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We will have to re-imagine Kenya

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

Saint Francis of Assisi’s famous prayer is widely quoted and cherished. Its sentiment is universal; every faith has its own equivalent. Its message needs to be understood and acted upon in Kenya, more than ever before.

Few would question the universal validity of the message: that peace begins with each one of us. The desire for peace is not something we can pass blithely upward, asking our leaders to deliver it. It is not something to pray for in others, when we harbour hate in our own hearts. Peace is not some hypothetical dream state: it is achieved by people being peaceful.

It is easy to be peaceful when there is nothing to be angry about. When things are fine, we can all sing along to prayers like those of St. Francis, and believe in the fine words expressed therein. But the time to deliver is precisely when there is hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness.

We are in such a time today, and those people who are going to sow the seeds of love, pardon, faith, hope, light and joy need to stand up and be counted. Otherwise we will descend into tit-for-tat posturing and violence that we may regret for generations.

Let us recognise first that there is plenty that ails this nation. We have been badly let down by the murky manipulations and sordid schemes of our political leaders. We know that our institutions do not act in the interests of the common people, many of whom have just had horrific violence visited upon them merely because of the names displayed on their identity cards. Thousands have lost their property and their livelihoods, through no fault of their own. Parents have lost their little children in unspeakable circumstances.

There is much to be angry about, and many of us find the rage difficult to contain. And yet, this is precisely the time to live up to the higher purpose of the human being. There is a savage that lurks deep in all of us, and there are times when that savage rises to the surface and finds violent expression.

That savage emerges at different times all over the world: he (and a ‘he’ is usually what he is) showed up at India’s bloody partition; he was present on both sides in the brutal revolutions that toppled European aristocracies; he was killing schoolchildren by the truckload in Rwanda; he was at the forefront as early American settlers tried to exterminate the native people of that continent.

The history of mankind is characterised by brutal outbursts of mindless violence, often targeting the most vulnerable and the most helpless. If our lives have a point, it is to rise above the urge to take revenge, to harbour resentment, to feel mindless hatred. In Kenya, we did not seem to get terribly angry when public money was routinely stolen by cabals of leaders; when land was parcelled out inequitably; when the rot of corruption was weakening our courts; when we repeatedly failed to design a constitution to protect our rights.

Why then are we now angry at our neighbours for the way that they voted? The roots of this problem lie way back in our past, but our anger is directed at people we meet in the streets today. That is foolish and misguided. We are in this terrible place because we ourselves have tolerated low standards of behaviour for too long. That is why we must all become instruments of peace: because the fault is collectively ours, not that of some convenient bugbear out there.

To be an instrument of peace is not to be weak; it is indeed to be stronger than any other. It is to do the right thing when others are failing the test. It is to resist the temptation to fight fire with fire, to counter deceit with deceit, to take an eye for an eye. It is to understand that we must not die with blood on our hands; that life only has meaning if we leave it a little better than we found it.

It is time for Kenyans to rise to become instruments of their own peace; but to understand that that peace will not come from putting sticking-plaster on ancient wounds. For true, lasting peace to come, we will have to re-imagine this country: what it stands for and believes in; how it is led, and by whom; how it is managed and protected from itself; and how it grows and prospers for the benefit of all.

That immense task begins with one very small step: holding out a hand of compassion and succour to those who have been harmed, irrespective of who they are.

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