can’t really be considered a freedom, but that’s about it. Why is it that politicians in the United States are so unwilling to share power with anyone else, including the people they claim to represent?

Maybe it’s time to take a look at how politics work here. Maybe it’s time to usher in a new era of unity, rather than division.

Kenya is providing a different view on power in a democratic society. A view in which consolidation of power in the hands of one victor is undesirable, and a unified, more representative and cooperative government is preferred. This is testament to the fact that politics don’t have to abide by the same system as is being used here.

Kenya’s step towards a more cooperative government should be considered by the people of the U.S., the self-proclaimed beacon of freedom and democracy. Even if such a deal might never come to pass in this nation, it is a chance to explore realms of democracy that have not yet been considered.

For example, why can’t Congress be reorganized to include all voices? Instead of having a winner-takes-all policy when it comes to electing representatives, why not split up the seats by the percentage of the vote each candidate received? This would better ensure that the houses of Congress would be truly representative of the people, instead of the victorious party being able to simply ignore the voices of those who disagree.

This would also help end the American “tradition” of choosing the lesser of two evils, because people would be able to vote for the candidates that they really support, and not have to worry about taking votes away from their “safety candidate”.

Beyond political and government establishments, something that needs to be reworked is education funding.

Education is largely funded through property taxes, leading to huge inequalities in access to resources, technology and extra-curricular activities between schools in poor areas and schools in wealthy areas.

Specifically for Florida, the Bright Futures scholarship is funded by the lottery, which has a disproportionate drain on the income of poor people. This functions as a regressive tax. Poor schools offer less chances of success, so the poor are paying more into the system, but getting less out of it.

A report by the UCLA Civil Rights Project stated that of the 63,000 who received the scholarship in 2000, only 29 percent actually needed the financial assistance, yet another example of inequality.

If the education system is set up to reproduce inequality, how can this truly be a democratic society? Democracy cannot exist in a country where the main tool of social mobility is a system set up to reproduce inequalities.

Kenya’s take on democracy is one that should be examined to provide insight into the process that takes place in the United States. Power does not have to be concentrated in the hands of the few, and social structures that reproduce inequality can be restructured or dismantled. It’s time for a new vision of democracy in the United States.

I know change is an unthinkable word in this country, and it won’t be easy to get those in power (from government officials to A-list celebrities) to give any up, but it is a necessary step towards real freedom. In the words of Noam Chomsky, “There is no reason to suppose that history is at an end, that the current structures of authority and domination are graven in stone. It would also be a great error to underestimate the power of social forces that will fight to maintain power and privilege.”

Jose Ferrer is a sophomore majoring in sociology.

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