Why the elite are a threat to national cohesion By WILLY MUTUNGA

This is an important and timely period for this country.

Historically, when Kenya has faced serious challenges, the country has rallied together.

Dialoguing to confront national problems is a mark of patriotic maturity, not a sign of weakness.

I believe we need to talk in the belief that there is a problem that the country needs to deal with, and there is a fierce urgency.

Discourses of peace and non-violence, progress, development, and independence of a people, must be also about the root causes of poverty, inequality, divisions in society; the quality of leadership in all sectors of society, and exploitation and domination at national and global levels.

What is of supreme importance is a discourse on solutions that results in fundamental change and re-ordering of what we see and believe to be unacceptable and unsustainable.

In this convening without condoning external causes, I want us to concentrate first on national ills.

The vital lesson I have learnt from the Judiciary transformation process is that vested interests in this country have an undisguised unease and discomfort with the right thing.

That is what explains the evil lengths these retrogressive interests went to attempt and frustrate the passing of the Constitution.

The unbelievable attempt to edit the Constitution at the Government Printers and the bomb that exploded at the ‘NO’ campaign rally at Uhuru Park in 2010 illustrate the point.

The worst that patriotic Kenyans can do is to surrender to these vested interests.

I can assure you that when you are doing the right and correct thing, the enemies will become more vocal but, in the fullness of time, the public, just like truth, has a way of distinguishing the false vocalists from the ‘right doers’.

TOXIC COMBINATION

Unfortunately, ‘divisions’ have become the currency of our politics and we must find a way of devaluing this currency.

Until a cadre of leadership emerges in this country that is ready to commit ethnic, religious, regional, gender, clan, class or generational suicide, even when they ascend to office through these sectarian solidarities, the progress of this country will forever remain a mirage.

This is one lesson of the independence struggle where, it is those who benefitted from missionary and colonial education that ended up providing the intellectual leadership against colonial rule itself.

The last time I spoke on this subject to the old Starehean society, I made the case that the crisis of governance and development in this country is a crisis of the elite.

I called this elite a vernacular elite purveying vernacular politics, completely unable to comprehend the challenges and demand of civic duty, other than through the prism of native lenses.

It is a vernacularism that afflicts the private sector elite even in a worse form, as evidenced by the ethnic concentrations in top management, and endemic favouritism in recruitment, promotions, awarding of bonuses and contracts.

They (the elite) are the architects and beneficiaries-in-chief of graft and ethnicity, a deadly and toxic combination that has gnawed at the heart, body and soul of our great country, and so badly scarred and compromised national institutions.

It is my strong belief that until the elite resolves to make Kenya better, choose the path of progressive politics and an inclusive development paradigm – which will also be in their long-term interest; rise to embrace civic rather than native politics, the country shall continue to wallow in poverty and remain trapped in the tragedy of underdevelopment both of her economy and democracy.

I refuse to believe that because of our diversity, we are incapable of forging a modern, democratic state where, regardless of a person’s ethnic or social background, he or she can ascend to any office and realise his or her full potential.

What other scholars have called ‘cosmopolitan citizenship’ is possible as founding father of Tanzania, President Julius Nyerere demonstrated over 50 years ago.

PATRIOTIC ELITE

What it requires is an imaginative and patriotic elite and leadership across the board that is genuinely ambitious and fascinated by the possibilities of creating one such country; not one uninspired or threatened by it.

In 2014, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) produced a very important report on social cohesion and integration.

The report confirmed the thesis that the poor quality of our elite correlates strongly with the low quality of our development and governance.

According to this report, on the three of the six indicators that define social cohesion, the level of trust, peace and diversity actually diminishes with the rise in the level of education.

Friends, this is an indictment on our education system.

It explains why, despite our national elite attending national schools together, they are some of the most fractious, most divisive and most ethnically alert.

If that doesn’t sober up a country, I don’t know what will.

If our education system is producing elites of suspect quality for the national integration project, we need to rethink it urgently.

Education, which in terms of social mobility has always been the natural equaliser, has, in terms of social cohesion, sadly become the national divider.

NCIC must not flinch in the execution of its mandate so that we can heal this country and hold to account, in a legal and constitutional manner, those whose conduct and pronouncements seek to divide and destroy this country.

I wish to give the strong support and commitment of the Judiciary in helping NCIC fight this mighty vice within the confines of the law.

It is important that we devalue the currency of division in our politics and business.

SHRINKING RESPONSIBILITY
But this issue is not just a matter of law that, as you are all aware, sometimes has serious limitations.

The country must also occupy the civic realm, where citizens and leaders conduct themselves with utter dignity, and where the public exhibits a zero tolerance against bad behaviour.

When the public politically rewards ill conduct, fail to give evidence, refuse to show up as witnesses, and turns around to blame NCIC and Judiciary for not doing enough, that becomes part of the problem.

That is called shirking responsibility. The public must have the courage of its convictions and help state agencies execute their mandates effectively.

Many of us are born into this country called Kenya, but few pause to ask what that really means.

We are often quick to claim and assert our citizenship but rarely give a thought to what it means vis a vis others.

Citizenship is an obligation to self, the state, and to each other - in proportions demarcated by, and portions served by, the Constitution.

Respecting other Kenyans, acknowledging that they too have rights, and being our brothers’ and sisters’-keepers is an important element of citizenship.

We must willingly give up something for the benefit of the others for citizenship to make sense and for nationhood to thrive.

Individual, or ethnic, or social insularity and selfishness undermines successful nation building.

Bigotry, puerile supremacist ethnic claims, discrimination, should have no place in modern societies.

Yet in Kenya’s social and mainstream media, these backward ideas continue to be purveyed with reckless and foolish abandon.

RULE OF LAW

When leaders hear these things, and fail to condemn these pronouncements, they acquiesce.

The tendency to profile and prejudice the other; the illogic of seeking to centralise resources when 50 years of independence has just shown that it results in grotesque inequality and poverty; the misuse of resources the local level – all these things undermine notions of citizenship.

Kenyans must realise that we have a common humanity, common heritage and a common future.

All human beings are created equal before God. That is religion. All human beings are equal before the law. That is jurisprudence.

The Human Genome Project of 1998 established that we are 99.9 per cent the same regardless of race, tribe, colour, sex.

That’s science. So divisions are socially produced and magnified and commodified. That’s politics.

Whether we want to be together or divided is a choice that we make. It is not preordained. One peaceful, democratic and developed Kenya is possible.

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