Uhuru Kenyatta must be allowed to cement his remarkable national unity agenda
By Muthoni Ngunjiri
Leadership in many African countries, with their ethnic diversities, is characterized by ethnic bias and favoritism.
Citizens are treated unequally in many respects, especially when it comes to national resource allocation and political representation.
It is also synonymous with corruption, weakening the ability of the state to function efficiently, and achieve any tangible development goals.
Since the political leaders depend on the state resources to maintain their power base, they resist any restructuring away from this dependency.
They see economic reforms as barriers to important sources of self-enrichment, and so they intervene in all sectors of the economy rather than allowing market forces to fulfill their allocation role.
Closer home, the Building Bridges Initiative critics are misleading their supporters and tribesmen that BBI reforms are threats to both their political and economic power bases, and that it’s a tool to bring some people to power.
Undeniably, many Kenyans believe the problems of the nation are a creation and product of bad politics and amoral political technicians who are clever, indefatigable, poisonous and brilliant at their trickery games.
Ethnic hatred and the struggle for power in Kenya are interwoven, often stirred by the feeling that the ‘winner takes all’.
In other words, it is believed that any ethnic group with access to political power also commands economic power in the country.
In fact, President Uhuru Kenyatta has been untiringly reminding us that the problems we are witnessing with regard to divisive elections now are not new, and that they have been with us for a very long time.
And he is right. In 1992, during and after the first multi-party elections after the repeal of the infamous Section 2 of the old constitution, Kenyans fought and many lives were lost. Similar clashes were witnessed after the 1997 general election.
However, things were different in 2002. An election was held and a majority of Kenyans celebrated the results. That there were no bloody post-election confrontations that year was not accidental. It wasn’t because there were no losers. It wasn’t because Kenyans, the same who had been fighting after previous elections, had had an instant character transformation and had become - as the president said- suddenly mature.
No. It was because the first runner up, the only one with a substantial number of votes other than the declared winner, had the presence of mind and was gracious enough to concede defeat and tell his millions of supporters to keep calm and support the President-elect. That loser, with almost two million votes against the winner’s three million, was Uhuru Kenyatta. The winner was Mwai Kibaki.
Five years later, during the 2007 elections, the country reverted to what seems to be our default settings.
After the announcement of the results of the presidential vote, fire literally broke out in various parts of the country and in it, over 1,000 people and property of inestimable value were lost.
It took the intervention of the international community to stop what looked like a determined effort by Kenyans to wipe themselves off the face of the earth. In the aftermath, it was Uhuru who again took the first step in re-uniting the antagonistic sections of the country in preparation for yet another election.
He reached out to William Ruto, the de facto leader of the Kalenjin community, and forged a working relationship in order to preempt another bloody confrontation with the Kikuyu. The two communities were the main antagonists in the 2007 post-election duel.
Though the effort succeeded in getting the two elected to the office of President and Deputy President respectively, it did not completely eliminate the feeling of exclusion across the country and when another election came in 2017, there was potential for even greater instability.
Uhuru, even after winning in a repeat election after his first victory was nullified by the Supreme Court, was humble enough to invite his main competitor to the table. And that is how the BBI was born!
The President said it was the quest for national unity that prompted him to choose to bring together all Kenyans through his Handshake with his political archrival Raila Odinga. Therefore, while the BBI report might not be an instant-coffee kind of solution to the problems the country faces, it’s a path towards the right direction.
The initiative was engineered by two people who made deep personal sacrifices for a nation’s sake. This is enough proof that they are motivated by no ulterior motive whatsoever in their bid to take the country forward through BBI.
A country worth its salt must have a strategy aimed at achieving equal participation by all ethnic groups and demand a political leadership of the servant-leader type that is accountable to all citizens. This has been Uhuru’s leadership mantra.
He has demonstrated this too well on various occasions, even to the extent of being branded “a leader who has neglected his region”. BBI will ensure that leaders who are elected to power govern instead of rule.
Ms Ngunjiri is an economist and political analyst. [email protected]