Friday’s ceasefire announcement by Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga has the power of an epic war movie ending. Secretly crafted and carefully worded, their joint statement creates a fresh beginning for Kenyan politics. Whether it holds, depends on whether they, their advisors and the country see this as a journey rather than a symbolic event.
Nine months of violating our constitution and attacking public institutions, media, civil rights organisations and political parties had brought our democracy to its knees. Stuck in this political meltdown, we have worn down the nation and attracted local and international ridicule for our sins. In this sense, the dialogue that has led to a nine-point Friday agreement is both welcome and historic.
Like that tired and impatient Moses in the Bible, Kenyatta and Odinga have called on their followers to stop pounding the great rock that is Kenya. Kenya is indeed, infinitely bigger than the personal interests of two individuals or two parties. Congratulations gentlemen, for your leadership in this moment.
Over the last year, this column has devoted no less than five opinions to the topic of dialogue. I have argued that one-way communication, accountability dodging, threats to public institutions and ever-expanding egos is destroying our elected representatives the opportunity to be great leaders. Further that, without integrity and powerful conversations anchored in our constitution, neither legal intelligence nor political energy will guide us through the 2017 elections.
I will resist the temptation to speculate on how this happened, what to attribute to the leaders themselves, the religious, business, diplomatic leaders and which deals were really made. This is of secondary importance at this point. What is crucial as all negotiators know, is what happens next. The wider national leadership and Paul Mwangi and Martin Kimani’s secretariat must now concentrate on five strategies.
Deepen and financially resource some specifics actions within the nine points. Address the entire conflict comprehensively while also focusing on minor issues of public irritation. Thirdly, bring some creativity to our stale and predicable politricks. Include other public interest actors and third parties to chart the way forward. Lastly, see this resolution more of a journey than a Friday handshake.
Many of us are walking wounded. Traumatised men and women as peace builder Tecla Namachanja knows, have the tendency to seek revenge, lash out and even disrupt a future that is objectively in their interest. As post-accident survivors, it will take a while before we drive with our eyes firmly in front of us rather than obsessing on the rear-view mirror. The secretariat must patiently program for the walking wounded also.
Puncturing the political opposition and intensifying public cynicism with elected representatives must be avoided at this hour. The ever-revolving door of political parties is losing the public confidence and patience. In only one decade, we have seen hundreds die and thousands displaced in violent elections only to be presented with either #RailaKibaki, #UhuruRuto or #UhuruRaila as solutions.
Constitution tinkering to allow for a Prime Minister or adding more chairs at the Cabinet dining table will not address what ails us. It merely rewards zero-sum hardline electoral politics and balloons our over-representation.
Two signatures on an agreement and a photo opportunity will amount to little if they do not carry the political class and the rest of Kenya with them. Kenya is too complex and our wounds are too deep. For this agreement to powerfully hold, we need a series of meaningful national conversations and actions on what ails Kenya. There are obvious places to start.
Lift the discriminatory passport and fire-arms license bans and restrictions on NASA leaders. Both NASA and Jubilee must stop the abuse, hate-speech and reckless fiery speeches that have brought us to this brink once again. Stop also, the wanton disregard for court orders that protect constitutional rights and responsibilities.
Re-introduce security sector reforms to ensure live bullets will never again be used on protesters and bystanders including infants and school-children. Reform the Leadership and Integrity Act (2014) and election and campaign financing regulations to rein in the abuse of public resources during campaigns. Revive and pass the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report in the National Assembly. Commence the Public Benefits Organisations Act and restore some policy sanity to the development sector. Act decisively on the gender two thirds constitutional promise.
Friday gave us a fresh opportunity to re-imagine Kenya and #ChoosePowerfully. Let us not short-change or squander it.
First published Sunday Standard, March 11, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group