Ann Dismorr: Donors Only Echo Wananchi Distress - The Star

For quite some time to come, the tragic events of 2008 will continue to serve as an important reference point in any discussions on Kenya's future.

Regrettable as the tragedy of it is, that chaotic moment handed the country an opportunity to return to its development compass and obtain fresh bearings.

The readings suggest that the democratic wave that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 did not deliver for Kenya the freedoms, rights and accountable government that it promised.

Kenya has had a mixed score-card from its attempts to become a liberal democracy because of tensions between the new dispensation and the old culture.

Although the 'wind of change' offered social movements an opportunity to reform the state, the more important institutional change is yet to become a reality.

Constitutional reform is still pending, electoral reforms are yet to be completed, equitable gender relations are troubled, and there is no sense that justice comes to those who are responsible for crimes such as violence and corruption.

Kenya is still an aspiring liberal democracy, yet it faces huge challenges in effectively guaranteeing civil and political rights.

Despite years of civic education and debate, exclusionary social and political practices appear to have increased in the public and private spheres. Today, unequal power relations, unaccountable leadership and social exclusion characterise the political leadership as the country grapples with an elusive search for a new constitution.

The framework within which development occurs is still not satisfactorily inclusive. At what point will the transition period end?

The agenda of the mediation agreements brokered by Kofi Annan are important minimums for reforming the state and stabilising the society.

It is important to note, however, that as Kenya recovers from its recent tragic past, time is not standing still and the world marches on to a new beat. It is important that Kenya catches up with the rest of the world and takes its rightful place in the community of nations.

Besides the challenges identified by the mediation process around the quest for a new constitutional reform and just political order, the country must confront climate change and environmental conservation as well as other is-sues that might not have received due attention at the time.

The country needs to develop a holistic change programme that draws lessons from past successes and failures. Regrettably, there is little evidence of a shared sense of destiny that would make national consensus necessary in responding to these issues.

There appears to be a dichotomy between the leaders and the citizens in appreciating and defining the various challenges to nationhood — from justice, environmental conservation, institutional reforms or access to national resources.

Although, significant changes have occurred in a number of departments, sectors and ministries, but Kenya is still at a crossroads.

If development partners have been less fulsome in their praise of government efforts to reform, it is often because they echo the disappointment that many citizens of Kenya and their friends abroad feel.

What is it that Kenya and its friends can learn from these transformations? Reflecting on these moments of change, approaches to development, models of citizenship and democracy is necessary if the country is to learn from the key actors in the past two decades who have demonstrated great or exceptional leadership in transforming policies, ministries, parastatals and departments.

The conference that starts in Nairobi today and runs until tomorrow seeks to create space for dialogue among actors engaged in development work. It is also a forum to reflect on and clarify the content of the change sought in Kenya while seeking creative ways of providing support for ongoing policy and political reform processes.

There will also be space for agents of change agents to reflect on their experiences and take stock to help the country to better understand how change happens.

At the end of the conference, it is hoped that the various political leaders, government departments, private sector and civil society organisations as well as individuals agree on a common framework for change and development.

This change framework will enable development partners such as the European Union to use aid more effectively to help Kenya achieve its objectives.

The conference mirrors the annual EU Development Days event, held in Stockholm last week under the theme, 'Citizenship and Development', to discuss global challenges around governance, climate change, international finance, trade, food, energy, the role of the media and human and social rights.

Dismorr is the Swedish Ambassador to Kenya. Sweden currently holds the Presidency of the European Union

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