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Even as we celebrate that BBI has quieted things down, one cannot fail to notice the overpowering sense of seeing things as either black or white

Two years after the much-acclaimed handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, is Kenya going up or coming down?

To avoid the embarrassment of being seen as pro-handshake or anti-handshake, I will answer: Maybe, maybe not.

Even as we celebrate that BBI has quieted things down, one cannot fail to notice the overpowering sense of seeing things as either black or white, depending on which side one takes.

This could also explain the rise of ‘not in my backyard’ syndrome where what happens on the other side of the fence does not matter so long as all is well in your corner. The equivalent for Kiswahili speakers is the saying: Pilipili usiyoila yakuwashiani? Support or opposition to ideas is fashioned along tribe and political affiliation.

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Why should we worry?

Nimbyism risks denying the country better alternatives as loyalty and principled opposition gets undermined. There is more focus on being politically correct. Never has it ever been so right to conform even while breaking away from the group and taking a stand seems to be the right and sensible thing to do.

The debilitating herd mentality holding sway currently negates the steps we have taken as a democracy. Democracy essentially centres on the contest of ideas. When a majority of the people begin to see things as either black or white - because none of them wants to step out of the common line - then we are treading on dangerous grounds. It should worry that Opposition MPs line up to defend, rather than kick the stool from underneath the government, while those supposedly in government are fighting government from within.

This state of uniform, unquestioning thinking only has worst case scenarios. It emboldens the elites to capture the state, dominate business, control the courts, bully and buy off the media.

The brazenness from knowing that no one dares question things could tempt them to change the election rules and the vicious cycle repeats itself.

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They won’t be breaking any rules. Should there be need, an obliging Parliament is ready to do the bidding. Worse still, a media that has been beaten down to submission will be willing to take down any political enemy. That is dangerous.

Nimbysm is when citizens watch as those with instruments of state take down the institutions that underpin democracy- the courts, civil society, Parliament and media. The truth is nimbysm undermines the work of public defenders and public spiritedness.

Increasingly, there is a tendency to view consensus or compromise as treachery. That is poor thinking and is inimical to democracy.

Democracy thrives when everyone feels that they have a stake in it. The absence of that leads contestants to resort to undemocratic means of expression.

Yet the problem with our politics is not so much the conundrum presented by a winner-takes-it-all model, but the win-at-all-costs politics. Those who have power fight to retain it by all means; those who do not have it fight for it through hook or crook.

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A culture of seeing no evil and hearing no evil is enveloping our society. As long as it is not in our backyard, it is alright for the police to clobber a protester or worse still, kill a civilian; or for a public officer to steal as long as he is from your tribe (forget that he steals for himself and his family). When a pesky journalist, for example, questions why the need for more loans from China, those supposedly “in government” at best, look the other way, at worst, disparage and dismiss media as unpatriotic.

Increasingly, morals and principles have become an inconvenience that should not stand in our pursuit of getting ahead of the curve or just being heard. Our people who do not mean what they say, or say what they mean. The politicians are falling over themselves just to be seen to be on the “right side” of history.

If nothing else, many had hoped that the handshake would reform the politics by opening it up to other players; that it would put to an end the pervasive culture of political gangsterism and politics for the sake of it that feeds off the frenzy to win at all costs. No, Kenyans are gleefully smiling as a reversal of roles takes root.

No doubt, the handshake brought a lull in the political arena and a goodwill that if well used could have displaced the old order and replaced it with one that is responsive to the needs of the people, or better still, one that can fulfill the promise of democracy.

All is not lost. Naturally, as more people gain a foothold on the ladder of opportunity through good education and well-paying and stable jobs, and as politics becomes competitive, it is expected that alternative voices will drown out the proponents of status quo as enlightened citizens demand for a clean government, better governance and services.

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Mr Kipkemboi is The Standard’s Associate Editor for Partnerships and Projects. [email protected]

Uhuru-Raila Handshake President Uhuru Kenyatta Raila Odinga BBI

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