Cohesion agency risks losing relevance

Hate speech has become a major challenge for Kenyan authorities. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH
Hate speech has become a major challenge for Kenyan authorities. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

We live in trying times as a country. After many weeks of heated public discourse, there is consensus that Kenya is in trying times.

There is lack of consensus though on the nature of and cause of the problems. Some say it is elections, others politics and some classify it as deep-seated issues.

When we go back in history we will remember that the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) was established precisely against similar context.

It was our insurance policy against the country receding to similar toxic environment. This was not to be about how reactive the commission was but more about the programmes it put in place, the tasks it undertook to ensure proactively that the country and its citizens were more cohesive and integrated.

It is close to ten years since the law that established NCIC was enacted. Looking at the interrelated mandate of integration and cohesion that the commission was to discharge, it is imperative to assess how effectively it has discharged its mandate.

To be fair, the commission has implemented several programmes, including inter-communal dialogues. However, its most high-profile engagements have been around discussions on hate speech. This column has argued before that cohesion is more than just hate speech.

A review of social media and even mainstream media discussions over the last month reveals that our moral fibre as a nation is under strain. The common excuse has always been that it is the politicians who divide us. However, if we are to be honest with ourselves the politicians exploit some divisions that we bottle inside us. The responsibility of NCIC was to identify these features and help deal with them. Listening to discussions amongst students these past weeks, you worry about the levels of cohesion. There seems to be public acknowledgement that there are things that divide us a nation. Secondly, we have to put in place mechanisms to address these in the long-term. Listening to those discussions I have asked myself what is the greater mandate for NCIC than this. They have the task of ensuring that the task of national integration is neither episodic nor reactive.
How has it performed? What can they do differently? It is important that the last month spurs the commission into action.

To develop a greater sense of belief and purpose in what they do. Theirs is a critical task for ensuring that our country and its people live harmoniously, interact honestly and address differences amicably.

If they continue to bury their heads in the sand as a commission and undertake occasional but not transformational activities, they will not deliver on the mandate for which they were established.

As a country, we cannot afford the lack of focus and commitment and efforts to strengthen our bonds of cohesion. We have to bequeath to our children a more united country than we found it.

The commission has to identify the negative things that threaten our cohesion currently and focus on pushing the society to address it. In doing so, they must not be blinded by politics and political actors.

While politics is a critical component of cohesion efforts, there are many other areas, including social, educational, cultural and economic that impact on the efforts. These too must be given prominence.

I have asked myself the last time the commission had a huge national convention on the state of cohesion in Kenya and what can be done about its improvement.

Time has come for the NCIC to think about jumpstarting its national cohesion work.

A national convention on cohesion bringing together Kenyans from all walks of life to candidly discuss what divides us and how we can collectively work towards healing these wounds and strengthening our union may be a starting point.

The discussions should then be followed up with more consistent and fundamental engagements geared towards implementing the outcomes from the convention and delivering on making Kenya a more cohesive and integrated society.

This way the negative issues like hate speech will receive much greater public condemnation unlike now where the efforts to punish hate speech are not achieving the desired results.

As a friend of mine sadly pointed out to me last week, there is a bad tendency where those who are very partisan and who sow seeds of discord seem to get assurance of support from their communities, even in professional bodies.

This is a trend we have to stop. It is not about or for the political class. It is our responsibility as Kenyans. NCIC’s task is to oil that process. If they don’t, they will lose relevance.