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CORD and Jubilee should avoid divisive politics

By - KEN OPALO | August 3rd 2013


It is not yet too late for President Uhuru Kenyatta to keep his word on working to unite Kenyans. As I have argued before, it will be near impossible for him to achieve the goals set out in the Jubilee manifesto if the country remains deeply divided along regional and ethnic lines. Our challenges, as a country, – endemic poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, et cetera - are great, and will require a collective effort to surmount. I reiterate: It is not enough to shout about grand plans from the mountain top, the president and his team must work to convince Kenyans to believe in the plans and to work hard in their own small ways to achieve those plans.

Unfortunately, forging national unity and a sense of a shared destiny has not been top of Uhuru’s agenda. It is no secret that over the last three months a consensus has emerged that the Jubilee government has its owners and that others only serve in it (or worse, by it) out of courtesy. The unfortunate events that occurred at the mass funeral of the students who died in the Kisii bus crash summed it up. The country appears to be getting more divided by the day.

Both sides of the political divide – the Jubilee government and CORD – are to blame for the current sorry state of the political environment in the country. There is certainly a better way to conduct politics without polarising the country along regional and ethnic lines. The average Kenyan wants not domination of one or a few ethnic groups or regions over other ethnic groups or regions, but proper housing and sanitation, electricity, healthcare and well run schools. What they expect from their leaders is not vitriol and crass personal attacks but concrete plans and policy options that can help them better their living conditions.

Listening to our politicians argue about their people being hounded out of parastatals, cars, bodyguards and who said what at a funeral one would be forgiven for thinking that Kenya has no bigger problems to attend to. The infant mortality rate in Kenya is 44 out of 1,000 live births; nearly half our people live below the poverty line; over 40 per cent of our youth are jobless; and our universities are failing our young students. These and more are the real problems facing Kenyans that ought to occupy the minds of our leaders day and night. 

I am a believer in constructive criticism. As Kenyans, we understand the difficulties facing this Government in its attempts to reform and transform our society. As such, our criticism should always be accompanied with possible solutions to the myriad problems we complain about. That is the only way we can move forward. Opposition for its own sake is detrimental to the national good. The current state of affairs – in which the opposition is gratuitously critical and the Government is becoming increasingly intolerant of criticism – will not lead to any good.

As the ruling coalition, the Jubilee Alliance has a greater responsibility for the current state of affairs. Unlike CORD, the Jubilee has the bully pulpit and can set the tone and parameters of national debate. I suggest that the Government begins by developing a thick skin and becoming less paranoid. Kenya is a country of more than 40 million human beings with their own minds. Regardless of what the Government does, not everyone will be happy. And those who are unhappy will voice their unhappiness however they can. It is not for the Government to silence criticism but to either use it for self-correction or ignore it.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Intolerance to criticism only leads to ineffectual dictatorship. Political scientists have long known of the dictator’s dilemma: how to enforce loyalty while at the same time getting accurate information from subordinates. If everyone around the president is a yes man who only thinks one way and tells the president what he wants to hear, how will he ever know of the bad things happening in the country? The beauty of democracy and free speech is that there will always be an opposition to highlight what the president’s men may choose to hide from him. More openness only leads to a more informed and effective Government.

It is time the Government and the opposition internalised the fact that Kenya belongs to all Kenyans. As a country, we are sick and tired of the tribalist and regionalist incessant power games that do little to better the lives of our people.


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