Wednesday, May 28, 2008

We can’t just decide to go back to business as usual


Publication Date: 5/27/2008

REPORTS THAT THE RECONCILIATION talks are hitting a deadlock due to absenteeism do not come as a surprise to many who now understand the psyche of the Kenyan leader. To most of them, the crisis is over, and once the internally displaced go back ‘‘home’’, it will be business as usual.

In the same vein, it is rather too optimistic to expect that anything positive will come out of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission set to be established soon.

The Kriegler Commission, too, may also hit a dead end, and even if they do a sterling job, the political will to implement their findings may be lacking.

My pessimism is informed on the failure of successive regimes to implement findings of similar commissions despite their potential to forestall just the sort of conflagration we experienced following the December elections.

The Parliamentary Select Committee reports on the killings of J.M. Kariuki, Robert Ouko and others; the Goldenberg Commission of inquiry; the Ndung’u Land Commission; the Akiwumi Commission of inquiry into ethnic clashes – the list is endless.

IT APPEARS THAT SINCE INDEPENDENCE, Kenyans have been going about their lives wearing heavy veils and unable to see each other’s true faces. These veils are once in a while lifted by events that threaten to destroy the nation, but we soon go back to life as usual.

As soon as the genie is conveniently stuffed back into the bottle Kenyans go back to some semblance of ‘‘normalcy’’ and continue with their pretended civility and hidden hatreds and resentments.

After the eruptions earlier this year, many had hoped that we would be collectively stunned as a nation into action that puts the tragedy behind us.

Indeed, many celebrated a new beginning upon the signing of the deal between President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Soon enough, however, our leaders’ true natures came through and the fighting began in earnest.

When they are not engaging each other over primacy, they are arguing about the need for a “Grand Opposition” or whether or not to resettle IDPs or give amnesty to those arrested in connection with those anarchic times.

The focus on the future has been lost, and the only future our leaders are discussing is their own – who will occupy what position come 2012. In case they have forgotten, there are issues that must be confronted.

First among them is constitutional reform to formalise the compromises struck and take them further to include the creation of secure institutions that can hold the State together even when politicians disagree.

Disengagement from personality-cult politics and reorganisation of our political landscape will go a long way in reducing the risks of further violent eruptions during election years.

Secondly, we must find a way of dealing with the question of impunity. Thieves of public resources and beneficiaries of corruption must never find their way into public office to continue their nefarious ways.

Similarly, perpetrators of illegal acts of whatever nature must face commensurate punishments, however big or small. Kenyans must stop viewing thieves and killers through the ethnic prism and instead recognise them for what they really are – vile criminals standing by for an excuse to commit crime.

Thirdly, employment creation and fair remuneration must be made an urgent priority. Giving Kenyans a stake in the economy will reduce their propensity to go on destructive orgies every time they feel slighted.

Gainfully employed people are less likely to rush to destroy such infrastructure as roads and railways as well as public utilities.

FINALLY, DISTRIBUTION OF RESOURCES must not be perceived to be concentrating on only certain regions from which key national leaders hail. Efforts must be made to ensure that all citizens feel they owe allegiance to one nation and not to sub-nations or even foreign countries as is the case presently.

The current perceived inequities in national development only serves to entrench the perception that development only comes to those whose leader is nearest to State House, resulting in the zero-sum political contests every five years in our country.

These are only some of the ‘‘burning’’ issues that our leaders need to be trying to solve, instead of falling back on to our favourite national pastime – bickering.

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.

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