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We need radical peacemakers, not politicians, to break violence cycle

By Edward Buri | June 6th 2021
President Uhuru Kenyatta, DP William Ruto and other Machakos County leaders during a Jubilee Rally in Masii. [Charles Kimani, DPPS]

The bloodiest event in post-independence Kenya, the 2007-2008 post-election violence, happened at a time when the country was enjoying a historic economic blossom.

This should be a fact inscribed on Kenya’s forehead. Therefore, to invest in infrastructure with an expectation that it will directly quench violence is short-termism. There is truth in observing that peace does not depend on economics but economics does depend on peace.

We often hear the necessity of peace in creating an enabling business environment attractive to foreign investors. While this is valid, peace is a critical investment first and foremost for the mental and emotional health of the citizenry. Peace should be generated not to lure outsiders but to cure insiders. Business should be a secondary beneficiary, not a primary motivator.

While infrastructure is core, what the infrastructure supports requires great investment too. A road network may be robust, but it can facilitate young innovators to ferry new ideas from one town to another or swiftly deliver gangs from one site of violence to another. Infrastructure makes best sense with intra-structure, intra-structure being the internal makeup of the citizens - the spirit of the people. We must invest heavily in both.

What is the spirit of the Kenyan people? Advertisements articulate it better than politicians. Sales pitches refer to Kenyans as resilient, diligent, hospitable, friendly and thriving in diversity. Even if this creativity is only to sweeten a sales possibility, it still forms a good prayer in a country where politicians are destabilised by bipartisanship. Leadership intelligence demands we discern where difference must give way to oneness and mark boundaries that keep us from low hits to which we must never return. To have fractionising as the only strategy is to convert people into haters, cutting them off from the possibilities in loving. To have a division as a ruling worldview is myopic because sooner than later, unity will demand its place. To seek power no matter the cost is to be devoid of the truth that bloody hands have heights they cannot go.  

Non-violent resistance

Kenya’s recent history does not have a good record of authentic neighbourliness. Leading politicians often state that what we have gained over the years can be destroyed in a jiffy. This testifies to the observation that we are more of a ceasefire country than a peaceful one. People have quick access to violence. What we need is an existence where in episodes of dissatisfaction, people are biased towards modes of nonviolent resistance. A fragile peace does not need panel beating. It requires structural modification that gives it metal.

Though there may be those who are vibrant in chaos and restless in peace, we can overpower them by determining to evolve from cycles of violence to cycles of peace. The disappearance of a continuous national narrative of neighbourliness is one of the glaring gaps that trap us in cycles of instability and with it, cycles of stagnation. We choke ourselves into poverty. We can’t breathe not because the world hates us, but because we do not love ourselves enough to fortify our peace.

Political progression demands new ideas. New ideas have a sacred value that requires a peaceful environment for passionate presentation and execution. They don’t co-exist well with chaos. Stable countries have found that even when necessary, protest needs new methods too that are less disruptive. Pro-longed force is fatiguing and even mutates into folly. Inability to create a perpetual peaceful environment is itself a leadership failure.

Going into an election year, we need a powerful peace plan – one so intense that it reflects our repentance of past sins and passion for future glories. The results of the peace plan must be stronger than any divisive words of the most fierce of politicians.

Peaceful living does not mean a spongy puncturable existence at the mercy of politicians and evil-infested gangs. Instead, it must be engineered as a fort and force that repulses its broachers, forcing them to imagine new ideas of co-operation.

To break the propensity to violence, Kenya needs a radical peace. Radical peace requires radicals for peace, the love-your-enemy-kind. This kind peace is not transactional but is an internal personal identity. This is where we invoke the Shalom and the Salaam in their pure form.

Unpopular approach

Peace is about a respectful regard for the neighbour that becomes a commitment to preserve them – even daring the dimension of considering them better and putting them first. This may be unpopular but if it is our lifeline we have no choice but aim for it. Spiritual institutions cannot hide from this peace-engineering duty. They must cure their unholy competition and unearth their worth. If they really mean what they preach, they must be in the innovation frontline here. We must see the ideas emerging from the laboratories of spirituality.

The peace plan should not be a mere pre-election routine. History demands we shun the mundane hit-and-run civic education exercise. Instead, lessons from the past demand a holistic interaction with the citizenry that serves more than a peaceful transition of power. Often, peace has been made a factor of the leaders. But it is time to actively devolve peace to be citizen centred.


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