Kenya’s Unity Test

NAIROBI – Kenya’s fiercely contested presidential election in March, and its disputed outcome, has left the victor, Uhuru Kenyatta, with a daunting challenge: to unite a country riven with ethnic violence and distrust. Although this election was accompanied by far less violence than the previous presidential vote in 2007, the opposition candidate Raila Odinga’s second consecutive defeat has only re-enforced his supporters’ fears that they are once again being cheated out of power.

Kenyatta, a member of the dominant Kikuyu ethnic group, says that he wants to heal the country’s divisions, echoing the promise of his predecessor, Mwai Kibaki. There is a simple way to start: combat the corruption and nepotism that characterize so much state employment.

Kenyatta assumes power a half-century after his father, Jomo Kenyatta, led Kenya to independence. The anniversary provides a reason to reflect on some of the country’s achievements and failings, especially in the field of education – the key to economic opportunity and professionalization of the public sector.

During the colonial era, most of Kenya’s children were denied schooling. The post-independence government thus found itself having to hire vast numbers of teachers, many of them unqualified, to cope with the influx of black students attending school for the first time. Today, however, there is an oversupply of trained teachers. In fact, many of them can now only find work in neighboring countries such as South Sudan, which needs to fill shortages left by decades of conflict.