Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Redirect anger to restore sanity

Publication Date: 2/12/2008

I READ PROF WILLIAM OCHIENG’S commentary on February 4 with profound dismay. From a man who has studied and taught history for as long as he has, I expected a reasoned and less emotional dissection of our place in history and what the future holds.

Instead, he bombards us with a depressing diatribe, railing against fellow man and expressing disillusionment with systems, individuals and almost the entire body of humanity.

The good professor pledged never to vote again, joining the bandwagon of Kenyans who, having lost faith in present institutions, now condemn their progeny to a life of uncertainty and pessimism.

Those that have a stake in the future of this country must stand up and be counted. They must speak up and say that though they feel wronged this time by those whose hold on the future is tenuous at most, they shall rise up, and like the proverbial phoenix, rebuild a beautiful land out of the ashes.

Those that have little stake in Kenya’s future have lit the fires that rage across the land, and are moving only sluggishly and reluctantly to douse the flames long after lives and livelihoods have been reduced to ashes. Even as they do this, more fires are being lit, literally and figuratively, in many parts of the country.

I want to be the first to say that for the sake of my children and their progeny, I shall not give up. I will keep my voter’s card as a reminder of the power of the ballot, a power that can build and a power that can destroy. I will definitely use it again in future, to elect true leaders who care about the struggles I go through daily to earn a living.

If there are enough people out there who believe in the beauty of this vision, then we shall triumph and the country will be the richer for it. If, on the other hand, we are in the minority, it is a minority to which I am proud to belong.

The Electoral Commission, the Judiciary, the Executive, all these shall pass on and give way to others, but the power of the ballot shall remain.

Prof Ochieng’s article, however, raises many issues worthy of consideration. The issue of the perpetrators of violence and whether they are expressing any political opinions by wielding machetes, rocks and even guns has been revisited by many commentators.

THE VERDICT APPEARS TO BE THAT they are criminals who would use any opportunity to commit crime, especially if it is covered by the term ‘‘political violence’’ or some such other convenient tag.

That man can kill and loot does not make humanity as a whole killers and looters. Stories abound in these chaotic times of people who sheltered their neighbours, even risking their lives to protect vulnerable people from ‘‘wrong’’ ethnic groups or political persuasions.

The need for firm and consistent application of the law to discourage acts of lawlessness is also self-evident.

The role of the middle class, and by extension, their brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, has also become an issue that cannot be avoided in this debate. Many in these classes have felt safe enough to continue bandying about ethnic stereotypes and insults knowing that they may never be victims when riots break out.

Those outside the country persist in these prejudices from a safe distance, knowing that should the country collapse, they are safe with their green cards and foreign citizenships. Those in Kenya, particularly in Nairobi, live in neighbourhoods that have remained untouched by the violence, and can therefore talk about a ‘‘sense of normalcy’’ returning.

The middle class seems to be unaware of the power it wields to provide solutions in this crisis. They must examine themselves and see that their common interests supersede their ethnic loyalties or even political leanings. They need each other regardless of ethnic affiliation or political inclination.

To the powers that be, expanding the middle class by providing more jobs and better incomes will reduce the number of people willing to destroy all in the name of misdirected anger.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Kenyans need to unite and help in healing the nation

Letter by Dr Lukoye Atwoli DN 06 February 2008

Our politicians have developed the propensity of playing politics with the lives of Kenyans.

Every ‘enemy’ death is celebrated almost like a goal in a ball game, while every supporter’s death is held up as evidence of injustice by the ‘other’ side. Politicians are counting the lives of the dead and injured and comparing them the way people compare scores in a game.

There has been talk of genocide and crimes against humanity, and possible prosecutions to be pursued through the international justice system.

Observing these trends, one is then constrained to ask: Are these leaders of the whole Kenyan nation, or are they leaders only of their communities and regions? Are some lives more precious than others? Is one form of wrongful death more justifiable than the other?

It is instructive that one of the people who tried to be ‘objective’ depending on which side of the divide one is, Mr Maina Kiai of the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights, was pigeon-holed and judged by his previous comments and activities and chased out of a displaced people’s camp in Eldoret. This was an illustration of the kind of chasm that has now been dug by our ‘leaders’ on both sides. A member of ‘our’ community who chooses to listen to both sides is labelled a traitor and rewarded with threats to his or her life.

As the international mediators go about their business, they must realise they face a much deeper problem than just disputed election results. They face a country at war with itself, struggling to define its very identity and riven with deep ethnic divisions.

This is now a country where we can justify the shooting of a protester in the streets and describe televised footage of the same as a ‘Rambo’ movie.

It is a land where the violent mass eviction of members of one community by another, going as far as burning down churches and schools, is justified in the heat of political debate.

For a while now, many Kenyans have believed that the solution to the current crisis lies in dialogue between the president and his main rival, Raila Odinga. Perhaps it is now time we came out of our sheltered ignorance and acknowledged that the solution may need to go further than that.

The first step should be for both groups to visit all the areas affected by the violence, and offer sincere condolences to all those who have lost loved ones as well as property and livelihoods.

Some sort of compensation package for all those affected will have to be worked out without acrimony. An agreement must be reached on what to do with the identified perpetrators on both sides.

An attempt will have to be made to re-conceptualise the problem from a ‘them’ versus ‘us’ situation to one where all Kenyans stand against all those who do not respect their lives and property.

Our own basic humanity must be used as a starting point towards agreeing to coexist with each other peacefully.

Additionally, there is a need to create and strengthen the institutions that hold together the fabric of State, institutions that have been taken for granted and ignored since independence. The Judiciary, the electoral system and the architecture of the Executive need to be re-examined and improved in order to better serve the people.