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 Lukoye@gmail.com; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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