Management Consultant Mike Eldon

The private sector gets back to building peace

Amid the normal noise of our zero-sum politics, KEPSA recently launched the fourth phase of its Mkenya Daima project, which is all about building a more peaceful and cohesive society. The new programme will work on our much-neglected national values, and on helping us to become more responsible citizens.

The initial campaign resulted from the decision by the private sector to get involved in peace-building, following the devastating consequences of the post-election violence of 2008. The first phase of the campaign, in the build up to the 2013 election, was dubbed Mwenye-nchi sio Mwananchi, and it was about building commitment to peaceful elections. It was followed by one that celebrated the good that exists in Kenya and handled the negatives that divide us. The third phase emphasised that rights go along with responsibilities, and that each Kenyan is responsible for Kenya.

Through all the campaigns, stakeholders beyond the commercial private sector were brought together, including civil society, religious groups, the media, musicians, and university students, all to build peace. Support also came from politicians who, even as they hunted for votes in the 2013 polls, appealed to their supporters to maintain peace. The media too conveyed the peace messages, and their airing of the presidential debates was a notable first for the country.

The next phase will encourage the adoption of national values, again encouraging (I don’t like the word “instilling”) a sense of responsibility, and fostering character change at the individual, institutional and national level. It will do this in the ongoing context of building national cohesion and peace, encouraged by the sense that the messages of past phases have indeed inspired Kenyans to co-exist peacefully, enjoy freedom with responsibility, and focus on the goals of Vision 2030.

During the launch UNDP Resident Representative Nardos Bekele-Thomas showed how strongly she feels about peace-building and about the key role of the private sector in supporting it. She challenged Kenyans to take a more active role in running the country’s affairs, acknowledging that since independence the country has been a bastion of peace in a troubled region, offering leadership and refuge to its neighbours.

“Kenya can be greater than it is once Kenyans realise they employ the politicians, and indeed all arms of government,” she stated, adding that “the constitution is only as strong as the people who made it. You can have the best constitution in the world, but it is no good if the people do not drive action to build prosperity.”

Ken Njiru from the Uungwana Institute, a member of the Mkenya Daima steering team, gave a presentation on the next phase, to be called “MKenya Muungwana Daima 2030”, explaining that its objective is to develop a values-based culture among Kenyans, so we take responsibility for the running of the country in an ethical way.

Reinforcing Nardos Beekele’s message, he pointed out that we created our institutions, and when they don’t work we are the ones who must fix them. We need a “Muungwana culture” that can only be developed by embracing healthy values. This is easily said. Indeed it’s all spelt out in our constitution, in the values pillar of Vision 2030, in the work of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, and in the National Values System.

But who knows how to change things? Who knows how to move, even a little, from our actual to our aspirational values? How do we increase our sense of patriotism and adopt a “Kenya First” mentality rather than a “Me First” one? Njiru rightly identified that what we need is people who understand change management, and so the campaign must reach out to practitioners in this field. (Good news: I’m one of them, describing my work as “aligning people’s energy around common visions and values”.)

Mkenya Daima Steering Committee Chair Vimal Shah told us that this phase of Mkenya Daima will cover five years, up to and beyond the next election. The business community will continue to be at the forefront, maintaining a non-partisan approach and encouraging Kenyans to put aside their political differences for the greater interest of the country. He also introduced popular rap singer Juliani, who is part of the campaign and is clearly a thoughtful and delightful young man.

Mkenya Daima Steering Committee Vice-Chair Polycarp Igathe urged the private sector to drive the peace agenda “so as to ensure healthy and hygienic conversations within and outside government” and to ensure a peaceful election in 2017. I particularly liked his statements that we need to move the narrative “from protest to prosperity”, and that peace building is a continuous effort.

Having been part of the earlier campaign I see the need to up the level of contribution from civil society and the religious leaders. I remember that some civil society people felt we private sector people were only in it “to assure business continuity”. Well we are concerned about that, as all Kenyans should be, but it would be quite unfair to assume it’s only the bottom line we worry about.

We need to link up with the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, supporting their work – which is much more than combating hate speech. And we must also support the many wonderful peace-building NGOs.

Above all we must be wary of merely preaching to the already converted. Our big challenge is to reach out to those who are hard to convert: to the politicians (except the moderates, who are often the less influential and also largely ignored by the media), the disaffected youth, the matatu drivers and others who are least interested in what we are preaching. This includes much of the media, who love nothing more than conflict and confrontation.

Very ambitiously, the campaign envisages a corruption-free Kenya, and it is not by coincidence that last week’s Presidential Round Table with the private sector focused heavily on this subject, along with the development of entrepreneurship. Watch this space.

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