R. Odinga: A Commitment to Reconciliation
Written by Hon. Raila Odinga, Prime Minister, Kenya
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Address to International Leadership Conference
Nairobi, Kenya, August 29-31, 2008
Published in Dialogue & Alliance, Spring/Summer 2010 issue
We have lived through a very trying period in which over 1,500 people lost their lives and hundreds of thousands of people became displaced after the disputed presidential elections. The security forces also unleashed a lot of violence. “Shoot to kill” orders were given.
We had lived in an illusion that we were a united country. We had worn the façade of unity, but when this mask was removed we saw another face of Kenya. Kenyans came to the precipice and looked down into the abyss, but we didn’t like what we saw. So we stepped back and decided to talk to each other.We had lived in an illusion that we were a united country. We had worn the façade of unity, but when this mask was removed we saw another face of Kenya. Kenyans came to the precipice and looked down into the abyss, but we didn’t like what we saw. So we stepped back and decided to talk to each other.
We realized that if nothing was done, the country was going to disintegrate. We thought of other countries where elections were disputed and ended up being divided, and we said that Kenya is greater than all of us.
Today, we are back in business—but not business as usual. We know that to stay united and prosperous we must change in fundamental ways, and we have begun that process. We need to recognize and respect each other and reconcile our society that was torn apart.
Considering people’s lives and security and thinking of the unity of our country, I decided that it was time to make compromises. This was part of the lessons that I learned when I participated in the International Leadership Conferences in Seoul, Korea.
We were helped by our African brothers and the international community. World leaders who were concerned about the stability and security of Kenya called me, and several came to Nairobi to talk to both Kibaki and myself. Through the initiative of the African Union, a panel of eminent persons led by the former Secretary-General of the UN, Dr. Kofi Annan, came to Kenya. We set up a team consisting of four people from each side to sit and negotiate under the chairmanship of that panel.
At one point we were completely deadlocked, so Kofi Annan suspended the talks and consulted with President Kibaki and myself. Neither side was willing to make concessions beyond a certain point. Then I said, “Look, for the sake of the country I’m willing to move this part, and I invite President Kibaki to move this part.” Ultimately he agreed, and we met somewhere in the middle. It was like the cardinals meeting to elect a pope: the first time we came out, the people saw black smoke and they knew that the pope had not been elected; we went back, and when we came out people saw white smoke and chairs arranged for signing the accord.
Some people on both sides were not happy with the agreement, but it was the best we could come up with and we said it was a good thing for Kenya.
We agreed to form a grand coalition government with a 50-50 power sharing. In the cabinet, 50 percent are my ministers and 50 percent are from President Kibaki’s side. We share power equally, with constant consultations. We think that this is the only way to talk, considering the root causes of our nation’s ailments. Such a coalition is the first in the country and indeed in Africa. We need every bit of our creativity, generosity, and patience to make sure that we stay united.
The most important key to peace is rapid economic recovery to offset the damage that resulted from the violence. Businesses were destroyed, and planting of crops was suspended, unemployment soared, and the price of food rose.
This month I convened the first quarterly Prime Minister’s conference to transform the relationship between the government and the private sector and in the process transform the economy and the lives of Kenyans. We are on the way to building a seamless relationship between the government and the private sector economy to lift this economy.
I hope that participants in the Global Peace Festival will take this message of a new Kenya to your contacts. We have a collective commitment to find solutions. Despite the terrible trauma of bloodletting, we have shown that we are ready to go beyond boundaries, cultures, and traditions to restore peace.
The theme of One Family Under God shows that before we are a member of one nation, tribe, or political faction, we are first and foremost children of the same Creator. Membership in the human family makes us brothers and sisters. Survival, prosperity, and peaceful coexistence for us all require that we never forget this.
Left on their own without proper guidance, youth expend their energies doing things which might be self-centered. Character education and the belief that young people can transcend any shortcomings to serve peace is essential.
We have joined hands to clean the Nairobi River, with Kenyans of all walks of life participating. I was told that the Han River in Seoul was once as polluted as the Nairobi River but now, through conscious effort, it is a clean river, and I have seen it. We intend to make Nairobi that clean.
It is through forums such as this that the youth of this country will be able to transform into dependable leaders of the future. I want to thank you very much.