By LUKOYE ATWOLI
Sunday Nation 25 October 2009
This past Kenyatta Day, President Kibaki issued a stern warning to criminals in typically harsh fashion, promising to ‘‘crush them’’ and asking wananchi to help in the effort by revealing criminals in their midst and refraining from criminal activity.
As far as the Rift Valley was concerned, the President seemed to allude to recent reports indicating that communities in the province were rearming in readiness for the next elections when he asked residents to ‘‘discourage arms buying in families and our villages …’’
Even as the President made his very emphatic comments, some administrators and politicians in the Rift Valley appeared to be reading from a totally different script by strenuously denying the reports and going as far as calling for the arrest of the human rights activists who had allegedly originated the reports.
Indeed, a number of activists in Eldoret had earlier been picked up by police for questioning in connection with the reports, and some of them had gone into hiding fearing for their lives even on the day the Head of State was issuing the warning to criminals.
So serious is the situation in the Rift Valley and elsewhere in this country that many are afraid to openly discuss the issue without fear of reprisals.
It appears that in Kenya, the freedoms that were gained gradually since the onset of multiparty politics in the early 1990s are being eroded in the wake of post-election violence.
Last year’s conflagration is now being used as an excuse by both the state and varied groups to silence independent voices under the guise of maintaining a fragile peace.
Already the media is awash with reports that some of the witnesses who gave evidence at the Waki inquiry have had to flee the country after receiving death threats. The remaining witnesses have had to contend with extreme uncertainty, fearing that the same fate may befall them any time now.
At this rate Kenya is going to remain a homogenous nation of greedy self-seekers who see no evil, hear no evil and, above all, speak no evil!
As long as there are patriots who still harbour dreams of a future beyond the ‘‘newly industrialising, middle income country providing a high quality life to its citizens’ rhetoric as encapsulated in Vision 2030, such gagging of independent voices must not be allowed to happen.
We must not allow fear of reprisals by government or militias to silence the voice of truth for, if we do not speak now, we shall lose the moral authority to prognosticate after the fact.
Trawling cyberspace recently I came across even more disturbing debates on some of the more popular blogs. Some of the sites had people (using practically anonymous avatars) issuing threats against the journalists who first reported the story about purchase of guns in the Rift Valley.
Some bloggers have dedicated themselves to unearthing the identity of the individual reporters, without disclosing the aim of such an enterprise. The degree of hate and intolerance that is being demonstrated by many Kenyans is reaching alarming proportions.
Government protestations that peace and reconciliation efforts are having effect in the clash-torn areas are easily exposed for the hot air they are when one spends even a few minutes in private conversation with an ordinary citizen.
In most ethno-politically homogenous gatherings, people are passing off ignorant bigotry as gospel truth. The larger tragedy is that in the forums they choose to spew such filth, nobody dares to confront them with a contrary opinion, for fear of being branded a traitor or some similar epithet.
Politicians have not helped the situation much by increasingly ratcheting up political talk focusing on the next General Election, in complete disregard of the plight of multitudes of Kenyans who are living in the most deplorable of circumstances.
For all intents and purposes, the country has entered another election cycle, and any hopes we may have had of institutional re-engineering are fading right before our very eyes.
As the politicians focus on the big prize of being President of Kenya, they are attempting to shift our gaze from the urgent reforms as well as the fate of the organisers of last year’s post-election violence.
Despite the ICC’s valiant attempts at bringing the culprits to justice, many Kenyans are becoming sceptical due to the disdain with which our national leadership is dealing with the issue.
Even if nothing further is achieved in the way of reforms in this country, all right-thinking individuals must condemn the intimidation that is being directed at the last bastions of a civilised society we have left — the media and whistle blowers.
As it is, many have already lost faith in all the other pillars of society, including our political leadership and the institutions of government!
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine