13 February 2013

Kenya: Peace Key to Development


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 realized. What are the risks and assumptions the Eagle, Amani, Jubilee and Cord alliances foresee as front runners 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 is peace and security. Kenya is faced with external threats in form of terrorist's groups--al shabaab-- as well as internal discords. 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% of infant deaths occur in fragile or conflict-affected countries'. The point is that, there is 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 7% but dropped to a paltry 0.7% within the two months of turmoil.

Since the introduction of multi-party democracy in late 80's and early 90's, 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. Today, Al shabaab poses a threat to the whole region not just Somalia.

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.

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 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.

Writer is the Media and Peace Coordinator, at the Peace Initiative Kenya, International Rescue Committee

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