How Uhuru can make 2014 New Year ‘Unity’ theme a reality

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NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU

‘We look forward to 2014 with great enthusiasm and optimism. At Jamhuri Day I committed to national unity as one of my driving objectives, and so in 2014 my administration will pursue a theme of ‘Reconciliation and Unity Towards Inclusive Growth’. Unity is important to us as a nation.

This was President Kenyatta’s New Year message to Kenyans, and I fully endorse it.

‘Reconciliation and Unity … (and especially)… Inclusive |Growth’ are powerful words in a country where we cannot seem to run out of issues around which to divide ourselves over, and/or exclude others.

We regularly do it over tribe, religion or gender; and over the last two weeks we viciously did it over age. Unfortunately unless the President literally thinks outside the box his 2014 message faces the very real possibility of just being (another) nice-sounding speech that will be forgotten by the time Kenyans recover from December holiday excesses.

The main challenge his message faces is from within his own administration. Governments are like big ships; and big ships turn slowly. This means that by the time the President’s theme gets to execution level administratively there is every possibility that we will be way beyond 2014; most probably somewhere in the middle of 2015 just about to roll up our sleeves for the next full-blown political competition in preparation for 2017; which will complicate things for him.

In addition the President’s official speechwriter recently tried to explain why this government seems unable to meet its ‘words’ (Kusema) with relevant ‘actions’ (Kutenda) by basically implying that sections of the public service could be deliberately sabotaging the Presidency.

This suggests that even if the theme gets to the execution desk it might still not get implemented. Add this to the fact that some operatives in this administration still have not figured out that the time for divisive political rhetoric is over and it is now time to unite Kenyans around common causes, and you can see how difficult a task the President has ahead of him.

However all is not lost.

One of the most effective way for the President to make his unity message a reality in 2014 is by tying it to the Jubilee celebration activities. The whole of 2014, except for the 19 days from December 13 to December 31, is Kenya’s Jubilee Year. This provides him with a once-in-a-lifetime ‘excuse’ to fast-track the ‘Reconciliation and Unity through Inclusive Growth’ message into the very bone marrow of his government and ensure that every policy decision throughout the year delivers, and is seen to deliver, on this theme.

To achieve this he will need a structure that can work beyond the usual Jubilee/CORD/Wiper/UDF/etc partisan politics, at least over the next 12 months. This structure should identify influential Kenyans from across the different racial, ethnic, political, religious, economic and demographic divides and publicly involve them in the National Jubilee celebrations.

It should also pre-emptively engage any population constituencies that feel overlooked, and lay special emphasis on activities in sectors and regions that do not expect to be reached. It should also conduct regular strategic communication on divisive issues like appointments, expenditure, development, presidential tours, etc; should be done, to handle misconceptions that may arise.

If the President decides to pursue this route then the most efficient way to achieve his goals will be to ensure that the Kenya@50 Steering Committee understands the focus of the next 12 months as far as his Presidency is concerned, the opportunities the year-long Jubilee celebrations present to him to deliver on his 2014 theme, and the importance he places on making this theme a reality. If they get it, his ‘ship’ will turn a lot faster.

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The 28/29th December Weekend-Star reported that the Rift Valley Railways (RVR) is confident of retaining their market share despite the launch of the standard gauge railway, and they are not scared of the new development.

As someone who used their services to and from Mombasa as recently as a week ago I assure them that this confidence they have is completely misplaced, and they should be very scared. We left three hours later than scheduled from Nairobi, and two hours late from Mombasa. We took 17 hours to Mombasa, and 20 hours back to Nairobi. Some delays were ridiculous; like going to sleep at 10pm in Mombasa and waking up at 6.30am the next day, to discover that you are in Voi! The cabins were dirty; upholstery badly maintained and the meal shifts stretched for over 3 hours. And we understand our experience is normal!

What is frustrating is that one can easily see the huge potential of the service, if only someone cared enough to make things work as they should. Maybe things could change if it became mandatory for the RVR Board and Senior Management to travel to and from Mombasa on the train, every month.

(Wambugu is the executive director of Change Associates Trust)

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