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Ideas & Debate

How economics can help bridge the political divide

Kenyan divisions are usually rooted in tribal identity politics. FILE photo | nmg
Kenyan divisions are usually rooted in tribal identity politics. FILE photo | nmg 

Last year’s election highlighted the deep and bitter political divide among Kenyans, divisions usually rooted in tribal identity politics. However, if one were to ask Kenyans what they would want for the country, one would likely find similar answers across the political divide.

We want good schools and hospitals, decent jobs, roads, security, shelter, an end to corruption and freedom from hunger and poverty.

And since Kenyan politics is renowned for not being rooted in ideology, it is possible that individuals from opposite sides of the political divide would have similar views on how the government can better provide services and stimulate economic development. It is only in Kenya that two people may have identical ideologies of how they want the country to run, but then vote for different candidates due to tribal identity.

This conundrum is one that can be tapped into in order to unite us. The fact that we share concerns across political divides ought to be leveraged to bring the country together.

Rather than focusing on the politics of identity, Kenyans ought to focus on the politics of issues such that both the ruling party and opposition engage us on how they will or would improve the socio-economic status. Kenyans could unite and, as a people, make the same demands regardless of which political party is in power.

Further the fact that we may well share ideologies on socio-economic develop across political divide could be used to tackle another monster in the closet—the class divide.

Just under half of all Kenyans live at or below the poverty line, and the bulk of the rest live day-to-day or pay cheque-to-pay cheque. This means that there are those on opposite ends of the political divide who have similar incomes, standards of living and daily struggles.

They would likely relate more to fellow citizens who face similar issues but are of a different political leaning than those of another class but with whom they are aligned politically. It is important that we unite around addressing the class divide rather than letting politicians use the class divide as a tribal motivator in voting.

Finally, Kenya can use economics to unite the country; the kind that builds incomes, creates jobs and delivers high quality government services.

We ought to find those with whom we share ideologies on economic development and create fora that discuss shared concerns no matter one’s political affiliation. In using economic development as a starting point, citizens will find that they have more in common with their sworn political enemies than perhaps they thought.

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