Persistence: The Corner Stone of a Strong Democracy

  • Rima Kawas

I am blessed to have a job where I am inspired every day by the work IRI does– working alongside partners as they strengthen their democracies. We work with activists to address corruption, youth to engage their government and governments to find solutions. My job affords me the opportunity to not only engage with but also learn from leaders around the world.

I oversee IRI’s work in global issues such as anti-corruption, legislative strengthening, preventing violent extremism and digital democracy. The end goal is to improve government transparency and accountability in order to improve the lives of citizens. Because of this work, I frequently have conversations that inspire me.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with newly elected Members of Parliament (MPs) in Kenya after a contentious general election with over 14,000 candidates that ran for just 1,882 seats. An election that observers were watching carefully to see if the level of violence would reach the same level as it did in 2007/08 with approximately 1,500 people that died. Despite serious efforts at reform, Kenya’s elections continue to be violent for voters and candidates alike as was evident in the experiences of the people who participated in the most recent election in August 2017. Against this backdrop, we discussed their inspirations to run for office and the intensity of the campaign trail. As I began to talk about the elections and ask questions to these newly elected MPs, a common struggle was being repeated around the table and my heart was inspired – persistence seemed to be the common ingredient to their success.

One of the newly elected members explained that it was his second time running for office. The first time, he was threatened, his house was burned down and he did not win.  After all that, he decided to run for a second time and his second campaign was just as difficult. His house was burned down and he received various threats. However, he was persistent and in this recent election, he won!

As we were engaging in this conversation, another MP joined the conversation, “They burned down your house? Mine was burned down too.” I asked another MP, “Did your house get burned down?” He explained, “No, but my son was threatened.”

I was so inspired by these testimonies. Running for a second time, these MPs risked not only losing the election, but losing their property or lives. Despite this, they had the courage to run again and they persevered even when they were threatened and actually attacked.

Unfortunately, these are not uncommon stories. I have heard first-hand accounts of an anti-corruption activist who was shot for tweeting about corruption and of former political prisoners that were involved in politics in college and were arrested for this ‘illegal’ activity. These stories all are based on one key element – persistence. Every activist, civil society leader and elected official that has won against all odds were persistent in moving forward and continued to fight for his or her rights.

From houses being burned down to political prisoners, to being shot for your views, all of these inspiring political actors are persistent and trying to change their countries’ system for the good – to shed light on the issues and allow for citizens to have a voice. Many countries are currently going through political storms, but the key is to see if there are leaders that are willing to persist and if accountable and transparent government infrastructure and systems are in place to weather the storm.

As I reflect back on my own political career, from working on campaigns, to working in political offices, I think of all the various barriers that exist. To break these barriers, we need persistence.

Some might look at all these global issues as hopeless, but I don’t see it that way. I see the sign of hope through the activists that are deciding to be persistent and focused on making change for the common good so that after the storm a rainbow of hope will shine through.

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