There are currently two schools of thought on the question of “national dialogue” as a prerequisite to “national healing” and “reconciliation.” In Kenya’s political lexicon, these are words loaded with deeply contested meanings hence the quotation marks. The first school of thought argues there is absolutely no need for dialogue. This group, largely from Jubilee, believes that the only legitimate “national dialogue” was the elections.
To them, that dialogue ended on October 26. What is needed is to allow Jubilee to fulfill the mandate on which it was elected to govern. A slight variation of this “no dialogue” position accepts the principle of a national discourse but insists that any discourse must take place within the constitutionally mandated institutions and must focus on developmental issues not politics and settlements thereof.
At the other extreme is NASA stalwarts. To this group, national dialogue is a necessary precondition to the country “moving forward.” Their starting point is that the Jubilee government is illegal and illegitimate. There is therefore need for the two major political players to sit together much in the way PNU sat down with ODM in 2007 to craft a national reconciliation and governance framework. Their proposed dialogue agenda includes the ever-elusive electoral reforms and a review of the governance system to make it “more inclusive.”
I believe that these two extreme views are largely misguided. For the Jubilee group, the October 26 win irrevocably resolved the constitutional issue of who has authority to govern Kenya. To use computer language, the hardware and infrastructure for governing exists. It is the software that has some challenges and requires some rebooting. You would have to reside in Mars not to recognise that the elections left deep wounds in large swathes of the country and many NASA supporters remain deeply disillusioned. While it is easy to dismiss these folks as “wasiotosheka” and argue that their wounds were in any event self-inflicted, the reality is that these feelings of disillusionment and abandonment, even where they are mere perception, will continue to poison the body politic. While it won’t stop Jubilee from governing, it will make that leadership politically and socially problematic in many parts of Kenya. Because Jubilee knows it won the presidency, it must focus away from its political opponents and consider what it needs to do to make the citizens in those parts of Kenya to feel a legitimate part of the Kenyan family.
My view is that a national discourse, not between NASA and Jubilee, but involving a wide cross section of Kenyans would be therapeutic and a good beginning. As for the NASA devotees, the earlier they accepted Jubilee’s legitimate claim to the presidency the better. Elections 2017 are over and there will be no meaningful second swearing-in. However, there are legitimate issues that the elections and indeed five years of implementing the Constitution have shown requires rethinking and which NASA can push for discourse on. Does our structure of government deal adequately with our realities? How can we strengthen devolution further? How do we effectively deal with the youth and poverty crisis? How do we strengthen the Opposition so that it can hold government accountable and be a true government in waiting? These are national concerns that are not uniquely NASA’s. A discussion on them cannot be forced on Jubilee under the barrel of a gun.
I know for a fact that there are many in Jubilee who believe on the need to iron out obvious bumps in our governance framework. It would be prudent for NASA to seek these and others with similar beliefs in the non-State community and the diplomatic corps. For as long as it looks like NASA is making a claim for the presidency under the cover of dialogue, sitting down with Jubilee will be impossible. Yet our leaders from all sectors including politics, trade unions, private sector and the religious community sitting together, whatever the results of that sit down, affirms that we are still a country determined to together weather the very real challenges that afflict us. That’s a small price to pay for such huge dividends.
- The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya