Connect with us

Op-Eds

Can the IEBC Be Trusted to Deliver a Free and Fair Election?

7 min read.

The IEBC delivered a flawed election marred by irregularities in 2017. As reports emerge of strange goings-on at the commission, what hope is there for a free and fair election in 2022?

Published

on

Can the IEBC Be Trusted to Deliver a Free and Fair Election?
Download PDFPrint Article

It is exactly five years since Chris Msando, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC)’s ICT manager, was brutally killed in mysterious circumstances. Msando was murdered after giving media interviews days before the August 2017 election in which he spelt out in detail the various measures he and his ICT team were taking to prevent technical glitches and rigging during the election.

Then there was a lot of hue and cry for justice, but efforts to investigate and prosecute Msando’s murderers have come to naught; they have yet to be found or prosecuted.  Chances are they will never be found.

At that time, there were attempts to sully Msando’s reputation and cast doubts about his personal integrity. His body was found alongside that of a girlfriend, whose parents are wondering to this day what warranted the death of their 21-year-old daughter. The killings did, however, send a chilling message.

A history of flawed elections

Kenya has held few elections that have been completely free and fair, and which do not carry the threat of violence. Almost every election in the country has resulted in some form of violence, from the so-called “ethnic clashes” in the Rift Valley in the 1990s to the widespread violence of 2007/2008 that left more than a thousand people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

After Mwai Kibaki was hurriedly sworn in as president on the evening of 30 December 2007, the late chairman of the now defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya, Samuel Kivuitu, went on record saying that he did not know who really won that election. According to Ken Flottman, an American lawyer who had the opportunity to observe the 2007 elections first-hand, two things contributed significantly to the violence that followed that election: the ban on live broadcasting ordered by the then Internal Security Minister John Michuki and the government’s decision to pull down the media’s reporting of the results.

Since the events of 2007/2008, Kenyans have lived with the fear of a stolen or rigged election resulting in large-scale violence. This fear has made us wary of scrutinising election-related irregularities too closely. We assume that any dispute regarding irregularities, legal or otherwise, will now be resolved in the Supreme Court that was formed after the 2010 constitution was promulgated. The constitution and the various commissions and bodies that it established, including the Supreme Court, are seen as a bulwark against flawed electoral processes.

But are they? In March 2013 the Supreme Court legitimised what many instinctively believed was an election that was ethically, constitutionally and technically flawed, not least because IEBC officials had the gall to announce sometime around midnight during vote-counting that that they would be shutting down the tallying centre because they needed to sleep, only to announce the election results in the early hours of the next morning.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of that election was that the presidential candidates Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto had cases to answer at the International Criminal Court. But this did not deter Kenyans from voting for them. On the contrary, a large number of Kenyans decided that the election would be a “referendum against the ICC”. They even remained silent when the IEBC’s BVR kits failed and manual registers appeared at polling stations. A “green register”, which no one had heard of before, also miraculously made an appearance.

The media at that time had been effectively “silenced” for the sake of “peace” and so did not ask hard questions (such as why the commission was shutting down the tallying centre in the middle of vote-counting). Although the Supreme Court ruled that the election was free and fair, scandals that emerged later regarding the procurement of non-functioning BVR kits and the “Chickengate” scandal involving kickbacks given by a British printing firm (whose directors were prosecuted and jailed in the UK) did raise suspicions about whether the IEBC’s former office-bearers were corrupt. Later, the auditing firm KPMG revealed that the voters’ register may have contained the names of as many as one million dead voters. 

Most disturbingly, the High Court had earlier ruled that it had no jurisdiction to determine the suitability of candidates vying for the presidency as this was the job of the IEBC. So, Chapter Six of the Constitution on integrity and leadership was essentially swept under the carpet. This allowed all manner of shady characters, including Mike Sonko, who was the Jubilee candidate and who was eventually hounded out of office by his own party, to vie for office.

The auditing firm KPMG revealed that the voters’ register may have contained the names of as many as one million dead voters.

In 2017, the public’s trust in the IEBC’s ability to deliver a free, fair and credible election was tested again. Signs that the 2017 election was not going to be free and fair began emerging even before a single vote was cast. The mysterious murder of Msando a week before the election was an ominous sign that things were not going smoothly and transparently. On election day, many of the critical forms 34A and 34B that were used to tally the vote seemed to be missing or had not been transmitted electronically.

The perception that the IEBC had been compromised or was just plain incompetent was strengthened by the IEBC’s own commissioner Roselyn Akombe, who cited various anomalies in how the commission conducted its business after she fled the country and resigned. Some reports also suggested that local and foreign firms that were contracted to manage the electronic transmission of results had dubious reputations. Then, as now, there were many questions being raised about the IT company hired to provide voting technology and services for the elections, and whether the IEBC was really up to the job.

Pegging hopes on the judiciary

The nullification of the August 2017 presidential election results by a majority on the Supreme Court bench renewed hope that the country could resolve electoral disputes and deliver free and fair elections peacefully through the judiciary. The Supreme Court’s decision stunned Kenyans and the world. The Economist called it “an astonishing decision” while the New York Times noted that “the ruling offered a potent display of judicial independence on a continent where courts come under intense pressure from political leaders”. Western and other nations, whose election observers were quick to declare this election free and fair, were caught with their pants down.

The Supreme Court sent an important message to the country’s citizens – that no one, not even the president, is above the law and the constitution. As the then Chief Justice David Maraga stated, “The greatness of any nation lies in its fidelity to the constitution and to the rule of law.” Countries in Africa and elsewhere that had become accustomed to electoral fraud and violent elections could now look to Kenya for inspiration.

The Supreme Court sent an important message to the country’s citizens – that no one, not even the president, is above the law and the constitution.

But the subsequent 26 October 2017 repeat election could hardly pass the test of being free or fair because only one leading presidential candidate – Uhuru Kenyatta – was running. The opposition leader Raila Odinga had urged his supporters to boycott the election (which they did) because the IEBC had still not resolved many of the issues raised in the Supreme Court ruling. It was essentially a one-horse race that led to the election of Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto. Many international observers said that postponing the election with a view to making the electoral process more credible would have been a wiser option, which is what Ghana did prior to its 2016 election.

Lessons from Ghana 

Ghana managed to avert a looming crisis by significantly improving its electoral processes. In the months preceding the 2016 elections, violence broke out during various electoral processes and politicians began using hate speech in their campaigns. However, Ghana managed to have a peaceful election because its Electoral Commission, political leaders and civil society took steps to ensure that the elections were credible.

First, the Electoral Commission took highly visible steps to improve the credibility of the voters’ register by cleaning it up and publishing the list of names online. Second, it made it easier for people to vote; Ghanaians could change their original polling station to one that was near the place where they lived or worked. Third, the National Collation Centre, where the election results were tallied, was made more accessible to the media, civil society and party supporters. Local observers stationed in each of the country’s 275 constituencies could also record the election results. Because the polling station data had become so accessible and transparent, Ghanaians knew the results of the election long before they were announced by the commission. Has the IEBC ensured these processes? The IEBC has allowed the media to set up parallel tallying centres at polling stations but it is not clear whether this is enough to ensure transparency. On the contrary, conflicting figures from the IEBC and the media might ignite tensions in a country where there is already so much mistrust of the electoral body.

Ghana managed to have a peaceful election because its Electoral Commission, political leaders and civil society took steps to ensure that the elections were credible.

Many Kenyans, including Raila Odinga, who has the support of the outgoing Uhuru government, thanks to the famous 2018 “handshake” between him and the president, have stated that they are not convinced that the IEBC can be trusted to conduct a free and fair election this month. A KPMG audit report has revealed weak protections against hacking of the voter database and other lapses and irregularities, including tbe registration of 246,465 dead voters. The audit shows that up to 2 million voters on the 2022 voters’ register may not qualify to vote either because they have invalid IDs or because their details do not match existing records. Nearly 5,000 voters have registered more than once using either their Kenyan IDs or passports. These are astoundingly large numbers that could be subject to manipulation and vote rigging in an electoral contest where there is no overwhelming support for just one candidate.  Even more alarming is the revelation that there are 14 “ghost” IEBC officials who are not returning officers but who have the authority to transfer, delete, truncate or update the voters’ register. One of these mysterious officials has super access to the register and can change it at will.

As various reports emerge of strange goings-on at the commission, including the mysterious arrival in the country of Venezuelans carrying IEBC materials, hopes of a free and fair election are fading fast. The loud and boisterous defence of the IEBC and its commissioners by the leading presidential candidate William Ruto despite such anomalies has led many to suspect that perhaps some commissioners are partisan and might already have been compromised, or that Ruto has information that the rest of us don’t. Moreover, IEBC commissioners whose terms ended or who resigned have not been replaced, and the current chairman, Wafula Chebukati, oversaw a flawed 2017 election inundated with irregularities. Can he be trusted to not repeat the mistakes of 2017? There is also the troubling question of why the IEBC has cleared so many candidates of objectionable or dubious backgrounds. As for the technology, it has failed us twice before. Will it fail again?

The 9 August election will likely be another test for the IEBC, the judiciary and Kenya’s democracy.

Support The Elephant.

The Elephant is helping to build a truly public platform, while producing consistent, quality investigations, opinions and analysis. The Elephant cannot survive and grow without your participation. Now, more than ever, it is vital for The Elephant to reach as many people as possible.

Your support helps protect The Elephant's independence and it means we can continue keeping the democratic space free, open and robust. Every contribution, however big or small, is so valuable for our collective future.

By

Rasna Warah is a Kenyan writer and journalist. In a previous incarnation, she was an editor at the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). She has published two books on Somalia – War Crimes (2014) and Mogadishu Then and Now (2012) – and is the author UNsilenced (2016), and Triple Heritage (1998).

Op-Eds

Education in Rwanda: A Long Walk to the Knowledge Economy

If Rwanda is to attain its stated ambition to become of a middle-income country by 2035 driven by the knowledge economy, then it must inject significant investments in the education and related sectors.

Published

on

Education in Rwanda: A Long Walk to the Knowledge Economy
Download PDFPrint Article

Rwanda has shown commitment to bring improvements to its education sector. The development of Human capital that involves the enhancement of the education and health sectors was one of the main pillars of Rwanda’s development programme launched in 2000 to transform the country into a middle income state driven by the knowledge economy by 2020. Many developed countries joined in to financially support Rwanda to fulfil its development ambitions.

But while Rwanda did not meet its target to transform into a middle-income state by 2020, it has nevertheless made progress in the education sector that should be recognised. The country has now near-universal access to primary education with net enrolment rates of 98 per cent. There are also roughly equal numbers of boys and girls in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools in Rwanda. Compared to other sub-Saharan African countries, Rwanda has made great improvements in the education sector based on the gains made in primary school gross enrolment, out-of-school and retention rates and considering that the country came out of a genocidal civil war in the 1990s. Those of us living and travelling across the country can also see that the government of Rwanda has built more schools across the country to address congestion in classrooms.

However, education in Rwanda is faced with serious challenges which, if not addressed, the country will not attain its ambition to become a middle-income by 2035 and a high-income by 2050. The World Bank’s comparison with middle- and high-income countries, to whose ranks Rwanda aspires to join, shows that Rwanda lags far behind in primary and lower secondary school completion levels.

The gains made in education are not equally distributed across Rwanda. There are, for instance, wide disparities in lower secondary education by income and urban–rural residence. Whereas lower secondary school gross enrolment ratio level is 82 per cent in urban areas, it is only 44 per cent in rural areas. Moreover, transition rates between primary and lower secondary education are 53 per cent in urban areas, and 33 per cent in rural areas. School completion is 52 per cent among the richest quintile while it is 26 per cent among the poorest. Any future development strategy is unlikely to succeed if it does not provide basic equality of opportunity for all in Rwanda.

The standard of education in Rwanda is another major challenge. At the end of Grade 3, 85 per cent of Rwandan students were rated “below comprehension” in a recent reading test, and one in six could not answer any reading comprehension question. In my view, the quality of education has been partly affected by the abrupt changes in the language of instruction that have taken place without much planning since 2008.

Any future development strategy is unlikely to succeed if it does not provide basic equality of opportunity for all in Rwanda.

Learning levels in basic education remain low in Rwanda.  Children in the country can expect to complete 6.5 years of pre-primary and basic education by the age of 18 years. However, when this is adjusted for learning it translates to only about 3.8 years, implying that children in Rwanda have a learning gap of 2.7 years. This is a concern.

Education in Rwanda is also impended by high levels of malnutrition for children under 5 years. Although there have been improvements over time, malnutrition levels remain significantly high at 33 per cent. Malnutrition impedes cognitive development, educational attainment, and lifetime earnings. It also deprives the economy of quality human capital that is critical to Rwanda attaining its economic goals and sustaining its economic gains. In 2012, Rwanda lost 11.5 per cent of GDP as a result of child undernutrition.

Because of low learning levels and high levels of malnutrition in children under 5 years, Rwanda has consistently ranked below average on the World Bank’s Human Capital index since 2018, the year the index was first published. HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens.

If Rwanda is to develop the competent workforce needed to transform the country into a knowledge-based economy and bring it into the ranks of middle-income states, the government must put significant public spending in basic education. This has not been the case over the past decades. According to the World Bank, Rwanda’s public spending on primary education has been significantly lower than the average for sub-Saharan African countries with similar coverage of primary school level as Rwanda. This low spending on primary education has translated into relatively modest pay for teachers and low investment in their professional development which in turn affects the provision of quality education in Rwanda. The government recently increased teachers’ salary but the increment is being eroded by, among other things, food price inflation in Rwanda.

Malnutrition impedes cognitive development, educational attainment, and lifetime earnings.

Going forward, Rwanda’s spending on education needs to be increased and allocated to improving standards. Considering that the underlying cause of the high rate of malnourishment in children is food insecurity, the government needs to spend more on the agriculture sector. This sector employs 70 per cent of the labour force but has received only 10 per cent of total public investment. Public investment in Rwanda has in the past gone to the development of the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions sector rather than towards addressing pressing scarcities. This approach must be reviewed.

Increasing public expenditure in education and connected sectors should also be combined with strengthening accountability in the government institutions responsible for promoting the quality of education in basic schools and in promoting food security and livelihoods in Rwanda. This is because not a year goes by without the office of the Rwanda auditor general reporting dire inefficiencies in these institutions.

Strengthening institutional accountability can be achieved if the country adapts its consensual democracy by opening up the political space to dissenting voices. Doing so would surely enhance the effectiveness of checks and balances across institutions in Rwanda, including in the education sector, and would enable the country to efficiently reach its development targets.

Continue Reading

Op-Eds

No Imperialist Peoples, Only Imperialist States

Adam Mayer praises a new collection, Liberated Texts, which includes rediscovered books on Africa’s socialist intellectual history and political economy, looking at the startling, and frequently long ignored work of Walter Rodney, Karim Hirji, Issa Shivji, Dani Wadada Nabudere, A. M. Babu and Makhan Singh.

Published

on

No Imperialist Peoples, Only Imperialist States
Download PDFPrint Article

Liberated Texts is a magnificent, essential, exciting tome that feels like a bombshell. This incredibly rich collection is a selection that is deep, wide, as well as entertaining. The book focuses on twenty-one volumes from the previous one hundred years, with a geographical range from the UK, the US, Vietnam, Korea, the Peoples Republic of China, the Middle East, Ireland, Malaysia, Africa (especially East Africa), Europe, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union, focusing on books that are without exception, foundational.

The collection is nothing less than a truth pill: in composite form, the volume corrects world history that Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States offered for the sterile, historical curriculum on domestic (US) history. The volume consists of relatively short reviews (written by a wide collection of young and old academics and activists from every corner of the globe) but together they reflect such a unified vision that I would recommend Liberated Texts as compulsory reading for undergraduate students (as well as graduates!) Although the text is a broad canvas it speaks to our age (despite some of the reviewed book having been written in the 1920s).

Each review is by default, a buried tresure. The writer of this very review is a middle-aged Hungarian, which means that some of the works and authors discussed were more familiar to me than they would be to others. For example, Anton Makarenko’s name was, when the author grew up in the People’s Republic of Hungary, a household word. Makarenko’s continued relevance for South America and the oppressed everywhere, as well as his rootedness in the revolutionary transformations of the Soviet experiment, are dealt with here marvellosly by Alex Turrall (p. 289). In loving detail Turrall also  discusses his hero the pedagogue Sukhomlinsky’s love for Stalinist reforms of Soviet education (p. 334).

There is one locus, and one locus only, where death is given reign, perhaps even celebrated: in a Palestinian case (p. 133) the revolutionary horizons are firmly focused on the past, not on any kind of future. The entire problematic of Israeli society’s recent ultra right-wing turn (a terrible outcome from the left’s point of view) is altogther missing here. Yet it is difficult to fault the authors or editors with this (after all, they painstakingly included an exemplary anti-Nazi Palestinian fighter in the text, p. 152) but it might be in order to challenge a fascination with martyrdom as a revolutionary option on the radical left.

In every other aspect, Liberated Texts enlightens without embarrassment, and affirms life itself. Imperialism is taken on in the form of unresolved murders of Chinese researchers in the United States as a focus (p. 307), and in uncovering the diabolical machinations of the peer-review system – racist, classist, prestige-driven as it is (p. 305).

The bravery of this collection is such that we find few authors within academia’s tenure track: authors are either emeriti, tenured, very young academics, or those dedicated to political work: actual grassroots organizers, comrades at high schools, or as language teachers. This has a very beneficial effect on the edited volume as an enterprise at the forefront of knowledge, indeed of creating new knowledge. Career considerations are absent entirely from this volume, in which thankfully even the whiff of mainstream liberalism is anathema.

I can say with certainty regarding the collection’s Africanist chapters that certain specialists globally, on African radical intellectual history, have been included: Leo Zeilig, Zeyad el-Nabolsy, Paul O’Connell, Noosim Naimasiah and Corinna Mullin all shed light on East African (as well as Caribbean) socialist intellectual history in ways that clear new paths in a sub-discipline that is underfunded, purposely confined to obscurity, and which lacks standard go-to syntheses especially in the English language (Hakim Adi’s celebrated history on pan-Africanism and communism stops with the 1950s, and other works are in the making).

Walter Rodney, Karim Hirji, Issa Shivji, Dani Wadada Nabudere, A. M. Babu, Makhan Singh are the central authors dealt with here. Rodney is enjoying a magnificent and much deserved renaissance (but this collection deals with a lost collection of Rodney’s 1978 Hamburg lectures by Zeilig!) Nabolsy shows us how Nyerere’s Marxist opposition experienced Ujamaa, and Tanzanian ’socialism’. Nabudere – a quintessential organic intellectual as much as Rodney –  is encountered in praxis as well as through his thought and academic achievements in a chapter by Corinna Mullin. Nabudere emerges as a towering figure whose renaissance might be in the making right at this juncture. Singh makes us face the real essence of British imperialism. Nabudere, Babu and even Hirji’s achievements in analysing imperialism and its political economy are all celebrated in the collection.

Where Shivji focuses on empire in its less violent aspect (notably NGOs and human rights discourse) powerfully described by Paul O’Connell, Naimasiah reminds us that violence had been as constitutive to Britain’s empire, as it has been to the Unites States (in Vietnam or in Korea). An fascinating chapter in the collection is provided by Marion Ettinger’s review of Richard Boyle’s Mutiny in Vietnam, an account based entirely on journalism, indeed impromptu testimony, of mutinous US soldiers tired of fighting for Vietnam’s landlord class.

Many readers of this anthology will identify with those veterans (since the collection appears in the English language) perhaps more than with East Asia’s magnificent, conscious fighters also written about in the book. Even in armies of the imperialist core, humanity shines through. Simply put, there are no imperialist peoples, only imperialist states.

Zeilig’s nuanced take on this important matter is revealed in Rodney’s rediscovered lectures. Also, the subtlety of class analysis in relation to workers versus peasants, and the bureacratic bourgeoisie profiting from this constellation (p. 219) brings to mind the contradiction that had arguably brought down Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso’s anti-imperialist president who nevertheless found himself opposing working class demands. Rodney’s politics in Guyana invited the same fate as Sankara, as we know.

Nabolsy’s review on Hirji’s The Travails of a Tanzanian Teacher touches on very interesting issues of Rodney’s role especially in the context of Ujamaa and Nyerere’s idiosyncratic version of African socialism. Nabolsy appreciates Nyerere efforts but analyses his politics with great candour: Ujamaa provided national unification, but failed to undermine Tanzania’s dependency in any real sense. The sad realization of the failure of Tanzania’s experience startles the reader with its implications for the history of African socialism.

On an emotional and personal level, I remain most endeared by the Soviet authors celebrated in this text. So Makarenko and Sukhomlinsky are both Soviet success stories and they demonstrate that this combination of words in no oxymoron, and neither is it necessarily, revisionist mumbo-jumbo. Their artificial removal from their historical context (which had happened many times over in Makarenko’s case, and in one particular account when it comes to Sukhomlinsky) are fought against by the author with Leninist gusto.

Sukhomlinsky had not fought against a supposedly Stalinist education reform: he built it, and it became one of the most important achievements of the country by the 1960s due partly to his efforts. The former educational pioneer did not harm children: he gave them purpose, responsibility, self-respect, and self-esteem. The implication of Sukhomlinsky and Makarenko is that true freedom constructs its own order, and that freedom ultimately thrives on responsibility, and revolutionary freedom.

As this collection is subtitled Volume One, it is my hope and expectation that this shall be the beginning of a series of books, dealing with other foundational texts, and even become a revolutionary alternative to The London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books, both of which still demonstrate how much readers crave review collections. Volumes like Liberated Texts might be the very future of book review magazines in changed form. A luta continua!

This article was first published by ROAPE.

Continue Reading

Op-Eds

We Must Democratize the Economy

In the UK, prices for basic goods are soaring while corporations rake in ever-bigger profits. The solution, Jeremy Corbyn argues, is to bring basic resources like energy, water, railways, and the postal service into democratic public ownership.

Published

on

Jeremy Corbyn: We Must Democratize the Economy
Photo: Chatham House, London
Download PDFPrint Article

On Thursday, December 15, the Royal College of Nursing went on strike for the first time in their 106-year history. Understaffed, underpaid, and overworked, tens of thousands of National Health Service (NHS) nurses walked out after being denied decent, livable pay rises. Hailed as heroes one year, forced to use food banks the next, nurses’ wages have fallen more than £3,000 in real terms since 2010; three in four now say they work overtime to meet rising energy bills.

People will remember 2022 as the year that the Conservative Party plunged this country into political turmoil. However, behind the melodrama is a cost-of-living crisis that has pushed desperate people into destitution and the so-called middle classes to the brink. We should remember 2022 as the year in which relative child poverty reached its highest levels since 2007 and real wage growth reached its lowest levels in half a century. (Average earnings have shrunk by £80 a month and a staggering £180 a month for public sector workers.) These are the real scandals.

For some MPs, this was the year they kick-started their reality TV careers. For others, this was the year they told their children they couldn’t afford any Christmas presents. For energy companies, it was the year they laughed all the way to the bank; in the same amount of time it took for Rishi Sunak to both lose and then win a leadership contest, Shell returned £8.2 billion in profit. SSE, a multinational energy company headquartered in Scotland, saw their profits triple in just one year. Profits across the world’s seven biggest oil firms rose to almost £150 billion.

Tackling the cost-of-living crisis means offering an alternative to our existing economic model — a model that empowers unaccountable companies to profit off the misery of consumers and the destruction of our earth. And that means defending a value, a doctrine, and a tradition that unites us all: democracy.

Labour recently announced “the biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster to the British people.” I welcomed the renewal of many of the policies from the manifesto in 2019: abolishing the House of Lords and handing powers to devolved governments, local authorities, and mayors. These plans should work hand in hand, to ensure any second chamber reflects the geographical diversity of the country. If implemented, this would decentralize a Whitehall-centric model of governance that wastes so much of this country’s regional talent, energy, and creativity.

However, devolution, decentralization, and democracy are not just matters for the constitution. They should characterize our economy too. Regional governments are demanding greater powers for the same reason an unelected second chamber is patently arcane: we want a say over the things that affect our everyday lives. This, surely, includes the way in which our basic resources are produced and distributed.

From energy to water and from rail to mail, a small number of companies monopolize the production of basic resources to the detriment of the workers they exploit and the customers they fleece. We rely on these services, and workers keep them running, but it is remote chief executive officers and unaccountable shareholders who decide how they are run and profit off their provision. Would it not make more sense for workers and consumers to decide how to run the services they provide and consume?

As prices and profits soar, it’s time to put basic resources like energy, water, rail, and mail back where they belong: in public hands. Crucially, this mold of public ownership would not be a return to 1940s-style patronage-appointed boards but a restoration of civic accountability. Water, for example, should be a regional entity controlled by consumers, workers, and local authorities, and work closely with environmental agencies on water conservation, sewage discharges, the preservation of coastlines, and the protection of our natural world. This democratic body would be answerable to the public, and the public alone, rather than to the dividends of distant hedge funds.

Bringing energy, water, rail, and mail into democratic public ownership is about giving local people agency over the resources they use. It’s about making sure these resources are sustainably produced and universally distributed in the interests of workers, communities, and the planet.

Beyond key utilities, a whole host of services and resources require investment, investment that local communities should control. That’s why, in 2019, we pledged to establish regional investment banks across the country, run by local stakeholders who can decide — collectively — how best to direct public investment. Those seeking this investment would not make their case with reference to how much profit they could make in private but how much they could benefit the public as a whole.

To democratize our economy, we need to democratize workplaces too. We can end workplace hierarchies and wage inequalities by giving workers the right to decide, together, how their team operates and how their pay structures are organized. If we want to kick-start a mass transfer of power, we need to redistribute wealth from those who hoard it to those who create it.

Local people know the issues facing them, and they know how to meet them better than anyone else. If we want to practice what we preach, then the same principles of democracy, devolution, and decentralization must apply to our own parties as well. Local party members, not party leaders, should choose their candidates, create policy, and decide what their movement stands for.

Only a democratic party can provide the necessary space for creative and transformative solutions to the crises facing us all. In a world where the division between rich and poor is greater than ever before, our aim should be to unite the country around a more hopeful alternative — an alternative that recognizes how we all rely on each other to survive and thrive.

This alternative is not some abstract ideal to be imagined. It is an alternative that workers are fighting for on the picket line. Even before the nurses went on strike, 2022 was a record-breaking year for industrial action. Striking workers are not just fighting for pay, essential as these demands are. They are fighting for a society without poverty, hunger, and inequality. They are fighting for a future that puts the interests of the community ahead of the greed of energy companies. They are fighting for us all.

Their collective struggle teaches us that democracy exists — it thrives — outside of Westminster. The government is trying its best to turn dedicated postal workers and railway workers into enemies of the general public — a general public that apparently also excludes university staff, bus drivers, barristers, baggage handlers, civil servants, ambulance drivers, firefighters, and charity workers. As the enormous scale of industrial action shows, striking workers are the general public. The year 2022 will go down in history, not as the year the Tories took the public for fools, but as the year the public fought back. United in their thousands, they are sending a clear message: this is what democracy looks like.

This article was first published by Progressive International

Continue Reading

Trending