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Some thoughts on the eve of the election

Tomorrow, Kenya holds yet another general election. The previous one ended in controversy, acrimony and carnage.

Last time, we really didn’t see it coming. We did not imagine an electoral process that farcical; and we did not fathom that leaders could fuel mass deaths quite so casually, for their own gains. We were all caught on the hop as the country exploded.

And so Kenyans hold their collective breath again.

Let us exhale together, Kenyans. Many, many things have changed since 2007. First, the ICC came in and visited genuine consequences on leaders accused of inciting violence. Next, we passed a new constitution that genuinely addresses some of the institutional and legal voids in the country. Third, our judiciary is in the early throes of far-reaching reforms, and is in a different place from the compromised organ of years past.

Certainly, we have not yet addressed our many fault-lines as a nation, including invidious negative ethnicity and egregious corruption. But let’s take on one battle at a time, people. We’ve won quite a few in recent times; let’s win another tomorrow by holding a peaceful election.

The international media think we won’t. They highlight our nasty tribalist ways and our grossly corrupt practices at every turn, and expect another conflagration. That is, in fact, what makes news about Kenya: tribal battles for resources; leadership cults; grand corruption.

Yet there is another story not being told. The two live presidential debates held recently, for the first time ever in Kenya, were newsworthy. Not because they will affect the 2013 result; I doubt very much that many minds will have been changed by the debates. No, the debates should make the news because they happened at all: that the candidates agreed to participate in an uncomfortable event; that the moderators hit them with all barrels blazing; that contenders were forced to address the issues in their pasts and debate around them; that they are now on record as having said they will accept the outcome and work for peace.

That’s new; that’s good; that will have reverberations in every election to come from now on.

And here’s the other news that you may have missed: both debates trended on Twitter. Worldwide. Those of you who give social media a wide berth may find this uninteresting; I was glued to the trend chart on both evenings.

Here’s what that particular piece of news means. It confirms that we now have enough youngsters; enough mobile gadgets; enough internet connections; enough social media accounts; and enough engagement with our own issues to create a conversation that hits the global highs.

I have written here before: THAT’S the real game-changer at work. A new Kenya is truly being born: one that argues instead of being led and spoon-fed; one that carries information, awareness and comparisons right in every pocket.

In THAT Kenya, come 2017 and beyond, try herding the huge wave of coming-of-age, exposed, savvy Kenyans into convenient tribal kraals.

I can’t reassure you that all will be well tomorrow. We still have enough pockets of ignorant, disenfranchised, desperate Kenyans led by evil opportunists for trouble to occur.

But if you take off the spectacles of immediate fear and pick up the binoculars that help you look farther down the road, you will see that we will be fine eventually. If we are patient, the forces of governance, of technology and of demographics will do their work. All we need is to reclaim our moral centre and ensure these forces work in the interest of all Kenyans, not just a gluttonous elite.

So let’s not get too worked up, whoever wins or loses tomorrow. The personality of the leader is no longer the real news. The emergence of a better, fresher collective is. And that will continue, whoever’s in charge. Train Kenya has left the station.

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