Barack Obama’s rise to become President of the United States, was, by all means, stellar. Just four years before being elected in 2008, he gave his first performance that attracted nationwide interest.
At the national convention of the DNC in Boston, he was chosen to give the keynote address. What followed was one of the most outstanding speeches I have ever listened to.
It became known as the United States of America speech. While it was also the first time the wider public became aware of his proud Kenyan heritage and fascinating biography, the speech centred on a different issue.
In his speech, the then lowly Illinois State Senator declared that the time for division is over: “Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America.
There is not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there is the United States of America.”
Following the news over the past few weeks, I have been reminded of this powerful rhetoric. Kenyans too need to remember the importance of our national unity.
Not only is it our greatest strength in the face of a fast globalising world, but it is also the natural state of our society – that is, before the “spin masters” and “negative ad peddlers” took over our national discourse.
In fact, the natural state of all of the African continent is unity. Too many of the borders between African nations are synthetic and artificially imposed upon us.
As such prolific thinkers as W.E.B Du Bois, Martin Delany, Alexander Crummel and Edward Blyton stated more than a century ago, deep down all Africans dream of pan-Africanism.
Yet, in today’s geopolitical reality, the unity of all African nations remains a distant dream, unlikely to be realised any time soon. We have to work with what we have. And thus, we have to focus on first uniting Kenya, against all those who “are preparing to divide us”.
Playing out the Punguza Mizigo bill against the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is a plot to divide us. Univocally dismissing the BBI before it has even been published and its content is known, as MPs from the Mt Kenya region just did, is a plot to divide us.
But those are stale plots, whose true intention is crystal-clear to even the most cursory follower of the news.
However, as Michelle Obama famously shouted: “When they go low, we go high!” Thus, instead of just shaking our heads at these blatant attempts to divide us, we have to take action and proactively push towards more unity.
More unity can be shown every day on the road, for example, or at work, by being just a bit more polite to your kin. But this is not enough.
As the main force dividing us right now is made up of a small number of loud politicians, we have to find a way to analyse the political system and change it.
It has to become a place for unity politics, where politicians are forced to work together and compromise instead of playing their devious “divide and conquer” games.
Hence, a parliamentary system of proportional representation, which has been the talk of town for the past few weeks, seems like the obvious and optimal solution. It forces MPs to focus on issues and not on tribes, and to reach across ethnical lines to find collaborators.
This alone increases the stakeholders of every government decision, in turn increasing oversight and decreasing the chances of malfeasance and corruption.
Transferring some of today’s powers to representatives of a specific region also increases their accountability, as every citizen can follow his lawmaker’s decisions closely and thoroughly.
Dialogue between the governors and the governed is a natural outcome of this system, with representatives forced to deliver for their constituents or be voted out of office.
Ultimately, in spite of those who seek to divide, we are fortunate to have leaders who seek to unify us, leading by example and reaching out to former rivals for the good of the nation. Those are the ones who deserve our support.
Mr Cherambos comments on topical socio-political issues. [email protected]