Kanu should build presidential library to preserve its history

KANU displinary committee members lead by David Okiki Amayo in April 1987. [File, Standard]

The Kenya African National Union (Kanu) party must, as a matter of priority, construct a presidential library. The once political colossus should immortalise its contributions to nation-building beyond the successes and failures of its past.

A presidential library as President Ford once observed, "Is much more than a library, it's a classroom of democracy. A place to find inspiration as well as information." The behemoth that once straddled our politics like a colossus by consecutively producing presidents for the first 39 years of our independence certainly has something to teach us.

These include independence optimism, post-independence fallout, the genesis of political assassinations, history of detainees of conscience, the land question and the native resettlement scheme. It should also include the 1982 coup and after, the legacy of peacekeeping in Africa, the primary school milk programme, the politics of the multi-party era and much more. The presidencies of Kenyatta and Moi spanned many chapters of our nation's history and covered a variety of circumstances.

One of the earliest landmark policy decisions undertaken by Kanu was the Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 - African Socialism and its Application in Kenya. While many have hailed it as an economic miracle, other scholars have criticised it, claiming it reduced the country to 'the economy of the lunatic line.' All major economic developments were concentrated along the railway line. This quickly normalised the culture of marginalisation, especially in areas that were farther from the railway line.

When the second president came in, he realised that Sessional Paper No. 10 had inherent shortfalls that needed immediate remedial measures. One of the shortfalls is that planning and management of economic development were so centrally done that the people at the grassroots did not have a voice in their own development needs and priorities. As a stop-gap measure, he introduced District Focus for Rural Development.

However, this programme would soon run into headwinds as well in part because of the prevailing political and legal ecosystem. Due to agitation for multipartyism, human impulses of survival took over, and the committees established in the district, ostensibly to champion development, became the tool through which the executive supplanted the role of elected leaders. As someone who has inherited a country established by the hopes, fears, vision, and tenacity of the past Kanu leadership, I want to remind Kanu that it should write its own story, or else it would suffer the fate that Chinua Achebe cautions us about; "Until the lions have their own historians, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter."

When most African countries were reeling from coups and counter-coups, the Kenyan leadership under Kanu managed to foil a coup attempt in 1971 and successfully crushed another in 1982. This coupled with the relative peace and stability made Kenya an economic powerhouse in the region. As a result, we built our industries and infrastructure while our neighbours were either battling civil wars or the aftermath of the socialist experiment.

Long before gender equality became fashionable, President Moi by sheer force of vision and strong, unpretentious character, opened the door of education and opportunity to women and girls. You can still see the many Moi Girls' Secondary Schools spread all over. As President Obama would later observe, "A society that locks out one-half of its population from opportunities, is a society that is doomed to fail."

Kanu has been a wonderful training ground for many leaders. After presidents Kenyatta and Moi, it would still lay legitimate claims on presidents Kibaki, Uhuru, and Ruto. Actually, it's Kanu that offered former Prime Minister Raila Odinga an opportunity to understand the inner working of government and the complex nuances of politics away from the cut and paste of street agitation. Otherwise, he would not have outfoxed his more sophisticated peers in the second liberation struggle such as James Orengo and Anyang Nyong'o.

Mr Kidi is a policy and governance analyst. [email protected]