Sunday, November 4, 2012

Are we going to claim we never saw this coming?

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 04 November 2012

It has been said over and over again, but it bears repeating. Our beloved country Kenya is not out of the tribal woods yet. No matter how much we congratulate ourselves and repeat the mantra that “Kenyans have become cleverer”, the truth is that we are constantly one step away from apocalyptic disaster.

After the conflagration that followed our last General Election, many of us thought to ourselves that that was as bad as it could ever get. We watched on television as hundreds of thousands were displaced, as hundreds of our fellow-citizens were butchered for being born in the wrong tribe, and a few of us shed a tear in despair. We wrung our hands and begged the principals to reach an agreement and prevent an all-out civil war. We reached out to the international community and asked them to mediate an agreement.

Finally, we sighed with relief when on the steps of Harambee House in late February 2008, former United Nations Secretary-General sombrely intoned, “We have a deal”. We took to the streets in joy, embracing total strangers, swearing that this would be a new beginning in the history of our country, and telling anyone who cared to listen that we had triumphed over adversity.

Sadly, reality sank in soon enough. The same ethnic considerations re-emerged in making state appointments, and cronyism continued to rule the roost as epitomised by the now immortal incantation by our former deputy Chief Justice, “You should know people”. 

Going nowhere

Those that had been left out of the loop quickly realised that they were going nowhere, and nothing had changed. Poor Kenyans living in squalor in our slums and rural hamlets soon realised that the deaths, rapes and displacements were all in vain, and that the country was soon settling into its “anything goes” routine.

Despair set in once again. Unemployment, extreme poverty and a feeling of disenfranchisement pervades the country in the setting of soaring economic growth numbers and a trillion shilling budget. Our leaders have lost touch with the common mwananchi. They only fight to secure their own fortunes and those of their immediate family and hangers-on. The rest of the citizenry survive on crumbs from their tables. And this is fertile ground for dissent, disengagement, and ultimately, disorder.

We are already seeing signs of disorder. From Tana River to Mombasa, from Samburu to Kisumu, Nairobi all the way to Garissa and Mandera, Kenyans are rising up against fellow citizens. Grenade attacks, killings of policemen and other violent crimes on a large scale no longer merit newspaper headlines.

Let us not repeat the fallacy next year that we never saw this coming. Let no one say that they were never warned. From Justice Kriegler’s warning to the conversations at middle class dinner tables tonight, the warning signs are all around us. From unthinkingly mouthed ethnic epithets to blatant favouritism in allocation of state resources, we are laying ground for the final assault on the idea of Kenya.

Disenfranchised youth have tried the ballot several times and failed to win emancipation. When they tried violence to claim their freedom last time, they were stopped in their tracks by a political settlement.

One shudders to imagine what it will take to stop them once they get going after the next national crisis. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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