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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

National healing can take many avenues

First published Sunday Standard, November 5, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

Our thirteen billion shilling October 26 Presidential elections did not fix our politics last week. After an election and weeks of the IEBC, independents, business, civic and religious voices called for a #Return2rReason and national dialogue before the elections, JP hinted they may be ready for dialogue with NASA/NRM.

Too late. Their opponents already moved to a 90-day strategy of people’s assemblies around longstanding grievances and economic boycotts. The political ground just shifted and citizens were served with two choices – move on or scale up and join the resistance campaign.

Political strategists and children have one thing in common. They love to play games. Creating game theories is an essential part of the fun. The basic question all games revolve around is when to stage conflict or seek cooperation with your opponent. For the last 90-days we have been playing the game called “chicken”. This is the one where two matatu drivers speed towards each other until one of them swerves. Swerves by NASA and JP have saved the country from ruin but left some of us reaching for pain-killers or attending funerals. This column has repeatedly called for our political leaders to play another game, the age old Maasai game of collective cattle-herding. The cattle in this case, are Kenya’s common interests.

Reasoned voices are now calling for constitutional reform to fix the political stand-off. Expand the cabinet to a Prime Minister and two Deputy Presidents, re-introduce the parliamentary system or stagger the six level elections to allow the losers to vie for other positions are some of the ideas floating around. There are two viruses that come with these arguments. Firstly, Kenyans are over-represented as it is. I am not convinced that the quality of our democracy or essential services will improve. Secondly, mature constitution-making requires constitutionalists not opportunists seeking positions.

NASA/NRM’s strategy exercises our belief in public participation. They seek to create conversations around electoral justice, effective devolution, security reform, deepening democracy, stopping corruption and an inclusive economy. The one issue that is conspicuously missing is national cohesion. Thankfully, the street protests are now on hold.

In this moment, JP seems caught like a gazelle in NASA/NRM headlights. The party strategists are considering four options; clampdown, bribe the leaders, negotiate a deal or seek mediation. The first two options are familiar. More controversially, they are the reason we are in this dark place.

Heavy-handed and dismissive politics has produced the fear of exclusion and destruction among many. Transactional politics has produced the obsession with “state positions and goodies” and the zero sum politricks we experience.

Leadership requires getting ahead of all the people, especially those that don’t follow you yet. Remaining self-interested, short-term focused and tactical will not work. There are some possible places to start. Convene a public review of the police service and the human rights independent offices, constitutional commissions and NGOs to discuss how live bullets will never again be used on protesters and bystanders including infants and school-children.

Revive and make the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report the first order of business in the National Assembly. Commence the Public Benefits Organisations Act and restore some policy sanity to the development sector. Declare intention to reform the Leadership and Integrity Act (2014) and the election and campaign financing regulations to give it some real teeth and rein in the abuse of public resources. Act decisively on the gender two thirds constitutional promise.

Reassure our constitutional offices and the Judiciary that they will be adequately financed and their independence respected. By not dealing with long-standing grievances, the previous national administration has handed the new administration-elect some real issues to deal with. They can either repeat the strategies that led us to this point or declare a break from the past and regain the confidence of the 61% who didn’t bother to vote last week.

Two giants from different parts of the country also died this week. Communications expert and leadership coach Prof Okoth Okombo and Catholic Bishop and peace maker Cornelius Korir. They were very different and equally remarkable human beings. Okombo excelled in provoking us to be bold, articulate and effective leaders. Korir spoke to our compassionate and caring side. Both spoke courage fluently and on many occasions, truth to power. We must become them. Our country depends on this.


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