Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Disbanding cohesion team not a solution

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 20 October 2013

Kenya is a relatively young member of the community of nations, having become an independent republic about half a century ago. Fifty years, in the normal lifespan of a nation, is not enough time to accomplish earthshaking things by any stretch of the imagination. Survival is often the only preoccupation of such an infant republic.

Although socio-political commentators, including this column, routinely criticise the leadership and citizenry of this country harshly, we must acknowledge that Kenya has done a pretty good job at surviving turmoil over the past 50 years.

We survived the intrigues and political murders of the Kenyatta years, the coup attempt against President Moi in 1982, and the subsequent crackdown on dissenters and intellectuals. We survived the transition from a single party dictatorship to a multi-party system, and the handover of power from President Moi to President Kibaki.

We survived the laissez-faire years of the Kibaki administration, culminating in the defining moment of our nationhood, the 2007 elections and the ensuing civil strife. We survived the dysfunctional coalition government of Kibaki and Raila Odinga, and this year’s General Election and subsequent installation of Uhuru Kenyatta’s government.

It is important to note that we did not survive all these events and periods because of any conscious effort on the part of the State to ensure that we did. We survived only because of our multiplicity of talent, our resilience in the face of adversity, our ability to ignore our differences when our needs coincide. Perhaps we even survived because of our ability to, at least superficially, accept whatever happens to us and move on.


After the 2008 violence, those involved in resolving the crisis agreed to take measures to ensure that such violence never visits our country again. They identified poor ethnic relations to be one of the driving factors behind periodic ethno-political violence in our country, and in order to deal with this once and for all, they established the National Cohesion and Integration Commission.

Its mandate was broad, and included ensuring that national resources are distributed in a manner that minimises discrimination and promotes integration. The commission was also required to promote ethnic and racial harmony in the country, spearheading legislation outlawing hate speech and encouraging more cohesive communication in the public sphere.

An audit of the commission’s performance would obviously return mixed results.

The fact that it lasted as long as it did is itself a success in this brutally individualistic society whose members are known to bend the law past its elastic limit just to see how much they can get away with. Of course Kenya remains hugely segmented on ethnic lines, but one could not have expected the commission to reverse this phenomenon single-handedly in a few short years.

My view is that if Kenya remains fractured on ethnic grounds, it is their own fault, their leaders included. We cannot use the commission as a scapegoat and hope that our terrible ethnic relations will right themselves somehow. (READ: MPs plan to disband ‘failed’ cohesion team)

The best option is to do a better job at selecting the commissioners and staff and to clarify their mandate to ensure that we build on past gains and learn from our mistakes. Disbanding the commission is the equivalent of throwing out the baby with the bathwater! 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine. lukoye@gmail.com

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