On the surface, our diversity makes us uniquely special: our cultural diversity; an amalgam of over 40 tribes, beautiful topography and Kenyans’ legendary good naturedness mixed with drive and energy makes Kenya a paradise of sorts.
Deeper, the fissures that open up at every electoral cycle are evident. There is no guessing whether an eruption looks more or less likely as we gear up for elections in August. Yet it is better to err on the side of caution lest that paradise is lost.
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Not least because there is heightened tension, intolerance of divergent opinion as the jostling for advantage and power takes centre stage. Or the wish by many that the elections are issue-based rather than personality-driven seems unrealistic.
While skirmishes and attacks in the counties of Laikipia, Marakwet, Baringo, Turkana and Pokot are readily put down to cattle-rustling, no effort should be spared to ensure that the centre holds and that the country remains not just united, but peaceful going into the watershed elections.
The scars from the 2007-2008 post-election violence where more than 1,000 people died and nearly half-a-million got internally displaced are still fresh. This, if nothing else, makes a good case for maintaining the peace.
But inasmuch as it is easy to blame the Government for failing to protect life and property, the role that each citizen plays in ensuring that peace holds cannot be gainsaid. The seeds of discord are invariably planted on the people. Slowly and slowly they take root.
“There is not one county that is not multi-ethnic, and multi-religious. How can it be that some of us still refuse to embrace every Kenyan?... we see ethnic polarisation and discrimination in some counties”, regretted President Uhuru Kenyatta in his speech at the Devolution Conference in Naivasha on Tuesday.
Indeed, ordinary Kenyans have every reason to get concerned. The good news is that they hold the key to that in their hands.
The need to make a difference while staying together should be solidified by the inconvenience, the suffering and the hardship they go through each day, alone. They should not lose focus on the bigger picture.
Ideally, elections should provide room for a contest of ideas. Sadly, in practice, that doesn’t happen.
Well-meaning Kenyans must therefore stand for Kenya and stand up to those leaders who though ideally they should be at the forefront preaching peace and unity, utter divisive words and foment chaos and violence.
Keeping in mind that the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has performed below expectation.
After a number of politicians were let off the hook in clear cases of incitement, NCIC needs to win back public confidence that besides barking, it can actually bite those who breach the peace. President Kenyatta’s pledge to protect Kenyans from intimidation, incitement and violence is a good starting point.
That should be followed by putting behind bars all those who have caused death, pain, and destruction.
There has to be a radical departure from the past where politicians were untouchable and rode roughshod on other Kenyans.