Where to after the handshake?
On March 9 2018 at Harambee House, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his political nemesis NASA leader Raila Odinga met and publicly buried the hatchet with the now famous handshake. The move confounded many as the meeting remained a tightly guarded secret until it happened. There was speculation that even the Deputy President was not privy to plans to hold the meeting.
A lot has been said about the handshake both in support and against in equal measure.
Pessimists dismiss the handshake as only being a symbolic gesture, solely based on the goodwill of two individuals and with no capacity to bring about any meaningful change.
They hold that the deal lacks any legal or constitutional protection to back its implementation and if history is any guide, the country has been down this road before but wound up being bitterly disappointed in the end.
Those in support sense a real shift and commitment this time with an underlying believe that the former political protagonists have nothing to lose. Mr Odinga may have contested his last presidential race with only a remote chance that he will ever get another stab at running for the highest office again.
For President Uhuru, this is his last term and therefore neither holds any fear of offending anyone nor losing support in his pursuit of an agenda that will leave the country better than he found it. He doesn’t have to pick sides.
Perhaps both men sense that this is their only opportunity to create and cement a lasting legacy.
Although the argument that real change is afoot this time may hold some merit, history has plenty of examples that contradict it. No such past efforts have resulted in real systemic change hence why the country finds itself in the position it is in.
For real change to be achieved, I submit that there would have to be a convergence of three key forces. Sufficient mass support for change, sustained mass support for change and credible leaders to lead the change.
Our post independence history would attest that at best, we have only ever had a combination of some of these key ingredients but not all the three at the same time and for a sustained period of time to effect and embed meaningful change.
It is true that momentum to building strong institutions of governance ebbs and flows and sometimes replete with seemingly insurmountable challenges. That is why it is critically important to understand that the journey can never be a ‘set and forget’ process but rather one with an indefinite end and which requires safeguarding and building on gains every step of the way.
Creating and embedding significant change requires sustained effort by all and sundry. That’s why the handshake alone will not fix what is wrong with the country, only Kenyans can.
We should wisen up to the fact that at every turn, the political elite have stolen the dream of real change and with it any chance of entrenching strong institutions of governance as they have and continue to immensely benefit from the status quo.
Reason would suggest then that alone, the political elite can’t be trusted to drive and sustain radical societal changes that will embed strong institutions of governance which is a key driver in achieving development.
Lending some urgency to this is the 2018 World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report which asserts that “weak institutions continue to hinder competitiveness, development and well-being in many countries”.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a cellar dweller when it comes to building strong institutions. Tellingly, out of the 30 bottom last countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Competitiveness Index rankings, only 3, Lao PDR, Venezuela and Haiti are not from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Kenya sits 64th out of 140 countries in the institutions sub-pillar but a poor overall ranking of 93rd out of 140 countries across all the 12 sub-pillars used in the ranking which include infrastructure, ICT adoption, macroeconomic stability, health, skills, product market, labour market, financial system, market size, business dynamism and innovation capability.
To achieve the goal of building strong institutions of governance, it is important for Kenyans to stop genuflecting to political leaders. Instead, we must start to relentlessly hold them accountable to exactingly high standards while at the same time accepting that as individuals, the same will be expected of us.
The result will be the emergence of a culture of accountability as well respect for the pursuit of ideals that serve the greater good of the community as opposed to intransigent pursuit of self aggrandisement which is the default setting for an overwhelming majority of our elected leaders.