The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Uhuru's Kisumu Visit Helps Unite Kenyans

President Uhuru Kenyatta's presence at the funeral of legendary teacher's union leader Okuta Osiany on Friday was the culmination of a friendship that was solidified during the President's time as Finance Minister. The close nature of this friendship was displayed even more recently as Kenyatta visited Osiany in hospital during his illness.

However, I strongly feel that the President's decision to set aside a day to join Osiany's family and friends, and the teaching fraternity goes beyond the comfort and encouragement he went to offer.

The diary of a Kenyan President straddles between unavoidable official engagements and those that enable the President to either reinforce a policy or entrench a political position. Our history is filled with numerous opportunities that the former presidents have had to unite, strengthen, chastise or rebuke; opportunities that they have failed to utilise and whose consequences have been lasting.

The President's visit and remarks in Kisumu County are a statement to a region which voted overwhelmingly in favour of his leading competitor in the 2013 General Elections that he is willing to work with them and all Kenyans. Growing up, my mother told us a story that has remained ingrained and possibly influenced a lot of my political choices in the past.

At 11 years of age, my mother, a curious primary school girl in Kisumu town, attended the biggest event yet: President Jomo Kenyatta's opening of the new Russian sponsored hospital. This was in 1969, a time when President Kenyatta's relationship with his former Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had deteriorated significantly.

Following a stand-off between the two leaders, the enraged President left the event in an incident which saw his entourage stoned and the police fire at the crowd, fatally injuring numerous Kenyans and injuring others.

My mother vividly recalled having worn a new pair shoes and losing one in the melee. The critical message she passed on to us is that "we would not be in this world" if her desperate, life-saving run was stopped by a bullet. This was President Jomo Kenyatta's last visit to the town.

That story was my introduction to the harsh realities of Kenyan politics. I had only just started to grapple with the question of nationhood when renowned Foreign Affairs minister Dr. Robert Ouko was brutally murdered. I was 11 years old.

The sentiments I heard voiced after his death offered clear evidence that the pain of the events that had taken place in Kisumu two decades earlier was still fresh in the consciousness of many.

A lot has been written about the heated and even volatile competitive politics between the larger Nyanza region and the Central Kenya region. Many have tried to rewrite this story even using it as focal point for numerous problems in the country.

44 years after my mother lost her shoe, 23 years after Ouko's shocking death, we have a generation of Kenyans who have very little information and possibly regard for the two incidents and the impact this has had in the region and in the nation as a whole.

This generation just wants to know whether they will have access to a good, quality education and health care; whether opportunities to work and develop enterprise will be present once they are equipped and thereafter whether they can live a respectable and dignified life.

This generation wants to know whether its right to vote in credible party primaries, referenda and general elections will be respected and protected.

President Jomo Kenyatta's last visit to Kisumu may have been turbulent and may have sown seeds of discord. President Uhuru Kenyatta's first visit to Kisumu witnessed remarks of reconciliation and development following a closely contested election. Former Prime Minister Hon. Raila Odinga and Rongo MP Hon. Dalmas Otieno amongst other leaders present collectively called for the same.

Hard as it may be for many to perceive, one of the greatest opportunities that President Uhuru Kenyatta's presidency offers him is a chance to reconcile this country and exploit our enormous potential.

The last three presidential regimes have had gains and reversals alike in their respective administrations, building our nation but also dividing us and pitting us against each other through acts of omission and commission.

Granted it is not going to be walk in the park leading and uniting this country with its large youthful population eager to realise its full potential and with high expectations of receiving the necessary support to realise those opportunities.

In addition to this, residents of 47 counties with high expectations that income and regional inequality will be reduced through devolution and the strategic geopolitical position of the nation with other jurisdictions clamouring for partnerships and investments in common commercial and political interests.

It is safe to say that President Uhuru Kenyatta can start writing his presidential story by ensuring that he unites this country, ensuring that peace and justice reign supreme; and unlocking our potential. We want fewer mothers narrating horror stories to their children and fewer children having their political persuasions shaped by injustices they witness.

Omore C. Osendo is a Governance and Public Policy practitioner based in Nairobi.

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