Monday, July 29, 2013

Leaders should tread softly to enhance peace

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 28 July 2013

Recently, President Uhuru Kenyatta indicated that one of the greatest challenges of his government will be the unification of this country after decades of ethnic mistrust with regular eruptions of inter-ethnic violence. This is obviously an admission that Kenya is a deeply divided nation, and competing socio-economic and political interests have packaged themselves with ethnic tags.

To my mind, it has been clear that this is the case since the early nineties when political competition brought to the fore longstanding ethnic animosity, erupting in the famously labelled “tribal clashes”. This culminated in the grand slaughter of 2007/2008 that introduced yet another euphemism into our national lexicon -- post-election violence.

Bringing lasting peace to this country is therefore quite an onerous task and can, indeed, consume a president’s entire term, and perhaps the full lifespan of an individual. In the event that the president has discovered a clear path out of this unenviable morass, then one can only wish him the very best in navigating through it. One would further expect a refreshingly new approach to the conduct of public affairs that inspires optimism and a sense of new beginnings.

Unfortunately the public pronouncements and activities of this government in the few weeks since its installation betray the very antithesis of a unifying force. To a disinterested observer, it would appear that all the institutions of state have conspired to drive a certain agenda that in the Moi days used to be termed “singing the same tune”.

The apparent consonance, even if purely coincidental, between the executive, the judiciary and some independent commissions such as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is simply staggering, as is the “tyranny of numbers” rhetoric emanating from Parliament.

The arrogant, semi-coherent pejoratives emanating from government spokesmen do little to inspire the image of a unifying government.

If President Kenyatta’s government is truly interested in leaving behind a prosperous country at peace with itself, there are certain signals they must begin sending to the citizenry. Firstly, the chest-thumping rhetoric and denigration of their opponents must stop. When leaders fight in public, even when they are only sparring in jest, their followers are left confused.

Those in power must avoid the temptation to engage every opponent in a war of attrition. Leaders must learn to pick their fights carefully, and only engage in contests that serve to further the greater national interest.  The president must, therefore, rein in his more jubilant acolytes, and prevail upon them not to present their opponents as animals unworthy of even basic courtesies and unfit to present alternative views on governance.

Secondly, government leaders must reach out more substantively to those living in areas that did not substantially support their election. The continuing perceived hostility towards regions that are in the “opposition” does not augur well for our unified vision, and will only further reduce us into pathetic ethnic enclaves.

Magnanimity, contrary to prevailing macho perceptions, is actually a sign of strength. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Senior Lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

Friday, July 26, 2013

This fixation with sexuality is unhealthy

This was published in the Sunday Nation's Barometer column on 07 July 2013, but I did not upload it on time as I was traveling. Apologies for delayed posting, but I hope it can still be a useful discussion point!

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 07 July 2013

American President Barack Obama ended his Africa tour this past week, leaving in his wake varying opinions about the success or otherwise of his trip. In his own country, eyes are focusing on the business opportunities he opened up in this formerly “dark continent” that is now said to be on the rise. The discovery of numerous mineral resources across the continent is perhaps one draw for world superpowers into this continent, and Americans are arriving here hot on the heels of the more aggressive Chinese.

Kenyans, however, have for the most part been preoccupied with reasons why Obama did not visit his motherland and, indeed, whether it is even important for him to do so in the first place. As is usual in Kenyan social discourse, we shall soon move on to the next big thing, and live happily ever after. Except that we shall not be happy for long.

Already, pundits have latched onto the American President’s exhortation to African governments to decriminalise sexual behaviours between consenting adults. In this regard, many Kenyans are miffed about the talk of “legalizing” homosexuality. It is being argued that he is urging Africans to start engaging in “unnatural”, “unAfrican” and even “unChristian” sexual acts.

But what is it that the Americans are actually telling us?

In summary, we are being told that blanket criminalisation of consensual homosexual, or any other consensual sexual behaviour, results in more harm than any purported good such moves are meant to achieve. We expend lots of resources fighting individuals whose behaviour directly affects no one other than themselves. We are being asked to leave these individuals with sexual orientations different from ours alone.

Pseudo-intellectual arguments have been advanced to counter this advice from our American benefactors. “Homosexuality is unnatural,” they say.

If this is true, and homosexuality is all bad and counter-evolutionary, one would expect that this behaviour would gradually be wiped off the face of the planet in time, given that same-sex relationships do not result in any successful transfer of genetic material from one mate to the other. How does this harm those that are opposed to it and do not practise it?

Secondly, it is argued that this behaviour is “unAfrican”. I do not know what this term “unAfrican” means. At some level it is insulting as it assumes that all Africans have the same behaviour and proclivities across the continent. All the available evidence tells a different story.

Even within our borders, behaviours vary as one traverses the country from Lake Victoria to the Indian Ocean, from Loitokitok to Mandera. The assumption that there is such a thing as “African culture” must be classified in the same category as the ignorant assumption by some non-Africans that Africa is a country.

Finally the argument that homosexuality runs counter to established religious norms is the weakest, in my view. If your religion outlaws homosexual behaviour, you are best advised not to practise it yourself.

Given the threats of celestial punishment prevalent in most of the major world religions, it does not make sense for a religious person to persecute another on behalf of their shared deity. Religious leaders need only declare that among other prohibited supplicants (such as corrupt politicians, killers and liars), they also prohibit those that are attracted to same sex partners!

This fixation with sexuality is patently unhealthy! 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University School of Medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

We must not slide back to a police state

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 21 July 2013

Last week I came across a very disturbing article in a local daily. It was reported that a politician had been summoned by the police to be grilled over an alleged plot to “destabilise” the government. According to the article, the politician was alleged to be working with churches and non-governmental organisations in a plot to start an “anti-government” campaign, ostensibly in order to cause public disaffection with the government.

There was no allegation that the politician was engaged in extra-legal or unconstitutional activities aimed at overthrowing the democratically elected Government of Kenya. There was no claim that he was organising an armed militia group to attack government installations. There was no indication that he had contacted foreign governments to organise an attack on the sovereign territory of our republic.

All that was alleged was that he was working with churches and NGOs to “destabilise” the government.

There was a time in this country when the “thought police” would work hard at trying to uncover the motives of all Kenyans who dared to speak out publicly about any government initiative. There was a time when being called a “dissident” was equivalent to a death sentence.

There was a time when being accused of plotting to “destabilise” the government was the beginning of a long journey to detention, torture and even assassination. We would like to believe that those times are long gone, but we fear that without citizens’ vigilance we could still slide back into those dark days.

At some level, one would have been comfortable if the police had indicated that they had information that this politician was plotting a crime recognised in law, such as plotting to “establish a government otherwise than in compliance with the Constitution”, which is prohibited in Article 3(2) of our Constitution.

In any case, if the police have any such information, it is incumbent upon them to expeditiously investigate and neutralise the threat in a manner consistent with the law. Summoning a politician to investigate claims of plotting to “destabilise” the government is so eerily reminiscent of the Kanu dictatorship that nobody with any sense of history would countenance such a move.

In a constitutional democracy such as ours aspires to be, it is the responsibility of all citizens, no matter their political affiliation, to keep the government in check and ensure that no arm of government exceeds its powers and oppresses the people.

In other words, it is the duty of every citizen to “destabilise” the government, to keep it on toes, constantly looking over its collective shoulder every time it contemplates some nefarious scheme.

And if we cannot do it ourselves, we must appreciate the efforts of those that do. We must applaud them for ensuring that we remain free to question government. Thomas Paine put it more clearly: “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

For the sake of our freedom we must demand that the government recognises our right to “destabilise” it. The only means open to the government in dealing with the “destabilising” activities of its citizens is to create an environment in which the people’s concerns are addressed expeditiously and satisfactorily. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A close look reveals a deeply divided Kenya

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 14 July 2013

On the surface, Kenya has moved on from the bungled 2007 election and the resultant violence, and is now a largely peaceful country on the brink of unprecedented socio-economic growth. The government exudes optimism that the challenges facing our country are few and easily surmountable.

Most of the bickering is attributed to a robust opposition which, though vexatious, is being tolerated by the progressive Jubilee Government. A beautiful image, the very fulfilment of the dream of democrats everywhere. On the surface.

A deeper look, though, reveals a deeply divided nation. To illustrate this, let us examine a couple of the newest crises that have faced this government and how we have handled them.

Teachers went on strike three weeks ago, demanding implementation of a deal signed over a decade ago giving them higher allowances. The government initially claimed that the deal had been overtaken by events, then said it had been countered by another Gazette notice, and finally asked the teachers to go and negotiate a fresh deal. The actions of the government are not surprising. What was interesting, however, was the reaction of Kenyans.

A majority of those that made comments exhorting teachers to go back to work were assumed to be supporters of the Jubilee Government while those supporting the strike were deemed to be opposition supporters. Indeed, it has been explicitly stated that the teachers’ union is under instruction from opposition politicians, with senior government officials arguing that there must be a reason the teachers’ union is refusing to negotiate with government.

The question on the lips of government supporters is this: If the teachers’ union negotiated with both the Moi and Kibaki governments over the issue of pay, why are they refusing to negotiate with the current government? Instead of looking at the issues that teachers are raising, many are looking at Raila Odinga’s Cord coalition as the culprit.

The other issue that has been in the public domain is the nomination of aspirants for the Makueni senatorial seat. During the hearings of the tribunal to determine whether one of the candidates was properly nominated or not, most of the publicly expressed sentiments had no legal content. Comments made by individuals only served to expose their political leaning, without offering any clarity as to whether the process was proceeding as it should or not.

Of course the electoral commission continues to provide fodder for both political formations by demonstrating its incompetence in carrying out relatively simple tasks. For instance, many of the ongoing election petitions are confirming the commission’s inability to do simple arithmetic, causing problems for many incumbents through no fault of their own.

However, it has become impossible for many of us to interrogate these issues without an ethnopolitical prism.
It is difficult to see such a society as the paragon of civility and stability, and I am afraid we are bottling up our frustrations, which could explode unpredictably at the time we need them least.

One would hope that the government is working on ways of dealing with these divisions to forestall the sort of nonsensical chaos we faced just five years ago. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli