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.


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