Kenya's Opportunity To Choose For A Generation
Next year, Kenya faces one of the most important elections in its history. On the 50th anniversary of self-rule, the Kenyan people will go to the ballot box to make choices that will shape the destiny of their country.
The National Accord of 2008 was agreed following the darkest period since the country’s independence. The violence that followed the 2007 election shocked Kenya’s friends across the world. More importantly, it stunned Kenyans themselves, not only because it happened, but also because of the speed with which unspeakable brutalities were visited by neighbour upon neighbour, by friend upon friend.
We should recall, however, that amidst this carnage, there were citizens who stood by their workmates, friends and colleagues, regardless of ethnicity. Other examples of civic courage were shown by elements of the media, civil society and the business community who chose the path of peace instead of violence. These individuals acted in the interests of a united, cohesive Kenya. They identified themselves first and foremost as Kenyans, rather than members of an ethnic group competing for power and influence over their fellow citizens. Regrettably, these good men and women were too few to prevent the spiral into violence. Looking ahead to the future, I hope that all Kenyans, particularly leaders, will make every effort to nurture an environment where national unity and cohesion are the norm and not the exception.
Recent events around the world have shown that democracy is a universal value and aspiration, unbound by region, ethnicity, culture or religion. We set great store by elections as the way to build and bolster democracy. However, experience has shown that to ensure democracy and its many benefits, elections must be conducted with integrity, which means a process that ensures political equality, transparency and accountability. To achieve this, we need to strengthen the rule of law, and the institutions and norms of multi-party competition, so that elections enable society to structure and resolve conflict non-violently. The recent changes taking place in the judiciary in Kenya demonstrate that this welcome transformation has already begun.
The Kenyan crisis of 2008 was caused to a considerable extent by the failure of its electoral management body. The Electoral Commission of Kenya failed to deliver credible elections and legitimate results. Fundamentally the ECK did not enjoy the trust of the Kenyan people. The result was unprecedented post-election violence with 1,300 people killed and over 600,000 displaced. We must prevent this failure and tragedy from ever being repeated.
The National Accord of 2008 has been held together by the will of Kenyans and the support of friends around the world. Since then, there have been a number of political and institutional achievements including, most significantly, the promulgation of the new constitution in August 2010. Kenya now has a progressive legal framework that underpins a social contract between the governed and those who govern them. Much suffering was endured to bring this about, and concerted effort and commitment are now needed to breathe life into a document Kenyans struggled so long for. It was born out of the violence of 2008 that took Kenya to the brink. While some of the wounds of 2008 remain unhealed, Kenyans have shown courage and perseverance in the need to overcome various challenges and get on with life.
Another election looms in 2013 and the same courage and strength is needed to avoid a repeat of the violence that inflicted so much damage and pain on Kenya four years ago.
When elections are credible, free and fair, they can help promote democracy, security, human rights and the rule of law. They provide citizens with a say in the decisions that affect them and governments with a legitimate authority to govern. But when elections are flawed, as we have seen in a number of countries, they can trigger political instability and even violence.
The choices Kenya’s current leaders make with regard to the institutional infrastructure for conducting next year’s election has a bearing on Kenya’s future peace and stability. The choices Kenyans make at the ballot box when they elect representatives to a variety of new offices, as defined by the new constitution, will decide the fate of a generation or more.
There is little room for mistakes on the part of the leadership. Attempts to manipulate institutions that are key to Kenya’s transition will undermine public confidence at a crucial time, and increase tensions and instability. More than ever before, public service, integrity, and accountability to the people should inform the decisions of Kenyan leaders as they manage this transition.
While leadership and integrity are first and foremost political challenges, they cannot be resolved by politicians alone. Civil society, religious leaders, the media and business community, must all take up the challenge of pushing governments towards actions and behavior that improves electoral integrity and entrenches democratic practice.
I am therefore pleased and encouraged to see Kenyans taking ownership of their destiny through projects aimed at educating Kenyans about their rights and choices as they approach the next election. There is a huge amount at stake but I hope, and believe, Kenya will rise to the challenge.
By Kofi A. Annan.