Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote: “When a nation is filled with strife, then do patriots flourish.”
In 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga were trapped in the wake of the bitterly divisive presidential election. Then against all expectations and odds, they ceded ground and negotiated a peaceful settlement.
The nation sighed with relief as the world watched in awe the March 18, 2018 handshake on the steps of Harambee House.
The two agreed to launch a public conversation without preconditions. The conversation assessed Kenya’s history, what ails it, the problems it has gathered along the way and the stumbling block to the dreams of the founding fathers. This was to be done through the 10 points of the Building Bridges Initiative that summarised the genesis of Kenya’s problems and declared intention to debate them, candidly, to arrive at a longer lasting solution. On November 27, last year, Kenyatta described where Kenya stood days to the handshake: “After the 2017 polls there was a big problem. I could say I am the president and I could rule without hindrance, but I realised our country was deeply divided. The citizens were bitterly split even in this capital city and our land was troubled”.
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Raila was also deeply troubled by the slide towards the precipice. At the launch of the BBI report, he said there were hardliners on both sides in the aftermath of the polls. “On our side, our supporters were saying we will pull down Uhuru Kenyatta’s portraits, declare a separate state and begin to collect taxes. Uhuru on the other side was being told ‘arrest Raila and charge him with treason and hang him’”.
Kenya’s divisive elections, inability to realise prosperity for all citizens, forge a nation out of our diversity, among other challenges that reared their head in violence and economic stagnation every electoral cycle, was a matter that troubled him deeply, and he was eager to try his hand in finding a solution. The President, who had campaigned on the agenda of economic transformation - what would later crystallise in the Big Four agenda, was telling the nation that Kenya’s future prosperity lay not in high sounding blue prints, intemperate political speeches and endless tribal or sectarian plots, but a new thinking that addressed past mistakes to birth a fresh beginning in which citizens benefited from policies and felt a sense of belonging.
The President is seeking a solution to Kenya’s problems beyond his tenure and has found a partner in the former prime minister. To the chagrin of naysayers, Kenyans support the two - the peace has held and unleashed an enabling environment in which reasonable discussions can thrive, graft can be tackled and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic can be addressed effectively.
The world is watching how this unity of purpose and homegrown solution will work in the long run on a continent where leaders are not known to compromise.
Around East Africa and the Horn of Africa lie many countries in ruin, with their nationals seeking refuge in our land because when it mattered, leaders put personal ambition before public good.
Kenya’s future lies in embracing our diversity and creating an environment in which democracy and economic development could thrive. Forging a nation or returning it to its cause when it has strayed is no easy task. It requires skill, patience and persuasion, and new partnerships that dwell on the positive that unites.
This unity of purpose requires all sectors in Kenya and beyond our borders to support. The steady steps our leaders have nurtured through the BBI, which seek changes to the manner our motherland is the government to secure its future, is the unity of purpose required of patriotic Kenyans.
As the Chinese philosopher wrote, nation-building is painstaking and often slow, but our principals have shown that no matter the risks, setbacks and bottlenecks, the goal of creating a prosperous Kenya at peace with itself, justifies patience and this unity of purpose.
-The writer is Eldas MP and Jubilee Party Coalition Secretary