We Vowed Never Again.

Posted: November 19, 2017 in Life, Politics
Tags: , ,

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After the 2007 elections in Kenya the disputed outcome resulted in protests, which quickly spun out of control, causing the deaths of more than 1,300 people and the displacement of hundreds of thousands others. For many of us, myself included, the unprecedented violence suffered by the victims was something we could not relate to, mainly owing to the fact that there was scanty media coverage released to the public.

Only after I had the opportunity to interact with the horrifying images captured by Boniface Mwangi and showcased in his Picha Mtaani post-election violence photo exhibition, was I able to begin appreciating the true gravity of the tragedy that had befallen us. I had the privilege of viewing the exhibition before it went on the road and remember pushing back tears as I pored over some of the photos and listened to the stories behind them. Yet even this did not adequately prepare me enough for what was to follow. Boniface had hired me to organise the logistics for the exhibition and this brought me in direct contact with both the victims and the perpetrators of the violence. The harrowing stories of rape, dismemberment and murder that were related to us, as we moved from town to town, wrenched my gut and rent my heart and, this time, the tears flowed (though I only cried in private). It seemed incredulous to me that, otherwise normal, people could engage in such beastly acts of savagery against other people, some of whom had been friends and neighbours, especially over such a fatuous reason as a disagreement over an election outcome.

Fast forward 10 years and it seems we’ve come full circle. Even before we have fully healed, we now have another disputed election and accompanying protests. Our soil has already been soaked with the blood sacrificed by our fellow brothers and sisters, as violence threatens to run out of control. Police brutality against protesters and killings commited by illegal militia, threaten to blow the lid off the simmering tensions, as the country awaits the Supreme Court ruling tomorrow, Monday 20th.

My greatest fear is that the lid will come off and the ugly events of 2007/8 will revisit us again. I pray this does not happen, but the current episodes of sporadic violence, coupled with the intransigence of both political divides, is foreboding. In online platforms, as well as towns and villages across the country, myopic and vacuous “warriors” are busy fomenting violence. The passage of just 10 years has managed to erase from our memories the danger we faced of losing our country, our peace.

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How did we get here? Two things are of significant importance in answering this question. The first is that, in spite of gifting ourselves a progressive constitution which empowers us (citizens), to take charge, we have continued to submit ourselves to the selfish and whimsical influence of the political class. Our political differences are driven by the struggle for ethnic dominance; putting “our man” in power so that we can get a larger slice of the national cake – “it’s our time to eat”. Many of us have yet to realise that this self-defeating brand of politics is just a ploy propagated by the political elite to maintain themselves in power. While it’s true that a tiny minority of members belonging to the community in power will benefit, the percentage is so small that it’s completely irrelevant. The vast majority of members from the ruling community will face the same challenges as those from communities who are not in power. The small-scale farmer in Kiambu  has no comparative advantage over the fisherman in Kisumu. They both face the same challenges in paying school fees, buying food, paying medical bills, etc. In reality, we have much more in common with each other than we do with the political class. The tragedy is that even though our Constitution took power away from the political class and gave it to us, we’ve handed it right back to them. We cannot win the war against ignorance, poverty and sickness, that our founding fathers started, if we persist in combating the wrong opponent.

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Secondly, we have failed, as a nation, to prioritise the delivery of justice to all who seek it, including the victims of the 2007/8 post-election violence. People who were displaced from their homes and others who lost their family members after the 2007/8 post-election violence are still waiting for justice 10 yrs later. Theft and misuse of public resources by the political class is rampant, yet the number of arrests and prosecutions is not commensurate. Justice is for sale, therefore the public employee who steals tens of millions of shillings will be rewarded with a plush government post, while the poor man who steals a chicken from his neighbour to feed his starving family will be jailed for 10 yrs. Incidences of electoral fraud and malpractice have continued to dog us at practically every election. This, coupled with the ethnic nature of our politics, has created the perceived (and sometimes real) imbalance between regions where the ruling class comes from and the rest of the country. The glaring weakness, in some of our institutions, to deliver on their mandates is a contributory factor in propagating the perception of injustice. When people feel that they cannot get justice from the institutions set up to do so, then they will eventually resort to getting it themselves.

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So what are we to do? We must summon up courage, find our voices and speak up for our country. In the short-term (that means immediately), we must cease and desist from engaging in any talk of violence or propagating ethnic hatred and severely censor those we know to be doing so. If you belong to a WhatsApp or Facebook group where this kind of talk is happening, but have been too timid to speak up, it’s time to step up. We must also, and this is very important, unconditionally condemn all forms of violence, including that perpetrated by the uniformed forces mandated with maintaining law and order. The killing of defenceless people does not, and never will, equate to maintaining law and order. It is an injustice. We must learn to disagree without resorting to name-calling or violence. If we can’t do this, we should refrain from speaking. The country needs level-headed, rational individuals, not immature, vacuous, fire-breathing ones.

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Long-term, we need to lift up the carpet and deal with all the issues that have been swept under it over the years. We need to conclusively deal with issues relating to land, resource distribution, political representation and tribal politics. For instance, I would like to see a reduction in the number of counties from the current 47 to 8, loosely formed along the boundaries of the former provinces. I believe this would contribute, in some way, to de-ethnicising our politics and also making the counties more economically viable units. We need to continue building and strengthening our institutions by enabling them to effectively carry out their mandate and enhancing their independence, so that they can be free from any external influence. We need to fight corruption and impunity like our very lives depend on it. Heads MUST roll. We must make it clear to our leaders that it’s up to them which heads will roll; the corrupt ones, or theirs.

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We must support devolution, because of two things; it will hasten development at the local level to benefit the common mwananchi, and it will end our obsession with national politics as we realise that local politics is of greater consequence to us.

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There are only two options available to us; to either continue building on the gains we have made so far as a country, or to destroy everything and start afresh. The former requires maturity, vision, magnanimity, dialogue, compromise and love and respect for one another. The latter is not worth contemplating, as none of us will have anything to gain, but everything to lose.

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