A non-partisan journal of the left.

Misplaced Pride and Shame in the Wake of a Crisis

Fri 25th Apr 2008

Since violence disappeared from the streets, Kenya has disappeared from the news.

It’s to be expected, of course – psychological trauma, civil obedience, and increased corruption are hardly news-worthy stories. This is something the media does all too often. But what does the blind eye do to the country?

For a start, I have heard many people refer to Kenya as “war-torn” even after the crisis ended. The tourist industry is in shambles, as countries such as France delayed removal of their travel bans. Even within Kenya the United Nations Office of Nairobi forbade their employees to travel to Nakuru region up until about a month after the end of the violence.

And it is true that Kenya is once again accessible. More than that, in fact – this is possibly the best time for a tourist to travel to Kenya. The country is safe, and the industry has had to slice all their pricing in half. From this example, it is quite clear that while life is back to business as usual for the majority of Kenyans, there is a lot of work to be done just to restore Kenya to where it was in November.

Walking down the streets of Kisumu, Nairobi, and Mombasa two weeks ago I saw shock in the eyes of these people. The shock of realising your people are capable of such atrocities as we all witnessed in January and February is one that doesn’t come easily. Those who have had it the worst don’t want to talk about it. Those who were moderately safe will talk about it, but with some sense of guilt that they aren’t the ones who ought to be complaining.

It’s only on occasion that a sentence slips out of an individual here and there. “See where the floorboards are pulled up?” a man at Nakumatt City supermarket of Kisumu asked me. “Two people were killed right there in January. We had the front door barricaded, the service door was open for customers, and the violence still got in.” I had already been told that the queue to enter this particular supermarket had soared to over a kilometre in length. A few days later, one of my friends told me, “I owe my life to the fact that I speak many tribal languages. As the gangs came up, my mother and I would listen at the door. We then broke into Kikuyu or Luo or whatever else the mob happened to be speaking. If we hadn’t done that they would have killed us or at least burnt down our house.”

Travelling to Kenya today, other than in the eyes of the people, there are very few remnants of the crisis. I travelled to Kibera slum and saw no ashes. In Kisumu, other than the innocently removed floorboards of Nakumatt City, I saw one burnt-out building in the entire city. Travelling through Kawangware slum, a friend pointed out to me what looked like two unbuilt foundations of buildings. He informed me that they had been homes and their inhabitants were now dead. You would never know this country had been through such horror.

While such discoveries are terrifying, it is the hard work of the people which has buried the remains of the crisis they all want to forget happened. Everyone who had anything left following the crisis has diligently pulled themselves up and kept on going. The pride of the people, however, is in their own efforts to rebuild all the burnt bridges between the people of Kenya. Many peace movements, such as Wakenya Pamoja or “Kenyans Together”, were founded in the core of the crisis and helped move the country away from the violence. Wakenya Pamoja is a song performed by approximately 30 Kenyan musicians from all different tribes, promoting unity. Another movement, called Solo 7, organised pro-peace graffiti all through Kibera – in Kibera today, underneath all graffiti of “No Raila No Peace”, Solo 7 have added their own messages, the most common of which is “Keep Peace Fellow Kenyans”. They also painted messages of peace, unity, and non-violence on a wall on the edge of the area. Musicians like Eric Wainaina and Radio DJs like Caroline Akinyi are all leaders of the peace movement, which is rising up in Kenya like a phoenix out of the ashes. Despite the horrors we all witnessed, the people of Kenya have a lot to be proud of – very few countries have exhibited such maturity and unity so soon after a crisis.

Meanwhile, the government are basking in a glory that they don’t deserve. While the rest of the world thinks the Kenyan people have behaved terribly and the government are brave for putting their differences aside and forming a coalition government, what the Kenyan people have seen happen is the establishment of many more government positions. There is now a president, vice president, prime minister, and two deputy prime ministers. There is a cabinet with 40 ministers, just announced the other day under another hot dispute. While the vast inclusion of every political figure in Kenya theoretically implies unity, what it actually means is that the government have figured out how to send more money to Swiss bank accounts than ever.

How does this work? The answer is simple. All four of the presidential candidates are now in positions of significant leadership and power. This means that there is no opposition, and therefore nobody who is monitoring the government and calling them out on malpractice. There is now nobody policing the government who can’t be bought off with a bribe. And as for the forty ministers… a quote from a Kenyan girl’s blog will cover the explanation: “We now need a whole ministry (a whole one) for ‘Nairobi Metropolitan Development’. Not to be confused with ‘Local Government’ or ‘Regional Development Authorities’…neither of which can handle ‘Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands’…all of which cannot possibly be dealt with under the umbrella of ‘Planning and Vision 2030’(?). I am NOT making this up…these are FIVE SEPARATE MINISTRIES.”

Where Mwai Kibaki, Raila Odinga, et al. decided that Kenya, a country with 60% of its population living in slums and approximately half a million internally displaced people, can afford to employ 40 ministers, is beyond me. The ministries are redundant, the ministers are unqualified, and their salaries are obscene. Each minister is allowed two “assistant ministers”. Meanwhile there are over 200 members of parliament, who are essentially the same people, and are already earning 7,000 GBP per year for this role. In Kenya, 700 pounds a year is considered an upper-middle-class wage, so the mere thought of adding a government salary on top of a 7,000 pound one is beyond unfair. There are in fact no words to convey the injustice of what the government has just imposed on the people of Kenya.

The economy is in distress. Half a million people are living in tents. Several hundred million are living in slums. Meanwhile, the government find it acceptable to increase their own salaries exponentially in order to do no work, and on an international level they are being heralded as leaders of a new peace in Kenya.

Today, the people of Kenya have to move forward and rebuild themselves on their own while they are bled dry by their own government. Today, the people of Kenya have to work as one against all the odds. The miracle is that they are already succeeding.

Let the government be ashamed, and let the people be proud.
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