Sunday, 16 November 2014

We're incubating a culture of violence by disregarding legal infractions

Kenya is slowly going to the dogs. The country is steadily descending into anarchy. Lawlessness has become commonplace. People kill others without a second thought. Everyone seems determined to resolve every dispute with a bullet, or machete. There’s mayhem everywhere, all the time, against almost anyone. It doesn’t matter whether you are the hoi polloi, or a prince. The clenched fist isn’t far away. Everyone looks like a viper, ready to spit. Why have Kenyans become so angry? I thought Kenya was a middle-income country. Aren’t more material goods supposed to calm nerves? I am afraid that, like in the Second Coming, the famous poem by Irish W. B. Yeats, things are falling apart. Can the centre hold? Methinks I know when the rain began to beat us. Kenya hasn’t always been a violent country. The violence of my youth — until the 1980s — was the “normal” kind. It was rare and shocked the conscience when it happened. People would talk about it for days, mouths agape in disbelief that a murder, or a robbery with violence, had taken place. Little kids would be afraid to go to school. Some would throw up just recalling a grisly killing. Others would say such things only happened in Nairobi. Now pillage and rampage are everywhere. The so-called “cattle rustlers” in the North Country kill with impunity. They even slay soldiers and the police as though they were defenceless civilians. See also: Private parts of 110 men chopped The history of violence in Kenya is related to the de-legitimisation of the State. The iron fist of the State under the KANU regime opened the doors to generalised violence. Political violence calculated to keep KANU in power begot a culture of violence. It incubated in the people a philosophy of domination by any means. The 1992 and 1997 elections took us through the door of return. We lost our innocence. We thought we’d recovered in 2002, but we were wrong because the 2008 post-election violence reminded us of the evil in the political culture. I believe 2008 marked a turning point — never before had we witnessed such barbaric disregard for life. We all died a little. The recent attacks on soldiers and law enforcement personnel at the Coast and the Rift Valley is a crude reminder of how vulnerable everyone is. President Uhuru Kenyatta was right to swing into action right away and order action. But methinks he may be a little too late. The problem isn’t lack of law enforcement. It’s that people don’t trust the State to protect them. Everyone I speak with tells me there are huge vacuums of legitimate power in many parts of the country. As we know, power abhors a vacuum. Bad elements move in to fill the vacuum where the writ of the state is wafer thin. People take the law into their own hands. Let me explain why people have broken faith with the State. First, like children, the people watch what daddy is doing, and then copy him. The most important incubator of violence, insecurity, and the illegitimacy of the State is official corruption. Senior officials in Kenya are swimming in corruption. The government is either unable, or unwilling, to hold anyone accountable. Look at the fraud on land. Witness the scandals on procurement and infrastructure projects. Officials, their families, and business associates are making off like bandits. Why should any citizen live a life of virtue in such a culture? The storyline in Kenya is that you are the fool if you aren’t corrupt. Sticky fingers are admired. Second, political leaders are modeling a culture of violence. We all saw the saga of the Men in Black at the ODM polls last year. Last month, video footage appeared to show President Kenyatta striking a person from his car on his arrival from The Hague. Last week, CORD leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka looked on — helplessly — as senior ODM leaders rained blows on ODM Executive Director Magerer Langat. Majority Leader Aden Duale unleashed invective at Bomet Governor Issac Ruto at a public meeting in front of DP William Ruto. Governor Kivutha Kibwana was caught up in a gunfight in Makueni not long ago. How can citizens be civil if senior leaders are openly resorting to physical violence? Finally, public discourse itself has become coarse, threatening, and disenfranchising. The case in point is Mr Kenyatta’s attack on NGOs and the attempt by newbie Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria to choke the life out of civil society. The sinister plot is to deny NGOs funding by external agencies. Only dictatorships resort to such draconian measures to silence NGOs, the independent eyes of the people. Who, if I may ask, is going to hold the State accountable if it kills civil society? Closing avenues of legitimate dissent can only beget violence.

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