Joint Editorial of Kenyan Media Houses
Tonight, the Kenyan nation stands on the precipice, following another day of mayhem across several counties.
The writing is clearly on the wall, that unless reason prevails, we could all very well tumble down into a dark and dangerous abyss. We take pride in the fact that Kenya has largely been an island of peace since its independence 60 years ago. But it is delusional to imagine that we can never descend into the chaos, anarchy and civil strife that has afflicted many countries in the wider Eastern African region.
The cataclysmic events of the 2007 post-election violence served as a stark reminder that we are not immune to the strife that has at different times nearly destroyed Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Somali, Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Never should we imagine that we can never tip over into full-scale genocide or civil war. That is why we must all step back and take a long, hard look at ourselves as we contemplate the possible consequences of the ongoing anti-government protests called by the opposition over the high cost of living and myriad other grievances.
President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga, in particular, owe it to themselves and to the people of Kenya to consider if they want any more blood on their individual hands. They have to acknowledge that the fire of self-destruction has been lit, and they bear the greatest responsibility of putting out the flames before they spread out of control.
This is not about a blame game or continuing political contestation, but about the simple acknowledgement that Kenya cold burn unless the voices of reason prevail. Previous efforts at dialogue, including formation of a bipartisan Parliamentary Committee have floundered, but it is not too late to try again. It can happen if our leaders put pride and ego aside.
They have to abandon hardline positions and the reckless and irresponsible zero-sum games by which they seek to attain, or to hold on to power. They have to recognise that the welfare, peace and security of their constituents is far more important than either of them.
Tonight, as the media fraternity in Kenya, we are making a call for peace. But it cannot be sterile peace for the sake of peace, but one founded on the fundamental principles so well encapsulated in our National Anthem: Justice be our Shield and Defender. Too often, we have sought and preached peace without addressing the underlying causes of our perpetual conflicts.
Temporary accommodations of ‘handshakes’ and power-sharing deals have served in the past to still the waters, but not deflect the coming storms. We therefore need a respite from conflicts on our streets so that we can give attention to an all-encompassing national dialogue that will go beyond the narrow confines of negotiations between the political classes.
We believe that such dialogue must entail certain core principles. One is that the constitutional freedoms of expression, assembly, processions, demonstrations and picketing cannot be curtailed under any circumstances, not even under the guise of preserving law and order or protecting the government in power.
Any forceful dispersal of those merely exercising hard-won constitutional rights and unjustified use of lethal force, signal a dangerous regression to the dark days of the police state. Similarly, it must be stressed that those out to exercise their constitutional rights must only do so within the confines of the law.
When protesters employ violence, destroy property or disturb the rights of others to peace and free movement, they must expect to face the consequences. The government security agencies must also be reminded that they are established to serve Kenyans, rather than to serve the political need of any government that may for the moment be in power.
Above all, we must reject extremism from all sides. Those in government must be cautioned against the arrogance of power, and the presumption that they are in office eternally and will never be called to account.
Those on the other sides must acknowledge that there is a government in place, elected on a platform by which it must be given time and space to deliver on. Or fail, and face wrath of voters next time around.
At the end of the day, we all live in one nation, sailing on the same boat. If it sinks, we will all go down with it.
None will be spared.