By SAMUEL KOBIA
There are significant insights one gets from reading Alice Nderitu’s book, Kenya, Bridging Ethnic Divides; A Commissioner’s Experience on Cohesion and Integration.
Writing is a true spiritual discipline: Writing can help to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing emotions, to reflect on our experiences, to give artistic expression to what we are living, and to store significant events in our memories. Writing can also be good for others who might read what we write.
Alice has demonstrated that, quite often, a difficult, painful, or frustrating day or task such as mediating ethnic conflict can be redeemed by writing about it.
By writing we can claim what we have lived and thus integrate it more fully into our journeys. That way writing becomes lifesaving for us and sometimes for others too.
Two, writing emerges from the process of writing itself: Writing is not just jotting down ideas.
Often we say, “I don’t know what to write. I have no thoughts worth writing down”. As we simply sit down in front of a sheet of paper and start to express in words what is on mind or in our hearts, new ideas emerge, ideas that can surprise us and lead us to inner places we hardly knew were there.
One of the most satisfying aspects of writing, Alice would attest, is that it can open in us deep wells of hidden treasures that are beautiful for us as well as for others to see.
By writing this book, Alice has set a model: Establishing commissions has characterised the way Kenya deals with challenging issues. It is quite possible that many of us have been members of a commission, or even two. I have. That is quite common and every commission comes up with a good report.
What is not common, though, is for individual commissioners to write down their experiences in the course of their tenure. But now Alice has set for us a model worth emulating.
Not only has Alice come up with a model; she has given us a methodology: She has given us a blow-by-blow account of how she went about writing such a splendid volume. And what she has come up with is not just descriptive, or mere story telling; it is a serious wrestling with issues and themes the commission had to confront.
My other observation is that there is a significant ethical dimension of the book: In writing this book, Alice has been honest to self, to the commission and to the constituencies covered.
The content, which is interpretive and analytical, was a result of an honest struggle with, in Alice’s own words, “the intractable problem of managing the negative consequences of ethnic differences.” Moreover, the author gives honest answers even when they might seem to point to inconvenient truth.
Identify is at the core of Kenya and Kenyans’ problem: NCIC has tackled this problem head on and, like Alice demonstrates in this book, the commission has made appreciable progress.
She states that, “this book contains material framed in the form of practical examples, which can play several roles not least in the countries struggling with identity conflicts.”
The practical experiences that Alice cites in the book resonate with what I consider to be a generally accepted norm in dealing with identity question from the point of view of affirmation of human dignity.
Acceptance of identity is an essential element in this regard. As Donna Hicks suggests; “Approach people as being neither inferior nor superior to you.
Give others the freedom to express their authentic selves without fear of being negatively judged. Interact without prejudice or bias, accepting the ways in which race, religion, ethnicity, gender, class, disability…. may be at the core of other people’s identities. Assume others have integrity.”
Affirmation of the dignity of those with whom we interact and encounter is a discernible leitmotif in Alice’s book: A cardinal element in affirming the dignity of everyone is inclusion.
There is every need to make others feel they belong, whatever the relationship; whether they are in your family, community, organisation, or nation.
In dealing with the identity question we have to become aware of the inner desire to feel included in order to understand how to honour the dignity of others.
Since our lack of awareness can make us violate the others’ dignity, we have to learn how that can happen. We have to develop our sensitivity to the way others experience us. In the book,
Alice has clearly shown that with a developed sensitivity to others’ points of view, we can minimise the times when we unknowingly violate their dignity and increase our chances of communicating that we value everyone we meet and interact with.
In conclusion, I suggest that we celebrate Alice Nderitu’s intellectual generosity: In this volume Kenya, Bridging Ethnic Divides; A Commissioner’s Experience on Cohesion and Integration, Alice has bequeathed a social and ethic treasure not just to the contemporary patriots but to the generations to come.
For that we shall remain deeply indebted to her and she deserves to be adequately recognized and feted; and that should happen sooner than later.