DR JENNIFER RIRIA
As the saying goes; you don’t know the value of something until you lose it; can be true in our case when it comes to peace.
As country never in our wildest dreams did we ever imagine that one day we could experience conflict and violence to the scale witnessed in 2007/2009. We literally turned against each other.
Growing up as a young person, I was contented with the fact that conflict happens elsewhere and can never happen in Kenya. And I grew up hearing how our country was an island of peace.
And for so many years Kenya indeed was considered a beacon of hope in the sporadic conflict cluster that characterizes the Horn of Africa and Great Lakes region. Let us also not forget the country’s lead role to broker peace in neighbouring countries namely Sudan and Somalia which further defined concept as an ‘island of peace” in a volatile region.
But the Post-Election Violence (PEV) was a watershed moment for our country. It represented the worst breakdown ever of democratic and constitutional governance in Kenya. It also confirmed the democratic fragility of the country following a cyclical trend of democratic progress and reversal in the era of post-multi-party Kenya.
As the CEO of the Kenya Women Finance Trust, I witnessed how businesses which had been built for many years destroyed within a day. All our branches especially in the so called hot spots areas were affected and we are still slowly recovering from it four years later. It is only then, that I realised that peace was priceless, and, will continue being so.
Even though we can say that we have learnt our lessons, and we cannot repeat the PEV scenarios, there are already utterances and activities happening that should make us question our commitment to peace.
Therefore ahead of the up-coming General elections, we need to embrace peace and make it attractive to every Kenyan. That is why the Tuvuke Initiative for Peaceful and Fair Electoral process in Kenya is a welcomed idea.
Complimenting other initiatives which are also promoting peace, the Tuvuke Initiative aims to develop pre-emptive actions and activities to forestall any pre-planned or spontaneous violence as a reaction to the electoral process or the elections outcome. And also enhance peace among Kenyans.
Every Kenyan has a responsibility to work towards healing the nation, building national unity and cohesion, collectively, within and among communities and even within every homes. Kenyans may not be in a position to affect change of political nature such as power, equity and governance, however, the public hold the key to creating a cohesive society by respecting our differences be they personality, race, ethnicity, religion, cultural, socio-economic, ability or inability; these differences are the characteristics that define us uniquely as Kenyans, and should be a strength, not a source of conflict, hence the need for civic engagement.
There is need to leverage the new legislative and constitutional mechanisms to prevent violence, bolster democracy through election of leaders with integrity and representation of marginalised groups, foster civic engagement, while emphasising the need for political dispensation to focus on addressing the problem of youth bulge as major contributor to insecurity in the country.
A key perpetrator of the post-election violence, the youth represent a heaving mass that, if properly mobilised, can generate sustainable democratic governance, promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence among Kenyan communities. However, abysmally mismanaged – as is currently the case – this group dominates in perpetrating crime, creating insecurity and fomenting unrest.
Ahead of the general elections in 2013, there is need for concrete actions to address the challenges faced by Kenyan youth to reduce their vulnerability to manipulation by politicians. The recent efforts by the Kenyan government to address the problems faced by the youth are appreciable; but much more still remains to be done.
There is need to create a platform for positive transformation of youth by encouraging the youth to harness new strategies, tools and platforms to promote national values, fusion of culture and national identity. There is also need to increase youth vigilance and participation in monitoring hate speech and conflict to give early warning on conflict in their communities.
Women were the most affected by the post-election violence, however, they are often excluded from conflict management and transformation initiatives. In the new constitutional dispensation that embraces the principles of affirmative action, and non-discrimination, there is need to proactively create a platform to involve the youth in bringing about reconciliation, national healing, peace, cohesion and integration in the country. We can make peace the currency for the 2013 General Elections.
Dr Riria is the Group CEO of Kenya Women Finance Trust and the Chairperson of the Tuvuke Initiative.