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National dialogue must not be left to politicians alone

Monday April 6 2009

By TOM ODHIAMBO, [email protected]

THE FAILURE OF THE KILAGUni talks to resolve differences in the Coalition Government is ominous. There were, at least, expectations that Kenyans would be shown the way forward by their leaders.

But the conflicting signals from the political parties in government do not bode well for the wellbeing of the nation. And there are many reasons why ordinary Kenyans, figuratively speaking, may just have to roll up their sleeves and engage this government directly.

First, the economy is in the high dependency unit. The government is hard-pressed to offer goods and services.

The manufacturing and agricultural sectors do not generate enough taxes for the government, and the global economic downturn means that remittances from Kenyans in the diaspora have declined.

Overall, the ordinary Kenyan is likely to experience no relief in the near future. Most governments throughout the world will have to be extra careful with their policies in the short term if they are to avoid widespread social unrest occasioned by job losses, unemployment and economic depression.

SECONDLY, KENYA IS STILL EXPERIencing the aftershocks of the 2007 election violence. In many parts of this country are to be found internally displaced persons who have become destitute.


Some of these individuals and families were self-reliant in the past, but now have to depend on government, non-governmental and family support.

The camps may have been closed but out there are many other ‘‘camps’’ due to lack of security. Communities are still suspicious of each other and politicians are still stoking the embers that may just have started to go out. Even hate speech is making a comeback at political rallies.

Thirdly, the political class seems to be unaware of the ‘‘challenges of nationhood’’, to use the late Tom Mboya’s words.

The continued bickering over whether the elections were rigged or not is not helpful at the moment. The calls for fresh elections are like handing a toddler a razor blade.

Corruption seems to have finally reclaimed its place of honour in the government given that every senior government officials decries it.

Parliament seems to be more concerned about ‘‘teaching the Executive a lesson’’ than making laws that will help make Kenya a working nation.

Fourthly, our collective moral fabric is in shreds. How else can one explain the widespread theft of government resources, violence by State and non-State agents, inter-ethnic animosity, violence against children and women and such other ills in a community whose major pastime is church-going?

Our spiritual leadership should take this question of moral failure seriously. Clerics should preach healing and national dialogue right there in church, mosque, or synagogue.

The congregation does not need to be reminded of repentance; it needs to be held by the hand and led from the evil that is tearing us apart.

Fifthly, Agenda Four has to be discussed. And not just among the political class. This country is bigger than PNU and ODM.

Undoubtedly the two political groupings have their constituencies. But there are many Kenyans who did not vote in the last elections but still have a stake in this country.

Also, there are Kenyans who voted for other parties besides the two. Therefore, all Kenyans are stakeholders in Agenda Four and have to be either involved in its deliberations or have to invite themselves to that discussion. Why so?

Because the much desired national reconciliation and dialogue will not come by itself. This is the moment for all Kenyans to claim their rightful place in the forum that will shape Kenya’s future.

WE DO NOT JUST HAVE THE PROBlem of a dysfunctional political leadership; we the citizens are not talking amongst ourselves and to the leadership. It is the only way to guarantee that a small group of less than 300 citizens do not hijack the agenda and future of more than 30 million Kenyans.

It is in this sense that one would welcome the planned second round of the public lecture series ‘(Re)Membering Kenya’ convened by George Gona of University of Nairobi and Mbugua wa Mungai of Kenyatta University that ran at the Goethe-Institut in Nairobi in 2008.

The 2009 series will run between April and December with the first session scheduled for tomorrow.

Dr Odhiambo teaches communication at Strathmore University.