Visionary leadership can still forestall poll conflict

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) with Nasa leader Raila Odinga. FILE PHOTO | NMG
President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) with Nasa leader Raila Odinga. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Monday is the first day of a week that few Kenyans of goodwill are looking forward to. On Thursday, the conflict pitting the two halves of the political and business elite will climax in a fresh presidential election. The consequences of this conflict are far from certain.

National Super Alliance leader Raila Odinga, who successfully petitioned President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election, Sunday called demonstrations starting Tuesday to force a postponement of the election.

Mr Kenyatta, on the other hand, understandably maintains that there is no choice in the matter: the election must be held as ordered by the Supreme Court and required by the Constitution.

Not having an election throws up too many unsavoury consequences - one of them a humongous constitutional crisis on legitimacy of power. 

Caught in the middle is the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission around whose chairman, Mr Wafula Chebukati, rumours of resignation are swirling like mist. He, however, recognizes the enormity of the responsibility on his shoulders and he has promised not to behave irresponsibly.

It is a fluid and unstable situation that has shaken Kenyans’ confidence in their country and tainted  the image and prestige of the nation as a strong partner in international engagements and a safe destination for investment.

The country has prayed itself hoarse, looking for a miracle that would help it avoid bloodshed and the kind of political meltdown witnessed in 2007/08.

But that miracle can only come from ordinary people, civil society, Kenya’s friends and religious leaders becoming a forceful voice of reason, speaking moderation to both Mr Odinga and his Nasa party and President Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party.

There is no more moment worthy of voices of reason to emerge - from internal and external shores. 

Just like the internal combustion engine was never designed to run on air, democracy is not designed to be driven by group-think. Every citizen must think for themselves and take decisions that are in the best interests of themselves, their families and their communities.
It is not very easy to be rational or to have the courage to buck the trend in these difficult and uncertain times. The instinct is to withdraw to the herd and go with the flow.
But since the future of the country depends on it, every individual must do their best. They must resist intimidation and attempts to influence their conduct at this important moment.

We recognize that we can’t tell anyone to participate or not participate in the election; that is an individual decision. However, the public must guard, at all costs, against the breakdown of law and order, especially at this time when the security services are exhausted and stretched to breaking point.

And whatever decision each Kenyan takes, they must ensure to do good: that their choice helps to create a stable, equal, prosperous and law abiding country.

This is not to say that we are proposing a mechanically legalistic solution to what is clearly a deeply political problem. Far from it. In fact, a key contributor to the current crisis is an over-glorification of the law as a ready panacea for Kenya’s challenges.

The formation and operations of institutions are codified in law. So we would expect IEBC to operate and conduct elections in strict conformity with the law.

However, the deeper problem which has precipitated this crisis must be addressed politically. And this means there has to be discussion between leaders of the opposing sides, whether before or after the election.

Mr Odinga should be encouraged to think about his legacy and the fact that so long as he is able, he is qualified to vie and lead during this and even the next election cycle.

If indeed he is truly a democrat, he must fight for the rights of the Kenyans who are suffering in this crisis, as strongly as he fights to defend his right to be given a chance to rule.

As for Mr Kenyatta, the decision by his biggest opponent to quit the election opens the door for questions of legitimacy to be raised about a subsequent government.

And the election will result in millions of Kenyans who feel, rightly or wrongly, that their voice was not heard because their leaders did not take part.

These issues can’t be wished away, there must be engagement and possibly accommodation. Jubilee must be careful not to regress into the strong arm tactics of yesteryears; those will not work.

Democracy is a clamorous and untidy system. Its institutions must be tested, through contestation and dispute, until they are strong and mature.

But it also requires goodwill, honesty, a highly developed sense of public interest and a lack of mischief for that process of maturation to be completed successfully.

If Kenyans commit not to attack each other, to uphold the law and to take the best decision in accordance with their conscience, everything will be fine.

Whatever happens on Thursday, our plea to Kenyans is that each and every one of us must do what is right for Kenya. The institutions on which so much rests - the IEBC, the security forces and the political parties must also act in the best interests of the country.