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January 21, 2019

NGOVI KITAU: Build on handshake to transform Kenya

President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) greets opposition leader Raila Odinga on March 9, 2018. /REUTERS
President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) greets opposition leader Raila Odinga on March 9, 2018. /REUTERS

2018 was the year of the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga, after Kenya’s Fragile State Index (FSI) slipped down five positions, from 22 in 2016 to 17 in 2017.

The March 9, 2018, handshake led to the establishment of the Building Bridges to Unity Advisory Task Force, through Gazette Notice No 5154 of March 24, 2018. The task force is to go around the country to collect views on what Kenyans feel are the national challenges that hinder cohesion. It was directed to make recommendations within a year.

The trouble with Kenya is simply a failure of leadership. First, political formation is along totemic alignments and ethnic aggregations. This has led to a dearth of leadership; what we have is characterised by primordial parochialism, political brigandage, clientelism, ethnic animosity and national cleavage.

Second, there has been constrained political will — that compelling force to implement policies that are relevant and have a national impact without allowing vested interests to detract from the national interest.

Thirdly, power has been consolidated at the national government level — despite being partially devolved to 47 counties — which extract considerable economic resources from poor Kenyans to fund corruption.

Fourth, there has been sustenance of a governing class without ideological commitment. Rather than pursuing political contests within ideological frameworks, politics has continued to be a contested terrain for shallow and self-centred monetary gain.

This view is supported by two global metrics. A review of FSI, between 2006 and 2017, shows our vulnerability has worsened, from position 33 to 17. The Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) reveal we have always scored below 50 per cent between 2007 and 2017 in all five indicators (Voice and Accountability, Political Stability and Absence of Violence/Terrorism, Government Effectiveness, Regulatory Quality, Rule of Law, Control of Corruption).

To overcome the crises of leadership and governance, we need to appreciate that desired FSI and WGI outputs as perceived through international indicators are unattainable, unless citizens participate in governance. We need to educate, engage, and empower citizens by focusing on a transformational process building capacity for collective action.

For this to process to be credible, we need to maintain a truly international approach to our strategy. We can start by conducting our own FSI and WGI in the counties and holding monthly or quarterly public discussions on the results. Public debate in every village would be instrumental in minimising the special advantages of the various interest groups that are always negatively influencing processes on good governance.

If need be, we can Kenyanise the Forum for Peace FSI 4 categories and 12 indicators ( 1 Cohesion — security apparatus, factionalized elites, group grievance; 2 Economics — economic decline, uneven development, human flight; 3 Political — state legitimacy, public services, human rights; 4 Social — demographics, refugees/IDPs, external intervention).

As the deadline for the task force to submit its findings approaches, it’s an appropriate time for us to hit pause and contemplate an approach to a long-term governance strategy. Let us give our views and ensure this process will revolutionise Kenya and give us able, efficient and true leadership in the hands of competent, enlightened, honest, and qualified patriots.

First Kenyan Ambassador to the Republic of Korea

[email protected]

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