Published On: Mon, Dec 31st, 2012

Sigh of relief as Kenya bid 2012 farewell –

kenya politiciansCommentary by Mukhisa Kituyi

As we bid farewell to 2012, many Kenyans will be happy to celebrate their very survival to see 2013. We individually sigh with relief that we were not the ones who came to an abrupt end in the brutish ways of our road carnage.

We are thankful that we were not among the hundreds of innocents that were mowed down in the cover of night in Tana River Delta, Isiolo or Baragoi for belonging to the other ethnic group.

We celebrate the lucky draw that we were not on that Eastleigh matatu, in that Moi Avenue market stall or that Garissa church ripped apart by the forces of darkness.

As we embark on yet another annual journey of uncertainty, exchanging all those recycled SMS tidings may be in order, even as they represent a windfall to service providers.

Still it may be timely to revisit trends in the passing year that may help us come to terms with challenges on the horizon. The seeds of our separateness that sprouted in the passing year may gnaw at our national project unless we lay them bare and confront them.

Officers and men of the Kenya Defence Forces have done us proud in their mission in Somalia. They remain tied up to the rising hope of a normal state in that sad part of the world.

While the main operational assignment is over, they now face the daunting task of policing a peace that remains fractured. The direct and indirect casualties of this incursion remain under-appreciated except by those close to the victims.

And the commercial possibilities created by our contribution to the emerging peace should not be surrendered meekly to merchants from the south and across the Red Sea.

One feature of our national life that poses a great threat yet receives limited attention is the cancer of youth alienation.

The level of youth unemployment coupled with limited public dialogue on possible solutions has tended to downplay the potential impact this could have on the nation.

The dominant political players offer superficial solidarity. What is not quite clear is what impact a growing sense of institutional impotence can have on a restive constituency armed with rapid mobilisational tools from social media and a growing sense that “do not rock the boat” is a message of irrelevance to those drowning.

In a year dominated by political quicksand, we have witnessed the hardening of ethnic cordons around key presidential candidates. The logic of “us versus them” has steadily returned. Recklessness in uttered word and political posturing reminiscent of an unpleasant past is refusing to fade.

Though we walk to an election with substantially diminished prospects of ethnic strife than the last one, the ethnocentric recruitment of key constituencies for the electoral contest is setting us up for a sense of ethnic exclusion for those whose candidate will not make it to power.

We have seen the ICC process grow from an inquiry into past misdeeds to a rallying call for ethnic solidarity.

While we marvel at the dexterity of turning a criminal inquest into an emotional constituency, we must start thinking of what impact the over-mobilisation of emotive solidarity will have when the real trials get under way. A society which does not anticipate complex challenges sets itself up for crises in perpetuity.

2012 was an exceptional year in the discovery and confirmation of substantial mineral and hydrocarbons wealth in Kenya. In most countries this would have been the flavour of the year.

A singular focus of national discourse would have been how to structure extraction balancing investor, national, local and environmental considerations. In Kenya this has not come to be.

A wall of secrecy, shifting goal posts, strange executive posturing and ministerial incoherence played off against a background of a cynical public and public officers hunting for a quick kill.

Changing officers in charge without affecting the mentality of eating chiefs will further depress a sector that teems with potential to address the existential challenges that bedevil unemployed youth.

But listening to our national discourse this receding year offers no hope that any key players are on the ball beyond satisfying whetted appetites.

We have spent the past year growing hopes and dreams for devolved government. Our national gaze surrendered space to proto-national aspirations. Gubernatorial and senate candidates have reinvented the adrenalin of regions and communities as they promise manna.

Yet the daunting tasks ahead are only now beginning to unfold. With county commissioners digging in to stay, provincial administration hanging in limbo, devolution infrastructure modest at best, we enter a year when the myths and truths about our model of devolution will confront us all in earnest.

As Kenya walks into the year of its golden jubilee, the sins of our forebearers and failings of our collective leadership affect our gait.

Yet our amazing survival through the long walk in the valley of death this past 50 years, and our national resilience in the face of adversity are unique skills that should do us well on the next journey.

A little reflective and inspired leadership and the occasional intervention from our mentor may do us enough good at the base camp of the next 50 years.

Dr Kituyi is a director at the Kenya Institute of Governance


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