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Raila’s speech at Nyong’o’s book launch that has triggered sober, honest and candid debate on challenges we face as a country

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Here is the full speech of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga during Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o’s book launch at the University of Nairobi, Tuesday of September 24, 2019:

“I want to begin with some broad observations on what I see as the overall philosophy behind this book.

One is that the story of today’s strong and prosperous nations is that of starting over again, changing course and seeking rebirth.

Secondly, debate is a good and necessary culture and tradition that every nation that hopes to move forward needs to cultivate.
Nations move forward by constantly debating, challenging old assumptions, refusing to settle and always testing new frontiers and new possibilities.

Thirdly, we must discard fear and fear mongering as a way of dealing with our problems; what President Franklin Roosevelt called “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Nations need to constantly negotiate with citizens and even with themselves on how to move forward and be the best among others.
President J.F Kennedy summarized this mindset in his words; “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
I believe this is the guiding philosophy behind this book.

In a country where politics is driven on the basis of attack, counter attack and more attack, it takes real commitment for a county governor to reflect on critical national issues and put them in a book.

We have to congratulate Prof for this rare achievement that is not wholly unexpected.
We have had this tradition of leaders putting their thoughts into books to invite debate. Tom J. Mboya, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkurumah, Leopold Senghor, Jomo Kenyatta, Oginga Odinga all promoted the culture of debate on critical national issues through writing.

This pattern of debate, starting over and seeking rebirth is the story of the USA. It is the story of modern Europe.

As we all know, after the brutal civil war, the USA sought a rebirth that culminated in the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution. The amendments outlawed slavery, made the newly freed slaves American citizens, granted them the right to vote, redefined the relationship between individuals and the State, and, for the first time, guaranteed the basic equality of all people, no matter their skin color, station in life or citizenship.

In Europe, after numerous ethnic and civil wars that ended up in two world wars, leaders went all out to make certain that there would not be a third war. They agreed Europe must be reorganized in some sort of federation or union that could blunt the national jealousies and assuage the economic hungers that had been the precursors of both wars.

This book and this gathering falls in this great tradition of debate and rebirth.

At critical moments in our history, our citizens have got together and debated their future to find a way out.

Am glad that in this room there are men and women who have lived by these broad beliefs and can testify about their necessity.

Looking at the challenges the nation is going through, debating and reasoning are going to be critical.

Through this book, we are being invited to discuss soberly, honestly and candidly some of challenges we face as a country.

There is agreement that for far too long, our country has run on the Politics of Brinkmanship, which now needs to end.

And so some of our leaders and citizens are asking; is their need for amendments to the Constitution of Kenya? If yes, do we go Parliamentary or remain Presidential?
Should we introduce proportional representation as the electoral system or do we retain the current first-past-the-post simple majority procedure.

How do we strengthen and enhance the devolution system or are we satisfied with the system as it is today.

As Prof. Michael Chege writes in the Forward, our violent electoral conflicts every five years are ever about the presidential poll, and seldom or ever about elective positions further down the political hierarchy.

It is also established that electoral violence is more frequent under presidential regimes than parliamentary regimes.

People lose contests for parliamentary or county seats but it never degenerates into widespread violence or any at all. That is good enough reason for the country to relook the National Executive and fix the causes of passionate struggle to win it.

A Parliamentary system is viewed as a better way to raise the majority threshold in a country where tribes view each other with suspicion in the contest for power.

Parliamentary system is generally suitable for plural societies; that is societies in which the political landscape is composed of diverse cultural, religious, ethnic, racial and regional interests, and that is what Kenya is.

But it is not just about the Executive. We are also struggling with how to ensure national cohesion, provision of sound leadership and creating institutions that can stand up for the nation even under the greatest of pressures.

In a nutshell, we have the challenge of how to re-strategize as a country and start over for the future as many successful nations have done.

In our country today, we have strived to create this forum for reasoned debate through the Building Bridges to a New Kenyan Nation.
That team is tackling nine key areas including Ethnic antagonism and competition, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, devolution, divisive elections, safety and security and corruption.
All these critical question that require genuine debate.

They require structured debate without fear.
Unfortunately, such efforts like this by governor Nyong’o and the BBI are being hindered by the culture of hatred for debate and preference for fear and fear-mongering.

Debate is the tested way to ensure politics of reason overcomes the politics of fear, whose result often is hatred and division, which, unfortunately, is getting mainstreamed in this country.

And debate is the way to create a well-informed citizenry.

As former US Vice President writes in The Assault on Reason, “If leaders exploit public fears to herd people in directions they might not otherwise choose, then fear itself can quickly become a self-perpetuating and freewheeling force that drains national will and weakens national character, diverting attention from real threats deserving of healthy and appropriate fear and sowing confusion about the essential choices that every nation must constantly make about the future.”

As a country, let us not threaten our citizens against debating their future.
We must guard against fear-mongering and embrace any effort that encourages debate about our current state and our future.
This book is one such effort, as is the BBI.”

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