Monday, December 28, 2009

Never allow politicians to incite us to violence

Sunday Nation 27 December 2009

Two years ago this week, Kenyans lined up to elect their leaders in a ritual that had become routine since the onset of multi-party politics in the country. The elections came on the cusp of an orgy of violence that had started during campaigns that were so heavily ethnicised that most were voting on the basis of ethnic affiliation rather than on any ideological inclination.

The violence escalated after the elections, and after many Kenyans died as our politicians dithered and prevaricated, the much-maligned “foreigner” intervened and literally wrote a new law for us -- the National Accord and Reconciliation Act. Apart from reducing the violence and returning the country to some semblance of normality, the pact also set in motion a process to investigate the causes of the violence, set up mechanisms to prevent a repeat, and create structures to promote national healing and reconciliation.

Anyone visiting Kenya today would find it difficult to believe that this is the same country that was at war at the beginning of last year. Politicians are back to their usual games of musical chairs and chest-thumping while the citizen continues to suffer from want and disease.

Listening to our politicians, one is convinced that most do not have the best interests of their constituents at heart. They have been heard declaring war and threatening secession on the basis of such disparate issues as Mau forest reclamation and “sharing of the national cake”. Many of them were engaged in misleading their followers on the provisions of the Harmonised Draft Constitution even though they had not taken time to read the document.

Murderous frenzy

At the height of the violence that rocked this country last year, many people tried to formulate an explanation for the eruption of a murderous frenzy all around the country. The reason consistently advanced by Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) supporters was that the incumbent had stolen an election won by his challenger, Mr Raila Odinga.

This, it was stated, had angered citizens who had spontaneously resorted to use of violence to correct this affront on their “democratic” rights. The Party of National Unity (PNU), on the other hand, seemed to hold the view that President Kibaki had won the election fairly and the violence was an ODM ploy to engineer a civilian coup against a democratically elected government.

In some quarters, it was claimed that the violence in the Rift Valley was planned long before the election, and words such as “ethnic cleansing” and even “genocide” were suggested as appropriate descriptions of the state of affairs in the province. Others advanced theories suggesting that “historical injustices” involving land, infrastructure and political power had more to do with the violence than an allegedly stolen election, which only served as the spark that started the inferno.

Two years after our dalliance with anarchy, different versions of the story are being told based on shifting political alliances. As alliances continue to shift, ethnic coalitions with names reminiscent of the infamous Ku Klux Klan are being floated, and the Kenyan commoner is being herded back into the ethno-political morass that contributed significantly to last year’s violence.

Politicians eying the next General Election are gathering their troops and sounding war drums to scare off prospective opponents. All these activities are going on despite the fact that justice is yet to be done for the victims of the post-election violence, and The Hague’s Sword of Damocles continues to hang over our collective heads with indictments promised early next year.

Even efforts to develop a new constitutional dispensation are being held up by the personal interests of political bigwigs who are reading the document with themselves in mind. Clearly, this country was not shaken enough by the events of early last year. Today, we are still lamentably close to another conflagration that many say will be several orders of magnitude worse than the last one.

Because of our short collective memories, we are slowly being led by our politicians toward another war, and this time it is not clear if we will emerge from it as a coherent whole. It seems as if our only hope lies in ignoring our politicians this once and setting up a new constitutional dispensation that will guarantee a brighter future for the coming generations. The alternative will be the equivalent of rending the fabric of the nation once and for all, and throwing the remnants into the dustbin of history.

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

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