Thursday, January 10, 2008

We're on the Brink of Becoming one of Africa's Failed States

Publication Date: 1/3/2008

AFTER PROTRACTED TALLYing following the December 27 General Election, the Electoral Commission finally pronounced a winner in the closest presidential race in Kenya’s history. Opinion polls preceding the vote had predicted a tight race, but not even the pollsters could predict just how close it would be. Predictably, there are protests by those claiming the poll was rigged in favour of the incumbent, and people are spilling into the streets to express disappointment. The merits or demerits of these allegations cannot be fully examined in this article.
A more worrying development, however, is the widespread violence, looting and destruction of property across the country. As the American ambassador said in an interview, violence has no place in a democratic society. After an election, however flawed, the winners must be magnanimous and reach out to those who have not won, while the losers must be measured in expressing their disagreement with the result.
HARMING OTHERS AND DAMAGING property does not change the outcome of an election, and it does very little to further the cause of the protesters. All legitimate avenues of protest must be explored and pursued to their logical conclusion.
It has always been clear that the perpetrators of violence are common criminals looking for an opportunity to loot and get away with it. The looters seen on national TV carrying away cookers, TV sets and carpets from a supermarket could not have been expressing any political opinions through their acts.
As we digest the implications of the election result and the resultant reactions, we must seek to understand the issues that threaten to tear apart the fabric of our republic if left unattended. These issues include negative ethnicity, paucity of leadership, and enduring dishonesty among key segments of our population.
The spectre of negative ethnicity has been illuminated through statements and opinions expressed by many Kenyans, politicians and common citizens. Some questioned the legitimacy of leaders elected with the support of only one tribe, while others questioned the credentials of some leaders on the basis of their ethnic origins and traditions. Ethnic stereotyping took on monstrous proportions, and to a large extent, became a key issue in deciding the election.
As the country impatiently waited for the results to be released, a great opportunity existed for the emergence of leaders who would appeal to the people’s best instincts and encourage patience and peaceful coexistence.
Sadly, this opportunity went begging. Our ‘‘leaders’’, instead, chose to engage in accusations and counter-accusations in the full glare of the media, thus inflaming passions among their supporters and tacitly encouraging them to seek alternative outlets for their frustrations.
As the violence spread, politicians appealed for peace with their mouths but projected belligerence with their body language. Key politicians remained silent, as though nothing was happening.
A final problem with our society is the dishonesty with which we handle important matters in our national life. We have refused to acknowledge and deal with serious historical and current crises in our country. We chatter in bars, marketplaces and street corners and then go home and perpetuate the same vices we decry. We have refused to deal with issues, and preferred to link our destiny to individuals. We have refused to build enduring institutions, instead leaving the affairs of state to the whims of those that represent our ‘‘community’’ interests.
EVERYONE KEEPS TALKING ABOUT equitable sharing of the ‘‘national cake’’, as though the nation is separate from us and our ethnic communities. Our fixation with free things is symptomatic of our national psyche. We demand free education, free healthcare and even cash handouts for the unemployed. The amounts of money involved in the collapsed pyramid schemes illustrate our collective propensity for ‘‘free’’ material gains. We don’t understand that building a nation is hard work: Sweat, tears and even blood such as that shed in the struggle for independence.
The country stands on the brink of a precipice. The choice is ours: Do we jump off and become yet another statistic in the crowded galaxy of failed African states?
Or do we take a deep searching look at the consequences of our actions and speech, and turn back to the more important business of building some semblance of nationhood?

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist operating in Eldoret
© 2005 NationMediaGroup All Rights Reserved

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