Multi-Ethnic living requires tolerance and understanding. Where it succeeds, it is likely to evolve its own consensus of what constitutes behavior and enhancement of inter-ethnic harmony. In Kenya today we have a peace deal on the table. The president has given assent to the National Accord and reconciliation bill and the constitutional amendments bills. The question now is how do we implement all in the context of a multi-ethnic country? I have carried out a critical assessment on countries like Yugoslavia that had assimilated sierbs, Croats, Macedonians, Bosnians, Slovenians, Montenagans and Kosovo’s but failed to move forward as a united country. At the same time have looked at a country like Malaysia that has made tremendous development notwithstanding its multi-ethnicity. What follows therefore is a down to earth style what many Malaysians believe are best practices for society which I believe Kenyans should borrow a leaf from.
RULE 1: ISOLATE AND DE-POLITICISE
In a multi-ethnic society, there will always be competition for status, resources and rewards. That’s normal and acceptable. But sensitive issues are different. They seek to operate beyond the framework of tolerance and accommodation. They are deliberately provocative and if allowed to vaster, can lead to chaos and violence. So remove them from the arena of public dispute. Isolate and de-politicize them. You may resolve them this way, but at least you will be able to manage them better in a more controlled environment.
RULE 2: BUILD A STATE HOLDER SOCIETY
A nation belongs to its entire people, not just some of them. Similarly, all of society must feel they belong to the Nation, not just some of it. So avoid favoring some members of society over others, or marginalizing one sector for the benefit of another. In a stakeholders society, their must exist a fair distribution of wealth and opportunities. This is the minimum starting point for the building of a just and equitable society.
RULE 3: REACH OUT AND BUILD CONSENSUS
A multi-ethnic society is a society of competing interests but competition needs not lead to confrontation. So build consensus and cultivate common ground. Pursue a policy of consultation and accommodation with all the interest groups. Reach out not just to political organizations and business interests, but also to minority groups, civic organizations and marginalized communities. Practice inclusion and avoid exclusion. Everyone counts, equally. Demonstrate your commitment through practical action. Doing is as important as believing. Multi ethnic harmony will not just happen. You have to make it happen.
RULE 4: PRACTISE MODERATION AND CONDEM EXTREMISM
In a multi-ethnic society, the first duty of a leader is to find the moderate centre, then to strengthen and defend it. This may not be a glamorous job, but it is the most important job. Have no truck with extremists or those who promote divisive causes. Identify and neutralize them. If necessary, use the big stick to limit the damage they can inflict on society. The interests of the community must prevail over that of the individual.
RULE 5: LEVEL UP, NOT LEVEL DOWN
Equity in nation-building does not mean taking away from some to give to others. It means ensuring that new wealth and the opportunity to build new wealth are distributed fairly. The first rule of nation building, therefore, is to create wealth and opportunity. An expanded economy benefits everyone without taking away from anyone. The duty of the government is to create the conditions which will enable it to happen. Wealth creation is the key to managing a multi-ethnic society.
RULE 6: SATISFY NEEDS, NOT WANTS
Enough is never enough. No matter how much wealth or opportunity is created or made available, it will never be sufficient to satisfy everyone. Therefore, differentiate between needs and wants. The first you can satisfy. The second you only need to try to. And if your resources are limited, get your priorities right. Help those who need help most like IDPs.
RULE 7: PROSPER THY NEIGHBOUR
We do not live in a zero-sum society where one community’s gain is another community’s loss. There is enough wealth and opportunity on this country (Kenya) for everyone. It is up to Kenyans’ ingenuity to tap it. So helping one community to succeed need not mean putting another community down. When one community prospers, the flow on effect benefits everyone even these outside it. Similarly, if one community is in decline, other communities around it will suffer also. In a multi-ethnic society, it is not possible to maintain vastly different standards of living for different communities. Communities must lift each other up. The alternative is to pull everybody down.
RULE 8: TAKE CHARGE, DO NOT DEPEND ON CHANCE
Competition for space, status and advantages goes on all the time in a multi-ethnic society. But if threatens to go out of control, take charge and act to defuse the situation. Taking charge also involves letting people know where you stand on issues that matter. Disguising or fudging your position when it comes to the crunch is not taking charge. It is taking chances, and that is opportunism leaders must lead. That is their job. If they don’t or won’t it is time to move on.
RULE 9: PRODUCE RESULTS , AND SHOWCASE TO THEM
Nobody ever said that managing a multi-ethnic society is easy. It requires exceptional skill and sensitivity. But if you succeed and have something to show for it, it is important that you let others know. Success builds confidence and gererated momentum. It can also be infectious so don’t be bashful. Announce your successes to the world humbly but proudly.
RULE 10: KEEP AT IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN
Managing a plural society is a continuous experiment. There are no easy answers or ready solutions, success is never assured. But if you are doing it for all the right reasons, don’t give up. Keep at it. Again and again and again! The alternative is not worth contemplating.