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A time for hope – and vigilance

How things can change in a week. This week, it was a pleasure to watch the news on TV and read the papers. For there was scarcely an item of bad news coming out of Kenya – after two full months of doom scenarios. Kofi Annan’s expertly mediated accord has allowed this nation to emerge from under the clouds that had engulfed it, and radiate hope again.

The mood is infectious. Most people I meet – on the streets, in offices, in restaurants, in boardrooms – can scarcely conceal their relief and joy that Kenya can try to get back to peace and business. Only the hard-liners (from all sides) are unhappy – and we now know how few hard-liners there are in this country. What is remarkable now is how such a small number of people managed to hold us all hostage for two whole months, when the country at large clearly wanted nothing to do with neighbour-on-neighbour violence, mass destruction of property or the prospect of civil war.

The relief is also palpable on the faces of the two principals in the political dispute, President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga. They both look like a huge burden has just come off their shoulders, and seem to be entering their new political harmony with goodwill and gusto. Long may it last. And let us remember to thank them both. For it is far easier to plunge a country into chaos than it is to bring it back up again.

Yet, as the euphoria gusts around everywhere, let us stay sober and consider a few facts.

The first: we may have just come back from a holiday in hell, but let us remember that we have been here before. Exactly five years ago, this is exactly where we were. Kibaki and Raila were the two principals even then; a broad-based coalition had just taken power with immense public backing and goodwill behind it; a new constitutional dispensation was on the cards; and Kenya seemed to be on the verge of greatness.

Well, we know the rest. The coalition agreement was not honoured; the organs hurriedly set up to manage the coalition rapidly disintegrated; and a few people with bad intentions took full advantage to prevent any real change from happening.

Let us also know that we learned from the sad events of 2003, and we know what to look out for. As Dr Annan reminded us as he flew out: it’s down to us, the people. We have to exert the moral authority and swing the big stick now. It’s our responsibility to keep the pressure on the politicians, and to keep reminding them that we want peace, prosperity and oneness above all else. It’s down to you, and to me, to talk the good talk wherever we are, and to infect others.

A second thing to remember: the hard-liners, the war-mongers, the militia-backers haven’t all migrated. They’re still amongst us, smiling through gritted teeth and engaging in fake jollity with their sworn enemies. That poison has not been drawn. Perhaps it will be, when the new Truth & Reconciliation Commission starts its work; when a new constitution is finally written; when the the truth of the disputed election finally comes out. Until then, those that poison the national psyche are still amongst us. Let us be very vigilant.

I’m with COTU boss Francis Atwoli on this one. Let us make the first politician who tries to wreck this agreement a marked person. Let us rise up together to condemn those ploys and manoeuvres when they occur. Many of us finally found our voice during this crisis. We learned to speak up and speak out. We learned to associate and collaborate and form networks for peace. Let us make it a habit, for the sake of the nation.

Finally, a word to Kibaki and Raila. Please, please, please share power with honour, decorum and generosity. Shut out the voices of the hate-peddlers. Go around the country and talk about peace, reconciliation and neighbourliness. And don’t shirk the big jobs ahead of you. This is the historic moment which, if grasped firmly, could lead to the far-reaching changes that could finally transform this land. Our good wishes are behind you; history is in front of you.

A good place to start would be to cut out all this nonsense about motorcades and other trappings of office. President Kibaki’s motorcade started off with half-a-dozen cars in early 2003, and became more than two dozen over the years. Raila Odinga’s is already looking bloated, and it’s barely out of the garage! And all those bodyguards have been watching too many Hollywood movies: what’s with the hanging on to open car-doors and the running jump on arrival? Please, grow up.

All those people in chase cars are actually the problem: sycophants, hangers-on, and spongers. We can’t afford them. Dispensing with them would send a very strong message that a new Kenya is indeed on its way.

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