Monday, December 1, 2008

Reality check on the Waki report

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.

First step

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.

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