Political parties and coalitions in the race to take over the reins of power in Kenya have all unveiled their manifestos and road maps. Priorities for all major parties run from development and economic growth to education and health. But the question to ask is whether or not Kenya will have an enabling environment for these noble ideas to be realised. What are the risks and assumptions the Eagle, Amani, Jubilee and Cord alliances foresee as frontrunners in the forthcoming polls?
A look at the manifestos show that political parties have taken development as a technical process - focusing on delivering tangible benefits such as creation of employment or building up formal structures such as well-equipped health centres. However, to achieve lasting change there needs to be more work to build better State-society relations from the bottom up. This could involve empowering people to participate in decision-making so that employment is even and all services provided in an open and accountable manner.
One of the main issues I wish to flag out if we are to attain development and economic growth is the issue of peace and security. Kenya is faced with external threats in form of terrorist's groups - Al Shabaab as well as internal discords where several areas including Coast, Nairobi, Nyanza and Rift Valley have been flagged out as potential hotspots in the lead up to the elections. Unresolved historical injustices also portend violence to magnitudes that may easily erode any economic gains any government may set out to achieve.
Most of the manifestos unveiled did not tackle issues around conflict and fragility of Kenya communities. Recent statistics from the UN point out that 60 percent of the undernourished, 61 percent of the impoverished, 65 percent of people without access to safe water and 70 percent of infant deaths occur in fragile or conflict-affected countries'. The point is that, no low income conflict affected or fragile State has ever achieved development.
So all those seeking to lead Kenya must prioritize building peace and security across the country if they are to achieve any of their goals and objectives
The rationale for focusing on peace and security stems from our past experience. In 2007/8, the economic growth rate stood at 7pc but dropped to a paltry 0.7pc within the two months of turmoil. Peace and security contributes to the protection of human rights and economic development and no leader should be delighted when hell breaks loose just because he/she has not won in elections.
Since the introduction of multi-party democracy in late 80s and early 90s, conflict-affected states in Africa have not enjoyed the development progress that most of the rest of the world has. Somalia has remained the weak link in East and Central Africa since the deposition of Mohamed Siad Barre in 80s. Today, terrorist group Al Shabaab poses threats not just to Somali's but to Kenyans, Ugandans, Ethiopians and to all those in the East and Horn of Africa.
It is important to remember that at the time of independence in 1960, Somalia was touted in the West as the model of a democracy in Africa. However, clanism and extended family loyalties and conflicts were social problems the civilian government failed to eradicate and eventually succumbed to itself.
At the National level, the new National and County Governments must espouse the principles of Conflict sensitivity for development.
Conflicts generally revolve around competition for power and resources. Elections and ascension to power of new leaders under the new election may challenge and change existing power relations, and affect dynamics of peace and conflict.
It is incumbent upon all those who will assume power to conflict sensitive approach including deliberately seeking to understand the context they will be leading in especially the conflict dynamics
Conflict sensitivity is sometimes associated with the 'politicisation' of leadership and representation. Leadership and representation is always political especially when it comes to delivery of services because it tends creates winners and losers. A good leader therefore should take into account these politics with an aim of reducing rather than increases injustice and exclusion.
Some of the practical ways our leaders come March 4th can use to putt conflict sensitivity into practice include: continuous consultation with local stakeholders, ensuring their security concerns are taken into account, ensuring reconstruction and development projects benefit different regions and groups equally, operating in a way that supports the local economy and provides employment opportunities to local people.
While some political parties have made commitments to peace and security, there is some way to go to translate this into changes in practice. This is particularly evident from our past leaders who have tended to amass wealth for themselves and their cronies under the notion that 'it is our turn to eat.' A new Kenya must not under develop one area at the expense of the other creating societal tensions that divide Kenyans; not really on tribal lines but on the basis of the haves and the have-nots.
Conflict sensitivity is relevant for all actors operating in conflict-affected contexts, and national and county governments are not an exception. One of the key challenges is to understand the scope for different sorts of actors to alter their approach. This means understanding the entry-points and opportunities to institutionalize conflict-sensitive approaches within the agency concerned.
Both National and County Governments must work hand in hand to ensure people's security, improving access to justice, increasing participation in decision-making and putting in place fairer, more responsive and accountable governance from March 2013 onwards is attained.
(The Writer is the Media and Peace Coordinator, Peace Initiative Kenya, International Rescue Committee)
BY JOHN HARRINGTON NDETA