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Shared Societies Approach in Kenya


Member of the Shared Societies Project Expert Advisory Panel, the Kenyan lawyer and academic, Yash Pal Ghai, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Hong-Kong and an expert when it comes to constitutional law and human rights.

With a life-time of study, scholarship, and experience, Ghai reports on past and current events regarding the themes of diversity and peace in his new book entitled Ethnicity, Nationhood, and Pluralism: Kenyan Perspectives.

This book marks the culmination of ten years of research and assessment of national sentiments on the acceptance of various cultural groups in Kenya. All of this occurs within the context of the country’s new constitutional commitment to becoming an inclusive society. An intriguing comparison and analysis of Canada is made in order to demonstrate 1) that achieving a pluralistic society is possible, and 2) how a country can bring diverse communities together to ultimately create a peaceful and prosperous society. According to Ghai, “a commitment to pluralism requires systematic effort across all sectors of society” and “there is no one-size-fits-all approach to pluralism.” With all of this in mind, he demonstrates that the 2010 constitution is an indicator that Kenya wants to embrace meaningful social inclusion, however it needs to do more.

Educated at Oxford and Harvard, Yash Ghai, has served as an advocate of the High Court of Tanzania. His primary interests now are constitutions arising out of conflict and political and constitutional issues of autonomy in the context of China. Some of his principal writings have been published in non-legal journals. He has been consulted on constitutional matters by a number of countries, including Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Seychelles, Afghanistan, Maldives, Cambodia, and East Timor. He chaired Kenya’s constitutional review from 2001-04 and facilitated various consultations in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, and advised the Tibetan Government in Exile. In September 2006, he became UN Special Representative for Human Rights to Cambodia.

The Project values Professor Ghai’s support and wise counsel, as these issues are critical in building Shared Societies

A comic to inspire young Kenyans building a peaceful future

MDG : Comic book in Nairolbi, Kenya

In The Shared Societies Project Blog, we have talked many times about Kenya and the lessons learned for the latest presidential elections after the 2007 post-electoral violence. The Kenyan civil society made a great effort to avoid the tribal rivalries, promoting initiatives to avoid the hate speech and build a shared and peaceful future. This time, we would like to remark on a very powerful tool that is giving an example of citizenship to 5 million Kenyan youths: a comic.

The comic, called Shujaaz, is distributed monthly free through the Daily Nation newspaper. It was born in 2010, after the nationwide reflection that followed the chaos of violence. It is intended to be at the same time an entertainment product and an educational guide for the young Kenyans, giving them tips on everything: from planting maize seeds to nutrition and the role they can play in society, as this article in The Guardian tells.

In fact, Shujaaz means “heroes” in Sheng, the language that the comic uses. This also gives another key about its intentions: to transmit a message of national unity beyond tribal rivalries. Because Sheng, a brash mix of Swahili and English, is one of the few things that can be shared by all the Kenyans, specially the young ones. Against some criticism from academics, government officials and older people, many initiatives have been launched to promote Sheng as unifying factor. For example, Tukuve, a successful initiative launched to ensure that the latest elections were peaceful and free, encouraged the use of the language.

Shujaaz also shows its intention to promote unity by never mentioning specific locations or tribes, even when they are treating topics of conflicts between tribes. It describes problems in which the characters assume a committed attitude. The lead role is DJ B, a big-haired pirate radio star and school dropout who tries to act with good civil behaviour.

Well Told Story, the creators of the comic (that has funds from the UK Department for International Development, Kenyan mobile giant Safaricom, or USAid), have a clear vision on how it can help to make Kenya a shared society: “We want those innovators to be the ones to act… We need to use these wonderful interactive media to get people involved in the conversation. We think the more people we are talking to, the more people we are bringing into awareness, the more innovators we are enabling to take action… It’s just a numbers game.”

Photo: Riccardo Gangale/USAid

Kenyatta sworn in as Kenyan president, promises to work for unity


Tens of thousands crowded into the Moi Sports Complex in Kasarani, Kenya and hundreds of thousands more tuned in to televisions and radios on April 9 to witness Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidential inauguration.

Kenyatta was chosen as Kenya’s fourth president in a highly anticipated and contested election in March, garnering the majority vote by a mere .07%, according to an article by the Associated Press (AP).

With the completion of his presidential oath—taken upon the Bible of his father, the first president of Kenya—Kenyatta faces a variety of expectations from his fellow Kenyans and the rest of the world.

“I assure you again that under my leadership, Kenya will strive to uphold our international obligations, so long as these are founded on the well-established principles of mutual respect and reciprocity,” Kenyatta remarked in his inauguration speech.

“We expect a lot from them [Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto] due to the pledges they made in their manifesto,” said supporter Elija Toroitich in an article from Al Jazeera.

A desire for peace was an overwhelming theme during the election, one that has carried over to Kenyatta’s tenure. “Kenyatta should put reconciliation as his priority. He must make sure we come as one nation,” said Ndungu Kariuki, a 35-year-old engineer who was at the ceremony, quoted to the AP.

Among the promises he mentioned in his inauguration speech was a commitment to creating a Shared Society. “Indeed, national unity will only be possible if we deal decisively with some of the issues that continue to hinder our progress,” Kenyatta stated.

He continued, detailing a commitment to including diverse actors in decision making processes and representing the needs of all:

“[National unity] will be confirmed when the rights of all citizens are protected through legislation that upholds the spirit of our constitution. When women and young people are both seen and heard at the decision-making table, at national as well as devolved levels of government. When all communities in Kenya are confident that they have a Government that listens to and addresses their needs.”

Whether this goal will be acted upon and realized is the question on the minds of many around the world. Kenyatta is accused of crimes against humanity. He is scheduled to go on trial before the International Criminal Court later this year for his role in the conflict that left 1,200 dead following the 2007 elections.

Photo: Associated Press


“We as kenyans have learned something from the post-electoral violence”


In the Shared Societies Project blog we have looked very carefully at the recent Kenya presidential elections, five years after the last content in 2007 left more than 1,000 people killed in political and tribal violence. We analyzed the political messages of integration launched during the presidential debate, and also the results of the elections and its implications on the future of Kenya. The first conclusions are inspiring: the country learned from its mistakes. Politicians and civil organisations made a great effort to fight against tribal messages on the campaign and violence was avoided.

In the same line, Mwangi S. Kimenyi have analyzed for The Brookings Institutions this kenyan elections. Mr. Kimenyi is the senior fellow and director of the Africa Growth Initiative, and also the founding executive director of the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis. In his intervention, he seemed optimistic about the country’s future: “The post-election violence told a us a good thing. I mean, it was a bad thing, but we as kenyans have been able to learn something from that, he have been able to fast-track the reforms.”

You can watch the complete Mr. Kimenyi’s intervention here:

Kenya elects his new President to challenge the shadow of tribal violence

Kenyatta supporters

Kenya has faced its most important general elections in the country’s 50 years of history. Five years have passed since the last content, with more than 1,000 people killed in political and tribal violence after the presidential election. In December 2007, the votes gave 47% percent to re-election candidate Mwai Kibaki against the 44% of opposition leader Raila Odinga. The accusations of election fraud, partially supported by international observers, made Odinga partisans to take the streets and protest. Police repression raised a cycle of months of violence that ended with a national agreement that made Kibaki President and Odinga Prime Minister.

Now, the new presidential elections have been celebrated with a great effort for peace. Last saturday, Uhuru Kenyatta was officially declared the winner although his great rival, Odinga, who was standing for his third elections. Kenyatta won by a narrow margin: 50.07% of the votes, the absolut majority that is needed to avoid a second ballot. No violence has been reported.

Odinga has alleged fraud again. But, this time, he has remarked that the battle will be limited to the supreme court. And he specifically urged his supporters to remain peacefully despite losing. “Any violence now will destroy this nation forever”, he said. Kenyatta speaked in the same line: “Despite the misgivings of many in the world, we have demonstrated a level of political maturity that surpassed expectation. We voted in peace, we upheld order and respect for the rule of law, and maintained the fabric of our society”. Even Barack Obama made a video to urge for peace before the elections.

As Kenyatta said, the country needs maturity to make a policy of shared societies. The messages for integration launched by the candidates are a great step, but there is still a long way to go. Tribal politics is a problem in Kenya. Deflecting the class tension by appealing to ethnic constituencies has been an usual and very dangerous strategy. It emerged in the mentioned post-electoral violence between two ethnic groups. The majority kikuyu (represented by Kibaki and now by Kenyatta) against the luo (represented by Odinga).

This time, kenyan society has joined the caution of candidates with rallies, concerts and online campaigns against violence. But this effort for security must evolve into a real integration politics. “Kenyatta will fail if he cannot unite the whole country behind him”, says Binyavanga Wainaina on The Guardian. And to end with tribalism Kenya needs good political and economic practices. Because when land and resources are scarce and the state is in charge to share them out, it seems logical that any social group wants to see his own representatives in power to guarantee their share.

Musalia Mudavadi, the third candidate, described clearly this situation in Kenya’s first national debate, in which the need of a shared society was the main theme: “The way that we have practiced our politics is that we have created a sense of insecurity amongst communities. We have reached a stage where we are telling communities unless you’re herded into one corner then your interests are not properly taken care of.”

In the same debate, Kenyatta identified the problem: “Tribalism is cancer that has afflicted this country for a very long time and has been a source of conflict, has been a source of death, has been a source of destruction of property.” Now as President he will have to demonstrate that his concern was deep. Furthermore, he is facing charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC), which accuses him of encouraging post-electoral violence in 2007. This matter can handicap the foreign politics of Kenya. “The US, Britain and leading figures including Kofi Annan have already made clear that Kenyatta’s victory would not be welcome”, writes Simon Tisdall in The Guardian.

Photo: Simon Maina/AFP

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Need for a Shared Society was theme of Kenya’s first Presidential Debate


Millions of Kenyans tuned in to televisions, radios, and YouTube Monday night to watch the country’s first presidential debate. The eight candidates who are vying for the top spot in the highly anticipated and important election on March 4 yielded questions about topics such as education, healthcare, and justice. However, perhaps the most important question was the one which concerned tribalism, a major source of violent conflict in Kenya. Each candidate was asked for his/her position on the problem and how she/he intends to solve it.

Across all the answers of all eight candidates, a fairly universal theme arose: tribalism is a problem invented by leaders; therefore it is the role of the leader to amend it and create an inclusive society for all Kenyans.

Uhara Kenyatta of the TNA party described the seriousness of the problem of tribalism as such: “Tribalism is cancer that has afflicted this country for a very long time and has been a source of conflict, has been a source of death, has been a source of destruction of property.”

In further analyzing the issue, several of the candidates stressed the inherent equality of people, regardless of tribal affiliation. Paul Muite of the Safine Party said, “All of these 42 [ethnic] communities are human beings, with the same aspirations, the same needs.”

A majority voiced their opinions on the economic underpinnings of ethnic conflict. They believe that poverty leads to misperceptions which lead to the continuation of ethnic division. “Tribalism is a social and economic issue more about perceptions and also about how resources are distributed,” Martha Karau of the NARC Kenya party said. “In every ethnic community we have a section of the poor, in some areas more than in others, but there is no single ethnic community that does not have poor and desperate people.”

It is the leaders who foster ideas about ethnic divisions. Raila Odinga, the current Prime Minister of Kenya described ethnicity as “a disease of the elite.” Indeed, misperceptions about resources and economic gain are often deliberately perpetuated by leaders who prey upon their citizens’ desperation. “The way that we have practiced our politics is that we have created a sense of insecurity amongst communities,” said Musalia Mudavadi of the UDF party. “We have reached a stage where we are telling communities unless you’re herded into one corner then your interests are not properly taken care of.”

Many of the candidates argued that the actual implementation of the Kenyan Constitution is the key to solving tribalism. The Constitution was completed in 2010 and includes features such as a Bill of Rights and governmental devolution. Each of the candidates who raised the topic of the Constitution asserted that he/she would put it into practice. As Peter Kenneth of the Kenya National Congress (KNC) opined, it is critical to create an inclusive, equal, equitable society so that “never again will Kenyans feel they are not equal, never again will Kenyans feel that one side of the country is inferior to the other.”

The sentiment of a united Kenya is especially important as the election approaches. The election of 2007 sparked massive tribal violence in which approximately 1,200 people died. One of the candidates, Kenyatta, is under indictment of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in the violence. 14 million Kenyans are expected to take part in the elections.

Photo: Reuters

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