The news out of Kenya today plays like a skipping record. The citizens of Kenya continue to lose their jobs, their homes, their dignity, their safety – and many are still losing their lives. There is some good news – in the past few weeks, talks are ensuing between the two political “leaders”. Talks may be the only way to resolve the violence. But when looking to the future of Kenya, there may just be a silver lining emerging – one that is silver to everyone except the politicians. Today there is a new understanding of politics in the hearts of the people, an awakening of sorts which could eventually bring change.
The government has decided to release eight advertisements advocating its position in the current crisis. These advertisements are disconcerting – they promote a private agenda, and while there is no proof, one can only guess that this publicity campaign is being paid for directly by Kenyan taxpayers. Regardless of the origin of the money, it cannot be disputed that in a country with over 300,000 homeless, this money is needed elsewhere. This use of money for private interests is a tribute to the true priorities of the governmental leaders.
Yet the opposition is not innocent of focusing on private interests either. Raila Odinga, opposition leader, has resumed hurling accusations of murder at the government, claiming the government are responsible for the deaths of two Members of Parliament from his party (the Orange Democratic Movement). While this may or may not be true, Odinga’s accusatory behaviour is no peacekeeping force. It would seem that neither side is focusing on the greater picture in this situation – or if they are, part of their strategy is to pretend it is not happening.
So what is this “it” which is happening? Violence, murder, arson and rape are heavy in the picture, but the real event here is taking place in the hearts of the Kenyan citizens themselves. Over the past month, the politicians seem to have forgotten the people, allowing the country to be destroyed without ever truly interfering. What the politicians weren’t counting on is that the people would notice that there was no real concern coming from any of them for the safety and well-being of the people. Unfortunately for the government and the opposition, the people have noticed. More powerful in the hearts of the people today than anger is the deep feeling of betrayal.
Early on in the conflict, there was footage of mob bosses explaining that the killing of people of the same tribes as the leaders was a legitimate pathway by which to communicate with the leaders, as they were unable to contact the leaders directly. Yet as the death toll mounted, the political apathy (founded by a power-obsessed elite) came under the spotlight. The myth that Mwai Kibaki cares about his Kikuyu people is nearly extinct. The image of Raila Odinga being concerned with his Luo people is not doing much better – although he did go to one of the rallies he organised, he did not even get out of his car (a hummer).
This is a very difficult lesson for the people of Kenya to have to learn, and the manner in which they are learning it is increasingly destructive. Some will never learn this lesson, instead proceeding on the basis of ethnicity – the tragic, flawed notion that individuals of other tribes can never be trusted. But the significance of this lesson cannot be underestimated – the change the people are looking for cannot come from keeping everything the same. The people have suffered in poverty for years, yet this whole time they are led to believe that the role of “politician” is not a career but an end in itself. The common belief amongst Kenyans – both the well-off and the impoverished – is that once an individual has become a politician, their work is done and they have the right to reap the benefits. Today, however, it appears this myth is being dispelled – as a Kenyan musician, Eric Wainaina, points out to the politicians in one of his songs: “After all, I chose you [‘] Wait a minute – that means you work for me – it’s not the other way around!” It is about time the people started to understand this fundamental concept of the role of a politician, for only once this understanding is established can true change begin to follow.
In the meantime, however, the situation is dark. The destructiveness of the current ethnic cleansing must not be overlooked, and it is unclear whether anyone is leading the country at all. Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, is one important force – he claims to have a plan for negotiations whereby violence can end in one month and the deeper issues resolved in a year. Maina Kiai, chairperson of the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (KNCHR), says that Annan is the country’s last hope for peace. Otherwise, he speculates, the country will either fall under a harsh imposing government comparable to that of Zimbabwe, or plunge into deep chaos (more like Cote d’Ivoire than Rwanda, he says). If what Kiai says is true, then all we can do is support Annan to the best of our ability.
It must not be assumed, however, that all is lost if Annan fails. It would be an undesirable outcome in any case – yet the initiatives for peace in Kenya are growing in strength on a daily basis, both inside and outside the country. A group of musicians from all different tribes recently released a song entitled Wakenya Pamoja (Kenyans United). There are concerts and other peace events being organised not only all through Kenya but also internationally, in cities such as Birmingham, Oxford and Belfast. The most important thing that can be done today for Kenya is to not give up hope and to spread awareness amongst the citizens of the motives of their politicians – this is the lesson that they should be learning, instead of the increase of inter-tribal prejudice. The more work that gets done in the name of peace and unity, the more the society can begin to be rehabilitated, paving the way for positive change. Only then can we finally become what the world was looking to us to be – a beacon of hope and an example for Africa.
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This post was written by Sadie Fulton