OPINION: Let’s hail Moi for continental peace effort, Uhuru for national

By Michael Cherambos

About a week ago, a man who straddled the political landscape of this country like a colossus for over half a century, bowed out of the ring, this time forever.

On Wednesday February 12, Kenya’s second president Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi was laid to rest at his farm in Kabarak, Nakuru County.

Moi, who served as president for 24 years, the longest of the four presidents the country has had so far, was many things to many people. To some, like current President Uhuru Kenyatta, he was a father. To others, like the current Deputy President, he was a mentor. To former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, he was a friend-enemy-friend.

But to others, like former Subukia MP and one time assistant minister Koigi Wamwere, Moi was the definition of brutality.

One thing that every objective observer of local, continental and global politics, however agrees is that Moi was a peace maker. At least that is the one thing haters and lovers of the former president must give the man from Sacho! And for that, leaders from across the world, Africa and the East Africa region gathered in this country to bid the prince of peace farewell.

Quite in order for Kenya!

A couple of months ago, two momentous events happened for the East African region, and for Africa as a whole. Much of the attention went to the second event – Kenyan marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge becoming the first person to run a marathon in less than two hours. The feat that many thought could never be done was achieved by an unassuming 34-year-old from Nandi County, sending a message to all young Kenyans and Africans that if you work hard and believe in your talent, nothing is impossible.

But with all due respect to our sporting hero, the more significant event occurred a day earlier, when it was announced that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali had been awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to “achieve peace and international cooperation”. In particular, Abiy was recognised for the peace deal he signed with neighbouring Eritrea, ending a 20-year military stalemate following their 1998-2000 border war.

In winning the Prize, Abiy became the first African political figure to win the prize in a decade, and only the second ever winner from the East African region. With the prize often given to those who have brought peace to warring countries, notably in the Middle East, Abiy became the first African leader to be recognised for making peace between nations, thus proving that we Africans too can be peacemakers.

Noting the continental significance of his award on a call with the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Abiy explained that this “is a prize given to Africa… and I can imagine how the rest of Africa’s leaders will take it positively to work on [the] peace-building process on our continent.”

But one other leader who needs no nudging when it comes to peace building in Africa is the late President Moi’s political son, President Uhuru Kenyatta. After all, Uhuru has been building peace in Kenya for the past six years. And while Uhuru’s efforts are perhaps less eye catching and swift as those of his Ethiopian counterpart, they are no less significant.

Let us not forget, just twelve years ago Kenya was perhaps at the crisis point of our continent. Few who witnessed or experienced the devastating violence following the 2007 election will forget it. Community killing community, brother killing brother. And while Uhuru didn’t come to office until five years after the killings, he was the one to truly understand its significance and the need to make peace between the communities, thus ensuring that the horrendous scenes would never be repeated.

The first step was to bring together the two tribes whose rivalry had dominated the 2007 killings. This was largely achieved through his outreach to erstwhile opponent William Ruto, which led to the Jubilee Alliance, and 6 years and counting of partnership.

The next step was a similar détente with Uhuru’s other long standing rival, Raila Odinga, which came in the shape of the famous handshake in March of last year. Notably, Raila’s two time running mate Kalonzo Musyoka also signed on to this unity agreement.

Like his countryman Eliud Kipchoge, Uhuru has achieved what had previously been scarcely believable – he has brought together Kenya’s four main political leaders representing our four main tribes. Uhuru had united Kenya’s ‘Big Four’.

Of course, things are never quite so straightforward. There are various reports of tensions between the leaders, and there remains a chance that disagreements will again break out surrounding the 2022 election.

Such provisos are not uncommon. Anyone following Ethiopian politics will be aware that Abiy still has much work to do to democratise the country, and South Africa has certainly experienced its ups and downs since Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk famously shared the Nobel Prize in 1993.

So while Uhuru may not have cemented Kenyan peace for ever more, what he has done is shown us an alternative model of conflict resolution. One in which politics does not have to be a zero-sum game. In which rivals can settle their differences peacefully, and put aside their hostility to work together for the benefit of their people.

Whether that is enough for Uhuru to be the next African recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize only time will tell, but one thing is for sure. When, in 2022, Uhuru steps down and goes into retirement, he will have left behind a more peaceful, united and harmonious country than the one he inherited. And for that, he deserves our eternal gratitude.

Michael Cherambos comments on topical socio-political issues; Michaelcherambos1@gmail.com