Finally, “building bridges” team that was formed by President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader, Raila Odinga, has settled in and is ready to start work.
This is good news because anxiety was starting to build as to what the handshake portended.
The two leaders must appreciate that their rapprochement has generated very high expectations as well as angst, and the sooner the benefits of this initiative start coming through, the better.
This is because once it demonstrates the benefits, it will generate broad support across the country. The converse is true – should it be seen as having adverse consequences on the country’s body politic, it will face huge headwinds, and in Kenya, there are many expert saboteurs.
The Building Bridges must, therefore, be a rapid results, high impact team, whose agenda will be best addressed under three pillars.
The first is providing the platform for the much awaited national conversation. The team is broadbased in terms of support, meaning they can be seen as all-inclusive when it comes to organising this dialogue.
The issues in the national conversation can be informed by both the nationwide hearings they want to undertake, and the various reports from past discourses. This conversation will provide both a catharsis and implementation agenda for cohesion and inclusiveness.
The second agenda is to heal Kenya. This is critical. There are too many wounded people and communities in Kenya for the country to achieve genuine peace. Not while these hurts remain unaddressed.
The team can use the Ndung’u report on illegal and irregular allocation of public land as well as the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Report as a basis to make recommendations.
Compensation and reparations are inevitable if this chapter is to be closed. For the two handshake partners, they must appreciate that Kenya will never achieve cohesion as long as there are communities out there who feel aggrieved yet find the door to redress closed.
The third agenda is change in political culture. Kenya’s is rotten and has been the biggest hindrance to implementation of the provisions of the Constitution on integrity for public office.
It is what has caused corruption to rampage unabated in Kenya. It is what has caused thieves, drug dealers, school dropouts and other miscreants to bulldoze their way into public office, and crush all regulations and laws to remain there.
As long as lies, thuggery, electoral malpractice remain part of Kenya’s political culture, every election will create its own set of aggrieved groups, and the country will never achieve the stability and cohesion it so sorely deserves.
To demonstrate their sincerity in this matter, politicians need to apologise to Kenyans over the adverse effects of this political culture over the years.
Uhuru has done so twice, on behalf of previous governments, and on his own behalf. His handshake partner, Raila, needs to do the same over the so many innocent deaths that his disruptive activities have caused over the years.
The team must dialogue with politicians on these issues. Politicians must learn to accept defeat, and not threaten the country’s stability anytime they feel aggrieved.
A process must be developed to force politicians to behave, to subject themselves to due process always and not just when it’s convenient for them.
That said, success of the Building Bridges initiative will hinge on several prerequisites.
One is total commitment to its ideals by both handshake partners. They must have absolute sincerity in their dealings with each other.
Second is summoning all the courage necessary to face every inconvenient truth, and deal with it, as well as deal with the consequences of some of the measures that will be necessary to sort Kenya out.
Three will be to exorcise political agendas of any kind from this team. Further, it must be insulated from the very toxic 2022 politics currently burning the savannah.
There must be no grandstanding, or jostling for vantage so that the final recommendations favour any political narrative or shade of opinion, or trying to force commitments.
Raila’s demand for a referendum as a mandatory requirement for the Building Bridges initiative to be seen to have succeeded, therefore, smacks of blackmail and is truly unfortunate.
It will only feed into the toxicity that pervades Kenya’s politics and is the surest way to destroy the team’s potential to achieve the lofty goals it has been set.
—The writer comments on topical issues — [email protected]