As of today, March 9, 2013, Kenyans have elected their fourth president, Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta. Congratulations to Mr. President and his running mate, Mr. William Ruto. Congratulations are also in order for the hundreds of other government officials who were elected to various positions throughout the country. But elections happen all the time, the world over. As a matter of fact, very few non-Kenyans knew what has been going on in Kenya this week. So, why all the fuss?
Well, we’ve had years of misrule in the country, followed by a disastrous election process in 2007. There has has been much fear and anxiety among Kenyans and various well-wishers, with everyone holding out hope that the people of Kenya would somehow find a way to rise above the cancer of tribal and sectarian animosity and hold free and fair elections under a new constitution. It is still too early to tell whether this is that moment, but all signs point in that direction; provided several indispensable conditions are met.
Here I will mention two:
1. Being clear on how and what the winners celebrate
Whether it’s a football match, passing an examination, or winning a war against another country, victory always calls for celebration. It’s just the nature of victory. So, those who worked long and hard to get their candidate elected and succeeded cannot be denied the right to celebrate.
But there is catch here. With any celebration of victory, we must ask ourselves some critical questions, “What, exactly, is our victory?” What have we won? Have we vanquished an enemy? Have we beaten an opposing team? How we answer these questions is extremely crucial for the future of our young nation. When all is said and done, we are brothers and sisters in the same country, subject to the same trials and triumphs.
Yes, one side won, but that does not (emphatically does not!) diminish in any way the claims, expectations and aspirations every single Kenyan has towards his or her leaders. The sooner we turn this into a victory of vision for the country as a whole, rather than triumph over other people, the sooner we will move towards a realization of the unity we all talk about but rarely seem to find.
So, let us not divide the country further by celebrating as though we have driven some foreign enemies beyond our borders. That is a dangerous illusion to embrace, especially in light of the fact that we vote along ethnic and tribal lines; in my opinion our biggest challenge moving forward. There is little to be proud of in this area. Our problems run deep, and they have fermented over a long time.
I am reminded of a story in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. David had led his men against the Amalekites who had burned a village where David’s family and the families of his fighting men were staying. They had taken all the women and children with them. But some of David’s men were too tired to follow David all the way. David and a few of his men kept moving and managed to garner a victory over the Amalekites and rescue everyone.
On their way back, the men who had won the victory were angry with those who were not able to get to the battlefield. They tried to persuade David not to give them any of the spoils. They said to David, “Because they did not go out with us, we will not share with them the plunder we recovered. However, each man may take his wife and children and go.”
David’s answer is one every one of us, including our leaders, need to ponder:
“No, my brothers, you must not do that with what the LORD has given us. He has protected us and handed over to us the forces that came against us. Who will listen to what you say? The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” David made this a statute and ordinance for Israel from that day to this (1 Samuel 30:23-25).
Now if that was true of David, who was fighting a real war, what about us, who were not fighting any battle? What about us, who are all citizens of the same country? We have no excuse. This is more so for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ, for it is we who claim to be citizens of another world first and citizens of our earthly countries second.
2. Waking up to the immense challenges facing the nation
We are a suffering people. Some have suffered so much, for so long that they don’t really know how much of their suffering is unnecessary. I will not waste time here describing our problems. I have already mentioned tribalism. Corruption is another cancer in our societal system and it is often the chief cause of much of the suffering of our people – many of whom regularly see little reward for their hard work. We could mention our national debt, the ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor, disease, famine, the plight of orphans, etc. The plight of orphans is a real concern to my family and I as we run an orphanage in Maai Mahiu, Kenya.
Our leaders must be held accountable if there is to be any hope of justice ever being our shield and defender. Justice will not do that on its own; it takes people who are committed to justice. Regardless of the legitimate misgivings some had towards the document, the new constitution is a step in the right direction. The new government faces a daunting task in its implementation, ranging from the enormous amount of money it will cost to do so, to the integrity required of those who will carry out the task. We are a nation at a crossroads, and what we do next may very well determine our survival as a nation. Are the President Elect, Mr. Kenyatta and his Vice President, Mr. Ruto, up to the task? It remains to be seen.
By John Njoroge