Wednesday, April 2, 2008

We should not make ECK a scapegoat for our failures


Publication Date: 4/2/2008

IN RECENT DAYS, THE CLAMOUR for the Electoral Commissioners to either resign or be sacked has reached fever pitch.

ECK chairman, Samuel Kivuitu, has even had to suffer the indignity of being booed and jostled in the streets of Mombasa.

And it seems clear that the public mood is such that he may not be safe anywhere else in this country.

The other commissioners are not safe either, and their existence has been reduced to a level below that of common criminals.

All this indignation and finger-pointing begs the question: What is it that the ECK did, that makes it more culpable than the ‘‘ordinary’’ Kenyan who used all sorts of weapons to kill and maim others for daring to be different in one way or the other?

Is Mr Kivuitu more responsible for the breakdown in law and order than the politicians with their inciting utterances, the warlords with their planned aggression, the police with their skewed response, and the common citizen with his machetes, projectiles and petrol bombs?

Examining the entire hullabaloo with a clearer eye unblinded by the ‘‘civil society’’ noise and rabble-rousing, one gets the impression that the ECK has been turned into a convenient scapegoat for most of the ills that are facing our society today.

From an independent stand-point, it is clear the ECK mishandled the elections on a huge scale, and this mishandling may have served to worsen the conflict, that was simmering below the surface amongst many members of the Kenyan society.

The ECK’s perceived malfeasance, therefore, only served to remove the veil of civility that has covered our social interactions since independence, and exposed us for the very uncivilised creatures that we are.

It may be right then to condemn the ECK commissioners for whatever role they played in the post-election fiasco, but the vilification must be tempered with the reality that the most heinous eruptions since the election were the handiwork of criminals in other spheres of society.

Politicians, media workers, opinion leaders, religious leaders and others must also be examined for the roles they played in the violence, together with the officials of the ECK.

For as long as we continue hankering after quick solutions to our problems, hoping that a few resignations and mea culpas will wash away our sins and help us start afresh, we shall continue brewing new subterranean hostilities which periodically erupt into barbarism.

The lasting solution will not be found at the door of Mr Kivuitu or the other ECK commissioners, but in the hearts of each and every Kenyan.

A COMMON STATEMENT IS THAT ‘‘Kenyans only fulfilled their roles in electing their leaders, and now they are living in camps as a result of leadership failure’’.

This refrain is repeated by all, including the politicians themselves. One is then constrained to ask, whom, therefore, is responsible for the appalling atrocities that continue to be meted out against fellow Kenyans?

Is it some foreign malignant force that has been unleashed to destroy our ‘‘island of peace’’?

At the height of the violence, a claim which has since fizzled out was made that Ugandan soldiers were used to quell riots in some parts of the country.

This only goes to illustrate further our search for convenient scapegoats, targets that can absorb all the blame and leave the rest of the country almost entirely blameless!

President Yoweri Museveni’s quick act to congratulate President Kibaki made him an instant villain among many politicians, further serving to confirm his culpability in our problems.

One question Kenyans need to ponder is this: Isn’t it just possible that the ECK did us all a favour (whatever it is they did!) by triggering a process through which we were forced to discard our masks and show our real selves?

The undercurrents of ethnic animosity they exposed may now be comprehensively dealt with through the formation of an Ethnic Relations Commission and the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation process.

The inordinate importance we place on individuals and not institutions has also been uncovered, and we now have the opportunity to create strong institutions that will outlive their occupants.

The weak base of our economy has been thrust under the examining glass, and we may yet learn some lessons in how to diversify our investments instead of depending on only one factor of production.

If the ECK is found to have committed any crimes by the Independent Review Commission, the commissioners must face the full face of the law.

But the same standard must be applied across the board to all Kenyans (and even foreigners!) who may have had a hand in the sad events that occurred around the December election.

Only then can we talk about justice and equity!

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist operating in Eldoret

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