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.

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