With the elections over, it is time for some thoughts, starting with a question: How did the country get to where it is today?
Staying close to dispassionate academic analysis, perhaps the more relevant questions are: Where is Kenya headed?
How strong are the bonds that bind this young country?
Are the dangers the country faces bigger than the collective spurts of violence that have marked its politics, be they single-party or multi-party, over its existence?
Kenya’s stability or lack of it has been a constant undercurrent in discussions about its politics.
Some number crunchers have even come up with suggestive figures, purporting to show the chances of serious civil disturbances in the country within the next decade or so.
And this was before the additional evidence emerging from the latest heightened political season that witnessed plenty of charged rhetoric, insults, occasional fist fights, and finally bullets.
The Kenyans I talked to on my recent observation excursion there, with a few exceptions, unequivocally claimed that the republic is in fine shape despite appearances, and the forces of law and order can ensure that the country retains its unitary form no matter what.
That, they claim, is the given about Kenya. But is that so? Can things go the other way swiftly and irreversibly?
Looking at the pattern of civil turbulences over the past half a century, among the things that emerge is their changing nature and contours.
For instance, in today’s world, many national conflicts are often low-intensity and characterised by episodic violence that is not geographically defined.
Think Boko Haram. The nihilistic movement’s epicentre may be in the northern part of Nigeria, but it can wreak havoc just about anywhere in the country at a place and time of its choosing.
Based on recent research findings, the five conditions that predict the sad state of affairs euphemistically called acute civil turbulences or in plain speak, civil wars, include the following: unrelenting national polarisation, with no obvious middle ground; and divergent and divisive press coverage and information flows.
Others are weakened and delegitimised institutions, especially legislative bodies and the Judiciary, a myopic political elite governed by short-termism; and exhortation to violence as an adjunct to conducting a discourse or solving disputes.
We might also add the condition of the various political parties.
Their fleeting existence and mutations are an indicator of the country’s political ill-health.
Do these conditions apply in Kenya? Certainly, the country is exposed to several vulnerabilities, including tribalism and clashing visions regarding the way forward.
No one can predict how it will all play out. However, what is evident is that the people are repositioning themselves on any number of fronts.
Alarms should begin sounding when an election or a government action is deemed unacceptable by a large group or a significant constituency in the country.
Tectonic shifts in allegiance leading to disavowal of things as currently constituted are not harbingers of good tidings.
They point to the inconceivable becoming conceivable.
The tragedy, gleaning from the histories of serious breakdowns such as the American Civil War, is when the sources of conflicts became embedded in the very fabric of the society, not even the leaders of the contending factions can stop the train hurtling in the direction it is headed.
They become helpless bystanders like everyone else.
The basic lesson should be Kenyans, if they are serious about changing the direction of the country, must get rid of the blinkers that shackle their visions.
The most inane and common one that I keep hearing about is that somehow the country is exempt from history.
National stability is a given immutable fact, they seem to suggest. That nothing mind-blowing can happen.
The reality is it can and things will be hastened if we fail to grasp the potential repercussions of the waves of shock events that lose their shock value with each wave and come to be seen as normal.
That is when amnesia sets in and the lessons of history are waved aside as irrelevant.
Humility should point more Kenyans towards the realisation that they have no exemption from the historical journeys of mankind.
If they persistently goof, they will pay the price, like all the heedless nations whose names we cannot even remember.
Mr Mulaa is a Washington, DC-based senior communication consultant and writer. [email protected]