Sunday, 21 April 2013

Police siege on Kisumu and Kibera fuelling ethnic hate

A teacher at a primary school in Kisumu once shared with me this story of how in 2008 she walked into a Standard Three classroom one morning to find her pupils engaging in a strange extra-curricular activity.
Some of the pupils, standing on top of their desks, aimed imaginary guns and barked orders at their terrified colleagues.
Others dived for cover under the desks, lay prostrate on the floor, were on their knees with hands up or made it out the door in full flight.
Still a few others, holding the sagging weight of a colleague by the four limbs, braved the imaginary sounds of gunfire, chanting freedom slogans.
That was only a week or so after the signing of the Kofi Annan-mediated grand coalition deal allowed a return to normal life in the country, including the reopening of schools.
The teacher said it immediately struck her that the pupils aged between eight and nine years were re-enacting scenes from the post-election violence in the town.
Her story may sound like one of those that belong to the desk of the guidance and counselling teacher.
Yet it also provides insight into the unfortunate reality of policing and ethnic relations in Kenya that should concern all of us.
Political unrest
If you were born, grew up or live in Kisumu or some other predominantly Luo settlement area, you are likely to have more encounters with the GSU or anti-riot police during political unrest in your lifetime than, say, your countryman from Eldoret or Gatundu.
It is also likely that you have been a victim of the brutal consequences typical of such encounters, linked your perceived injustice to the government of the day and developed a siege mentality.
The ethnic character of the government ministry in charge of security in Kenya needs no belabouring here.
According to the report of the Waki Commission that investigated the violence, more than 400 of the 1,113 deaths were in Kisumu.
A majority of them were victims of police shootings.
The last elections on March 4, 2013 were largely peaceful, but the police still found some reason to lay siege on Kisumu and Kiberia in Nairobi.
Last Thursday and Friday, the villages around Ahero were a security zone with armed GSU sent there ahead of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s travel to attend the burial of Okuta Osiany, the teachers’ union boss.
To his credit, the President struck a reconciliatory note in his speech and walked to the grave site holding hands with Raila Odinga, the former PM who was his main rival in the election.
But when the school children in Ahero resume classes tomorrow, it is the scenes of heavily armed GSU pushing mourners at the funeral that they will most likely re-enact.
Otieno Otieno is chief sub-editor, Business Daily. Twitter @otienootieno

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