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Time to return to fundamental human values

Where did my country go? Just a few days ago I lived in a seemingly vibrant country that was going somewhere. A country that was attracting the attention and investment of the entire globe. A country that seemed set to resolve its differences through a properly conducted, peaceful ballot.

Today I find myself in a land of security trucks rolling across a landscape of burnt vehicles and looted shops. A place where bodies are lined up in morgues. A nation filled with hatred and vitriol which has retreated into its tribal kraals. A place of closed shops and closed minds, where fear rules.

How did we get here? Two things have led us to this awful place. One, the hatred that lies deep in many hearts which was uncorked by a disputed election; two, the lamentable state of our institutions, and the mistrust that that engenders. If we viewed our fellow Kenyans as our fellow human beings, we would not be here. If we had institutions whose authority and respectability we could believe in, we would not be here.

But we are indeed here, and we must find a way out. This is a time when temperatures are running feverishly high. It is difficult to get even men and women of education and reason to demonstrate any sense of balance. The smell of fear and anger is everywhere, and fearful and angry people do not behave rationally.

That is why, more than ever before, there is only one place to go to. We must return to that place in our hearts where our fundamental human values reside. Just because we are angry, let us not forget what it means to be human. Just because we are afraid, let us not forget that we still have to do what is right.

Each and every one of us knows what is right and what is wrong. For some, that knowledge is covered in dust, not having been used for years. For others it is closer to the surface, but hidden by a fresh layer of anger. That knowledge must be uncovered, and it must be used to save the nation.

We do not have to teach ourselves anything new. We know it is wrong to kill, and we should not kill anyone. We know it is wrong to deceive, and we must stop the deceptions. The fact that we have just come out of an election we did not agree on does not allow us to suspend all moral judgement. It does not allow us to become the beasts of the forest. We must reach for the compassion and decency that is the true essence of all of us; it is all we have.

Every person is given an opportunity to be great in his or her lifetime. There is a moment in every life where the right thing must be done. It is a time where a choice must be made: either we choose to do the bad thing, which is seductively easy; or we choose the good thing, which is painfully hard.

Many key individuals were faced with that choice in the past few days, and they chose to do the bad thing. Some chose to deceive and manipulate. Others chose to let anger blind them and strike down innocents. Yet others chose to walk off with the property of others. All of those choices will cost us all dearly. If we do not start doing the right thing anytime soon, we may rue the consequences for a generation or more.

We seem to have forgotten that we had only just stopped marking the anniversary of the birth of Jesus when we collectively lost our senses. Jesus, the epitome of compassion, gave us one very important lesson that will serve us well during this crisis: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Only the truth will save us now. I have no idea what the truth of this election is, and neither do you. All we have are our suspicions and prejudices, our observations and hypotheses. That is not enough to warrant bloodshed. Let Kenyans stop taking sides and take shelter in the truth.

If this election was stolen, then that must be known by all. If this election was won fairly, then that must be shown to be true. In the absence of truth, we are led by conjecture and emotion. If our leaders truly have our well-being in mind, let them agree on a formula to uncover the truth of what happened. And after that, let us all accept that truth, forgive whoever we have to, and move on.

I do not know what the formula for getting to the truth is. But I do know that it does not involve machetes on one side and bullets on the other. Our leaders must stop seeing the people of Kenya as pawns in their power struggles. I urge them to see the people huddled in churches in fear of genocide. I urge them to see the tears on the face of the man who found his car – his only livelihood, which years of sacrifice and hard work must have allowed him to acquire – burnt to a shell through no fault of his own. I urge them to see the face of the little child whose mother has just been killed by a flying bullet outside her house.

Bad actions have real consequences. If we are not very careful, we are going to shatter this country. Once that happens, it will be very difficult to put the pieces together again. It will be very difficult for us to work together in our organisations again. It will be very difficult for us to sell the idea of a great and beautiful Kenya to the world again. It will be very difficult to have thriving markets and businesses again. Let us not get to that point, for it may be a point of no return.

The opportunity still remains for our leaders on both sides of the divide to become heroes. Heroism will not come from intransigence and belligerence. It requires something bigger. If key figures stopped to think strategically for a moment, they would realise that the hero will be the one who goes for peace. A tsunami of ill-will has indeed swept across the nation, and we are all seeking higher ground. But there is only one high ground worth heading for: the moral high ground.

History is likely to cast a very harsh judgement on some of the key players of December 2007. If any of them wish to be remembered kindly, let them still step forward and do the right thing. Let them push for the truth to be known, whatever it is. Let them place their inflamed egos to one side, and do something bigger than themselves. There is no victory in ruling a country reduced to ashes.

I pray that years from now, a history lesson will be taught in the classrooms of Kenya. That lesson will say this: that in December 2007, our country went to the edge of disaster. But it stepped back from the precipice, just in time. It stepped back because heroic Kenyans emerged, to save it. Those heroes were little and large; they were rich and they were poor; they were powerful and they were modest. But they all came to their senses and did the right thing. They recaptured the values of decency and righteousness. And so the country was saved.

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