Let leaders stop brinkmanship and come to negotiation table

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga chats with President William Ruto during a previous event. [File, Stanadard]

Events of the last few weeks have left many Kenyans disillusioned. Just when we could begin picking up the pieces from the combined effect of the Covid-19, highly contested elections, prolonged drought, and a global recession, the politicians have chosen to drive us into yet another crisis. Many of us are left to wonder what exactly the matter is. Are we jinxed - never to enjoy a moment of tranquil?

Back in 2017, when NASA first announced plans to swear in Hon Raila Odinga as the People's President, many thought it was a long shot. Constitutionally all the odds appeared set against the very idea. Nonetheless, a team of us - comprising religious leaders, business sector, and diplomatic community - sought audience and met with the principals, with a view to understanding their perspective. It became clear that they had given the whole idea serious consideration and were clear in their commitment. There were critical and legitimate concerns that they desired to be addressed before the nation could move forward.

In our considered view, however, we felt that an all-inclusive and constructive national conversation would be the best platform to address such concerns. In such a conversation we would look at the short, medium, and long-term solutions to issues that have consistently bedevilled us for decades - especially during election seasons. It was therefore commendable that the NASA principals gave due consideration to the proposal, and eventually agreed to postpone the then proposed 12th December swearing-in ceremony, and give dialogue a chance.

It was likewise heartening that upon consultation, the Jubilee team was equally open to dialogue. Unfortunately, there came the sticky issue of the content and scope of the issues to be discussed. Whereas NASA was intent primarily on electoral issues, Jubilee was focused on a development agenda. This led to a stalemate, with neither side willing to compromise. Eventually, NASA took the unfortunate decision to go ahead with the swearing in of Hon Raila on January 30, 2018.

This notwithstanding, it was our happy observation that the government made the wise decision not to confront the NASA supporters at Uhuru Park. This forestalled what would otherwise have been a bloody confrontation with the police. The crowd equally conducted themselves with great decorum, milling peacefully through the city in their thousands, with no looting or destruction of property as had been the case previously.

Our hope therefore was that, with this cloud having passed, we would have trained our focus on finding solutions to the issues at hand. But alas, that was not to be. In what can only be considered unfortunate, the government put the nation on tenterhooks. In a series of unexpected ruthless actions, and with defiant resolve, major media houses were shut down and a crackdown on key opposition figures ensued.

Kenyans were left aghast, with religious leaders, civil society, legal experts, political pundits, and the diplomatic community all expressing surprise at the unfortunate turn of events. A dark cloud descended on our beloved country. But on March 18, 2018, the cloud suddenly lifted and there before us was the famous handshake. Kenya turned 180 degrees - and for a reasonable while there was a semblance of peace. But the real issues remained unaddressed.

From the look of things, we are on a journey back into history. It means that something is drastically wrong, and we must address it or be forever doomed to this cycle. Because, whereas many are concerned and perhaps even angry at the audacity of the Azimio brigade to call for demonstrations twice a week, what should concern us more is that there are reasonable numbers to heed this call. It means that there is a large number of Kenyans that will respond to any peddler of hope.

But, apart from the apparent exploitation of the poor for personal objectives, it seems clear that there are fundamental national issues that we must be willing to tackle. Hence, if there is going to be any dialogue, it must not be merely by politicians about political interests. It should be used to re-think our political and governance architecture in a highly ethnically diverse society like ours. It is thus our plea - one more time - to our leaders: please abandon brinkmanship and call us to the discussion table. Let us sort out Kenya - together.