The dual nature of peace: Built by intent and nurtured by spirituality

Miritini Peace Group sing cultural songs during the Infinix Note 30 series launch at the Majilis Resort in lamu on June 2, 2023. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Peace is never an accident. It is an outcome. Just like it takes intentional steps to upset it, it takes deliberate steps to set it up. Peace is built, just like it can be broken. It, therefore, has a man-made component. Together with the man-made component is a sacred dimension.

One mark of authentic spirituality is a peace that is beyond human grasp. Peace is not about silenced people. It is about satisfied people. Peace is both an internal state of the heart as well as an external community atmosphere. What oxygen is to the body, peace is to the community. Without it, the community shuts down. 

Some countries have no peace and have forgotten what conflict-free living feels like. Others have a seeming peace, an appearance of peace with a ceasefire for a blanket over steaming tension.

Others have a brittle peace, one that breaks upon the slightest drop.  Others have a conjoined peace with no experience of any noteworthy conflict in their recent history.

Kenya’s peace is the brittle kind. The unfortunate thing is that we disregard or just forget the “handle with care” caution. We toss it back and forth and hurl it in the air like we do not care. The country is sustained less by leadership acumen and more by sheer grace. Kenya’s boiling point is quite low. At the slightest disturbance, peace begins to vaporize. 

There is a prevalent notion in Kenya that a political leader needs to be militant and somehow forceful. This is consistent with Archbishop Anthony Muheria’s description of the Kenyan leader as “…arrogant, rough, insulting and imposing.” The prevalent leadership type has a war-like ethos, hence the popularity of the “Kaa ngumu” (do not cede) philosophy.

This militancy is associated with confrontation and hard lines as opposed to calmness which is related to diplomacy and negotiation. Going by the way the government is responding to the opposition’s demonstrations, fear is mounting not only in the streets but even in homes and hearts. It has been a while since Kenyans feared a government. A fear-based relationship is not the best for nurturing authentic peace. A leader need not be fierce to be firm. 

A country should train its forces to the best levels. But the same country should have an ambition that these highly trained forces will not have to fire a shot, especially against its people.

Such would boast a highly trained army force that has no experience of war. A retired policeman would narrate shooting stories – as he practiced in the shooting range. A successful administration is not one that militantly suppresses unarmed uprisings staged by its people but one that successfully argues itself out of cocking guns against its people. There is no jubilation in a government crashing its demonstrating citizens.

The ambition should be right the opposite- beat swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks towards a life-endearing community where people study war no more.

Conflict is a luxury Kenya cannot afford. If we truly knew the value of peace, we would guard it with words and works and keep swords off it.  Kenya is one conflict away from a fiery furnace. We are closer to chaos than we are to calm. It should be the ambition of successive governments to hand over to incoming ones a more fortified peace. An increasingly purified atmosphere of peace is a priceless gift to pass from one generation to another.

A brittle peace country should pride in its abilities to reconcile, not in its capacity to silence opposing voices by killing them. Using gun power on unarmed citizens should not be entered into the nation’s chronicles of might. Instead of proving itself with bullets, a brittle peace country should invest in bullet-proofing its peace. Any signs of peace leaks should be addressed swiftly through preserving practices of mature debates and concessions that strategically deflate tensions. 

A brittle peace country cannot insist on a “Kaa ngumu” stance. Hard lines may look like a win but eventually may a myriad of social and economic deteriorations. Peacewise, France is not Kenya’s peer. France can withstand month-long riots. But the losses of a week-long riot will see Kenya calling on France for recovery loans. One day of closed business is enough to impoverish thousands of households. Poverty infuriates and a furious citizenry is hard to govern. 

Kenya would do way better with peace-loving leaders. Leaders with bravado displays are likely to perforate peaceful atmospheres. Their poor temperament is likely to dismiss dialogue too soon, denying a nation the possibilities that come with sincere bi-partisan reason.

President Mwai Kibaki has been described as the best president Kenya has had so far. This recognition is mostly tied to the way he successfully steered the economy, turning an unsightly country into an admirable one.  A point often missed is that the economic gains were an outcome of a myriad of factors. Key to these factors was Mwai Kibaki’s value system.  He was authentic, not pretentious. That he loved his country was and is written all over Kenya’s history. 

He promised less and delivered more. Critically, he was a peaceable man.  The common narrative around his leadership hails his wit but downplays his spirit. But the two are inseparable. We cannot praise his prowess in economics and suppress his reconciliatory spirit.  

There is an intersection between positional character and personal character. The positional character describes qualities the public associates with particular offices. For instance, a cabinet secretary whose speeches are stained with profanity is perceived by the public as unsuitable for the position, however brilliant he may be.

A child will cross their fingers that their parent does not do anything embarrassing when called upon to address a school gathering. The public expects top leaders to be their face. One who does not wash their face properly, therefore, will be perceived as a defacing presence. This is the reasoning that informs the expectation that the presidency should be presidential. Happy is the nation whose leaders have a personal character that rhymes with the positional character.