Thursday, December 18, 2008
The time is coming when EVERYONE will have to take a stand on issues of national importance. I don't know about you, but for me the time arrived when our presumably progressive government decided that it was an offence to wear a black T-shirt with inscription exhorting our MPs to pay tax, and asking for implementation of the Waki report on Post-election violence.
As a first step in dealing with this slide into authoritarianism and collusion between most of the important organs of government- the Executive, the Legislature (and maybe even the judiciary- judges too do not pay tax!), I think it is important for all Kenyans to demonstrate solidarity with on Michael Otieno who has filed a suit in the High court against the Kenya Revenue Authority asking that MPs' salaries and allowances be taxed to the fullest extent of the applicable tax laws.
You can get involved by going to www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?PETN756&251 and getting enjoined in the suit.
You can also get a black T-shirt and stand ready for a Million-Person Black T-shirt March on Parliament, State House and the High Court whenever the opportunity presents itself.
You can also contact me with your ideas on what you think needs to be done on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let us 'Be the Change we want to see in our country'!
Monday, December 15, 2008
Daily Nation Friday, December 12, 2008, Page 11
Today, Kenyans are celebrating the day when Kenya officially became independent under majority rule. Prior to this date 45 years ago, the country had been under white minority rule for 69 years.
History tells us that before the 19th century Scramble for Africa, the territory now known as Kenya was populated by various ethnic communities under different forms of rule, from monarchies to councils of elders.
Prior to the advent of independence in 1963, there was a decade and a half of an armed insurrection culminating in the declaration of a state of emergency in 1952. Thousands of freedom fighters were killed in the struggle, and many more were incarcerated in concentration camps all over the country.
Hundreds of thousands were compulsorily ‘‘villagised’’ in an attempt by the colonial government to control movement and crush the rebellion.
Two years ago, we carried out a study that found out that almost a third of the survivors of those concentration camps suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and a large proportion suffer from other psychological problems, including depression and anxiety disorders.
Many of the veterans interviewed were bitter that the freedom they sacrificed for had been ‘‘grabbed’’ by those that stood by and collaborated with the ‘‘enemy’’.
Many colonial administrators — chiefs, district officers and junior police officers — at independence became senior government officers with power to allocate resources to the burgeoning middle class. Freedom fighters were shunted aside or advised to band together, purchase land, and start their lives afresh.
In Nairobi and other urban centres, one will today find groups of demoralised old men and women with multiple physical and psychological scars of the freedom struggle. They are now grandparents and great grandparents many times over, but they still eke out a living in conditions of near absolute poverty.
Their children have fanned out across the country and try to make a living from hawking and doing other businesses. They in turn started their own families and in the cycle of poverty they live in, shared stories of how their parents lost everything during the ‘‘Mau Mau’’ war and had nothing to show for it under successive governments.
The grandchildren of the freedom veterans, disillusioned with a hopeless existence and condemned to a life that is Hobbesian — solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short — were seduced by the hopeful religion of liberation by facing back to the past. Thus, Mungiki was born.
Current urban thuggery can thus, at least partially, be traced to a Government policy that deliberately ignored the past and sought to build a future based on a spineless vision of ‘‘forgive and forget’’.
If this nation is built on the foundations of the freedom-struggle narrative, then it is a shaky foundation indeed, given the sense of betrayal one sees in the tired eyes of these men and women and their offspring.
In developed societies, there are dedicated veterans’ administrations to cater for the needs of the men and women who take up arms in defence of the state.
As part of our acknowledgement of our past errors, we must start thinking of setting up a similar structure to serve, not only the veterans, but all the soldiers who have fought for this country and now live in humble retirement, suffering nightmares due to their war experience.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Every year we pretend to celebrate the 'independence', before packing our travelling bags and making a beeline for Paris, London, New York and Washington DC with our begging bowls in place and our hats in our hands...
Independence indeed! We are unable to feed our population and are now labouring under two prices for the maize meal staple, one for the 'rich' and one for the 'poor'. The government has finally accepted poverty as an ineradicable reality in this country and has moved to institutionalise it.
Soon we should start seeing schools for the rich and poor, segregation in hospitals, public offices, electoral booths, roads and even churches. For there are only two tribes in this country, as the cliche goes: the haves, and the have-nots.
This is just too tiring to think about! And to imagine that 'we' aspire to be a 'middle income' (sort of ) industrialised country by 2030, I have no breath left in me after the bout of laughter....
This is Kenya.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Sunday Nation, November 30 2008 Page 22
Ongoing debate over the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Post-election Violence (CIPEV) has taken a familiar Kenyan trajectory.
Many commentators are seeing it purely through tribal or partisan lenses, and if this continues, it is inevitable that the International Criminal Court at the Hague will be involved.
At the beginning of this year, I spent several days at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital Mortuary, organising mental health and psychosocial services for the mourners coming to identify the bodies of loved ones killed during the violence.
At the peak of the violence, 50 to 100 bodies were arriving each day with bizarre injuries that tested even veteran morticians at the mortuary.
Bodies burnt beyond recognition, torsos without heads, dismembered limbs and bodies were the order of the day.
Bodies picked up several days after being killed and dumped in farms and trenches were brought in badly decomposed. Some are still awaiting identification through DNA technology.
According to the Waki report, 1,133 people were killed between December 27, 2007 and February 29, 2008. I think the deaths are being considerably underestimated.
Many people died during flight and were buried in mass graves or abandoned at roadsides, and these could not have been counted as victims identified by the police or public hospitals.
It is important that anyone deigning to comment on the Waki report reflects on these facts before cheapening the lives of those that were killed during this dark period of our history.
It is important also to remember that both government and civilians hold responsibility for the deaths. About a third of the recorded deaths are attributed to the police while the rest are attributed to civilians.
For those insisting on seeing things through ethnic prisms or in orange and blue, the following statistics in the Waki report should help clarify things somewhat.
Roughly equal numbers of Kikuyu (268) and Luo (278) were killed, and significant numbers of Luhya (163) and Kalenjin (158) lost their lives, among others.
It is macabre for politicians to harp about how “their” people were the only victims, while minimising the losses purportedly suffered by “others”.
Weeps and prays
Every time someone denigrates the contents of the Waki report, a Kenyan somewhere weeps and prays for strength to face the next day without a loved one.
It must be understood that the deepest and most painful scars suffered by the vast majority of Kenyans as a result of the violence were not physical.
Most people underwent some degree of psychological anguish, and indeed the bitter fruits of that experience are only just beginning to be felt.
Many Kenyans are seeking help in health facilities for problems to do with sleep, forgetfulness, poor concentration, nightmares and being easily startled.
These symptoms are often accompanied by chronic bodily aches and pains that are difficult to treat with pills. These are actually some of the symptoms of the psychological effects of traumatic experiences many were exposed to earlier this year.
Long after physical wounds have healed, many Kenyans will continue suffering mental anguish, and it will be difficult to mobilise them politically towards any national goal.
Unless this psychological suffering is addressed enduringly, this country should brace itself for major challenges in its quest to achieve the Millennium Development Goals or Vision 2030.
The first step in addressing this problem will have to involve some form of closure. This will be in the form of a sense that justice has been done one way or the other, and that some degree of restitution has been achieved.
Whether through a local tribunal or at the Hague, this need for a just outcome will just not be wished away, and the sooner our politicians understand this, the better for all of us.
This should be followed by a process of reconciliation, involving our coming together as a nation and re-examining our national values vis a vis the violent activities characterising our history since independence.
The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation process may not go far enough in achieving this goal. We must embark on a national project of healing that goes beyond cyclical political upheaval.
The end-product must include a national vision that is coherent and shared by all who identify themselves as Kenyan.
Political and constitutional reforms not anchored in a national morality and vision will only serve as a template for the next generation’s conflict.
The Waki report offers us the opportunity to finally exorcise the ghosts of our bloody past, and failure to do so will leave us exposed to the harsh judgment of history.
Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and a lecturer at the Moi University School of Medicine. email@example.com