Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ethnic clashes a harbinger of things to come

Sunday Nation 04 March 2012

Kenyans should be very angry at this point in time. Recently, there have been incidents of tribal fighting in Northern Kenya, Rift Valley and more recently in Western Kenya. On the surface, the reasons for the fighting are given as conflict over sharing of resources and livestock theft.

Interestingly, these clashes are occurring soon after some commotion over electoral boundaries erupted with the release of the report by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. Other fights are erupting in the wake of political disagreements between tribal chieftains masquerading as aspirants for various political posts.

Unfortunately, the people who are dying in these clashes do not often understand the political undercurrents behind the fights, and some are actually innocent citizens whose only crime is bearing the “wrong” name in the “wrong” place.

Many Kenyans remain quiet, dismissing these clashes as primitive affairs that should not be happening in this day and age. The genteel middle class has graciously spared a few minutes of debate on this matter over drinks in a bar, but they later retire to their barricaded neighbourhoods for a good night’s sleep. Our politicians are scouting the situation to discover how much political mileage can be milked from these conflicts as they prepare for the next General Election.

Meanwhile, people are dying. There is no vacuum in the top echelons of government, the Cabinet still meets regularly, and the defence forces of the republic have not been disbanded. But people are dying across the country in what will in future be branded as the 2012 tribal clashes, in a hallowed tradition dating back to the early 1990s.

Culture and tradition cannot be used as an excuse for people to kill each other. No matter the disagreement, as long as one person can kill another and get away with it, law and order cannot thrive. Under the cover of cultural practices and political activity many more people will be killed this year, and clearly, the government will just stand by and wring its hands hopelessly.

The toughest action Kenyans will expect from the government will be a statement that the government “condemns the clashes in the strongest possible terms, and urges the warring communities to exercise tolerance and engage in dialogue”! Coming from an elected government whose most important brief is to ensure that Kenyans can go about their activities in a peaceful environment, such sentiments must annoy every right-thinking Kenyan.

Let us make this clear. No Kenyan has a right to kill another Kenyan. No Kenyan has a right to deprive another Kenyan of their legally acquired property. No Kenyan has more right to Kenya than another. Whoever makes claims to the contrary is a danger to public safety and order, and must be immediately apprehended and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Let us not hear of “political violence” before, during and after the next General Election. The government must move with speed to apprehend those that are breaking the law under any pretext, and deal with them accordingly.

Any public servant who shirks their responsibility in this matter should be relieved of their job and, in addition, charged appropriately.

The alternative is a total breakdown in law and order, and a return to the barbaric state we endured in early 2008. Kenyans must not let this happen.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine. www.lukoyeatwoli.com

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