Story by: LUKOYE ATWOLI
Publication Date: 12/14/2007
IN NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES, when a person hacks a neighbour to death, he is arrested, charged with murder, and if convicted, sentenced to death under the law. If one burns a neighbour’s house, he is charged with arson and is sentenced appropriately.
Clearly, we are not living under normal circumstances today. All around the country, crazed mobs are running around armed with all sorts of simple and sophisticated weapons maiming and killing fellow citizens with abandon.
All this is ostensibly in the name of political activity. No election campaign is complete without supporters of one candidate attacking those of his opponent. Criminal acts have been labelled ‘‘political violence’’ and blame has been laid squarely at the feet of our political class. Politicians are being accused of inciting people and paying for the violence.
THE QUESTION THAT BEGS AN answer is this: Which politician has held a gun to someone’s head and forced them to hack their neighbour with machetes and burn their houses? Is there a politician out there who has threatened a group of people with death if they do not go out and attack his opponents?
Using terms such as ‘‘political violence’’, ‘‘politically instigated violence’’ or ‘‘incitement’’ only legitimises crime and allows people to carry out barbaric actswithout fearing the repercussions.
Murder, arson, armed robbery, carjacking and all sorts of heinous crime attain a sacrosanct status, and the perpetrators cannot be brought to book because their ‘‘political’’ godfathers will raise hell!
The truth is that there is no such thing as ‘‘political violence’’. It appears that many Kenyans live in a state of perpetual envy of their neighbours’ property and perceived success and only need an excuse to dispossess them, even if it means taking their lives. People make personal decisions to harm their neighbour, and then they find a comfortable cover for doing so. The ‘‘political violence’’ tag doesthe job perfectly.
No amount of incitement would otherwise cause a right-thinking man to suddenly attack his neighbour of many years without any provocation. No amount of money would convert a God-fearing upright citizen into one of the monsters we see on TV shouting death threats at people who hold contrary views.
One columnist recently stated that all it would take for the violence to end is for the politicians to say ‘No’. This could not have been further from the truth!
Politicians are under the control of their supporters, not the other way round. They will do whatever is necessary to get them elected. They will happily say no to election violence but complain bitterly when their supporters are arrested and charged with committing the same crimes. However many politicians say ‘No’ to violence, it will not stop as long as Kenyans are still happy when members opposing camps or tribes are attacked and killed during campaigns.
Poverty has often been cited as a reason why people are easily ‘‘incited’’ into committing violent crimes during campaigns. But poverty does not convert one into a mindless automaton that obeys orders from the highest bidder.
Criminals do not reform when they get rich. Nor do good people become criminals when they encounter poverty. Poverty and politics are, therefore, excuses that people use to commit crime and escape punishment.
THE MAJORITY OF POLITICIANS ARE representatives, not leaders, and are incapable of inciting us to do what we are unwilling to do. They cannot come up with any values alien to what their supporters hold deeply themselves. It would seem that the politicians are pawns in this complex game of politics, fulfilling the wishes of those they represent.
Strict, impartial and severe application of the law might be a starting point in dealing with these crimes. Killers must be held personally responsible for their crimes. Arsonists must be punished for their crimes. Once these criminals realise that they have no protection from the law, they may become less willing to accept inducements from politicians to commit ‘‘political violence’’.
Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist operating in Eldoret
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