Modern day Japan is a constitutional monarchy with the Imperial House as the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world dating over 2,000 years back.
One of the key epochs in these 2,000 years of the Japanese history is the Sengoku period, which was a time of massive upheaval and constant civil war amongst the clans of Japan led by different warlords. It is during this period that three leaders emerged and made it their mission to unite all the warring clans into one united Japan. Today, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Leyasu are immortalized as the ‘Three Great Unifiers of Japan’.
From that period of unification onwards, Japan remained a united nation and despite the great traumas that have befallen them and several natural disasters that continue to pose an existential threat to them, the island nation has endured. Japan is the only nation in the world that has suffered the devastation of an atomic bomb yet managed to put in place amazingly successful post war reconstruction efforts and going on to be powerful and prosperous.
Japan today is a member of the elite G7, has the third largest economy in the world, boasts of the highest life expectancy and possesses an enviable national value system that has become synonymous with innovation, respect and hard work. It is also a cultural powerhouse with global influence, and is the undisputed world leader in electronics and automobiles. The culture of honesty and integrity is a deeply ingrained value in Japanese society, with the country having one of the lowest incidences of corruption globally.
Kenya on the other hand is a land of resilient and innovative people who have overcome many challenges to be a household name in business innovation such as M-Pesa, the first mobile money banking system worldwide, our prowess in sport is unmatched and our business acumen can only be admired. At the regional level, our neighbours rightly envy us because of our comparatively favoured development position and relevance due to strategic geopolitical advantage.
Compared to Japan, Kenya is still a nascent state and in comparative historical perspective, where medieval Japan had warring clans, contemporary Kenya has ethnic groups organising around parties and jostling for power. And where Japan has faced national traumas, Kenya has gone through national distresses, including terrorist attacks, natural disasters and electoral violence, with the 2007-08 post-election violence bringing Kenya at the brink of the abyss of state collapse.
The top most challenge facing Kenya is the lack of strong national values, which has provided fertile breeding grounds for crippling corruption. Kenya is ranked amongst the most corrupt nations in the world with adverse effects on our development prospects. The other major challenge is disunity, which has severely fractured our nation along the fault lines of ethnicity, derailing our prosperity efforts since Independence.
This explains why, despite several sessional papers, poverty reduction programmes and economic recovery strategies, our development aspirations have never materialised. With corruption denying Kenyans a third of their budget every year, and our disunity being exposed every five years during elections, the present day Kenya has become hopelessly stuck in a situation akin to the 15th Century Japan — during the Sengoku period, where treachery and upheaval was the order of the day.
As George Santayana stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. The lessons from the ‘Three Unifiers of Japan’ offer a solution on how we can rescue ourselves from this pit of despair and in President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya seems to have found a solution. In his final term, President Kenyatta has chosen three legacy projects — the Big Four agenda, the Building Bridges Initiative and the war on corruption.
The ‘legacy three’ present an audacious change of Kenya’s development trajectory and if supported and sustained to fruition, they shall lead to the realisation of a new and prosperous Kenya. With the Big Four delivering universal healthcare, affordable housing, food security and manufacturing opportunities, Kenyan will take giant leaps towards bonafide sustainable development and assured prosperity.
The prosperity of Japan can be traced back to the foundations of unity laid by its ‘Three Unifiers’ and today the Japanese pride themselves as citizens of a prosperous world power. Kenya has struggled without success since Independence but with Uhuru’s bold, unprecedented, visionary and statesman decision to chart a new path under the ‘legacy three’, the dream of a united, prosperous Kenya, free from corruption shall be realised. With this, President Kenyatta will befittingly earn himself the title of ‘Kenya’s Unifier President’.
Charles Kipkulei is a governance expert [email protected]