On Jamhuri Day, a day that should be, or would ordinarily be a day of national celebration, reading the mood of the country, it is difficult to find much to celebrate. Images streaming in from across the country showed near empty stadia, only a handful of people in each. The national event at Kasarani was not spared either; an event that would usually attract the multitudes to hear the presidential address. Not so this year!
The vast majority of the population gave the national and county celebrations a wide berth, the first such collective snub in my memory, certainly! What would cause most of the country to make such a resounding statement? Regardless of which side of the political you might identify with, it is plain to see that something is terribly amiss. As was famously stated in the popular film Apollo 13, “Houston (or in this case Kenya), we have a problem!”
Not even the most ardent state apologists can deny that we are in uncharted territory. Never before in my lifetime have I seen my country so deeply divided, polarized along ethnic lines, struggling with the aftermath of a prolonged electoral contest. Elections come and go, and in Kenya we have become accustomed to the discomfort that is visited upon us every 5 years. Usually, it is a temporary condition. This time, I’m not so sure!
For the first time, I am not convinced that we shall easily bounce back from the temporary insanity that seems to grip the vast majority of us every electoral cycle. The nature and level of the polarization is so pronounced that we cannot afford to simply sit back and hope that it will resolve itself. Surely this is not the Kenya we aspire to for our children, nor that which our forefathers dreamed of and sacrificed so much for.
When Kenyans collectively turn their backs on national celebrations, especially Jamhuri Day, arguably our most important holiday celebrating our independence, it should be pause for great concern: concern that all is not well with Project Kenya, though we sometimes delude ourselves to the contrary. Following the most recent electoral contest, there are those in a celebratory mood, and those who simply will not recognize the result of the October 26th election (and a great many in between). This presents a number of difficulties going forward.
Those celebrating and those who are not may not see themselves as part of the same Kenya, enjoying equal rights and opportunities under the law. Many parts of the country report a feeling of marginalization, which is real and palpable. These feelings of exclusion are long-standing, and have led to a debate on secession, which continues to take place in certain quarters.
Unless and until we address the underlying reasons for these feelings of exclusion and marginalization, we will persist in the current state of disharmony. From this, no-one can accept and move on, normalcy will not magically return, particularly when the rhetoric being bandied around is that the presidency even in the next electoral cycle is a forgone conclusion, further exacerbating the situation.
Therefore, we have some critical decisions to make as a country. We must engage in an open and honest discourse on our nationhood, with a view to coming up with workable solutions to that which is tearing the very fabric of our society apart. This will necessarily require sacrifice on all sides. It is, however, unavoidable; as the alternative may be the unthinkable.
Sadly, we will not be able to simply legislate our way out of this one, nor will the simple formation of a constitutional commission make everything OK. These, under current conditions, are not long term solutions, and merely mask the very deep and real divisions within our society. If we want to begin to repair our nation, if we genuinely wish to see Kenya prosper, if we genuinely want to see Kenyans once again living in harmony with one another, then we have no choice but to address these issues. There can be no real ‘development’, ‘peace’ or ‘unity’ while large swathes of the population are questioning whether they belong in this Kenya; or when elections no longer produce results that can be accepted as legitimate by significant proportions of the population.
So Kenya…what next? This is the choice we must consciously make. To get Project Kenya back on track, and to begin to heal our fractious nation, there will have to a concerted national effort to examine that which ails us, and the strength and willingness to listen to one another as a precursor to reclaiming the spirit of our nation.