It’s quite some time since I wrote about national issues in this column, allowing the extravagant 24/7 political campaigning and the media’s relentless focus on it to sweep over me. Reflecting on it all, plus on the election itself and the days since, I realised that throughout these months I can’t remember when any of our political contenders referred explicitly to our national values.
Yes, there was much talk about national unity and public participation; inclusiveness and protection of the marginalised; ethics and integrity; transparency, accountability and good governance; sustainable development — all which I am quoting from the national values as stated in our Constitution. But as far as I am aware no one directly related such matters to these stated values.
I’ve written before about how our leaders never refer to these values, and not least because they are just a list of 20 words and phrases – including the ones featured above – buried deep in that long, formal document that is our Constitution. I have suggested hauling this list out and reducing it to a small number of short punchy phrases, as countries like Singapore and Rwanda benefit from. Their leaders live the values as role models for them, and talk about them as part of their regular leadership language.
Now that the frantic politicking has calmed down it’s good to look back over the campaigning period. Fortunately, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has analysed the main challenges Kenya faced in the build-up to the election, and here are its findings:
- Lack of trust between communities, among leaders and in government institutions.
- A sub-culture of violence, where politicians manipulate citizens into engaging in aggressive acts.
- Divisive and selfish politics, where most leaders are more concerned about acquisition of power and wealth, their own self-interest and ambitions, than the wellbeing of the citizens.
- Ethnic polarisation, simulated by hate speech and other forms of ethnic incitement.
- Late, inadequate and insufficiently coordinated response to conflict.
- Structural inequalities in the distribution of political and economic resources, historical and current.
We are rightly proud of the fact that the elections unfolded peacefully, but as we peruse these findings there is clearly much to work on as far as our values are concerned… and this in the context of our national vision, as NCIC’s report concludes: “Most leaders in Kenya seem to have abandoned the nationalist vision of equity and justice, and given primacy to the acquisition of power and wealth.”
Who should take the lead in bringing national values to the top of Kenya’s agenda, so future such NCIC reports can read differently? Realistically, it seems we can rely on only a small minority of our elected leaders to play that moral role. So how can we build a critical mass of influential individuals and institutions to take us to that much better place?
Yes, NCIC is there, and it has been doing well partnering with religious leaders, the private sector’s Mkenya Daima, civil society, youth, communities and government entities. And the CBC’s Values-Based Education is vital for nurturing future generations. Then, where are you and your organisations in all of this?
As we enter a new administration, it is a time of opportunity. Many of those who are the most influential and who should most act as role models for healthy values will remain the ones who least do so. So we must make it harder for impunity to reign.
Transparency and accountability must continue to be enhanced, with the support of technology and with the law and order entities working ever closer together to deter poor behaviour. And if only we could limit the time and cost of campaigning!
Along with being serious about penalising those displaying negative values, we must also recognise and celebrate the good guys, not least through the media. For there are plenty of Kenyans who live good values, however hard that is in our very challenging political, economic and social environment.
On October 20, we celebrated Mashujaa Day. By happy coincidence it coincided with World Values Day, an annual campaign to increase the awareness and practice of values around the world. So let’s bring our national heroes into our values-nudging campaign.
It is a major project, a long journey. One on which we must embark urgently and vigorously. Now.