The only way to heal is to acknowledge our illnesses

Thursday June 18 2020

There is an old Ethiopian proverb that, roughly translated, goes like this: “There is no cure for him who hides an illness.” What exactly is meant by this pithy, elusive statement is up for interpretation, but I understand it as such.

When one hides the source of their illness, or pretends that they are doing just fine, they cannot expect to be cured. How could a sick man get medicine if he does not describe his problem to his doctor? How could a woman with a fever get better without resting, if she continues to go to work and over-exerts herself? 

To cure illness, we need the help of others. We need support and care, and to acknowledge that we are feeling under the weather before we start to get better. While the coronavirus period has led us to reflect upon viruses and medical care in Kenya more than ever before, it also gives us a moment to pause and think about other inflictions facing our society.

While the numbers of people sick with Covid-19 in Kenya have thankfully been kept low due to our president’s fast and tactical decisions at the beginning of the pandemic, we have still been sick as a nation with something else.

We suffer from a lack of unity that threatens our wellbeing as part of a collective whole. What I am describing here is the fundamental lack of unity that has historically contributed to a lack of trust and consequently an inability to move forward as a nation. Because of the historical lack of unity in Kenya we have been prevented from prospering economically, from making the shift from low income to middle income country, and becoming the most advanced country in Africa.

Though we are in a relative better position than many of our neighbours in terms of peace, stability and security, we still have a long way to go. The first step of getting there, like the Ethiopian proverb suggests, is acknowledging the illness.


This is essentially what occurred when Uhuru kicked off the BBI process by shaking hands with Raila Odinga two years ago. Until then, Kenyan politics was more about clamouring for power and holding onto it than being elected in order to serve those who put their trust in you.

But now that is changing. In Kenya we have reached a universal recognition of our premier problem first by understanding that something had to change. Something was not right. We as a nation are unwell if we cannot or do not trust our elected officials. And our politicians are unwell if they are elected and then do not look out for those that elected them.

The next step, now that the illness is out in the open, is to find a holistic cure and administer it responsibly. That cure is the Building Bridges Initiative. While many in the Kenyan populace might still be skeptical, they would not be if they understood its contents and central goals.

What the BBI task force did, by spending months traveling around the country and interviewing the wananchi, is give a listening ear to all of the nation’s grievances. What is bothering the young student thinking about getting work when she finishes? What is bothering the 66 year old man on the cusp of retirement? What do the farmers need from the government in order to provide food for the country and run their businesses? And what is stopping us all from getting along if we want the same things?

What the BBI discovered and presented to us is a comprehensive plan to address those challenges, to deal with all of the problems that divide us head on and to make real, lasting changes for Kenya’s future.

Anyone who has actually paused to read the document for themselves will see that it offers comprehensive and detailed advice on how to change Kenyan politics to make it more representative, thereby ensuring that everybody gets a seat at the table.

How else would you explain such widespread support by leaders across the political spectrum? At the end of the day, we must have a little bit of faith that most of those elected to serve their country actually want to do something to help it. And the BBI framework gives them the opportunity to do just that.

Mr Kihoro is a Research and Data expert. [email protected]