Zambia and Kenya have so much in common and a lot to learn from each other. Politically, these too countries face identical challenges; thus tribal differences, electoral violence as well as malpractices, disputed elections and refusal by the losing candidate to recognise the legitimacy of the elected President.
In the case of Kenya, much as the rest of Africa gave a standing ovation to the Supreme Court for nullifying the election of the elected candidate, the decision was so humiliating to President Uhuru Kenyata, as it gave credence to his rival Raila Odinga’s claims against the State. One would understand why President Kenyata and his supporters were so bitter with the opposition leader.
Considering that Odinga refused to take part in the fresh election on account that the electoral reforms he wanted were not done, it also fitted the narrative that he was so aggrieved with the subsequent ‘unopposed’ election of Kenyata, and thereby refuse to recognise the President’s legitimacy.
In fact Odinga went to the extent of swearing himself as the people’s president of Kenya at a scheduled ceremony. When called to speak at public gatherings, he demanded to be referred to as His Excellency the people’s president of Kenya. However, the State never slapped treason charges on Odinga and neither was he arrested for conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace.
With all this amount of hate and anguish, one would expect the two political leaders to be on each other’s throat. But the opposite has happened in Kenya – Kenyata and Odinga have reconciled and told their nation “the animosity ends here”.
“Fellow Kenyans, in the past we have responded to our challenges by mostly running away from them… we are all sailing in this one ship. We must come together and scoop out the water that has been seeping, or we shall all capsize. We have travelled too far to turn back, we would never make it back to the shore, yet we can’t make it to our destination either,” Odinga said at a joint press conference with President Kenyata on Friday.
“Our only option is to come together and scoop out the waters of animosity that we have been pouring into the boat. We are saying that the divide ends here. Today we begin the process of building the bridge that will unite Kenya.”
President Kenyata who demonstrated executive courtesy throughout the press conference also reaffirmed his commitment to reconciling that country.
“This is what me and my brother have agreed; that starting today, we will begin the process of bringing our people together. This marks the new beginning for our country, a beginning in which we hope that we will march together as Kenyans. We can differ in terms of political alignment but always stand united in matters Kenya,” said President Kenyata.
According to the Kenyan press, before Friday’s deal, the two leaders were engaged in several direct phone calls, including a private meeting at the home of a senior judiciary official. The Daily Nation of Kenya reports that members of the Odinga and Kenyatta families were also deeply involved in preparing the ground for the pact described in an official statement as “building bridges to a new Kenya”.
Analysts and critics can choose to define this reconciliation as pretentious or not genuine, but the fact remains that it is a symbolic act by two leaders who recognise that they desire to serve the same people. Kenya has gotten started on a path of national unity. It is now up to the followers of the political rivals to emulate the gesture of co-existence.
But here we are in Zambia today. President Edgar Lungu and opposition UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema claim that they are eager to make peace, yet the void is only getting wider. We have heard the ruling Patriotic Front attaching conditions to the reconciliation, saying they will not sit on a dialogue table with Mr Hichilema until he recognizes President Lungu. We have also heard Mr Hichilema say that the Zambia Center for Inter Party Dialogue is an unacceptable PF surrogate which should not be allowed to mediate in reconciliation talks.
Surely, President Lungu and Mr Hichilema should be ashamed that their Kenyan counterparts who had much deeper election disputes, and more recently, have gone ahead of them to reconcile. If they truly love Zambia and Zambians as they claim, why are these two leaders failing to unite citizens with a show of reconciliation? Why have they continued to aggravate the animosity between their rival camps with hate speech and arrogance?
Perhaps Mr Hichilema may have an excuse that it is technically impossible for him to lead a sitting President to the dialogue table. But what’s President Lungu’s excuse? Why is he pretending that only the Commonwealth or the Zambia Center for Inter Party Dialogue that can reconcile him and HH? Does that really make sense? Has President Lungu ever tried to phone Mr Hichilema, even to just greet him and find out how his family is doing following that traumatizing treason experience?
What does President Lungu have to lose if he did just what President Uhuru Kenyata did on Friday? Our President claims that Kenyata is his close friend; why can’t he ask him what strategy he used to bring his political enemy close? What kind of a Christian nation are we when our leaders can’t accept to worship God together, under one roof or even shake hands?
Just like Mr Hichilema, Odinga also wants sweeping electoral reforms in that country to curb malpractices, he has serious political differences with the sitting President, but he recognized the fact that it all starts with peace building. You cannot rebuild a house which is still burning.
We appeal to President Lungu to take the step and be the big man. In fact, the more he waits for the Commonwealth to facilitate this ‘arranged marriage’, the less meaningful it will be. Time is now, let us see President Lungu and Mr Hichilema stand together and pledge commitment to uniting Zambia. Like Lucky Dube sang, “the cats and the dogs have forgiven each other, what is wrong with us?”