We have come a long way as a nation

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BY RAILA ODINGA

I always knew the decision by President Kibaki and myself to agree to share power was momentous. But its real magnitude struck me when I travelled to Ivory Coast at the beginning of the year to mediate in the election dispute there.

I landed in a once prosperous and stable African country, the one-time jewel of the Francophone Africa,  now struggling to stand with two presidents, two prime ministers, two Cabinet, two militaries and two “state houses” all running the same country. It struck me how much we can save, and how much we did save by just agreeing to compromise.

We missed the Ivory Coast route and collapse by a whisker in 2008. That is why February 28 will forever remain in our collective memories as the day we made a commitment as a people never to take up arms against fellow citizens again. On this day, we committed to reform our governance and electoral systems to ensure we shall never go to the polls again and come out claiming not to know the winner as a result of incompetence and lack of professionalism on the part of those we trust with managing our elections.

As a nation, we remain indebted to the steadfast and resilient sons and daughters of Africa who stood with us at our hour of need to ensure that Kenya does not collapse. We shall forever be indebted to Dr Kofi Annan, President Jakaya Kikwete, President Benjamin Mkapa and Madam Graca Machel for putting their integrity to severe test in standing up for Kenya.

I pay tribute to our own leaders who, divided along party lines, all the same constituted themselves into negotiating teams and came up with a working document that formed the basis of the Peace Accord. And we shall never forget the role of the European Union and the US in helping our country rediscover itself and find a route out of the chaos and the precipice.

The Accord did save lives. It saved our economy and it gave us a second chance. There have been many false starts in this pioneering experiment of grand coalition government, but that was to be expected. The experiment we were embarking on was new not just to us in Kenya but to the entire Continent of Africa. We embarked on it in the enduring belief that because of the exceptional circumstances our country found itself in, we would improvise as we went a long, hoping that the luck of history would be on our side.

The Accord came with the proviso that we would address both the immediate and long term causes of the violence. We agreed to do everything to blunt the ethnic jealousies and address the economic hungers and inequities that were identified as the root causes of this conflict.

A lot has been achieved; but much is pending. Our economy is up and competitive again. We can say that we emerged out of the chaos, sadder but wiser, and that is why we were able to give ourselves a new constitution last year, after many failed attempts.

We have revamped our agriculture, invested heavily in infrastructure and made serous attempts to address poverty, unemployment and inequality through interventions like the Economic Stimulus Package, Kazi Kwa Vijana and revamped women and youth funds, rural electrification and provision of water to remote and dry parts of the country. We have made significant gains in the war on corruption and impunity, although a lot remains to be done. I am convinced that none of these would have been achieved had we not agreed to compromise and sign the Accord. Instead, we would be fighting today.

Soon after the signing of the document, I toured parts of the country, sometimes in the company of the President. The evidence of destruction and mayhem was everywhere. Hospital beds were occupied by people nursing bullet wounds and deep panga cuts. Mortuaries were teaming with bodies of victims of this violence and families were burying their dead. Everywhere, there was anger, suspicion and distrust.

History shows that civilizations can sometimes be swept by devastating fires, but in the aftermath, a vigorous new growth emerges, industries rise from the rubble and cities and communities rebuild. It has happened here. Trust is returning among communities. But we still have a lot to do to consolidate the peace and trust. In our years of independence, the election violence f 2008 stands as the saddest, the most reckless and the most cruel. It should never have happened and it must not happen again.

I remain extremely confident that if the constitution we endorsed last year is implemented and respected, it will deal with most of the issues that took us to war. I commit to explore all avenues to sustain the spirit of compromise that gave birth to this government. That spirit is critical to the implementation of the constitution. That constitution remains our best hope against another war.
 

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