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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Kenya’s post election turmoil: A tipping point

The events of the past weeks will be etched in our hearts and engraved in our history as our encounter with the real us. Think about it as the day you met you, the treacherous kiss and the embrace of death. The day you came face to face with your dark, cold and cruel heart.

I can almost hear you swear you do not recognize this person. You say their silhouette reminds you of Burundi, DR Congo, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda.

While we incinerate our brothers and sisters in God’s own sanctuary and amidst murderous orgies on our streets and farmlands, politicians engaged in political intrigue and grandstanding. How callous!

That there were malpractices on both sides is incontrovertible. Electoral fraud was committed by ordinary Kenyans and ECK, both acting at the behest of the political elite.
It is instructive that the ECK chairman does not know the winner of the presidential poll. Who won or lost the presidential vote? Who is or is not the people’s president? While these are legitimate questions, we have incurred an inordinate cost in blood and treasure.

Not one among us is without blemish. Ultimately the vanguard of democracy is a responsible and vigilant citizenry, a citizenry that will not sell their soul and motherland for tribe and self- interest.

This is no time for partisan opportunism and political band-aid. Even the boldest power sharing deal with Mr. Kibaki as His Majesty and Mr. Odinga as Prime Minister is not the solution. We recall the epic proclamations of “uhuru na Kenyatta” and “Kibaki tosha”.

Although the grievances are political, the violence has a deep ethnic baritone and is now acquiring a streak of state excesses. There is no highway that leads easily and inevitably to easy answers. Neither can we find the answer by merely praying for or preaching and singing about peace, one nation, and one people. An end to the political tension will not necessarily herald a new dawn of equity, tolerance, trust and social harmony.

Neither tough talk, nor vigilant policing nor muzzling of the media will end this tangle. These strategies will only serve to exemplify Mr Odinga as obdurate and Mr Kibaki as an archetypal despotic African “big man”.

We must address the root causes of the problem. The current constitution is an impotent, listless document that has woefully failed to deliver even on its modest promises. We have executed social and economic policies that allowed untenable ethnic inequity to fester and failed to build social cohesion and ease the path to nationhood.

Our constitution makes the presidency and government a theatre for ethnic intrigue and partisan absurdity. The current constitutional dispensation allows the president to emasculate vital institutions and constrains the civil service to prostrate in servitude to the presidency. Parliament is an innocuous and sterile ambler that disdains its legislative obligation.

Kenyans must confess to the sin of idolatry. The presidency is supreme deity. His/her tribal folk are saints and arch angels, utterly obnoxious in their hubris. Hence, presidential politics and government is necessarily about victorious and vanquished tribes.

How do we create a symbol of sovereignty that is not polarizing but rather one that unifies us for a higher purpose, a chief executive that inspires us to a supreme destiny? How can we model a presidency that serves a cause that is greater than ethnic or self-interest? How can we raise a citizenry whose ultimate loyalty and obligation is not to tribe but to country and posterity?

We must debunk the myth and fantasy of a peaceful, stable and prosperous nation. We must confront the reality that ours is a volatile, highly inequitable society, with deep ethnic odium. We must engage in a dispassionate and reasoned debate that examines whether the idea of a unitary state is desirable, feasible or even pragmatic. We must determine through a new constitutional order, a set of common values, ideals and institutions that can guarantee dynamic stability and nationhood.

The current crisis presents a historic opportunity, a tipping point or threshold. There is a cathartic streak about the post election violence. In a gruesome way, the turmoil is a kind of purging, cleansing and emptying of the bowels of ethnic hatred that could lead to a redressing of socio-economic inequities.

The hundreds dead did not die in vain. In death they have something to say to every politician who has fed us on the stale bread of ethnic vitriol and the rotten meat of tribalism. They have something to say to every Kenyan who embraces the tyranny of tribalism and rejects the aristocracy of merit, equity and socio-economic justice.

Only genuine, robust bipartisan civil society engagement will revive some hope and steer the political protagonists towards the hard choices they must make. Like Moses, an engaged and dispassionate civil society must point the way towards the Promised Land.

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