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What Samuel Kobia should do to get NCIC up and running

Reverend Samuel Kobia (pictured), the new chairman of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), faces challenges from anti-cohesion forces. Their leaders are powerful, have large following, are seemingly immune from accountability, and act with gross impunity. As the country gears up for tense debates on the anticipated Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report and the 2022 presidential election, Kobia’s conflict management skills will be tested.

Few people have had as much preparation for the assignment as Kobia. He will be compared to his predecessors, Mzalendo Kibunjia and Francis Ole Kaparo, who concentrated on speech policing and analysing institutional tribal distributions.

He has to overcome negative public images of NCIC. Cartoonists portray him as just another establishment man driving the NCIC car that has no room for ‘Wanjiku’. When Kibunjia was the boss, NCIC’s image was that of a speech police force that appeared lethargic and partisan.

He instilled fear among some politicians. For Kaparo, NCIC was like a transitional place after an illustrious career in Parliament. He was thus laid back and largely avoided controversy. Kobia has to go beyond how these two men were perceived and turn NCIC into an outfit that Wanjiku can own. It will not be easy.

President Uhuru Kenyatta picked Kobia to do two things with national and continental ramifications. First, to boost Uhuru’s “grand strategy” that appears elusive, and give it some kind of philosophical base. Second, to entrench Uhuru’s desired national socio-economic legacy comprising the Big Four and cohesion/integration.

Known pamphlet

Since Uhuru’s main political opponent Raila Odinga threatened the implementation of the Big Four dream, Uhuru engaged in the March 9, 2018 ‘handshake’ with him as a way of calming political temperatures. This meant accommodating Raila as a way of enhancing national cohesion and integration to make the Big Four attainable.

Kobia understands these socio-economic and political dynamics. He has already published the only known pamphlet that seeks to contextualise and explain the Big Four which remains largely unclear to its many supposed implementers. He did that as presidential adviser on national cohesion and integration.

Being a presidential adviser, however, is a small part of preparation for Kobia’s new job. A clergyman of the Methodist denomination with experience in interfaith connectivity at the national and global level, his conflict management aptitude will force him to seek all types of help from local and global contacts.

He served as Chancellor of St Paul’s University in Limuru, as Secretary General of National Council of Churches of Kenya, and in Geneva as the Secretary General of World Council of Churches, and has dipped his conflict management hand in Isiolo, Lamu, and in the Big Four mysteries. The inter-faith community would be interested in his success and would theoretically play its part to make success a reality.

Retain power

Kobia faces three major headaches. First, each religion or denomination claims to have the only path to God or paradise. Subsequently, religions abuse faith, commit crimes, and fight internally and against each other. Some commoditise religion, ignore ethics and values and become embarrassments. Kenya, with one of the highest number of religious outfits in the world, has many sources of religious disharmony.

And religious obstacles to cohesion and integration keep increasing because new religions keep cropping up. Second, are politicians whose main pre-occupation is either to grab or to retain power. They incite violence, use abusive language, and appear immune to prosecution as they dare authorities to arrest them. They hire standby goons whose job is to disrupt rival meetings and scare targeted voters. Getting away with bad behaviour, they appear to enjoy impunity.

Third, is the ganging up of political and religious mischief makers to turn religion into a tool of governance. The use of religion as an instrument of governance stretches back to Akhenaton around 1350 BCE in the 18th Dynasty Egypt. Rulers, with preachers tagging along, claim divine anointing to justify their rule and bad behaviour. Creating national cohesion and integration in the midst of such religions and political mischief would require confronting the manufacturers of religious and political obstacles.

Will Kobia tame political and religious leaders who cause disharmony and appear endowed with impunity? He cannot play speech cop, waste time analysing institutional tribal distributions, or retire into inactivity. He has to cut his own niche that Wanjiku can identify with. Will he?   

Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU