By Nancy Amalemba
Over the past few weeks, social media around the world has been awash with sentimentality over the death of Senator and once Republican Presidential nominee, John McCain.
It seems everyone has a story of how the former Senator impacted their lives, from those who knew him personally to those who were simply moved by his life story and commitment to the values of decency and mutual respect.
From his refusal to be released from captivity in the Vietnam War without the rest of his soldiers– which led to five additional years in captivity in the most brutal conditions – to his bravery in standing up to the racism and vitriol directed at Barack Obama from within his own party, McCain is almost universally seen as an inspiration and a model for how public servants should behave.
At a time in which America, along with many other countries, is so bitterly divided along partisan lines, the death of a great unifier who had no qualms working across party lines and close relationships with many of his opponents is keenly felt.
This emphasis on unity was on display at his funeral. With both political allies and rivals in attendance, former Presidents Bush and Obama – both of whom he ran and lost against – were invited to deliver eulogies.
Both spoke about the importance of bipartisanship and staying true to a common purpose, despite political differences, with Obama noting that “So much of our politics… our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult and phoney controversies… John called on us to be better than that.”
In fact, the clip of former President Bush passing former First Lady Michelle Obama a sweet has gone viral online, as a testament to the way things once were, and many hope may be again.
In Kenya, we are no strangers to intense partisanship and division. We know all too well its costs. Those of us old enough to remember the scenes of 2008, which have been repeated on a much smaller scale at each subsequent election, know that unlike in America, here in Kenya political rivalry does not end in name calling and insults.
Uhuru knows that too. He knows that we cannot develop or come close to achieving our potential when intense political divisions imprison us. He knows for us to prosper, we must have a common purpose. He knows while we may disagree about the specifics of policy or governance, we must be united by a shared destiny and identity.
But rather than simply passing a sweet to his opponents, he went a step further and made the first major act of his second term the famous handshake with Raila. This handshake was a symbol to all of us–Jubilee and NASA, Kikuyu and Luo – that Kenya was ready to move on from the divisions of the past towards a brighter, more united and respectful future.
And just six months on, the effects are already being felt. In the absence of the bitter political and tribal rivalries we have become accustomed to, Uhuru has been free to push ahead with his bold second-term agenda. He has begun to make progress on his Big Four – housing, manufacturing, healthcare and food security – while also meeting with the leaders of three of the world’s top economies in a matter of weeks to instigate a renewed wave of investment.
Most significantly, he has begun an aggressive crackdown on corruption that has surprised critics and supporters alike in its resolve and intensity. Hundreds have already been arrested and charged, including some extremely big names, while far-reaching institutional, legislative and personnel changes have been implemented that will put us in a position to truly counter graft for years to come. None of this would have been possible before the Raila handshake.
The death of John McCain and the scenes at his funeral have led to calls for a more united, respectful and inclusive form of politics in America and around the world.
In Kenya, this process began six months ago. We did not need the death of an American Senator to show us that our politics needed fixing; we came to that conclusion ourselves. But what it did show is that while the world struggles with why their politics has become so toxic, ours is already on the right path.
We must continue on that trajectory.