Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We can't preserve culture by lynching people

Sunday Nation 07 November 2010

Close to three months ago, the Kenya Psychiatric Association held its Annual Scientific Conference in Nairobi.

During this meeting, one of the psychiatrists from the then Nyanza Province made a moving presentation on the mortal dangers many Kenyans are exposed to in the name of religion and culture.

Participants were shown a video clip from a Kisii village in which several elderly women were literally roasted to death on allegations that they were witches.

This memory was rekindled last week when a group of young high school students were shown on national TV burning houses allegedly belonging to local witches.

TV interviews

In one of the TV interviews, one man expressed his excitement that the young people had taken the lead in eradicating witchcraft from the society.

He wished that all Kenyans would behave in a similar manner to root out this evil from our midst. There are many things wrong with this country, but this must rank up there with the worst of them.

Our singular lack of respect for human life, all in the name of propagating our “culture”, is one of the key reasons we continue having difficulties progressing as a nation.

Moral questions

For a long time, it has been difficult for all of us to agree on what is right and what is wrong, as evidenced by the many arguments about so-called “moral” questions such as abortion, sexuality, gender-based violence and even substance use.

However, it is clear that we all agree on a basic code of behaviour, which is the reason some of the things that take place in the villages and in private homes would not be repeated in cosmopolitan urban settings.

For instance, how often do we see elderly women lynched in the streets of Nairobi for being old and having red eyes? How often do we see houses being burnt in any of our major cities because the owners or occupiers have been accused of witchcraft?

At the basic level, we all agree that such acts are barbaric in the extreme, and the only reason we turn a blind eye to them or even encourage them to continue is because we believe they are culturally sanctioned, and the wazee in the village think they are necessary.

At some level we even feel that as long as these practices are restricted to our rural villages they are mostly harmless. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

People actually lose their lives in these incidents, and others are left mourning their relatives killed for no fault of their own. Indeed I would challenge any right-thinking Kenyan to give up their elderly mother or grandmother to be lynched and roasted by the roadside for the singular “crime” of living long and maybe having red eyes.

Celebrating these barbaric acts of murder and arson in the name of culture is the height of irresponsibility on the part of all Kenyans.

Orgies of violence

Actually participating in the orgies of violence only demonstrates how close we still are to our cave-dwelling ancestors who, out of ignorance, would kill first and ask questions later.

Let us celebrate our culture, yes, but let us also appreciate that culture is dynamic, and deleterious cultural practices must be discarded in favour of more progressive ones.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine www.lukoyeatwoli.com

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