OPINIONPeople Daily

Negative ethnicity still major threat to nationhood

Alberto Leny

More than 50 years after independence, Kenyans are still grappling with the challenges of nationhood, particularly those relating to peace, unity and cohesion in a country endowed with deep cultural diversity.

The ideals that Kenya’s founding fathers valiantly fought for in the struggle for independence defied ethnic boundaries as communities from all corners of the country united for a common cause.

Kenyans of various ethnic backgrounds have, over the years, demonstrated a remarkable sense of togetherness socially and economically—living, working, going to school together, doing business and inter-marrying, customs and geographical origins notwithstanding.

They have largely abided by the ideals espoused by the freedom fighters that had united them during the stoic struggle for self-rule. Ironically, the goal of national unity and cohesion at the political level has not been entrenched in the people’s collective psyche.

The intrinsic values of nationhood still face many challenges, chief among them negative ethnicity. The challenges become even more salient when conflicting political interests come into play, especially during the period preceding the electioneering season.

While the sad and tragic events currently happening in neighbouring South Sudan offers grim lessons on the grave dangers of negative ethnicity, we must not forget similar experiences that have brought our beloved country to the brink of catastrophe.

Let’s banish the ghost of the 2007/08 post-election violence and inspire Kenyans of all walks of life to invoke our founding fathers’ ideals by smothering prevailing ethnic tensions and polarised political climate that could easily degenerate into conflict.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) and other constitutional institutions of government must consider it a national priority to honestly and openly address the heightened fears and prevailing political tensions ahead of the 2017 election.

It is critical that leaders across the political divide reflect on their words, deeds and lessons of the past painful experiences that threaten to derail the hard-fought unity and gains Kenya has made. Let the stanza in the National Anthem be the guiding principle: “Oh God of all creation. Bless this our land and nation. Justice be our shield and defender. May we dwell in unity, peace and liberty.

Plenty be found within our borders.” For NCIC to fulfill and execute its mandate of promoting national unity it has to actively encourage the elimination of all forms of ethnic discrimination irrespective of background, social status, race and ideological beliefs robustly, as the Judiciary metes out justice without fear or favour.

Experiences of conflict relating to politics, ethnicity, land and distribution of resources have in the past provided critical lessons on the delicate nature of peace-building and conflict management in Kenya. Peace-building encompasses long-term transformative efforts.

Challenges to sustainable peace in Kenya exist and the need for solutions is urgent. The fundamental problem has been the lack of an institutional framework and coordinated approach to national cohesion, peace-building and conflict management.

Lack of norms, values and principles to guide interventions can exacerbate conflict. NCIC has to urgently critically study, evaluate and interrogate the Draft National Peace Building and Conflict Management Policy 2007 and the Draft National Peace Policy of 2012 developed in consultation with non-State actors, which remain unaddressed.

Politicians must embrace an all-inclusive process to achieve harmony among citizens because NCIC may not achieve much without the involvement of leaders who hold significant influence within their communities. [email protected]

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