Monday March 11 2013

Uhuru Kenyatta can erase the two-tiered citizenship

By Muniini K. Mulera

Dear Tingasiga:
Kenyans have delivered. They have redeemed their country’s tattered image. They have renewed our confidence that Africans are able to do the right thing and to abide by the rules we have written ourselves.
Above all, Kenyans have not let down those who lost their lives in the horrific bloodbath that followed the 2007 presidential election. So I join other friends of Kenya in congratulating our brothers and sisters on their great achievement last week.

Millions of Kenyans are delighted with the choice of Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta as their fourth president. No doubt, millions of other Kenyans are disappointed that Raila Amolo Odinga will not crown his decades of struggle with tenure in the State House.

History has replayed itself. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Raila’s father, could have become Kenya’s first prime minister and president. He declined the opportunity, offered to him by the departing British, in deference to the incarcerated Jomo Kenyatta, Uhuru’s father. What followed was a tragic antagonism between the two freedom fighters, fuelled by irreconcilably different visions for Kenya.
Fifty years later, Oginga’s son could have become president. He lost the opportunity to Kenyatta’s son, not out of deference to the younger man, but because of the cruelty of democracy. There are some who might have felt that in this decades old family feud, it was the Ogingas’ turn at the trough. However, to use north American lingo, democracy sucks.
Where people allow democracy to work unhindered, the outcome is often shocking. However, it is always right. Uhuru Kenyatta had a better game plan. He won the election. At least that is what our independent sources in Kenya have told us over the last few days. Evidently, the election was as free and fair as these things go.

Understandably Odinga and his team will take a while to accept that fact. Yet democracy does not allow us to shift goalposts mid-play. So whereas it is his right to seek legal nullification of the results, our view is that Raila and his coalition ought to accept the verdict of their compatriots.
It is not the end of the world for Raila and Musyoka. Five years is a short period. They will have a chance to try again.
For his part, Uhuru Kenyatta has an opportunity to do better than all his predecessors by entrenching the democratic culture that Kenyans have clearly embraced in recent years. Better still he can become a great leader by making it his mission to uplift the standards of living of millions of Kenyans who have spent the last 50 years on the periphery of citizenship.

Uhuru Kenyatta can begin to erase the two-tiered citizenship that has defined his country, and most of Africa, since independence. Whereas the visitor to Nairobi is invariably impressed by the its excellent facilities that cater to the well-heeled, one is shocked by the filth and evident poverty in the city’s sprawling slums two streets away from the city centre. One is even more shocked by a visit to the outlying communities, not too far from Nairobi.

My wife and I, along with two Kenyan friends, visited the Central Provincial General Hospital at Nyeri in January 2009. What we encountered was an overcrowded, severely understaffed and under-equipped facility that served a region whose son, Mwai Kibaki, was the incumbent president of Kenya.
The neonatal intensive care unit, if we can call it that, had 42 sick babies, several of them sharing tiny cots, under the watch of a single nurse. It was a set-up that invited immediate closure, for it was dangerous trap for the tiny citizens.

When I asked the senior hospital administrator who was showing us around whether President Kibaki was aware of the substandard state of the hospital, she stopped in her tracks, eyed me for a while, shook her head and moved on without comment. The Gikuyu woman had spoken. I understood.
Yet the Nairobi Hospital, Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital and the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi offered state of the art facilities that would have pleased the WHO’s inspectors. Same old African story - two nations under one flag.

One hopes that Kenyatta will institute programs that will reward all Kenyans with their rights of citizenship. To paraphrase the great Martin Luther King Jr., let justice ring from the plains of Mombasa to the peaks of Kirinyaga. Let justice ring from the depth of the Rift Valley to the shores of Nyanza. Let justice ring in the villages of Machakos and the towns of Kiambu.

Then and only then will the words of the third stanza of Kenya’s beautiful national anthem ring true: “Let all with one accord, In common bond united, Build this our nation together, And the glory of Kenya, The fruit of our labour, Fill every heart with thanksgiving.”

If Kenyatta can be president of all 43 million Kenyans, he may finally give his countrymen good reason to stand up with pride and, facing Mount Kenya, shout in unison that Uhuru is here at last.

Dr Mulera is a Daily Monitor
columnist based in Canada.