Kenya’s vexed cohesion and integration dilemma, that has been largely acknowledged to be the single most important threat to the country’s survival was the theme of intense debate at a forum held at JKUAT, Wednesday March 12, 2015 that brought together university students, scholars from diverse disciplines and officials of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission.
From the various viewpoints expressed by participants at the event dubbed, Cohesion Forum, it was apparent Kenya’s university students had a prominent role to play as change agents in the country’s cohesion and integration process. University students it emerged, had immense influence particularly at the grassroots, where they enjoyed immense esteem.
One of the speakers, Dr. Ludeki Chweya, Director General, Kenya School of Government, presented a political science standpoint, attributing Kenya’s beleaguered cohesion and integration path to the colonial regime that he said was responsible for establishing and strengthening of an arbitrary Kenyan state that lacked any valuable aspects of nationalism. The situation the former University of Nairobi don declared was worsened by the fact that ‘ethnicity and nationalism’ complimented one another but antagonized the state.
The colonial state according to Dr. Chweya was preoccupied in advancing the growth and empowerment of state institutions such as the military, judiciary, legislature and others ignoring the development of the attributes of nationalisms. These attributes include; the development and expansion of a unifying language, artifacts, national symbols and urbanization. At independence, the post colonial state preserved and continued to sustain the colonial status quo that neglected and overlooked the development of nationalism.
He said the ideologies of capitalism and democracy introduced in Western Europe as modes of production and politics were instrumental in nurturing nationalism in Europe. They enhanced industrialization, urbanization; that he said were both critical in the formation of the class identity that grew over the years to overshadow the European ethnic trait.
Dr. Chweya emphasized the need for Kenya to embark on a deliberate and purposeful approach to promote nationalism other than expecting its spontaneous rise. He said the 2007 post election violence marked for the first time the start of a decisive prospect for Kenya to promote nationalism. This was attained through the African Union mandated Eminent African Personalities led by Kofi Annan that brokered a peace accord under the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation.
The resulting National Accord paved the way for the establishment of a Coalition Government and a framework for far-reaching reforms to address the conflict’s root causes. Of particular interest according to Dr. Chweya was the recognition to address long-term issues and the root causes of the conflict, by means of constitutional, legal and institutional reform. Dr. Chweya says some of the long term issues that are currently receiving attention had been hindering the growth of nationalism.
But for X.N. Iraki, lack of a home grown economic model to guide Kenya’s economic development is largely to blame for the slow cohesion and integration process witnessed in the country. Dr. Iraki, a University of Nairobi economics don appeared to link economic development to cohesion and integration with countries that had adopted homegrown economic models, responsible for their marked economic growth likely to show substantial levels of patriotism, and solidarity among citizens.
To achieve higher economic growth, Dr. Iraki advocates for increased investment in research and innovation that he said currently stood at paltry 0.08 percent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product compared to an average 2.6 percent in industrialized countries. Through intensified research and innovation, Dr. Iraki said, Kenya would be able to record increased number of patents that currently stood at 166 novelties annually compared for example to Japan that generates 5,000 new patents yearly. This was central in the formation of new industrial enterprises critical in wealth creation, citing Japan’s Toyota Company with a workforce more than all teachers in Kenya. Dr Iraki says access of education to more citizens at all levels should be accelerated since educated people were likely to support nationalism.
Francis Ole Kaparo, Chairman of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission on his part placed blame on the country’s sluggish progression to nationalism to Kenya’s political elite who undertook their political mobilization based on their own ethnic identities. He castigated the country’s political elite who ‘simply traded using their fellow communities as merchandise offered on the political table’ and ‘the more numbers one brought to the table, the more political worth one enjoyed’. As traders, Ole Kaparo added politicians would not wish Kenya’s integration course to endure since he said they owned the country’s tribal society that guaranteed their influence.
Ole Kaparo, the former National Assembly speaker agreed with Dr. Chweya, saying the post colonial Kenya was a construct continuation of the colonial regime particularly obsessed with the promotion of green capitalism that deliberately denied development funding to over 70 percent arid and semiarid lands of the country. The policy he added had been responsible for the current unequal national development that had thus alienated large populations who hardly felt Kenyan.
Kenya he said had squandered two rare euphoric prospects presented at independence in 1963 and again in 2002 when the National Rainbow Coalition assumed power, but in both historic instances, the political elite quickly curved back to embrace ethnic nationalism.
He reminded Kenya’s University students and the entire youth in Kenya to avoid the route taken by their fathers in the last 50 years, responsible for the misery that had bedeviled Kenya. He instead appealed for the University youth to join him in the noble mission of the beginning of a new cohesive society. ‘As youth you have the power to transform Kenya to a nation since you are the majority, most energetic, uncorrupted segment of the population with the capacity to change the way you live. As university students it is your duty to understand how society is organized,’ he concluded.
Welcoming the guests, Vice Chancellor Prof. Mabel Imbuga urged students to be creative and innovative as a way of fostering Kenya’s integration agenda. He assured Ole Kaparo, the University was proactive in cementing coexistent among its diverse community, and assured him of JKUAT’s readiness to support his commission’s programmes