Monday, July 29, 2013

Leaders should tread softly to enhance peace

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 28 July 2013

Recently, President Uhuru Kenyatta indicated that one of the greatest challenges of his government will be the unification of this country after decades of ethnic mistrust with regular eruptions of inter-ethnic violence. This is obviously an admission that Kenya is a deeply divided nation, and competing socio-economic and political interests have packaged themselves with ethnic tags.

To my mind, it has been clear that this is the case since the early nineties when political competition brought to the fore longstanding ethnic animosity, erupting in the famously labelled “tribal clashes”. This culminated in the grand slaughter of 2007/2008 that introduced yet another euphemism into our national lexicon -- post-election violence.

Bringing lasting peace to this country is therefore quite an onerous task and can, indeed, consume a president’s entire term, and perhaps the full lifespan of an individual. In the event that the president has discovered a clear path out of this unenviable morass, then one can only wish him the very best in navigating through it. One would further expect a refreshingly new approach to the conduct of public affairs that inspires optimism and a sense of new beginnings.

Unfortunately the public pronouncements and activities of this government in the few weeks since its installation betray the very antithesis of a unifying force. To a disinterested observer, it would appear that all the institutions of state have conspired to drive a certain agenda that in the Moi days used to be termed “singing the same tune”.

The apparent consonance, even if purely coincidental, between the executive, the judiciary and some independent commissions such as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is simply staggering, as is the “tyranny of numbers” rhetoric emanating from Parliament.

The arrogant, semi-coherent pejoratives emanating from government spokesmen do little to inspire the image of a unifying government.

If President Kenyatta’s government is truly interested in leaving behind a prosperous country at peace with itself, there are certain signals they must begin sending to the citizenry. Firstly, the chest-thumping rhetoric and denigration of their opponents must stop. When leaders fight in public, even when they are only sparring in jest, their followers are left confused.

Those in power must avoid the temptation to engage every opponent in a war of attrition. Leaders must learn to pick their fights carefully, and only engage in contests that serve to further the greater national interest.  The president must, therefore, rein in his more jubilant acolytes, and prevail upon them not to present their opponents as animals unworthy of even basic courtesies and unfit to present alternative views on governance.

Secondly, government leaders must reach out more substantively to those living in areas that did not substantially support their election. The continuing perceived hostility towards regions that are in the “opposition” does not augur well for our unified vision, and will only further reduce us into pathetic ethnic enclaves.

Magnanimity, contrary to prevailing macho perceptions, is actually a sign of strength. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Senior Lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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