Kenya was once known as a bastion of peace, land of “hakuna matata” (which is actually Swahili for “no civil unrest”), and hailed for its thriving economy. Over the past two weeks we have watched with shock and horror as innocent Kenyans have died at the hands of police, violent mobs, and indeed their own neighbours. It is a natural reaction on the part of the international community to be turning towards Kenya today, asking – “what happened to this peaceful haven?” Perhaps, however, the question that people should be asking, is – “what will happen to Kenya?” The poor wananchi (citizens) of Kenya today face an impossible situation, in which every way you look at it you lose.
Everyone was pleased to witness Kenyans voting peacefully during the elections, which sent a false wave of hope through the world of an example being set in Africa. This tranquility quickly degenerated into outright violence across the country as the disputed results trickled in. Samuel Kivuitu, leader of the Election Commission of Kenya (ECK), has confessed to being entirely unsure who actually won the election and having been under severe pressure to declare Mwai Kibaki the winner, which serves to support the allegations of electoral fraud which were strongly supported by the 115% voter turnout in some districts.
Since the declaration, Kenya has plummeted into rioting, looting, illegal rallies, riot police, house-burning’ a list which is added to every day. A church full of women and children taking refuge was burnt down in Eldoret, killing approximately fifty. In one devastating example of this trauma, as they fled the burning church, a three-year-old was wrestled from the arms of her mother and thrown back into the fire. Throughout the nation, tragedies are being uncovered regularly – besieged universities, attacked buses, road blocks preventing the arrival of aid, neighbours hacking each other to death, rape victims being raped again on their way to the hospitals. Those Kenyans who have been targeted cower in fear of their lives, not knowing what to think, to say or to do. Even those who are not directly targeted by the violence are staring in shock, with a skipping record in their head – this is not the Kenya I know. The only thing which is certain is that none of us, whether targeted or not, will ever again look at our country in quite the same way.
Faced with the appearance of hopelessness in today’s situation, the natural reaction is to identify where the problem started. Some blamed tribalism itself, while others attempted to identify the origin of Kenyan tribalism. Others blamed poverty and rage. The incumbent president and opposition leader, not surprisingly, blamed each other. Unfortunately, this reaction is decidedly counterproductive. While we are spending our precious energy on throwing blame around, we are unable to use this energy on redirecting the country back onto the pathway to peace and prosperity. It is abundantly clear that today’s blame game is not getting Kenya anywhere.
Since the elections, there have been very faint glimmers of hope, the majority of which have been crushed. The most prominent of these was the arrival of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and John Kufuor (president of Ghana and chair of the African Union). Though they managed to communicate with President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, neither of the two were willing to modify their conditions enough to suit the other’s stipulations. Since the violence started, Kibaki and Odinga have not met with each other once. It would seem as if they are less interested in the needs of their own people than they are in their personal thirsts for power.
When looking to the future of the country, and assuming the politicians continue to act the way they have been, we reach a decided road block. Should the Kenyan people fight for democracy, or should we resign their fight in an attempt to seek peace? It is a lose/lose situation. If Kenyans stop fighting for democracy, we lose our voice – possibly forever. If, however, we continue to fight, the poor lose their safety and thousands more may lose their lives. The solution is not clear, and neither is the way forward. To make matters worse, the people will not agree on their decision – it is possible that people will start fighting over which way to lose, and in their fight will lose both safety and democracy in one fell swoop.
Those most affected by the situation in Kenya have lost everything. Those they loved have died, their houses have been burnt to the ground, their friends of different tribes have turned against them, they have no food and nobody is listening to them. We cannot blame them for feeling hopeless. However, as caring individuals we must make it our goal to do everything we can to help such people – not only to provide them with safety and necessities, but also to restore their voices to them. Only when these people have had their dignity and hope restored to them can we truly begin to rebuild Kenya.
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This post was written by Sadie Fulton and Francis Kebuchi