Sunday, June 20, 2010

Grenade attack was a declaration of war

Sunday Nation 20 June 2010

Last Sunday, someone organised an attack on a gathering of Kenyans who had attended a prayer meeting that also served as a campaign rally for those opposed to the proposed constitution. Six people were reported to have died, with dozens others injured and the whole nation left with more questions than answers.

Even as the police go about investigating the motives and intentions of those involved, it is imperative that the whole nation takes a step back and re-examines itself in order to pre-empt this plunge back into the depths of depravity.

As a nation, we have been engaged in a process of constitutional reform for over two decades, and the forthcoming referendum is the culmination of this process. The fact that we are having a referendum is testimony to the fact that there is still no consensus on some issues, and in their wisdom or lack of it, our political class decided that the only way to sort out these issues is through a plebiscite.

Those in the ‘No’ camp who are arguing that the referendum should be put off in order to initiate dialogue in pursuit of further consensus are misguided, and should just focus their campaign on pointing out the flaws in the draft in order to enable its rejection.

There is never going to be consensus on many of the contentious issues, because most Kenyans have such deeply entrenched positions informed by religious, political and ethnic considerations that any attempt to address them will only result in a reversal of the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ positions.

Many allegations are flying around concerning the possible culpability of those in either camp and, in typical Kenyan fashion, we are losing sight of the fundamental issue -- the loss of lives in a most heartless fashion right in the centre of our capital city. One would think that the nation would be united in condemning this terrorist act and hunting down the perpetrators to the furthest reaches of our Republic, but no, our responses are utterly predictable.

On the day of the attack, church leaders were quoted in the press as accusing the government and the ‘Yes’ campaign of orchestrating the attacks. Many in the ‘Yes’ team hold the opinion, which is expressed in a rather roundabout fashion, that the ‘No’ camp may have organised the attacks in order to attract sympathy. Only proper investigations can unravel the truth about these claims.

However, both these opinions are sickening in their predictability and facile childishness. It is as if the two sides are discussing goals in a football match, and not the loss of citizens’ lives. It is time to put a stop to this nonsense, and call this crime by its true name.

Last Sunday’s grenade attack in the heart of Nairobi was a declaration of war on the Republic of Kenya. The perpetrators are heartless soldiers of fortune who must be hunted down like the animals they are in order to face the sort of justice reserved for war criminals and their ilk.

For Pete’s sake, let us remember that even little children were targeted in this attack! What political opinions do they hold that would drive a maniac to end their lives so callously? Would the politicians’ response be the same had we been attacked by a foreign government or organisation? If this is the case, then we must, indeed, be very afraid.

The government must now shed its usual lethargy and move swiftly to deal conclusively with the perpetrators of this heinous act if it is to forestall similar occurrences in future. Should the government appear to be dilly-dallying and inept in its response, we must hold it squarely responsible, both the Green and Red wings of it.

As we exhort the government to act appropriately in this matter, we must not forget that investigations into similarly treasonable activities are still pending. Those who inserted the words ‘‘National Security’’ into the proposed constitution’s bill of rights are still roaming free in this country, despite a government pledge to ‘‘leave no stone unturned’’.

It seems that the police have been unable to conclude investigations into this matter, and no one has so far been arraigned in court to answer charges related to it. This lethargy is the main reason why Kenyans will take any government pledges of speedy investigations with a healthy dose of salt.

However, even as we mourn our dead and support the injured, calls for the postponement of the referendum must be ignored. We cannot allow some miscreants to disrupt this important national function for, doing so would be declaring surrender to sundry terrorists with a bone to pick with the establishment. The blood of our fellow citizens will have been shed in vain.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine;

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