There is a moral issue as well. What is the profile of most voters in this particular constituency? The fact that they accepted cash handouts for their vote suggests that they are likely to be very poor. It is possible many of them have one meal a day, or two poor quality meals a day; many live in houses with rammed earth floor, made of mud and wattle and lack piped water and electricity. For these voters, a few kilograms of sugar and salt, soap and meat, and some alcohol or a little cash make more sense than high sounding professorial promises to change the world.
Given the circumstances of these voters and their experience with the Kenyan state, especially its inability to serve them with the benefits of public policy, which of the two candidates is really moral? A man who promises electricity and roads to voters who are dying of hunger or one who actually feeds them i.e. meets their immediate existential needs? This is where elites in Africa are disarticulated from the reality of their people. We go to voters with assumptions about politics picked from the rich Western world. There, politicians promise running water and electricity to an electorate whose basic needs have already been met. And the state has enough revenues to pay for those public policy promises.
This brings us to the economic issue in this debate. If elites in Africa removed Western lenses from their eyes, they would see the reality of our countries. Our governments collect very little revenue from our small economies. Because of this, the state in most of Africa cannot afford to serve the public as we expect it to – to pave the roads, deliver piped water and electricity to every homestead, ensure schools have classrooms, text books and quality teachers and that hospitals have medicines, beds, equipment and qualified medical staff to meet public needs.
African elites always ignore this financial handicap and invent reasons such as corruption (and there is a lot of it, but it is not the cause but consequence of our poverty), selfish and greedy leaders etc. to explain the causes of poor service delivery. Yet these same elites come from homes where their parents could not provide them basic things. They don’t blame their parents for being corrupt, greedy, selfish or uncaring. They know that even if their dad visited an occasional bar to have fun, “wasting” money on a few beers is not the reason they could not have all the things they wished for. Why do we imagine our governments, which are poorer, can afford to supply the services Norway renders to her citizens?
Incidentally, poor people in rural areas seem to understand this – perhaps their lack of exposure shields them from the delusions of our elites. They appreciate the limits on government – both human and financial. So when politicians offer them money for votes, they find it a more realistic proposition than one who makes these wild promises that cannot be met. Lumumba needs to step down from the skies of utopia and stand on the hard rock of reality. Only then will he win an election.