If proponents of the reconciliatory handshake and the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report do not read the writings on the wall, their efforts at unity will flop.
If the initiatives do not succeed, they might precipitate a crisis because Kenyans will have put their hopes and trust in the effort to resolve the sufferings they have endured for far too long under the same leaders.
Before the handshake and subsequent BBI, the country was on the brink of a repeat of the 2007/2008 violence. The country had hardly healed from the wounds of the violence which featured the same actors as of the initiative. The spectacle of the handshake surprised many, triggering doubts of the genuineness of such an important gesture from the most unexpected political antagonists.
Kenyans are, from years of firsthand experience, able to tell when they are being hoodwinked one more time by some political leaders. They have clear history of some of the players in the reconciliatory efforts to experiment any further. Hence, the loud and clear objections to the reconciliatory initiatives from unexpected quarters.
The initiatives have occasioned unprecedented rebellion from the President’s backyard and party. They have not only brought out more pronounced inter and intra-regional divisions but have also been voiced loudly along the perennial ethnic divides. The efforts have further led to isolation and regrouping of leaders.
The emergency of the Tangatanga and Kieleweke groupings, have their origin in these initiatives, and are too deep to be wished away. Of bigger concern is the ensuing isolation and hate speech between the groups for and against the Deputy President, a significant public personality in today’s politics. That is not expected of the reconciliation initiative. Reconciliation efforts should not result into ethnic, tribal, regional antagonisms, isolations, insults, innuendos, allegations, violent verbal and war mongering exchanges. These are crisis early warning signs.
The initiatives should narrow the hitherto rifts and be universally unifying. This demonstrates why from the handshake stage, there were questions why the DP was not featuring in the spectacle, yet he was in the top leadership of the country. These perceptions will not be taken away by the task force asking everyone to read the BBI report for themselves. That is taking a holiday from reality.
Other than opposing sides the reconciliation efforts have created, there has been more personal attacks and war mongering expressions from the public, through artists poetry and others, who are lauded as voicing the hitherto silent views of many. It might be that the leadership has heard the expressions of anger from a larger participation, but if they do not read the writings on the wall, it’s a matter of time before defiant sympathisers fill the streets like desert locusts.
It’s rife in Africa, Middle and Far East and Asia where governments are struggling to repulse citizens from street riots at great cost and loss of lives and property. Leaders should take great pains to explain that BBI is meant to restore national unity. Even without reading the BBI, Kenyans reactions are strong enough that the doubts and fears they have are deep rooted and have their origin from the same authors of the initiatives as of previous ones. No effort should be spared to convince Kenyans that it’s not the same ploy this time round.
Civility is quintessential in national healing. The public servants are not demonstrating it in their address. Many at the top need more civic education than the public they serve. The abusive and haughty language they use is an abuse of the privilege, and is not helping reconciliation efforts.
If politicians believe in the BBI, they should do the footwork with a show of unity of purpose to the public, whose vote will be critical, to remove any misconceptions and doubts they have created, that the BBI’s real intention is to create positions for personal interests. This calls for politeness and appeal for understanding to the public, not lording it over them.
- The writer is a consultant in peace building and international relations, a mediator and counselling psychologist