Several years ago when I was much smaller and a primary pupil, one of the things we were taught was civics. I don’t remember what exactly it was defined as then but I remember we were taught some things about our country. The national flag and what each colour meant, the national emblem and motto.
We were taught the national anthem and were often asked to sing all the three stanzas until it was like second nature. Other things in these civics lessons included knowing the top leadership positions and what role each one played in the running of the country. After sometime this subject seemed to disappear from our lives because it was swallowed up by what is called Social Studies or simply SST.
Now that I am older, I understand that civic education is basically aimed at equipping citizens with the knowledge and attitude needed for them to be active participants in their own governance. As Aristotle put it, “If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.” This participation must be based on informed and conscious understanding of one’s rights and responsibilities as a citizen.
Civics therefore helps us to study the government (and governance in general) with more attention to the role of citizens as active participants in the operation and oversight of government. Some of the key aspects of civic education are to do with voting and taxation. For these two we aptly have voter education and tax education.
Voting directly influences how government functions since it gives the voter the power to select the candidate who will undertake a given mandate in government be it as president or Member of Parliament. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once said, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” And indeed he was right given that it is these taxes that government relies on to execute its plans.
Tax education is vital so those with the burden to pay understand why they should be paying. Consequently those who pay need to see that their taxes are put to good use. In any country, the people that demand for good governance the most are likely to be the voters and the tax payers, often these two are the same but they are not it all. In any country, some people are legally not voters or tax payers. But that does not make them any less of citizens of the country.
I have been preoccupied by this topic for more than a week after following events in Kenya where people are being encouraged to register as voters since there is a general election coming up in August. As one from an education background, I will not hesitate to remind you that any education is as good as the quality of the teacher.
So when the teacher is a politician he will most likely teach you how to vote for them instead of what your rights are in this situation. I have heard some politicians saying those who don’t register to vote will lose all rights of demanding good governance or complaining when things are not going well. This is where I have a problem.
These politicians are abusing the voter education process and turning it into an orgy of lies and scare tactics in their favour. When a politician is voted, it does not mean that he or she will serve those who voted for in his/her favour but that those who voted gave the politician a chance to roll out a plan for all.
As an elected politician your mandate is to serve all people for the time you are in that office. It doesn’t mean that those who did not vote for you or did not vote at all are not worthy of good governance. Citizens on the other hand, have a right to seek good governance whether or not they voted in an election or voted for the current leaders.
I think the tendency is scaring people to register and vote or else they lose their rights is childish to say the least. This is not a wedding service where we are asked to speak up or forever hold our silence. Our citizenship gives us the right to be active citizens and this can be through voting, paying taxes, being law abiding and also loving your country at all times. We need better citizens more than better voters.