Saturday, May 21, 2005

Kenya at War

Hey!I just came by this in my mail so I thought that I would share it.

Kenya is at war
By Njonjo Mue

War Correspondent
Nairobi.

Kenya is at war.

It is a startling statement to have to make and I know it does sound
alarmist, but hear me out. No, we do not go to bed with the sound of
gunfire ringing in our ears and we do not see troops marching on our
streets or bombs falling from the sky. But Kenya is at war.


Those on Ground Zero in Nairobi, our villages and small towns have
been living on a war footing for so long that they have come to
accept it as normal; to grin and bear it; and to declare to
themselves and to others that it is their fate; that God ordained it
for the black person to suffer. Besides, we all know that society has
to make sense and so whatever evidence we come across that ours
doesn't make sense has somehow to be internally denied – by
government, by the media and ultimately by ourselves.


We have come to accept that somehow all those children living rough
on our streets surviving on sniffing toxic substances are a normal
part of living in an urban society; we have come to accept that all
those young mothers sending their toddlers to beg money from hungry
and angry passers-by are a normal part of city life; we have come to
accept that all the thousands of workers who are turning up to work
for a normal day only to find a thank you note and a terminal dues
cheque are a normal part of capitalism at work; we have come to
accept that the scenes of our alienated youth burning down
dormitories or taking to the streets is a normal part of the 21st
Century academic experience. We have somehow convinced ourselves that
terrorism is defined as a couple of passenger jets flying into a
couple of flashy buildings on a clear autumn morning in a faraway
land of opulence, while overlooking the real terrorism that we daily
encounter on the street, in our homes, at the hands of our
government, the police, our public transport operators, our spouses,
our partners, our parents and each other.


Kenya is at war.


A significant minority of us have access to the Internet, so it is
not inappropriate to ask you to follow me to another battle zone.
Take a moment to visit Kenyan websites – Kenyaonline, Rcbowen,
Kenyaniyetu.com, Mashada.com, and a host of other discussion groups
frequented by our angry brothers and sisters and you will be
horrified by the amount of verbal violence that you will find there.
Few meaningful discussion takes place before quickly degenerating
into a tirade of verbal abuse. We seem to have lost our ability to
engage each other on issues without descending into tribal name-
calling and sectarian victimisation. And these are the educated among
us! Even living abroad (most participants are Kenyans in the
Diaspora) hasn't quite exposed us to new ways of thinking, of solving
our problems. It only seems to have given new life to our worst sin.
Unrestrained by the civility imposed upon us when we meet face to
face, we have become cyber-tribalists, quickly labelling each other –
"Kikuyus are this, Luhyas are that!" There is little engagement on
the myriad challenges collectively facing us. Our country swings in
the balance, yet the children our parents sacrificed their all to
educate and send abroad have become warmongers in cyberspace,
offering nothing but hatred and petty prejudice against the
tribal "Other" and against women. What a betrayal!


Kenya is at war.


We have privatised the coercive forces of the state as powerful
individuals have mobilised unemployed youths into private armies.
Mungiki and Kamjesh fight it out on the streets; the police cower
behind garbage heaps coming out during breaks in the fighting to
collect the bodies of the dead. The young men are fighting over
Matatu routes, over who will extort what from PSV owners. In these
violent Summit Talks, the matatu owners are represented, powerful
politicians are represented, the government is represented, but who,
pray tell, is representing the hapless commuter? No one. The poor
mother has to walk long distances through the battle zones to get to
work while the combatants sort out the crucial question of how they
will share the spoils.


No, you don't have to go to Kabul, Jalalabad or Kandahar to find
terrorism. We have plenty of it right here at home. For terror is not
about what they do to buildings and aeroplanes, it is about what they
do to our minds. And government, Mungiki, Kamjesh, Fred Gumo, David
Mwenje and a host of other unworthies have wormed their way into our
craniums and lodged fear in our souls. They whisper violence and
thereby paralyse a whole populace into pitiful complacency as thugs
and murderers take over our streets. It is they, rather than the Son
of Laden, who have changed our way of life. September 11 really has
nothing to do with me, despite what the media and Moi would have us
believe. What happens on Matatu termini in Dandora does have
everything to do with me! I do not fly from East to West on American
Airlines, I commute from Town to Umoja on a Matatu. And before the
President goes calling on George W Bush to discuss the World Trade
Centre and the Pentagon, let him call on David Mwenje and Fred Gumo
to sort out our own matatu madness. That is what we elected him for!


Kenya is at war.


And all around us, the vanguards of justice have abandoned their
posts and fled, leaving hyenas to look after lambs. Look at the
shameful behaviour of so-called learned friends in our highest
courts. The evidence must be denied, you see, but it is clear that
even our be-robed and bewigged men and women of the Bench are running
out of ideas. First it was the Constitutional Court decision that
terminated the operations of the Anti Corruption Authority last
December. What a travesty! And just as we began to think that we had
seen the worst of it, the judges struck back again early this week,
when the Constitutional Court terminated corruption charges against
Minister Kipng'eno Arap Ng'eny saying that it was unfair to try him
nine years after the offence took place. The court suddenly
remembered that there was a bill of rights, which was there to
protect individuals such as the minister against harassment by his
cabinet colleague, the Attorney General. Two points to note here:
first, there is no statute of limitations on criminal cases and
anyone can be charged at any time as long as evidence is available;
secondly, this same court has denied the protection of the bill of
rights to thousands of citizens who were detained, tortured and
killed by the State. What happened in court this week is a shameful
travesty. I shall copy this article to the Chief Justice and the
Attorney General and I challenge them to charge me with scandalising
the court. This judiciary doesn't need any help scandalising itself.
It is already doing a spending job of it without any outside
assistance!


Kenya is at war.


Not just with its present, but with its future. It is said that if
people start to doubt your sanity, then persist in your madness and
they will start thinking that perhaps it is not madness after all,
but is a special kind of genius. Our government seems to have caught
on. For why, pray tell, would any government decide to excise 10% of
our miserable forest cover when we have so recently experienced the
havoc caused by a lack of clear environmental policies. Minister
Nyenze gazetted a notice in February that he intended to degazette
170,000 acres of forest and asked for public feedback. Predictably
there was an outcry, which the government characteristically ignored
and last month, his successor, Minister Katana Ngala, confirmed the
excision. There is absolutely no logic in this; indeed it is a
looming tragedy. I am quietly hoping that it is all part of a ploy in
the succession game to give the President a chance to intervene
personally and overrule his ministers and thereby score some points –
forgiveness points – so that when we eventually judge him for his
many sins, we shall at least remember that he saved our forests.


Back overseas, where the great and the good do dwell, fear has swept
across the land as a number of the sons and daughters of the soil
have been apprehended and are threatened with being brought back to
the soil, falling from grace to grass as it were. You see many of the
children we sent abroad to study never stepped inside a classroom –
except perhaps to wash it before quickly proceeding to the
supermarket, the hospital or the fast-food restaurant to do similar
menial jobs. Many have overstayed their visas and become undocumented
migrant labourers. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with
that. Our parents fought for independence so that if I wanted to do a
cleaning job, I could do it without anyone's permission.


What disturbs me is how we carry on the lie that the places of our
sojourn are a land of milk and honey. We slave away our lives and
project the image of comfort and opulence to those we left behind
thereby enticing our younger brothers and sisters with the lie that
America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. How many
of us tell the whole story to our friends and family back home? We
prefer to send glossy pictures of ourselves washing our car, relaxing
in our tastefully furnished living rooms, or playing in the park on a
warm summer evening. Few speak of the crippling credit card debts,
working impossible hours, months of loneliness and years of
alienation; leave alone the heartache of trying to proclaim your
humanity to a racist society where the glass ceiling is so firmly
embedded above you that you can only go so far no matter what your
talents and qualification.


September 11 continues to reverberate in the hearts of many of our
countrymen and women not because one of these days they might be
travelling on an unlucky plane (most of them don't fly) or that they
might be working in a hapless skyscraper on a clear Tuesday morning
(most of them don't go to skyscrapers, except perhaps to clean them),
but because the Immigration and Naturalisation Service has suddenly
woken up from a long slumber and is likely to come knocking and
asking for papers. I do not mean this in any malicious or
condescending sense, but in July 2000, I spoke to Kenyans in
California and asked them to get more involved in solving the
problems of our country because their comfortable abode would not
remain comfortable for long. My dismal foreboding has been
vindicated. It is time for Kenyans abroad to do their part in
fighting the war against the terrorism at home; for like it or not,
we have no other home but Kenya.


Back at Ground Zero - the City in the Sun - the war is raging on. We
started out fighting the three enemies of poverty, hunger and
disease, but when that war started looking unwinable, we simply
turned on each other. They lied to us when they said that Kenya was a
peaceful country. What they meant was that we were all so scared of
causing a scene in public that we never stand up for our rights. The
problem, you see, is that we do everything we can to avoid
confrontation. When a Matatu tout pushes me about, arbitrarily
increases the fare, blasts my eardrums out with his music or suddenly
changes the route to suit himself, I tell myself, well, it is just a
20 minute ride anyway, or it is just a 5 shilling difference, or I
shall just be five minutes late getting home today. No big deal.


But it is a big deal, for human dignity is a zero sum game. If I
don't demand my rights and dignity in public, I shall take it out on
my wife and children in private. If I just take it when that man
jumps the queue at the post office, it shall come out against some
innocent person at a different time. It is called justice; it is an
intricate part of our make up. And when I am dehumanised in one
place, it comes out in another place. So let us not fool ourselves.
It is not the magnitude of the indignity that matters, it is the
affront to my humanity which is caused by any form of injustice or
violation, however seemingly minor. For you see, we are all rational
beings and anything we go through must be rational or it shall
provoke an irrational reaction, delayed and against people who had
nothing to do with the initial injustice. And it will fan the flames
of war that engulf us.


Kenya is at war.


Our generals have by and large abdicated. They no longer give
guidance as to how we are to fight this war to win. They are busy
sharing the spoils – no, not the spoils, but our supplies; those
meagre resources we carried with us to the battlefield. Our generals
have divided the garment that covered our nakedness amongst
themselves and are now inviting their sons to help themselves to the
dregs while there is yet time before the whole edifice comes
crumbling down. We have been abandoned, are ill equipped and
outnumbered. But we must regroup and fight on, for this is a war that
we cannot afford to lose. It is a war for our survival as a people,
as a nation and as a race.


Kenya is at war.


But who shall silence the guns? Who shall nurse the wounded? Who
shall feed the orphan? And who shall help us find the way to peace;
not just peace but a lasting peace with honour?


Ourselves. Each one of us must start considering ourself a volunteer
in the army of ordinary people for peace. The terrorists in our midst
seek to intimidate us into doing nothing about our pitiful situation.
Their greatest weapons are not planes flying into buildings. Their
most lethal weapons are deception and fear. But we must refuse to be
slaves to fear. We must live our humanity with dignity. We must take
the time to be rational in all our deeds, to explain our actions to
ourselves and to each other. We must make sense of our society,
interpreting events for ourselves as we see them and in the context
of our lived experience. We must stop letting the government or the
media think for us – we must think for ourselves and for them and
guide their action! We must stop being judgemental, for in a very
real sense, we are all victims - even those who wound and maim us,
those who steal from the mouths of babes and those who let them go
scot-free in the name of justice – we are all victims of structures
and systems that we found here and that we faithfully serve without
question. We are captives of our own insecurity, realising that
things have gone dreadfully wrong but lacking the wisdom or the
courage to start reversing the decay.


And what can we learn from September 11 and all that?


We do not know what exactly happened on those four jets on that clear
Tuesday morning; we may never know. But if the account of events is
true a number of angry young men got completely fed up with their lot
in life and decided to sacrifice their all to do something about it.
This is what we Kenyans must do. We must become completely fed up
with being pushed about and laughed at and being treated as children
of a lesser god. We must put our lives on the line for our cause –
the rebuilding of the soul of our nation. We must be totally
committed and totally focused and we must use everything at our
disposal to reverse the decay.


The only difference between us and the principal actors of September
11 is that where they were willing to die and to kill for their
cause, we must be willing to live and to heal for our own; while they
were willing to destroy buildings to make their point, we must be
willing to rebuild a nation to make our own; while their project took
months to prepare and minutes to execute, ours must take minutes to
conceive and years to execute. For we must get to work right away.
Every moment of delay pushes us ever closer to the brink.


I would like to pretend that if we heed this call it will mark the
dawn of a new era for Kenya. But vested interests don't so easily
give in to a new dispensation. I have to be honest and declare that
we are only just approaching the midnight hour. Things will get worse
before they get better. Many gallant fighters will fall. But we shall
get through our midnight by focusing relentlessly on the vision of a
new Kenya – one where justice becomes truly our shield and defender.


This vision will be the magnet that will draw us to our enduring
freedom as we embrace one another and as we work and rebuild
together. Then we will become eyewitnesses to the miracle of our
rebirth as the dark days of despair slowly begin to give way to our
season of hope…


Amkeni ndugu zetu!

2 comments:

Johnny Brooks said...

I skimmed your post, and was wondering what we can do about the situation. Rather than talking what do we do?

WM said...

I read your post, and in between feeling sad,angry, dispirited, outraged and so on at the state of affairs, it also seems to me that we are not as oblivious or as unlistening to each other as it seems. The Bloggers world doesn't seem to me to be composed of people degenerating into tribalism and cyber insults..at least not the ones I have visited at kenyaUnlimited. MMK at Bullets and Honey has it going on...ditto Thinker, ditto Afropundit...ditto Afromusing, I mean, the list goes on. There is some very serious brain power being expended on analyses and solutions, and that deserves our attention to, even if we should not become complacent as a result.