It’s time to mend country’s social fabric

Nasa supporters celebrate the Supreme Court ruling invalidating President Uhuru Kenyatta's reelection on September 1, 2017. PHOTO | ONDARO OGEGA | NMG
Nasa supporters celebrate the Supreme Court ruling invalidating President Uhuru Kenyatta's re-election on September 1, 2017. PHOTO | ONDARO OGEGA | NMG  

The last one week has been very momentous. The Supreme Court gave a ruling annulling the results of the Presidential election held on August 8, 2017. That decision has been met with mixed, heated and extremely emotional debates in the country.

While there is lack of consensus on the court’s determination, the election events have revealed deep seated issues in the country. They reminded me of my experience following the 2007 General Election. Then I was working for an international NGO.

In response to the levels of mistrust in the country, I coordinated a programme for inter-ethnic dialogue amongst young people from several communities. The initial stages of those conversations were tense and difficult.

They revealed the stereotypes that many people held against those from other communities. These extended even to those who under normal circumstances were best of friends.

The discussions we held at the initial meeting resulted in a programme that took us across several parts of the country promoting ethnic tolerance and mutual coexistence. This was long before the National Cohesion and Integration Commission was formed.

The experience still remains etched in my mind to date. Several of those we engaged with in that programme are now in positions of leadership in the country.

A couple have been elected to the National Assembly, some to the Senate, others to counties. Listening to conversations these past week brought memories of that experience of 10 years ago. We are at a cross roads as a country.

Despite the sad experiences of the past, and though we adopted a new Constitution in 2010, our progress towards a more cohesive society seems to have been shaken by the events of the last one month.

Elections are supposed to be events of choosing those we would like to govern us for the next cycle. Once completed, citizens should get back to nation building.

The discussions we have had as a result of the decision of the Supreme Court to nullify the Presidential poll have demonstrated that we are a country where citizens have deep negative feelings against each other. We have choice as a country to make. The choice of ignoring these signs and pretending that all is well. Or we can choose the path of dealing with that which divides us.

Why is our competition for the presidency still as zero-sum as it was before the adoption of a devolved system of government? Why are we still distrusting of each other as much? The answers to the above questions and more are not easy to come.

Attempting to deal with them is at the heart of repairing the broken bonds of our country.

A friend of mine told me that we need a national conversation. One which is candid and seeks to debate on what ails Kenya. One which does not focus on blaming one another, but on exploring solutions.

Solutions to problems that are discussed and agreed upon as the source of our continued discomfort in Kenya. The discussion has to recognise though that we have a beautiful country.

The task of building bonds of friendship, of strengthening relations amongst citizens and of promoting Kenyan identity requires all our collective energies. It cannot be done through pretence, or buck passing. It cannot be done by only some of the citizens.

The process also requires honest, engaged and listening leadership. Leadership that recognizes that it cannot be about them only. They have to care about the citizens who elect them. Those on whose behalf they lead.

The national Kenyan discussion must be about honest debate not superficial “feel nice” conferencing. This country cannot afford to miss this opportunity to ensure the citizenry converses with itself.

By doing so we will be able to chart a path for ourselves that builds on our past experience and focuses on refocusing our energies to building a more cohesive and inclusive society. What does this require. It requires national introspection at all levels of society.

It requires giving space to citizens to freely express their thoughts on what they think ails us. Sometimes speaking alone is sufficient. Importantly though it is only through honest debate that we will be able to find a solution.

Then we can strengthen the fabric of our society. And transform our country into a more open and democratic society.