Kenyan Political Dialogue: Seeing Both Sides of the Coin


The Kenyan Supreme Court’s decision to cancel the August 8th general election that saw incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta declared winner has received mixed reactions. Some lauded it as a bold decision to make and as a landmark in restoring faith in the country’s justice system. Others have however criticized it as a decision of political convenience and a means for the judiciary to flex muscle. The latest critic of the decision follows allegations of foul play by the opposition and connivance between some judges that ruled in favour of the opposition and the lawyers on that side. All the debate aside, the aftermath is that now the country prepares to head back to the polls on the 26th of October.

In a bid to understand the thinking of the supporters on either side, I posed a question to both sides, asking to be convinced why I should lean on this side or the other. In doing so, I set out to push buttons and ask the most uncomfortable questions I could think of just to see how people deal with ‘bad truths.’ After my interesting conversations, one thing was for sure; actually, two things.

The first, that as a people whose every single aspect of life is political in one way or the other, we need to learn how to have political conversations without tearing one another apart and that we need to learn how to support the good things that our preferred candidates stand for and condemn the bad or the negative that they do or is done in their name. The second is that the biggest problem that this country faces is inadequate patriots. In other words, too many people that believe that whatever goes on in the country is none of their concern and that as long as things work for them, all is well.

With regard to the current government, for instance, an argument was advanced that this government of all governments has been the most achieved in terms of infrastructure development; especially the standard gauge railway and that economic growth has been high. My question then was a counter to the fact that compared to other (East) African countries that had embarked on similar projects, Kenya had got a raw deal, that the loan obligation the country now owes cannot be met and the economic viability of putting up a railway on the Nairobi – Mombasa route as well as the negative impact on wildlife. I also alluded to the standard of living and the weakening of the shilling. To this, the response was anger and that we need to become more grateful and optimistic.

On matters of the opposition, I sought an argument against the notion that former Prime Minister Raila Odinga is a perennial loser that simply refuses to accept that his time in the political arena might be over and that he should step aside and let ‘young blood’ run the show. Lest I am misunderstood, I have great admiration and respect for the man and all that he has done politically. Any person with a political run such as his deserves that. The point, as I said, was to test the waters. Again, the response was anger, how dare I and a few sober-minded people that weaved out of the question without feeling like I had committed blasphemy.

The lesson of the day is to learn to see both sides of the coin and acknowledge the existence of a problem where one does. In other words, to laud the good done regardless of whatever faction does it and abhor and criticize the bad. We cannot be a people that sweep things under the rug and adopt ignoring as our way of dealing with the unpleasant things. One cannot, for example, support the clobbering of university students because it is done under the watch of the candidate they support. Or refuse to go to work because their candidate has said so, yet at the end of the day the bills must get paid and life goes on.

All in all, we need to learn to see both sides of the coin and say ‘yes, this is fine, but that, not so much.’ Again, lest I am misunderstood, I do not purport that everyone fails to see two sides. The truth is, most do not.

Hawa Gaya

Hawa Gaya

Lawyer, lover of the environment and a beliver in peaceful dispute settlement
Hawa Gaya