Tuesday, August 13, 2013

We have made life very cheap in Kenya

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 11 August 2013

Kenya is an interesting place to call home. On paper, we are a nation built on a combination of conservative religious values and African traditional beliefs — a most improbable concoction under any other circumstances. In theory, we value life and would do everything in our power to save and preserve it under the most adverse of situations. Indeed, our constitution even has an injunction that states exactly when life begins!

It is, therefore, difficult to understand our attitude towards the avoidable deaths that have become so commonplace that no editor would use them as headline news.

Sample the following stories.

A senior policeman was killed in the line of duty in Kitui a few days ago. According to newspaper reports, his was only the latest of a series of “mysterious” killings of high-flying policemen in the country. Conspiracy theories abound, linking these deaths to all sorts of nefarious activities by powerful Kenyans, but the only thing we can be sure of is that the truth will never be known.

This policeman, by the way, is said to have been the main executioner of youth alleged to belong to the outlawed Mungiki gang a few years ago. The deaths of those Mungiki adherents have also never been fully explained by the government, and remain the subject of conspiratorial whispers implicating people at high levels of government.

Last week, a man was reported to have stabbed his children and attempted to kill himself after a disagreement with his wife somewhere in Uasin Gishu County in western Kenya. An intriguing item in the newspaper report of the incident was the observation by the neighbours that the man had tried to kill himself several times in the past, and had constant quarrels with his wife over her alleged infidelity.

To my mind, that situation suggests someone in need of assistance from a mental health professional, and early intervention would probably have averted these tragic deaths and injuries. To the villagers, however, this was the work of the devil and, as one of them put it: “It seems the devil had driven him for long. At times he would be heard saying he would some day kill his wife and himself. He also had taken poison about five years ago.”

Elsewhere, some villagers gathered together to think about possible interventions to curb the rising incidents of road crashes that had claimed several lives in the recent past. Having concluded that supernatural forces were at work, they resolved to deal with the situation using prayers and “cleansing” rituals. No mention of what happens to those responsible for those deaths.

Finally, five years ago, more than 1,000 Kenyans perished in what has been christened “post-election violence”. We made noises about how horrible that period was, and how we must do everything possible to ensure it does not recur. We regretted the deaths and vowed to leave no stone unturned until those responsible had been brought to book. We chanted, “Don’t be vague, go to the Hague”, only partly in jest.

Five years on, nobody has been successfully prosecuted for those heinous crimes and, to many Kenyans, those deaths could as well be classified as self-inflicted.

Having reviewed these and many other preventable deaths in this country, one can come to no other conclusion than that life is very cheap in Kenya. 

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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