Revisit the art of nation building after polls

An elderly woman is led to a polling station to vote for a Member of the National Assembly for Kitui Rural on August 29, 2022. [Philip Muasya, Standard]

While reflecting on the recently concluded elections, the attendant petition challenging the presidential poll result and the apex court’s ruling upholding the outcome, left a fragmented and sharply divided nation. One is tempted to ask, what next?

What makes some countries disintegrate, what fans ethnic/tribal embers of hatred resulting into violence and ultimately plunge nations in the abyss of civil war; yet others enjoy relative cohesion, despite having ethnic diversities? What makes nation building succeed or fail?

Edward Miguel in his article; Tribe or Nation? Nation Building and Public Goods in Kenya versus Tanzania, argued that once these colonies gained independence in the 1960s and after, many introduced policies to create a national language and national identity, similar to those of 19th century Europe.

Miguel provides a comparison between nation-building policies in post-colonial Tanzania and Kenya, with evidence suggestive of a strong effect of Tanzania’s nation-building policies.

Many countries have made attempts to create ties that bridge ethnic, social and economic divides. This is geared to reduce the prominence of ethnicity in politics, undermine support for separatism, make violent conflict and war less likely, and eventually lead citizens to identify with the nation and perceive it as a community of solidarity and shared political destiny.

The March 2018 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga is a clear reference, as it has seen Kenyans experience relative calm and stability during the last four years of the Kenyatta regime.

This suggests that political integration and driving a cause towards national identification inform the art of nation-building. To achieve both, it is important to create bonding ties between citizens and the state that integrates ethnic majorities and minorities into an inclusive power arrangement.

If citizens feel they belong and are connected to government through relationships of authority and support, an inclusive national community emerges and nation building can be said to have succeeded.

Further afield, Alberto Alesina and Bryony Reich of Harvard University, in their February 2015 paper titled: Nation Building, take us down memory lane, narrating how nation building was undertaken in France and Italy. An extract from the article that quotes French leader, Napoleon 1 reads:

“There cannot be a firmly established political state unless there is a teaching body with definitely recognised principles. If a child is not taught from infancy that he ought to be     a republican or a monarchist, a Catholic or a free-thinker, the state will not constitute a nation;    it will rest on uncertain and shifting foundations; and it will be constantly exposed to disorder and change,” Napoleon I, 1805.

Nations stay together when citizens share enough values and preferences and can communicate with each other. Homogeneity among people can be built through education, speaking a common language, and building infrastructure to enable citizens move goods and services from one place to another as they mingle with other cultures.

Kenya has a robust road network with marked improvement of inter-county connectivity and a standard gauge railway serving a similar purpose. We have made tremendous steps by having English, Kiswahili and sign language as our official languages, enabling citizens to communicate beyond their ethnic orientations.

The education system gives every Kenyan an opportunity to learn and be skilled and improve quality of life. What needs improvement is building on the gains to create a cohesive nation that appreciates diversity, embraces tolerance and entrenches inclusivity in all facets of our socio-economic lives.

The work is cut out for the next regime, to consider developing programmes aimed at nation building while harnessing the gains left behind by preceding administrations.

The writer works at office of the Government Spokesperson