Kenyans should shun intolerance and antagonism during the electioneering period, urges Mount Kenya University (MKU) Pro-Chancellor, Dr Vincent Gaitho. He also calls on universities and the private sector to help change the narrative of violence during elections.
The don points out that elections come and go, and should not fan conflict, since Kenyans will continue living together afterward.
“Voting happens on a single day. It is justan event. People should be able to go back to their businesses (immediately after),” argues Dr Gaitho, adding: “Children should be able to go to school without fearing that the prevailing peace will collapse.”
Elections, he argues, shouldn’t lead to social disruptions.
The MKU pro-chancellor has said this as the university puts final touches on the Second International Conference on Peace, Security and Social Enterprise. The university is set to host the conference from May 18 to 20 at the Mwai Kibaki Convention Centre in Thika. Dr Gaitho, who also chairs the conference organising committee, says MKU has incorporated lessons from the inaugural event held in 2017 as Kenya readied herself for the General Election.
“Five years ago, it was imagined that Kenyans were more mature in terms of tolerance and in their conduct of competitive politics after the 2007 elections that had divided the nation,” says Dr Gaitho.
But when the Supreme Court nullified a disputed presidential election in 2017 and ordered Kenyans to go back to the ballot to choose their president, the economy suffered during the demos that followed.
“The country remained in a state of tension until the president and the leader of the opposition shook hands in March 2018 to quell the antagonism,” Dr Gaitho recalls.
He is concerned that politicians are already fuelling intolerance in the run up to the August 9, 2022 elections.
“We may aspire to strengthen democracy, but when elections come, we again exhibit our intolerance towards each other,” the MKU pro-chancellor observes.
He adds: “We need to persuade Kenyans that peace and security are crucial and affectour social and economic activities.”
Dr Gaitho explains that this is what informed the choice of theme for this year’s conference.
“We looked at universities – both public and private – and asked ourselves: What is our role in peacebuilding?” Answering his question, the MKU don says: “Universities prepare the next leaders. In our training, how do we inculcate ethical leadership and responsibility in learners so that when they graduate, they are at the forefront in spreading and cultivating peace?”
Dr Gaitho insists that this is necessary because graduates expect the world of work they join to be peaceful for them to put to good use the skills and knowledge they have acquired. He urges universities to include topics on patriotism, tolerance and peace in their curricula.
“You can graduate smart lawyers, smart accountants and other professionals, but who lack these values.”
Dr Gaitho points out, whereas the government’s role is to provide a conducive environment for people to conduct business and go about their lives, all Kenyan institutions should be involved in peace-building efforts.
He explains: “Look at the roads in the country. They are built by the government. But a majority of the developments on the sides of all roads – whether buildings or farms – are by the private sector or individuals.”
Dr Gaitho lauds the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) for its Mkenya Daima programme that was initiated after the 2007- 2008 post-election violence. KEPSA is among the institutions participating in the conference “to share their experience and role in sustaining a peaceful environment ideal for businesses to thrive.”
Dr Gaitho is delighted that other universities accepted MKU’s invitation to the conference. He is happy that both public and private universities have seen the need to collaborate as opposed to cultivating unhealthy competition.