There is an interesting story by some writer of yore in the Arabian Gulf in the ambient of the current nation of Iran. The storyteller for whom I have long taken a great admiration concocted the kaleidoscopically colourful character known as Abu Nuwas. One day Abu Nuwas was cutting a tree branch for personal use. The peculiar thing is that he was sitting on the same branch. After sometime hacking on that branch with a hatchet a man passed nearby. Perceiving immediately with great concern the great peril a fellow citizen was exposing himself to by that very action he spoke out to Abu Nuwas. He enlightened him that similar action will no doubt result in a cataclysmic fall and horrible injury. Abu Nuwas ignored these ramblings as those of some busy-body over the chip of his axe as he kept chopping away. In one fell swoop the branch gave way and he came tumbling down unceremoniously with it. Rather fortuitously, he was cushioned by the thick foliage below. That same moment thoughts of gratitude crossed his mind. He suddenly had an elevated opinion of the gentleman that had warned him of impending danger and thought of him as some clairvoyant or even a prophet. He immediately went after the guy. He found him in a saunter going about his errands for the day. Fast as lightning while possessing the verve of a child with a new toy, Abu Nuwas enquired from the man how he knew that his posture would certainly have led to a tumble with the branch. Without even waiting for the answer, he further enthused the man to predict when Abu Nuwas was going to die. This was a tough ask leaving the composed character absolutely speechless and catatonic for three whole seconds. He was also starting to feel pestered. However, he composed himself though thinking of Abu Nuwas quite a stubborn and irrepressible character and told him that the day he rides his donkey and stumbles three times will be his last. That took care of Abu Nuwas giving him something to worry about and freed the paragon of concern to go about his business in bustling Baghdad. But I digress.
In most of 2017 Kenya mirrored the behavior exemplified by Abunuwas on the tree branch in the above anecdote. After the January 30th 2018 swearing-in ceremony for the People’s President of The Republic of Kenya, Raila Odinga there seemed to be no way back. The fission looked complete. With two ‘Presidents’ installed in the same country, only fire and brimstone clouded the horizon. The fall-out from eons of neglected historical injustices, the bitterly yet closely contested election in August and consequent brutality meted by state players on the opposition, the nullification of that entire process and the farcical fresh election seemed to have pushed us to the edge of the precipice. Battle lines had been drawn and positions entrenched so deeply the tension arising was virtually palpitating. In most households in the opposition strongholds, murmurs of secession were evident and poignant for all to see. And these sentiments were no doubt justified. Hateful rhetoric was spewed from all quarters and the same leaders who we elected as our symbols of unity morphed to become the very wedge that was splitting the gargantuan woody tree representing what we have learnt to call our motherland asunder. Dubious and quite shady characters; some purporting to be members of some ‘business community’, were co-opted on an inexplicable basis to militantly protect the interests of the majorly unpopular but imposed majority. Polarization was the order of the day and like a living cell that is in the Telophase stage, a seismic split was definitely on the cards. Then the seemingly unexpected happened, an anticlimax of sorts. On the 9th of March 2018, a meeting was secretly concocted at the President’s Office between him and his bitter rival catching both ally and foe speechless. The aftermath of the meeting was an unexpected handshake between the bitter antagonists and a cessation of hostilities.
Bewildered and having lost any modicum of relevance some politicians retreated to their cocoons while others simply did what politicians do best and hypocritically postured as if they never had any enmity in the first place and were just in some small sibling tiff. The handshake was no doubt good for the country. As evidenced by the crumbling economy due to the loss of investor confidence due to political uncertainty. Popular misery was exacerbated by the fact that there was no generation of revenue due to incessant demonstrations, strife and damage to enterprises that had decided to be brave as to open their doors in this turbulent period. A dearth in tourism due to travel advisories in many a foreign mission had resulted in such massive lay-offs, hotels and lodges were virtually operating on skeleton staff. Lecturers, teachers and for the first time in a while doctors went on strike totally paralyzing important aspects of human capital development and health. There was virtually no one to address these conundrums as the nation was too deep into the murk of ascertaining who was the real victor of the popular vote and whose result was a computer-generated fallacy! To add insult to injury, the NASA coalition poisoned the minds of their massive support base against products and services that were deemed to be owned by senior operatives and functionaries in the Jubilee government. This drastically cut the financial output from these companies and attendant taxation that is usually a foregone conclusion when business is booming. Our nation had definitely been jolted to the core.
Now in the aftermath of the handshake I dare take on the elephant in the room and ask, “What is the relevance of this handshake?” Yes a cooling of simmering tensions has been occasioned but what’s next for the man at the bottom of the pyramid who bears the greatest brunt of any conflict? All of us can agree the newly minted concord between Odinga and Kenyatta gives us the best opportunity to iron out long-standing challenges to our nationhood. This in my mind should be a conduit through which an all-inclusive agenda has to be set out for our national dialogue. Remember, only a few weeks ago sections of this country felt so disenfranchised that they wanted by hook or crook to be de-linked from this nation. A bill and framework was all ready to be tabled and it was looking awry. Plenty of water both the red and clear has gone under the bridge but to avoid any further these are the measures I propose for the two titans of the Kenyan political landscape:
- Kill ethnic contempt & antagonism – For years on end ethnic contempt and competition has been a thorn in our flesh. We seem to think that national progression and respect for each other are virtues that exist in mutual exclusion. Some have a demented view that if you build up your tribal enclave and homestead to surpass another ethnic group that will in some way lead to national development. Such a tokenistic mentality drives me to almost salute one with the middle digit. It is flawed and impracticable to say that one county or tribal subscription, favoured by the application of an inordinate abundance of national resource will actually drive our GDP as a country upwards. This will be counterproductive, raise eyebrows and even infuse unnecessary bad-blood that will be to the benefit of none in particular. Of course, the deprived will ask why their tax-payers kitty which they no doubt contributed to by the uptake of their blood, sweat and tears is not of any benefit to them.
- National ideology and mindset – As a nation there is unanimous admission that we lack a national ideology and mantra to guide us in true unity much needed for continuation as one. More than any other time we need to focus more on what unites us than what actually creates rifts. Building of bridges is a skill each one of us has the onerous responsibility of undertaking at the moment. We should know that we are sailors in the same boat and that if it tips over not just the guys on one side but the entire craft will capsize. Invariably, a hole on one section of the same boat will ultimately flood and sink the entirety of the contraption. By the way tectonic forces in the Rift valley have forced the chasm to grow to the point that it split the road at Mai-Mahiu. That is to demonstrate that we don’t need any more fissures in our national politics as these mere chalk circles as a suffix to what we have already been dealt by nature will only serve to hurt rather than be of service to us. In the absence of a road all of us will be cut off, suffer lack of travel, will not conduct commerce, require expensive air travel and starve together. We no doubt have common challenges like illiteracy, poverty, disease, flooding immediately after drought & famine which we have to address irrespective of any affiliation. Our ethos should gravitate towards collective good as a nation.
- Inclusivity – is not even a word in existence anymore in the collective vocabularies of our supposed leaders onto light and future fortune. What shared prosperity are we to aspire to as a nation if some are not treated as a vital and integral part of the whole. The rumble of secession was not a passing cloud and we should begin engendering in each other a sense of belonging to this unit or we go burst with all the demerits that come with it. Not to intimidate anyone but we lose out on the synergy that would have pushed us further forward if we worked in respect and seamless articulation to each other, but who am I to say?
- Devolution– The new constitution opened the chapter on devolution and an assessment on how the new devolved units are doing so far is necessary. It has already been made evident that this is the best way of sharing out national resources and I am one to doubt we are ever going back on it. The percolation of state largesse to the man at the grassroots so far looks good but there still remains rooms for improvement. The allocation of 15 % needs to be bumped-up to about 30% of the national budget. The Lake-basin counties initiative that seeks to pool together funds for development of these units in Western and Nyanza is a welcomed move that will create utility in our county structures and help develop more future infrastructure. In unity we will attain whatever dream we look up to.
- Divisive Elections – The issue of divisive elections based on some tribal arithmetic and the exclusion of huge majorities by our winner take all system has to be addressed. One of our lionized second liberation leaders has spoken of a three-tier government that has the executive, 14 regional blocs as an addition to the existing national government. The Executive also needs a way of accommodating in the proposed governance structure the leader of the party with the highest number of elected Members and Senators in the position of Prime Minister. Those opposed to this are no doubt beneficiaries of the vicious cycle of pre-election and post-election violence that has held this country captive ever since the advent of multiparty elections. As Kenyans of goodwill we have to stand up in force and say we have outgrown the loss of our kith and kin just so that some nebulous entity we have little knowledge of and miniscule affections for becomes a president. Our lives should be deemed too sacrosanct as to be made the pawn of some useless sport and anyone opposed to that should no doubt be relegated to the same level of importance we apportion to carpets and grass on the ground. This is no leader but a character to be tossed into ignominy with the contempt he or she deserves!
- Peace and Security of every citizen must be guaranteed as a human right enshrined in our constitution and not as an act of mercy by the Lords of the time. These are essential components for prosperity for any nation that has ever approached the acme of the sophistication we all seek. The Peace spoken of here should not just be the calm before a storm rather an authentic product of truth and justice to be enjoyed by all bounded by our national borders. True Peace and Justice no doubt procreates the kind of stability that is much needed to progress any country to the next level and is what our leaders should aim to embrace for the well-being of our republic.
- Corruption – The leviathan-sized monster called corruption has to be tamed to some degree. Egotistical and kleptocratic leaders should be made redundant as to only serve as a relic of our primitive past. Rampant corruption has proven an impediment to any development that we may have as a leakage of resources will no doubt hamper implementation. Also among the things castigated by former Prime Minister at the 5th Devolution Conference in Kakamega include the moral corruption which he mentioned in jest, had seen some leaders choosing to engage in shady activities in the dark as a means to save on the electricity bills while operating in a 24-hour economy! Public office should neither be seen as an opportunity to fill-up your political war-chest for future political engagements nor a way to earn yourself the ever-elusive title of libido-in-chief by trying to give warmth to as many members of the opposite gender as possible under your jurisdiction! I have had conversations with many friends who give a dull assessment on the possibility of totally eradicating corruption but I personally hold that there is no need of tolerating any longer a vice that benefits only a few people to the detriment of the collective good. Integrity will be of greater value to us far beyond illegitimately earned riches.
- Shared Natural Resources – We need to responsibly use our national resources not just among ourselves but with respect to others. What do I mean? When we decide to engage in illegal logging in say the Mau or Cherangany forests, the result is the drying of the Feeder Rivers that flow into Lake Victoria. A recession of the waters of that grand lake will put us at loggerheads not just among ourselves but with our neighbours Uganda and Tanzania if they are prudent in resource management on their part and they see Kenya as the weak link. Also we recently discovered oil & gas in the Lake Turkana basin and for many that was a source of great glee and jubilation. We would finally be able to fuel our motor vehicles using cheaper fuel obtained within our boundaries! But for me it only brought heart palpitations. This is because all over Africa and the third world, conflict has arisen not as a result of any other reason other than a feeling of skewed resource allocation. Immediately one group feels slighted for instance the traditional occupants of the land a mineral resource has been discovered there is bound to be the genesis of ceaseless friction. Only targeted and genuine dialogue will avert a resource–based conflict that has seen abundantly blessed nations like DRC failing to attain any level of the great potential they hold within.
- Constitutional Implementation – Checklist on the attainment of our Constitutional timelines is now due for marking. Nearly 10 years since the promulgation how much benefit has accrued from this creature of many years struggle and many days of fine-tuning and accommodation of diverse interest? Also a strengthening of capacity for national institutions like the IEBC should be made an important agenda item for discussion as no progress can ever flow from flawed polls or an unpopular leader elected with disregard to integrity. Civic education on the same is also required so that as a polity we are also better able to critique any failures evident. As the document stipulates, “Sovereignty is vested upon the Citizens of the Republic and nowhere else.”
In humble submission I must add that we must not just blindly give in to the request for blanket amnesty to Uhuru Kenyatta and the Government machinery just because he asked for it. No! That apology will only pass the true test of sincerity and be worth anything if it is backed up by sound and deliberate action. He will only deserve our forgiveness if and only if he puts in motion the execution of a clear strategy ensuring that never again will Kenyan lives be lost as a consequence of political contestation for the presidency. He should midwife a referendum to foster a more inclusive governance structure and lobby for its approval by the majority of the nation, apparently the same that voted him in for the second term. For President Kenyatta to secure any measure of legacy he will have to deal with these long-standing issues conclusively and without regard to any impediment because the future will judge his tenure harshly if he does not.