By Denis Birungi
Kenya is a country of surprises. Barely, a year the Supreme Court cancelled an election and ordered a fresh one, when President Kenyatta on Friday held a surprise meeting with his political arch-rival and National Super Alliance (Nasa) leader Raila to address the nation, standing side by side on a podium of unity.
The two leaders in a joint statement agreed to put Kenya above their individual grievances by forging a path to heal the nation from the deep divisions and hatreds of a previous controversial election and ultimately agreeing to forge a national unity in a country deeply divided along tribal lines.
This strand of politics is foreign on the African continent. That an opposition leader and the sitting president with whom he has contested in a disputed election, can call each other “brother”, stand side by side in realisation of the missed opportunities and then agree to work together for the good of the country, is a miracle we should celebrate and embrace with hope.
The rest of Kenya, and indeed Africa should welcome this development with enthusiasm, for it is the lack of such farsighted, people-centred, selfless inclusive leadership that African countries have remained the laughing stock of the world, still grappling with old age challenges of poverty, disease and ignorance.
Leaders should realise that a position of leadership especially the office of the presidency is not a passport to personal glory, self-aggrandisement, let alone a platform to dominate others but a mandate bringing with it incredible responsibility to act judiciously and with humility for the good of all and the future progress of the country.
To properly exercise the power that comes with a position of leadership requires the ability to tame personal ego and pride and act with humility like Uhuru and Odinga have done. For those that wield state power, engagement, and not confrontation with those we don’t agree with should be the guiding strategy if we are to build stable and progressive communities. It is high time leaders realised that the power of government exists to serve the citizens, and not the leader or his kin as has been the case in most African countries.
We should no longer allow elections or tribal differences to block us from seeing the bigger picture of building our countries into prosperous, stable and peaceful communities for the wellbeing of the present and future generations.
The Bible reminds us that a house divided against itself cannot stand. To forge a national unity requires us to first conduct a self-assessment, a sort of audit on what has gone wrong, then a commitment to rectify it and guarantees for non-repetition.
The task entails going back to the fundamentals of democracy- rule of law, free and fair elections, accountability in our governments, equality for all, transparency and fairness in public decisions, respect for human rights and respect for the unwritten rules of fair play and goodness.
In their joint statement Uhuru and Odinga agreed to the idea of inclusiveness in political engagement. To heal tribal divisions that exist in most African countries, leaders should embrace inclusiveness in all aspects of governance both in word and actions. Implementation of government policies should reflect a government that cares for all regardless of their tribe or political opinion.
Healing a country of historical ethnic and political divisions is not by words alone but by deliberate visible actions on the part of leaders that show a paradigm shift in the trajectory of the country.
Inclusion should be seen in appointments to public service, in sharing of the national cake, in rebuilding marginalised communities, in addressing national challenges such as corruption and poverty and in formulating broad based strategic policy paths that can facilitate faster progress of our countries.
Bi-partisanship should be given a chance. It is such a strong sign of unity for the opposition leader and the president to stand side by side and address a nation on the way forward as our Kenyan brothers have shown us. Opposition leaders should be looked at as partners in national building and not as “enemies”, “saboteurs”, “traitors’ as they are often called. Bringing them on table of dialogue is not a sign of weakness but strength.
While the genuineness of the move by Uhuru and Odinga may not be easy to ascertain, it is better to give them a benefit of doubt and allow time to tell.
The writer is a lawyer and post graduate student at the Law Development Centre