Dialogue or no Dialogue?

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Dialogue or no Dialogue?

June 06 th.


Kenya has been in the past few weeks in the wake of this limbo of Dialogue or no Dialogue? Since the “heroic” return and welcome of #BabaWhileYouWereAway at the Uhuru Park historic grounds the Saturday 31st of May 2014, the momentum is building day by day. While this quest is not new in Kenya, it has come at an epoch when all and sundry are feeling the heat of a myriad of issues on them: insecurity, unemployment, corruption, uncertainties with the devolution governments and a dwindling economy on their shoulders. What the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) has done is to read the moment and justifying their existence as an opposition by amplifying “Wanjiku”` agonies. In a dramatic and somewhat Solomonic move (in my viewpoint), the president (JUBILEE) resounded a huge welcome for the “National Dialogue” during the Madaraka Day Celebrations at Nyayo Stadium. This was to be short-lived though!

Demystifying the misinterpretations

Dialogue is not a debate.  Discussions and negotiations are not dialogue, because each represents a process whereby someone tries to "win" or convince others to assume the views of another.

Dialogue "comes from the Greek word dialogos. Logos means 'the word' and dia means 'through'--it doesn't mean two" (Bohm, 1990). Bohm points out that dialogue suggests a "stream of meaning" flowing among, through and between us. This makes it possible to create a flow of meaning in the entire group so that some new understanding will emerge. This in turn will create a "shared meaning" in the group that serves as the glue or cement that will hold the group (and society) together. Cambridge Dictionary defines “dialogue” as the formal talks between two opposing sides. Other related terms are arbitration, bargain and consultation. In our context, I do buy the oxford viewpoint which refers dialogue as a discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed towards exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem.

I often look to Mahatma Gandhi for wisdom especially in times as ours. His gentle approach in the Dialogue or no Dialogue quagmire would be a thorough listening in order to seek solutions to the people`s issues. You might  have heard or read of the famous: Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty (1223 BC), Ebro Treaty (223 BC), Treaty of Tempea (196 BC), Treaty of 815, Treaty of Windsor (1175), Treaty of Warsaw (1705), Second Geneva Convention (1907), Balkan Pact, Tripoli Agreement(2006),The National Accord (2008)  to name but a few. History will therefore tell us that nations and people have often agreed to dialogue when: war was inevitable, life was threatened and generation faced with uncertainties.

In attempting to answer the limbo “dialogue or no dialogue”, I share the views of Shannon and Weaver where I opine that perhaps the message might have been decoded wrongly along the way. Their model simply says that an information source produces a message (Quest for National Dialogue), a transmitter encodes it into signals (Public Rallies), a channel transmits (Media) and a receiver decodes it to the intended audience (Jubilee Coalition). My nine pence guess, the well-intended message had the wrong platform and wrong information sources. It assumes the role of citizen participation as isolated individuals and gave room for differing purposes, interpretations and power relations.

Conditions necessary for the proposed “National Dialogue”

In dialogue, there is no attempt to gain points or prevail, and nobody tries to "win." The primary objective of dialogue is to suspend one`s opinions and look at the opinions of others. All participants must learn to listen to what is on someone's mind and suspend judgement without coming to a conclusion.  Bohn David and Peter Senge agree that Dialogue requires: a) an "empty place" b) colleague treatment c) effective facilitation so as to give all participants the necessary space to talk.

Significantly since dialogue can only take place when we can suspend those notions of authority and in an empty with no set agenda or program, CORD should shed off its “agenda” and Jubilee its sense of authority to allow for a real dialogue setting.

 Finally, our constitution 2010 has emboldened citizen participation as a key pillar anchored in the constitution and a tool for good governance and effective service delivery. Articles 201 (a), 196 (b) 184 (c), 174 (c),124 (b),118, 35, 34, 10-2 (a) provide for access to information and public participation in the decision making processes These decisions include what problems they have and how to prioritize their solutions programmes.


By: Jacob Orina (Chief Information Scientist)

The writer works with Transparency and Accountability Habitat through Information and Communication (Tachicom-Kenya) and his views expressed herein are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the Habitat.

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