Address by H.E. Raila A. Odinga, E.G.H at the Fourth Public Benefit Organisation Leader's Summit - Nairobi

The Organising Committee.

Your Excellencies.

Comrades and Friends

I am delighted to be here and sincerely thank the organisers for the invitation to be part of this great event, the Public Benefits Organisations’ Leaders’ Summit, which is now in its fourth edition. Participating in this Summit accords me the opportunity to reconnect with comrades and friends.

Many of you gathered here and I have shared trenches in our long struggle to rid this country of repression, one-party dictatorship, and unaccountable leadership; and usher in a progressive national constitution and democratic governance.

Many of you have been part of our collective engagement in pursuit of the righting of the past wrongs. We should all be proud that our Constitution has a very visible imprimatur of organisations of the Civil Society. I am happy to have been part of those efforts with you.

I also want to note that this is the first gathering of its kind that I am addressing on the Kenyan soil since President Uhuru Kenyatta and I unveiled the Building Bridges to a New Kenya Initiative, popularly known as The Handshake.

In the “handshake,” many expected many things including a coalition (nusu mkate) government.  I hasten to say that their expectations were valid but they missed the point. There are also those who have correctly recognized theBuilding Bridges Initiative as a bold step towards reconciliation. However, many in this category see it as reconciliation between President Kenyatta and myself. These, too, have missed the point. Ours is an initiative geared towards reconciling Kenya with itself; reconciling our dark past with the bright future we all aspire to; reconciling our state of extreme poverty in the midst of so much wealth in the hands of a few; reconciling the State and non-state actors.

Comrades and Friends!

“Reconciliation” is not just a word - it is a process. Reconciliation requires a change of culture and this in turn requires positive action. Recognition of our past mistakes and transgressions is a very important step in that process. Willingness to own and confront those aberrations is another critical step. Our National Reconciliation is built on three pillars: understanding the past relationships, understanding the effects of the past injustices andretracing our steps to right the wrongs committed by our forefathers and by those committed by us, their heirs

One of our most celebrated national heroes, Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, or JM as he has been immortalized, recognized this challenge just a few years into our national independence when he penned the following verse:

It takes more than a national anthem

However stirring

A national flag

However beautiful

A national court of arms

However distinctive

To make a Nation

               I dare speculate that had JM lived in the post-2010 Kenya, he would have added “A New Constitution, however progressive.” 

               Our collective national experience at and between two general elections under the new Constitution has taught us that a progressive constitution is a necessary but not sufficient condition on its own to usher in and nurture national ethos, individual integrity, social justice, democracy and good governance. It has not delivered national cohesion. Nor has it led to the full enjoyment of the right to health, shelter or clean environment. And as we all recognize, it has not ended the culture of divisive elections.

               While I know and believe that sections of the civil society like the one gathered here remain committed to the concept and aspiration of justice-driven reconciliation, I equally observe that reconciliation has become a nebulous and meaningless term used to perpetuate economic inequalities, social marginalization and divisive elections.

In initiating the Building Bridges Initiative as our instrument for reconciliation, we are saying with finality that never again should it ever happen in this country that the avenues to electoral justice and peaceful change are blocked through force and intimidation; gerrymandering; or computer algorithms.

We are not ignorant of the fact that there are still some among us who misguidedly believe they can turn back the clock of history and subvert the cause of peace, social justice and prosperity by clinging to the shibboleths that have been proved to spell nothing but disaster for our country and our people.We remain optimistic that they, too, will be blessed with sufficient reason to realise that history will not be denied and that the new Kenyan society cannot, and will not, be created by reproducing the repugnant past, however refined or enticingly repackaged.

One of the celebrated pillars of our Constitution is devolution. In the five short years of its implementation, devolution has proved that when people are sufficiently empowered and resourced at local level, they perform near miracles in transforming their lives. This is known as the principle of Subsidiarity.  Subsidiarity holds that such functions of government should be performed at the lowest level possible, as long as they can be performed adequately. It requires that decisions are made by the people closest and most affected by the issues and concerns of the community. It is only when they cannot, that higher levels of government must intervene.

Rather than sending ‘development experts’ from Nairobi to manage projects and provide services in Sericho in Isiolo or Lokichar in Turkana or Mulot in Narok, we must tap into the local knowledge and experiences of local communities and ensure they identify their immediate needs and challenges and form the first line of intervention in addressing those needs and challenges. This was the reason why after more than a decade of constitutional discourse, Kenyans resolved that power, authority and resources had to be devolved.

Turning to the theme of this discourse – Bridging the Gap between the Civil Society and the State – I have already observed that conditions are less than optimal for national and devolved governments to provide services that are direly required across the length and breadth of our country. Budgetary constrains, harsh ecological conditions and other socio-cultural factors have led to gaps in the State being capable of administering to the needs of our people in the best manner. When large numbers of people suffer from social exclusion, low literacy, poor health, serious poverty, etc., PBOs have come in handy with targeted micro interventions. Predictably, when the civil society steps in to complement what the national or sub national government should have done, they are commended and referred to a “partners in progress.”

But there are often problems on the government side. Many in government feel too insecure to accept criticism and dissent from CSOs with which they have formed partnerships for service. Largely, the State has treated CSOs with hostility, suspicion or indifference. This is manifested in the fact that PBOs are regulated by the Ministry of Interior, signifying that they are considered more as a security threat. For those familiar with the biblical story of the man attacked by thugs on the highway from Jerusalem to Jericho, PBOs are often commended by the State when they act the “Good Samaritan” and condemned as security risk when they ask what the State is doing to rid the highway of criminals.

I strongly believe it is time to reconcile the State and PBOs. We look really bad among civilized nations when an enabling legislation like PBO Act’s commencement cannot be gazetted six years after its enactment.

The dividend of that reconciliatory handshake to all the people of Kenya will and must be measured by the happiness and welfare of all the people of our country, who will have torn down the inhuman ethnic, religious and sexist walls that divide them; who will walk into polling booths assured that their votes will be counted and will count; who will rise early to tend their fields or troop to factories in the knowledge that they will get just rewards for their labour; who will proudly see themselves as Kenyans first and any other grouping after; who will be custodians of our public resources and shame and punish looters of those resources.

We charge forward in the knowledge that evil has never triumphed over good; or tyranny prevailed over freedom; or selfishness over solidarity. We know that as she battles to remake herself, to rediscover her dream, Kenya will be like a microcosm of the new world that is striving to be born – a world our founding fathers dreamt of more than sixty years ago. But a world that has continually eluded us.

This must be a world defined by democracy and respect for human rights; a world where one’s surname does not determine one’s opportunities; a world where justice is our shield and defender; a world freed from the horrors of poverty, hunger, deprivation and ignorance; relieved of the threat and the scourge of ethnic conflicts and unburdened of the great tragedy of millions forced to become refugees in their own country.

We owe it to the future generation of Kenyans that we devote what remains of our lives to the use of our country's chequered and painful experience to demonstrate, in action, that the normal condition for true nationhood is democracy, social justice, peace, inclusivity, non-sexism, shared prosperity for everybody, a healthy environment and equality and solidarity among all our people. A better Kenya is possible. I have faith that it is achievable. Do you?

I thank you sincerely for your audience.

Hon. Chris Karani

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