The work of remaking Kenya doesn't end on voting day

Sunday August 6 2017

By NANJIRA SAMBULI
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Justice. Free, fair, credible elections. Voter turnout. Youth vote. Peace.

These are just some of the most popular terms affiliated with the upcoming election.

It is very interesting to follow discussions and debates around the elections via social media. One cannot belabour the point enough, that while these platforms and the views expressed therein are not representative, they offer a key window of insight into the thoughts, feelings and beliefs held by the electorate and those seeking to represent them.

The ‘peace narrative’ is particularly curious. Picking up from the 2013 election process and outcome, from which we were served the ‘accept and move on’ variation, it seems ‘peace warriors’ are back again, charged with passion to position peace as the ultimate value.

We are now being treated to messaging such as “#MyTribeNiPeace”. However, is this message landing as expected? Reactions and responses would suggest otherwise.

Peace, as is being preached, is primarily disingenuous. It implies suppression and a false equivalence of sorts: “seek ye first peace, and all other things - justice, fairness to name a few- shall be added unto our sought prosperity.”

Yet, as has been said by many, peace follows justice. This path to justice has been an elusive one in our post-colonial journey to nation-building.

Peace, as is being postulated, could be interpreted as a form of censorship: let’s not unearth the injustices that have disrupted this ‘peace imposition’.

While some ‘peace warriors’ have rightfully pointed out that there could be non-violent ways to seeking justice, the false dichotomy largely being paraded must not be allowed to take root. As Martin Luther King Jr, once put it, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

THE KENYA WE WANT

We therefore have to situate these peace sermons in the context of seeking justice. We are now being told we must bury the hatchet of injustices past and proceed with the task of nation building and cohesion-seeking.

As if our history doesn’t matter, and as if it’s an unnecessary context within which to situate the Kenya We Want.

This problematic message is especially being meted out on the youth, continuing the belief that it is we who can steer this country towards a different course, a peaceful one.

As I have argued before, we, the youth, did not grow up in a vacuum, void of the histories and truths held by our families and communities about how it is we got to where we are as a country.

In my view, this peace messaging places ridiculous pressure on youth to be agents and stewards of a vacuous peace, so it is encouraging to see a pushback on this peace messaging and persistence in situating it in the (in)justice narrative.

Betty Murungi aptly articulated it on Twitter: “Peace is not a jig, a TV advert, a road or a new train. It takes work, years of building trust between communities & dealing with grievances.”

It is not sufficient, however, to simply reject or push back on this current iteration of the peace 'warriorship'. The conversation must be steered back to how it is we seek justice, for peace to follow. It is my hope that these discourses continue to emerge, online and offline.

REACTIVE TO MOMENTS

Violence, as we have experienced it around most election cycles, is perhaps a push back on the suppressed avenues for addressing injustice, conflict and tensions.

The freedom to express ourselves, enshrined in the Constitution and perhaps one of the rights to which life has been breathed through practice, must continue to hold.

I believe this also signals that a few other things need to, or are evolving, key among them our active citizenship between election cycles. It is increasingly untenable to simply show up on election day, vote a candidate in or out and retreat back to our survival and hustle quarters.

Our citizenship and civic engagement can’t remain reactive to moments or events that bring with them waves of other issues that have either been swept under the rug or avoided, in the hopes that they would go away or that someone else will address them on our behalf, primarily those we elect.

FISSURES AND BUILDING BLOCKS

Proactive citizenship is attainable through: continued discourses that facilitate confrontation and resolving of history, current events and the desired future, avenues of engaging in the political realm (e.g., through political party membership), all powered by the online and offline modes of communication and engagement within our reach. These, I believe, will provide the necessary fissures and building blocks for true peace, as justice will be the cornerstone for social cohesion, and healing.

The work ahead does not end with voting on election day. The social and moral fabric of the nation will not be found in GDP figures, development projects, nor attracting investment. It is clear that we cannot proceed with the economic aspects of nation building without the socio-political ones.

So kudos to all those pushing, and pushing back on half-baked notions of how we build, mend and heal this nation.

A luta continua!

Twitter: @NiNanjira