We must tolerate divergent views for smooth transition

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JOSEPH KAMOTHO

Kenyans will be going to one of the special polls any time soon but there are no firm guarantees that these elections under a different format will be free and fair in the present circumstances.

Save for regional presidential and senatorial elections at independence, the polls under the new constitution will be for the new elective positions of Governors and County Assembly members.

The polls promise to test the elusive maturity, tolerance and objectivity of the media in handling a transition to a new governance structure under the new constitution crafted out of the ashes of the 2007 post-election violence.

Power and economy are devolved in the supreme law but handled carelessly; the country could be plunged into a political quagmire compared to no other crisis in living memory. To avoid dreams of balkanization and separate nations, we must learn to tolerate divergent views in the transition to a new Kenya.

Areas of tribal support had been previously zoned off by political leaders and crude methods used to lock out rivals in their campaigns for elective posts. Burning of opponents’ vehicles, property, homes, closing of political party offices by hired goons have been common.

Counties are not separate nations from Kenya but some mischievous leaders may see the changes as an opportunity to kick out others who don’t speak local dialects from these semi autonomous units.

Unfortunately, perpetrators of these acts of lawlessness have not been prosecuted as the practice persists and could deteriorate when power is devolved and new governance structure is in place. Criminal acts should be punished severely to deter a recurrence.

Similar fears have been expressed here and abroad. On a fact finding mission, the National Democratic Institute concluded that there is still room for impunity, unfairness and violence in the country’s electoral environment.

Retired South African Judge, Johann Kriegler said as much about the conduct of the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya that bungled presidential elections in which hundreds of thousands perished, property of unknown value destroyed nearly half million uprooted from their homes.

Delays in the implementation of crucial clauses in the constitution and enactment of important laws ahead of elections could similarly trigger off violence of unimaginable proportions.

Urgent measures should be put in place to ensure that a stronger nation evolves from a devolved system rather than Counties becoming centres of hatred or ethnic cleansing fields.

It is coming to five years since the National Accord on Peace and Reconciliation was signed by President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister, Raila Amolo Odinga but there is little to show that we are on the way to healing the national wounds inflicted by the spontaneous protests of presidential election results.

The accord brokered by the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan set out clearer terms on restoring the confidence of Kenyans in the nationhood and dusting off perennial lingering suspicions amongst the country’s tribes.

Amongst the Agenda IV items was truth seeking, repentance and reconciliation of communities that had fought senseless battles. The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) was constituted with the express mandate to investigate historical injustices and to suggest lasting solutions to symptoms and causes of hatred that culminate in tribal clashes that date back to the reintroduction of competitive politics two decades ago.

For one reason or another, the Commission could not start its operations due to internal wrangles between the chairman, Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat and fellow commissioners over his alleged role in the Northeastern massacre. Kiplagat’s role in the Wagalla massacre was the subject of scrutiny by the civil society organizations and a section of the appointing authority.

Consequently, Kenyans lost confidence in the Commission in which all and sundry had hope in rekindling national unity at a time when neighbours yearn for reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.

Kenyans are allergic to truth and glorify hate mongering as evidenced in the premature presidential campaigns by the aspirants and their handlers. Name callings and derogatory references characterize campaign rallies but the same accusations could not be filed with the TJRC whose doors were opened all day to all victims and perpetrators.

A vibrant commission promised to unearth skeletons in the closets of the high and mighty. Perhaps that could explain the deliberate attempt on the part of the powers that be to kill the commission before it took off.

The commission will be presenting its report any time now but it will be incomplete without Kenyans hearing testimonies of the highly placed perpetrators in our midst. Notwithstanding the pending trials at the International Criminal Court at the Hague, Kenyans are eager to know who have been behind the clashes during election campaigns and the 2007 bloodiest post election violence.

A statutory commission was also constituted from the ashes of post election violence to address deep rooted tribal divisions in the country and possibly institute prosecutions against hate mongers. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), a body that ought to have implemented the TJRC findings and recommendations has found itself between a rock and hard place in its operations.

Attempts to prosecute some leaders over hate speeches have been thwarted by tribal chauvinists. Given the foregoing scenario and lack of political support, NCIC is another lame duck in the making.

The question is, do leaders believe in one indivisible nation or fragments of 47 tribal enclaves? If the answer is no, then it is the duty of all Kenyans to say not again shall we ever fight over an election.

The writer is a former cabinet minister and one time secretary general of the former ruling party, Kenya African National Union. Email: [email protected]

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