GUEST COLUMN
Volume 16 Number 2
Kenya Offers Hope Again
01 April 2003

Francis Kimani is a Nairobi-based lawyer.

Kenya has given hope to the entire African continent. In 1963, Kenya surprised the world. Its founding father, the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, invited people of all races to help build the young nation. There had been fears that the white community would be asked to leave the country soon after independence. Mzee Kenyatta asked the white community (or the settlers as they were commonly called) to forgive him for any wrongs he may have done. He also told them he had forgiven them. That act of forgiveness guaranteed the country the stability it so badly needed. Many white farmers decided to stay. They produced enough food for the country while Kenyatta concentrated on running the government.

SMOOTH TRANSITION

In December 2002, Kenya made history again. Democratic elections took place in a peaceful atmosphere. The Kenya African National Union (KANU), the party that had been in power since independence, lost the elections, as did the former president’s preferred candidate. The joy that this country wants to share with the rest of the world is that the transition was smooth and peaceful. Despite there being no clear method of handing over power, the whole affair was a success.

Many individuals and organizations contributed to this. One organization that deserves special mention is Initiatives of Change (IC), which initiated the Clean Election Campaign (CEC) some seven years ago. Through its highly challenging leaflets the CEC became the most powerful weapon in challenging Kenyans to take responsibility for their nation. I had the privilege of working with this campaign.

The 2002 elections were the second in which the Clean Elections Campaign was involved. The campaign succeeded in greatly reducing election rigging. Loopholes witnessed in the 1997 elections were sealed. This was done by fighting to have the votes counted at the polling stations, rather than moving the ballot boxes, which would have increased the opportunity for them to be interfered with.

The Clean Elections Campaign leaflet got special mention from several media houses. About two weeks before the elections I was at a bus stop in Naivasha town and decided to find out how an ordinary Kenyan would react to the leaflet. I called several hawkers and gave them each a leaflet. When they had read it they asked if I had more. I had 6,000 in the car. The hawkers took them and in about 40 minutes the leaflets were everywhere in town. Signed pledge forms in support of the campaign are still coming in from Naivasha, most of them by post. In a country where people don’t easily sign documents, receiving signed pledge forms is a true sign of commitment.

The IC team managed to reach every region of the country. The network with religious groups is very strong, and many a sermon was based on the leaflet. I noticed that the IC team had the skill of passing on the idea of clean elections in the most strong and convincing manner. I still remember the excitement of a congregation of about 3,000 at the Christ the King Cathedral, Nakuru, when Joseph Karanja, one of the CEC organizers, talked to them for ten minutes. The congregation left fully convinced that they could change things in Kenya.

One great lesson I learned from IC during the campaign is that one has to know what other ideologies are being offered to the public by political parties. The timing when IC applied the last kick was well calculated. The two weeks before the elections were the period when the CEC campaign was very intense. This was the time when most of the political parties were also very active. Messages that would have jeopardized fair elections were neutralized by the Clean Elections Campaign.

There is no doubt the 2002 elections in Kenya were the best to date. They were incident-free.

It is amazing to see how the Clean Kenya Campaign - also initiated by IC - is taking root in Kenya since the elections. The campaign has asked Kenyans to give a mighty shout when acts of corruption occur. It is now common for members of the public to force police officers to return bribes. Recent press reports also indicate that Kenyans have responded to the campaign. Kenyans are looking to the advocates of the CEC to point out the next bridge to be crossed.

CLEAN AFRICA CAMPAIGN

The new government in Kenya is aware of the campaign. The country, and Africa in general, needs it badly. I hope that the Clean Kenya Campaign will be a well-supported, on-going activity.

The campaign has come of age and this cannot be ignored. Kenya must now export her experience to other African countries. I invite people of goodwill from all over the world to help in supporting the Clean Africa Campaign. If it can happen in Kenya why not in the entire continent?


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