Sunday, July 26, 2009

Prosecute violence suspects to fullest extent of the law

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 26 July 2009, Page 33

There have been reports in the media that communities in areas that bore the brunt of post-election violence are getting restless and that threats of violence are re-emerging due to the wrangling over how to treat perpetrators of the violence.
It is being reported that residents of Eldoret and other parts of the Rift Valley are once again threatening to unleash violence on members of other communities as the impasse persists.

It is instructive to note that these reports are coming from closely guarded sources, and there does not seem to be any public acknowledgement of the existence of these threats.

In truth, the basis for these reports is rumour and hearsay and, barring any evidence to the contrary, they must be received with a healthy dose of salt.

Politicians have perfected the art of holding the country at ransom with threats of violence if they are held to account for their role in the post-election violence, and the media and "research institutions" which are really only briefcase NGOs seeking relevance are squarely falling into this trap.

Highlighting such reports that are based on nothing but conjecture and innuendo serves only to raise temperatures more than any threats that may actually have been made.

It is a fact that ethnic tensions have been part and parcel of life in most of Kenya since independence and, because nothing has been done to address this, they tend to erupt into violence at the slightest provocation.


Another fact of existence in this country is that politicians are made or broken on the basis of tribal considerations, and not on the party or platform they represent. Indeed for as long as anyone can remember, politicians have been making threats of unleashing their supporters' wrath on their opponents whenever they feel threatened.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise when the same politicians continue threatening ethnic fire and brimstone if anyone tries to investigate their role in the post-election violence. What is surprising is that the otherwise enlightened media and "civil society" are taking up this message as though it is gospel truth, and propagating it as the findings from a "scientific" process.

The truth of the matter is that, in bars and marketplaces all over the country, the language people speak is often derogatory concerning other tribes, and it is peppered with violent imagery and visions of gore and bloodshed.

A victim mentality and ideas of "marginalisation" pervade every corner of the republic and this has, in turn, given rise to a sense of entitlement that borders on the juvenile.

Talk has always been rife of "foreigners" who are taking up all "our" resources, and this cannot be presented as a new phenomenon linked exclusively to the fate of the masterminds of the post-election violence.

Threatening politicians with fresh outbreaks of ethnic animosity hoping to induce them to tone down their rhetoric is bound to be counterproductive, for our politicians have demonstrated a singular insularity as they pursue their own cherished goals.

A threat such as The Hague or even a local tribunal would, therefore, be expected to bring out the worst in them, and telling them that their "people" are getting restless only serves to further inflate their egos and vindicate their already overblown sense of personal invulnerability.

The role of civil society and a patriotic media should be to expose insidious threats to our nationhood and even identify possible ways to extirpate them before they metastasise beyond our ability to handle them.

It is almost accepted beyond reasonable doubt that our current crop of politicians poses the greatest threat to the future of this nation, and we must make this amply clear to any among us who still has questions about this. It is, therefore, the height of folly to amplify the cacophony being made by politicians and even repackage it as a truth worth discussing when, in actual fact, it is a tissue of lies and self-serving nonsense.

The best way of dealing with these fellows would be to call their bluff and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law, and then see who would remember them long enough to cause turmoil on their behalf.

If this is done it is in fact conceivable that the talk of retaliatory violence will cease, for the warlords are the real architects of such ideas. The common citizen is too busy trying to eke out an honest living when he is not suffering the ravages of hunger, disease water shortage or some other calamity.

The fate of the ethno-political warlords cannot, and must not, be linked to the future of our country as a colourfully diverse but cohesive cosmopolitan polity.

Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University's School of Medicine

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Time to Resolve Impasse in the Police Force

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 19 July 2009, Page 38

The recent spate of violent crime, including car-jackings and abductions, has been so audacious that even the high and mighty have not been spared.
Cabinet ministers, MPs and ordinary citizens have been targeted almost equally, resulting in the ubiquitous protests from the political class about "rising insecurity" and the need to deal with the menace.

Prior to this crime surge, the police force had been under sustained attack from the human rights lobby over extrajudicial killings. A special rapporteur of the United Nations was even brought in to lend more weight to the campaign, and he recommended an overhaul of the leadership of the police and the establishment of a police oversight mechanism.

To spice things up some more, the government is contemplating merging the two competing police formations ­ the regular police and the administration police (AP).

A team has been going round the country collecting views from Kenyans concerning this issue, and it is clear that a lot of organisation has gone into lobbying for one side of the debate or the other. During some hearings, crowds have emerged with banners supporting one point of view as opposed to another.

This passionate discourse has even drawn senior leaders of the two competing groups, with the regular police boss seeming convinced that merging the two forces will enhance efficiency and reduce conflicts over chain of command, while the AP commandant holds a position diametrically opposed to this.

The rivalry between the two forces has resulted in serious incidents pitting regular police officers against their AP counterparts with disastrous consequences.

The clashes have taken place all over the country, and the aftermath has involved embarrassing scenes of senior officers accusing each other of masterminding crime and covering up investigations.

Obvious in all this is the fact that politicians have not wasted time taking sides in the argument. Those with axes to grind against the police commissioner have gone to town with demands that he steps aside, and some civil society groups have even identified individual officers for pillorying. In the usual Kenyan fashion, it is easy to see which side of the political chasm supports which force, although opinions become muddled when it comes to specifics including whether the two forces should be merged or not.

It may be powerfully argued that it is the involvement of politicians in the affairs of law enforcement that has resulted in the inertia in the police forces, and caused an escalation of the crime wave in various parts of the country.

Perceived political patronage has resulted in a standoff that could have been easily resolved through an administrative audit of the functions of the two police formations resulting in a determination on whether they are superfluous or complementary.

Instead, the country has been stattreated to the spectacle of two parallel police forces squaring it out in the glare of media publicity while the ranks of the criminal class continue to swell unabated.

Perhaps the most poignant reminder of the failure of police functions lies in the fact that today no politician, however junior in the scheme of things, can be arrested for a crime without causing partisan murmurs.

Last week, one politician loudly proclaimed at a public rally that Kenya "cannot be considered to be a failed state" even in the wildest imagination.

Well, to refresh his imagination, one of the key indicators of state failure is loss of control over large swathes of territory and state surrender of its monopoly of violence.
The apparent impotence of our police force in the face of widespread criminal activity leaves no doubt in our minds about who controls the instruments of violence in this country.

Instead of enforcing the law equally and without fear or favour as they are sworn to do, our police officers now have to look over their shoulders every time they arrest an offender, just in case he belongs to an opposing police formation or is in the pay of some political supremo.
The fact that these warlords can stop implementation of the law by threatening violence and nothing is done to chastise them just goes to further illustrate the extent of state failure in Somalia.

In the suburbs of Nairobi and other big towns across the country, there is emerging the concept of "neighbourhood watch", which is just a posh name for vigilante formations.

Ethnic militias complete the picture in the rural areas and urban slums and, unless something is done urgently, our slide to Somaliesque state failure is reaching a point of no state return.

To avoid this steady advance to anarchy, it is incumbent upon the government to sort out the mess in the police forces before it completely loses the ability to do so.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University's School of Medicine

Monday, July 13, 2009

The ball is now in the ICC’s court

By Lukoye Atwoli
(Edited version published Sunday Nation 12 July 2009, page 31)

Until a few days ago, the Kenya government had created a perception that the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor had, with the agreement of Kofi Annan, granted the Kenya government an extension as they seek to set up a local tribunal to try the perpetrators of Post-Election Violence. The minister for Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs had even declared on National TV that the government “is no longer bound by the provisions of the Waki Report”.
After Kofi Annan delivered the sucker punch with a mid-week declaration that the infamous Waki envelope had been handed over to the ICC, politicians have been struggling to come up with a cogent response. The height of irony is that so much time and energy had been spent discussing the operationalisaton of the Waki report, that the government’s declaration that the report would just be trashed like several others before it ran counter to all logical reasoning.
The Waki proposals were made within the ethno-political context of Kenya as it was last year and continues to be today. The situation is such that some of the perpetrators occupy positions at the very pinnacle of power in this country, and it would be difficult to prosecute them without requiring a reconstitution of government or a change of the law to remove real and imagined immunities from these politicians.
The Waki team must have realized that just making recommendations and leaving them to the Principals and their minions to implement would have resulted in more of the same inertia that met the production of numerous other Commission Reports since independence.
It was in recognition of this reality that the team wisely recommended that if the government demonstrates unwillingness or inability to move forward with a local tribunal, the ICC at The Hague would automatically be involved. The chief mediator, Kofi Annan, was given the simple role of custodian of the envelope with the perpetrators’ names until the ICC provisions kicked in.
Kenyan politicians, in their wily fashion, somehow managed to expand Kofi Annan’s role by giving him the mandate to vary the Waki deadlines and decide for himself when to hand over the envelope to the ICC. Indeed until a few days ago the warlords were convinced that they had won a major victory over those that continue to demand justice for the crimes committed against the nation and the people of Kenya. As double insurance, the government had even decided to go over Kofi Annan’s head to the ultimate recipient, Mr. Luis Moreno-Ocampo at the ICC.
The belief by the politicians that they had been granted an extension by the ICC, and the resultant chest-thumping about ‘no longer being bound by the provisions of the Waki report’ are indications of just what sort of nonsense to expect if we leave the process to our government and the political class . The Waki report did not envisage any role for the ICC prosecutor except to receive the envelope and move on from there on the assumption that the Kenya government had failed to prosecute the perpetrators.
By handing over the envelope to the ICC, Kofi Annan has tacitly indicated that he has lost faith in the ability of the government to form a credible local tribunal, and in belatedly following Waki’s prescription, he has left the matter in the hands of the ICC prosecutor.
Outside of the political arena in this country, everyone agrees that crimes of a magnitude that falls within the jurisdiction of the ICC were committed after the last general election. Almost everyone agrees that our legal justice system as currently constituted lacks the capacity to successfully try these crimes, and the evidence abounds in the hundreds of thousands of pending cases involving petty crimes littering our corridors of justice.
Insisting on a local tribunal or other judicial processes is therefore a transparent attempt to give the political class an opportunity to cleanse themselves by influencing the process to come up with findings favorable to them. Instructively, many politicians have even dismissed the local tribunal as an arena for witch-hunts and ‘fixing’ political opponents.
The move by Kofi Annan and his team is therefore commendable, though late in coming, and the ball now shifts to Moreno-Ocampo and the ICC. It is unacceptable that months after the Waki team examined the evidence and made valid recommendations, the implementation process remains mired in political grandstanding and intrigue.
The top potentates, including the so-called principals, must not rest easy thinking that Kenyans have forgiven them or forgotten the suffering they went through last year. The buck stops with them, and even if it takes a hundred years, the truth about the nonsensical killing spree we endured last year shall finally be laid bare.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Nothing wrong with 'tribe' in census, except in Kenya

By Lukoye Atwoli
(Edited Version Published in Sunday Nation, 5 July 2009, Page 36)

Our national bogeyman, tribe, is once again threatening to wreck an important exercise- the national population census planned for August this year. The arguments for and against including this item are so passionate that the donor community and NGOs are reported to be strongly against it for fear of further polarizing the country.
Censuses are carried out in order to provide information for policy development and planning, and as long as this remains the aim of such an exercise in Kenya, it would be important to collect any and all bits of information necessary to help in this. Indeed it would be better to collect excess information than is needed, for it is easier to discard what is superfluous than to go back and collect missing information.
For instance, it may be useful to know which communities may be considered minorities in order to look out for them as far as education, health facilities and infrastructure is concerned. This approach is premised on the fact that in a representative ‘democracy’ such as the one we purport to have, the larger population groups can and will speak for themselves whenever there is a problem with the provision of these services.
Knowing the ethnic composition of a population may also aid planners to identify discriminatory practices in different areas. If one community contributes a significant proportion of the population and yet is scantily represented in any or all sectors of the economy, alarm bells would sound in the planning circles and a responsible government would rush to discover the source of the discrepancy in order to redress it.
Even in healthcare delivery, there are certain illnesses that are more common among individuals from certain races, and presumably this effect may be demonstrated among the various ethnic communities in this country. Knowing the ethnic composition of the population would therefore prepare the health care system to offer the necessary services to those at risk.
The few reasons enumerated above are as good as any required to compel anyone purporting to carry out a national census to include the question on the ethnic extraction of the respondents. However, in this country, everything is given an ethno-political interpretation, and as soon as the results of such a census are out, the entire country will be sorely exercised trying to find out what proportion of the population their respective communities contribute.
Some would immediately get out their calculators to find out which tribe or constellation of tribes makes up the majority, and then get onto rooftops to trumpet their ‘victory’ if their group ‘wins’, or to lament about manipulation of statistics if their group ‘loses’!
Indeed we got a sneak preview of this kind of thinking a few months ago when the government released poverty statistics comparing the various constituencies. As soon as the ranking was released many of our MPs were out screaming about one perceived injustice or other. Those that were ranked richest disputed this, calling it a ploy to ensure reduced allocation of devolved funds, while those that were ranked poor cried foul about their implied misuse of the same funds.
Such is the vacuous nature of our social interactions that the concern by donors and NGOs should be taken as a commentary on the poor state of our collective mind as Kenyans. Instead of expressing reservations about including ‘Tribe’ in the census, those of us who are concerned about the primacy ethnicity has taken in our national discourse should be coming up with solutions that will deal with the problem once and for all.
The problem as perceived by the neutral observer is that we tend to use tribe to reach conclusions about an individual we know nothing about. Thus we only need to know one’s surname to figure out what political party (read ethno-political warlord) they support. This extends even to what football team they support, what television station they watch, what newspaper they read, and even what sort of friends they prefer!
Our preoccupation with tribe continues to rob us of priceless opportunities to learn from each other and to engage ‘strangers’ who may have something useful to offer.
A possible solution to this conundrum would be to include the question on tribe or ethnicity in the census, but leave it open so that an individual may choose whether or not to dignify it with an answer. A related option would be to allow respondents to indicate that their tribe is ‘Kenya’. The census would thus be usefully transformed into a referendum on the primacy of ethnic identity as opposed to the notion of Kenyanness, and the findings would have far-reaching implications on our governance landscape.