Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lessons we could learn from Australia.

I followed the 2007 Australian Federal Elections with a lot of interest. Firstly, because our country Kenya would be treading the same path in December 2007, just one month after the Australian elections and Secondly, The two elections had a few similarities which I would like outline.

The Howard government, facing a stiff challenge from the opposition Labour Party had built its campaign mainly on strong economic growth among other things. That sounded very similar to President’s Kibaki’s Party of National Unity campaign which was based on strong economic growth the country had experienced since his taking up power in 2002. Kevin Rudd and the Labour Party on the other hand persuaded the Australian electorates that they needed new leadership and his party also tackled more significant issues like Climate change that were held dearly by the Australian People, and issues more Australian’s felt were not tackled adequately by the Howard Government.

Back home, the opposition’s main selling points were new leadership and taking the corruption bull by its horns. Kibaki like the former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, had built a stronger Kenya and like In Australia, many Kenyans felt corruption was still an issue that had not been tackled significantly by the government; sadly this is where most of the similarities ended.

I watched John Howard’s conceding speech to party supporters with teary eyes. One, because I strongly admired his leadership and two because he ultimately decided to have the interests of Australia ride higher than his party’s or other personal interests, and in a way, I was looking forward to seeing a similar mature handing over of power, just to show the world that mature democracies were also found in Africa.

In his speech, Mr. Howard truly bequeathed his successor a "stronger and prouder and more prosperous" country than it was 11 years ago when he came to power. I recalled watching former President Moi’s speech when he was handing over to Kibaki and realized he could not utter such words to describe the state of the country. Then I thought maybe Kibaki could be bold enough to use such words since “he would leave a stronger, prouder and a more prosperous Kenya” than what he took over from Moi.

With the current state of affairs, assuming Kibaki stays to finish is five year term, what will he leave behind. If things don’t change, it will be a country divided among ethnic lines, a poorer reputation in the world, probably a weaker economy and a much wealthier clique of close selfish ‘friends’ among other things. When he retires he would wish someone turned the hands of time; probably that’s how retired President Moi is feeling; Right now he does not have the face to stand out and even call for Peace, if he had remained neutral, with his experience he would be mediating and visiting all parts of the country to advocate for peace. If Moi had taken time to ponder over Ruto’s advice of not being used to run petty PNU errands.

Then there was this passionate appeal to president Kibaki by 13 year old Terry Aching. The girl’s letter shows so much wisdom that if followed by our political leaders, we would not need high profile international mediators. The wisdom is plain simple; “could we please have the country’s future at heart”. Terry’s letter may not receive much attention though it has gone far and we are reading it around the world. If you grew up in the Nyayo era like me, then you would remember how it was official that the president loved children, Moi’s image did not show a lot of family but the strategist who worked on the children thing did a splendid job. We all knew the president loved children and if you were lucky enough to have enjoyed the free school milk, and then you would know what I’m talking about. Children don’t vote, perhaps that’s why the new strategists have never bothered to make build the Love Kids image.

This is Terry’s letter published in the online version of The Daily Nation of 21 January 2007.

Please talk to Opposition

Publication Date: 1/22/2008

Dear Mr. President,

I am a 13-year-old who has hopes and dreams of how the future Kenya should be like.

Like other youngsters in the country, I am amazed at how you and your fellow colleagues have handled the current situation.

Pride and selfish ambitions have come in the way of what would be the pride of Africa, the oasis of peace or even the next super power.

At the moment, you are old enough to be my great grand father and you already have achieved your dreams. I mean, you have been the President of Kenya for a whole term, but for me, I pray and yearn for a bright future. If the current situation is not resolved peacefully, it is me who will suffer the consequences.

I am calling upon you the President to dialogue with the Opposition for a solution.



Most probably in Response to Terry’s letter the President formed a high level committee chaired by the Vice President to LEAD the government in negotiations. I wonder what must be very pressing at statehouse that the president cannot lead the government in negotiations aimed at removing the country from the current crises. Over 600 people dead and thousands displaced from their homes. I think this is more important than reading speeches at Nyayo Stadium during the national celebrations.

In the good old times when Kibaki led the nations, the president had to cut short an official trip to Sudan in 2006 when a building collapsed in Nairobi. The President flew back to Nairobi and according to press reports, he did not even go to the statehouse to refresh, he drove directly to the scene. Who bewitched this man? He doesn’t care anymore or maybe he’s never cared at all.

David Okunyah

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