Revisit the art of nation building after the polls

An elderly woman is driven to a polling station to vote for a member of the National Assembly of Kitui Rural on August 29, 2022. [Philip Muasya, Standard]

While reflecting on the recently concluded elections, the concurrent petition challenging the result of the presidential poll and the Supreme Court decision upholding the result, left a nation fragmented and sharply divided. We are tempted to ask ourselves, what next?

Which causes some countries to disintegrate, which kindles the ethnic/tribal embers of hatred culminating in violence and ultimately plunges nations into the abyss of civil war; still others enjoy relative cohesion, despite their ethnic diversity? What makes nation building succeed or fail?

Edward Miguel in his article; Tribe or Nation? Nation Building and Public Goods in Kenya versus Tanzania, argued that once these colonies gained independence in the 1960s and after, many introduced policies aimed at creating a national language and national identity, similar to those of 19th century Europe.

Miguel provides a comparison between nation-building policies in postcolonial Tanzania and Kenya, with evidence suggesting a strong effect of Tanzanian nation-building policies.

Many countries have attempted to create ties that bridge ethnic, social and economic divides. This aims to reduce the importance of ethnicity in politics, undermine support for separatism, make violent conflicts and wars less likely, and ultimately make citizens identify with and perceive the nation as a community of solidarity and shared political destiny.

The March 2018 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga is a clear benchmark, as it saw Kenyans experience relative calm and stability during the last four years of Kenyatta’s rule.

This suggests that political integration and leading a cause towards national identification inform the art of nation building. To achieve both, it is important to create connections between citizens and the state that integrate ethnic majorities and minorities into an inclusive power arrangement.

If citizens feel they belong and are bound to the government by relationships of authority and support, an inclusive national community emerges and nation building can be said to have succeeded.

Further on, Alberto Alesina and Bryony Reich of Harvard University, in their February 2015 article titled: Nation Building, take us back in time, recounting how nation building was undertaken in France and Italy. An excerpt from the article that quotes French leader Napoleon I reads:

“There cannot be a solidly established political state without a teaching body with definitively recognized principles. If a child is not taught from childhood that he must be a republican or a monarchist, a Catholic or a free thinker, the State will not constitute a nation; it will rest on uncertain and shifting foundations; and it will be constantly exposed to disorder and change”, Napoleon I, 1805.

Nations stay together when citizens share enough values ​​and preferences and can communicate with each other. Homogeneity among people can be built through education, speaking a common language, and building infrastructure that allows citizens to move goods and services from one place to another while mingling to other cultures.

Kenya has a robust road network with much improved connectivity between counties and a standard gauge railway serving a similar purpose. We have made tremendous progress in having English, Kiswahili and sign language as official languages, allowing citizens to communicate across ethnic orientations.

The education system gives every Kenyan the opportunity to learn, acquire skills and improve their quality of life. What needs improvement is building on the gains to create a cohesive nation that values ​​diversity, embraces tolerance and ingrains inclusivity in all facets of our socio-economic lives.

Work is cut for the next regime, to consider developing nation-building programs while exploiting the gains left by previous administrations.

The writer works in the Office of the Government Spokesperson

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