The thrust of President Uhuru Kenyatta's speech during Sunday’s Mashujaa Day celebrations was national unity, underscoring the fact that pervasive division motivated by ethnic and political interest are a major impediment to the country’s progress.
Unity remains an elusive pursuit because of perpetual mistrust. Politicians particularly thrive on ethnic mobilisation, which involves demonising others and using positions of influence to support their communities at the expense of others and implanting seeds of ethnic hatred.
Already, there is intense division in the political scene linked to presidential succession as President Kenyatta’s term ends in 2022.
Triggering this was the handshake between President Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga in March last year.
The ruling Jubilee Party is divided right down the middle. A group within the party supports the handshake that’s pushing for national unity, while the other revolving around Deputy President William Ruto is fiercely opposed to the initiative it views as a ploy to stop the latter’s ascendancy to the presidency.
But even among the supporters of the handshake, there is no clarity on what it’s all about.
The unity question is deep. Achieving it goes beyond political pacts to structures and systems that gives it force.
It must go beyond political rhetoric. One of the reasons for ethnic animosities is the skewed access to national resources.
Throughout our history, political leaders have entrenched a culture where they allocate more resources and opportunities to their regions or members of their community to the exclusion of others.
Which is the reason why in the clamour for constitutional change, there was push for equity in resource allocation and distribution.
Therefore, devolution was intended to cure the anomalies of unequal distribution of resources.
Moreover, the Constitution pushes for meritocracy to allow equal access to State positions by virtue of abilities.
Despite the constitutional provisions, the inequalities persist.
Some regions get more opportunities compared to others and which reflects the power of political influence and which undermines the pursuit for unity.
In recent months, the government has singularly demonstrated bias towards the elderly, who get lucrative appointments to the exclusion of the youth and women.
In effect, the argument being made here is that the push for national unity must be demonstrated through governmental interventions.
At the same time, President Kenyatta made an appeal for patriotism, beseeching the citizens to act with integrity and exercise their civic duties such as paying taxes, whistle-blowing and fighting corruption.
That sounds good at the conceptual level. Enforcing that, however, begins from the top.
Political leaders must first show patriotism in word and deed. That is when the citizens can follow suit.