BY JOHNSON SAKAJA
National unity has been a concern of every thoughtful Kenyan since at least independence.
But it is only with the events of 2007-08, which threatened to tear up the foundations of this nation that it became clear that truly radical action had to be taken to hold Kenya together.
Much of the work would be in politics, policy and legislation. In 2008, the coalition government added the department of national cohesion to what was Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, which then changed its name to the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs.
Later that year, Parliament established a National Cohesion and Integration Commission.
The NCIC’s task was twofold. First, it had to identify and address the underlying causes of the post-election crisis.
Second, as its own statement says, “to facilitate and promote equality of opportunity, good relations, harmony and peaceful co-existence between people of different ethnic and racial communities, and to advise the government on all aspects thereof.”
One of the great success stories of the NCIC is its campaign against hate speech.
It’s a sign of a successful campaign when a phrase captures the public’s collective imagination and becomes part of the public lexicon. And capture our imagination it did: Kenyans would admonish each other if anyone said was considered inflammatory. The intensity of inflammatory speeches from politicians during the 2013 elections campaign was lower than the 2007 campaigns – a sign of a more mature, more cohesive society, wary of ethnic conflict.
Kenyans also returned to the long process of constitutional reform. This time, after an inclusive period, and with the memory of previous failed attempts, they agreed and promulgated a new constitution in 2010.
The new supreme law enshrined national values and principles – national unity and inclusiveness among them – which recognise our strength in diversity.
The constitution also devolved government, replacing the previously over-centralised system, which had been blamed for the sense of exclusion and consequent deep divisions in Kenya. Devolved government has so far been a resounding success, and in a recent poll, more than two thirds of Kenya expressed their support of it.
The Jubilee administration has been strong on national cohesion. The first pillar of the Jubilee manifesto is Umoja and the manifesto expounds this by stating that Jubilee believes in ‘one Kenya; a Kenya where every citizen, whoever they are, wherever they live, will have the same opportunity to succeed and prosper free of discrimination open or hidden’.
That aim of Jubilee is the aim of every sensible Kenyan – to end ethnic tension and rivalry, and to unite the country.
In particular, the Jubilee administration committed itself to using affirmative action, the better to ensure that underrepresented and marginalised groups are properly represented in decision making; ensuring that 30 per cent of all appointees to public bodies and parastatals are women; promoting the appointment of young people, the disabled and marginalised groups to public positions; and ensuring all IDPs (Mau Forest evictees, PEV IDPs, squatters in Coastal counties) are settled and, where possible, returned to their homes in accordance with the law and have a decent place to live.
Special measures must be taken in regard of the PEV victims.
An estimated 663,921 people (245,416 households) were displaced and 1,300 lives lost. Of these, 350,000 IDPs sought refuge in 118 camps spread countrywide and 313,921 were integrated within communities.
To mitigate the effects of PEV, the government established the National Humanitarian Fund, an advisory board that determined the resettlement strategies that have been implemented.
This includes payment of Sh10,000 to each as start-up capital, payment of Sh25,000 to each for reconstruction of houses, the reconstruction of schools and public amenities, procurement of land for resettlement of IDPs, provision of fishing gear and farm inputs, and setting up of business centres to provide entrepreneurial skills to youth and women.
To bring harmony and encourage peace-building, the government promoted inter-communal peace initiatives in areas characterised by inter-communal conflict. More than Sh15 billion has been spent in dealing with IDP issues since this government was elected.
In 2012, The Prevention, Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons and Affected Communities Act was enacted. This law provides procedures by which resettlement of IDPs is to be carried out and provides an all-inclusive National Consultative Coordination Committee to steer the resettlement programmes.
The committee now awaits gazettement.
There is still work to be done, to bring IDPs, and other victims of ethnic violence into the position they were before.
But in promoting reconciliation, resettlement and cohesion, the authorities have made a good start.
(Sakaja is leader of Kenya’s Young Parliamentarians and chairman of The National Alliance, part of the ruling Jubilee Coalition)