• Irungu Houghton

Time for Uhuru and Raila to drop hardline stance, dialogue

First published Sunday Standard, October 15, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

This week I write to reach the ears of the two men at the center of our electoral crisis. I write with the courage of the slave who centuries ago walked up to a Roman leader celebrating his recent conquest of the city. He gently whispered, “Remember, you are still only human.” In so doing, he rescued the leader from the danger of believing his own propaganda. The elections crisis enters its tenth week. The stakes for NASA and JP have been high but the stakes for the country have always been higher. A dizzy set of political, legal and media actions has kept us reeling from deadlock to drama, uncertainty to confidence. The most expensive election in our history has bankrupted our Treasury and pushed the majority of our 47 Governors towards the revolving doors of commercial banks. Investors claim we have burnt Kshs 15 billion in paper wealth and business profits have plummeted. Our streets are now battle zones of battered bodies, blood and now body bags. Each political rally and demonstration waters seeds of ethnic and political intolerance. Our public schools are no different. Student learning has been disrupted by two short academic terms while their parents hurl ethnic abuse at each other on social media groups. As they too, talk at each other rather than to each other, the value of dialogue is slowly being crushed. Many of us welcomed the striking down of that vexatious charge of misuse of a licensed communication gadget by Justice Mumbi Ngugi last year. The charge had been arbitrarily applied to intimidate and criminalize scores of bloggers and whistle-blowers. This week, I found myself wondering whether we should institute a selective charge for our leaders for the misuse and non-use of a licensed communications gadget. Withholding communication and dialogue is shattering this country at its core. What is happening between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga can only be described in modern relationship terms as “ghosting”. This is the practice of ending personal relationships by suddenly and without explanation, withdrawing from all form of direct communication. This week, the former spoke only to his own supporters. The latter packed his unsigned Form 24A and flew out to England to speak to his foreign supporters. Meanwhile, the deteriorating relationship of their able lieutenants Moses Wetangula and Fred Matiang’i lay exposed on their mobile phones for all to see on our television screens. Tragically, the safety of both protesters and police officers was lost in the rashness of the moment. One-way communication, accountability dodging, threats to public institutions and ever-expanding egos are destroying our leaders the opportunity to be great. Without integrity, neither legal intelligence nor political energy will guide us through this moment. The ultimate cost of the electoral crisis is that millions of us can no longer see an end to the state of the “permanent election”. Non-partisan civic, private and religious voices and actions are growing. A tipping point is coming when their volume will drown out those who are increasingly exhausted, exhausting and running out of options that do not bring the country to the brink of a political meltdown and international ridicule. We know from Kenyan history that all conflicts are ended by powerful conversations. What will distinguish this crisis will be how many lives we lost, how much property we destroyed and how long it took to heal the country. This is not a constitutional nor a communications crisis. It is a political crisis and we must urgently create the statecraft needed to start the conversations. Until they can, perhaps both Kenyatta and Odinga could borrow a leaf from Turkish modernizer Mustafa Kemel Ataturk and issue a standing order that any instruction they give in anger, should be ignored. Like Ataturk, you are surrounded by hardliners who carry no responsibility nor direct danger to their legacy. Failure to lead them may earn you a future tombstone that will read “Here they lie now. They thought they were indispensable.” Like that tired and impatient Moses in the Bible, the time has come for your followers to stop hitting the rock. It is now time for both of you to #Return2Reason and dialogue. Other readings on leadership and leading powerfully Lessons from Abraham Lincoln Building leadership accountability Tips from leaders in previous crises Forging leaders from crisis

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