It’s time to negotiate peaceful transition to spur real growth

We have just started a new year but all the talk is of 2022. Kenyans are already wearied and burdened with an election that is two and a half years away. No wonder newspaper sales are plummeting and the evening news is no longer essential viewing. One must honestly ask, ‘Is this it? Are we going to be continuously subjected to this nonsense and politicking for the next thirty two months? Will the country grind to a halt because of our addiction to politics and bad leadership?’

You get the sense that we are trapped with a bitter cocktail of apathy, dirty loans, tribal arrangements, authoritarian rule and endemic graft. There seems no way out. It is quite depressing. Despite all the imagined democratic progress and a Constitution that is the envy of the world, we are informed that a referendum is inevitable and that it will take place in July, tupende tusipende (whether we like it or not). The same spokesmen of the handshake team have also announced that BBI people are beginning another round of collecting views. It appears they are to repeat their homework until such time as they get the answers that their masters desire. 

The current situation would remain just an irritant if it were not severely affecting the morale, morals and security of the nation. However, what is happening is deeply worrying as adults playing games with the country’s mind and money has put the future of Kenya at risk. What a shame to see regional neighbours laugh at the Kenya’s demise in the face of local competition in every sphere.

However, there is still time to take stock and reverse the rush to the precipice. Many may imagine that what is at stake is a power struggle. In a sense it is, but there is much more at issue. The desire is not so much to cling to power as to retain control over wealth and resources. You may think that there is no difference and that whoever wins get the cheque book anyhow. On further reflection, however, it may not be so much a quest to gain more as to protect what is already acquired.

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Those who have governed Kenya for the past half century have by any standards prospered considerably. They have massive investments in land, banking, commercial industries and extractives. While the ruling classes in other countries carted off their wealth to European cities and offshore accounts, in Kenya, the elite appear to have mostly opted to invest at home. As a result, much of what they possess is visible and known publicly.

Without casting any aspersion on the source of their wealth, they nevertheless have much to fear from a change in government that may treat them unfavourably or worse. As a result, we are pretty much in a Catch 22 situation and the country faces a crisis that might continue for another generation if left unaddressed. Change at the helm is rarely managed well in this continent but we can learn from the foolishness of some and the wisdom of others. 

Who could ever have anticipated such miserable ends to the long reigns of Mugabe and Bashir? On the other hand, while the whole world predicted a bloodbath in South Africa, Nelson Mandela successfully negotiated the hated Apartheid regime out of power between 1990 and 1994.

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Furthermore, Madiba then planned his own transition after ruling for just a term. There is also of course the dreaded fear for many that one day they may be hauled off to the courts, at home or elsewhere. That is why many cronies, beneficiaries and tender-preneurs will obstruct any negotiated settlement. 

But negotiations must begin now if Kenya is to transition to the next stage in its development. Elections alone will not provide peaceful change. From experience, they are more likely to bring conflict and stalemate at best. Jawaharlal  Nehru said that every conflict ends with a negotiation, so why don’t we start with negotiation. Negotiated transitions may not produce the most just result but they can give the best outcome for the country at the present moment in time. 

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While BBI proposes that the country can transition and prosper through legislative and constitutional change, these must be complimented by quiet, secret talks by respected individuals working behind the scenes to facilitate a peaceful transition. That of course is not a panacea for the country’s ills but it is a beginning that must be addressed.

- [email protected] @GabrielDolan1

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