We have just had a national conference on peaceful elections, in Nairobi this week. One leader after the other exhorted Kenyans to be peaceful as the elections season sets in, in earnest. This follows hot on the heels of nationwide peace meetings in every county.
Elsewhere in Mombasa, President Kibaki, while opening this year’s ASK Mombasa Show, made a passionate plea for peace and national cohesion and tolerance. Meanwhile parts of northern Kenya and the coast have been theatres of senseless mass murder and mayhem, these past few days.? ?
We are set to hear more peace pleas in the days ahead. Our faith in our natural goodness has been thoroughly shaken, ever since we messed up our country after the 2007 elections. Time and tide wait for nobody, we are told. Five years are up. It is election season again. As they say, once bitten, twice shy. We fear a repeat of 2008. We shall therefore move from post to pillar and from pillar to post, praying and pleading for peace. This is a good thing.
But that is just about as far as it goes. This is especially so in Kenya. For many years, we took a near arrogant attitude about peace. We pilloried our neighbours as jungle dwellers and flattered ourselves with the belief that we were “an island of peace in an African sea of turbulence”.
?In truth, we lived a lie. We muffled grievance and masked injustice. That was what Justice Johann Kriegler of South Africa told us, after doing an autopsy of the violence that overwhelmed us in 2008. We continue to coat many unresolved historical tensions in the sugar of political convenience. The bungled elections were therefore only a ripe moment for the caving in of our peace, after a long ailment, falsely borne. ??
Another election is around the corner and panic seems to be overtaking us. That is why we must preach peace. But even as we preach peace, we need to do a lot more. For peace is not created by petitions and exhortations. Those who seek viable peace create environments and circumstances in which peace can thrive. Breakdown in peace often travels hand in glove with feelings of injustice, regardless that they are real or otherwise.
Grievance and relative deprivation theorists advise those in charge of state institutions to imbue citizens with confidence in the institutions. This is the best petition for peace. When it comes to elections, all institutions involved with the electoral process must consciously win back our confidence after the 2007 experience. The Judiciary, the media, the provincial administration and above all the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, must give Kenyans a sense of fairness and justice.
We must not be afraid to ask questions. How much sense of justice do we give our people with if we appoint officers called County Commissioners and insist they remain in office, even after the courts, the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs and the Attorney General have told us that what we have done is illegal? /do we cause a section of the populace to suspect sinister motives?
o we compromise prospects for peaceful elections when we do so? How much cohesion does a media house that makes it its exclusive stock in trade to strategically target particular election candidates for incessant verbal assault and hostile propaganda? How supportive of peace are vernacular FM stations that preach the gospel of “our tribesman for President” the whole day and night long, world without end?
How well are we preparing for peaceful elections when some State officials resist police reforms to the extent that you end up with a Commissioner of Police who is now illegally in office? How well are we doing when we target a reformist Judiciary for disparagement; when we ridicule judges with tags like “activists”?
How well are we doing when election campaigns often sound like competitions in hate campaign? Candidates don’t talk about what they could do for Kenya. They rather move from one corner of the country to the other peddling hate from one end of the mouth and from the other end talk about “uniting” Kenyans. The question is, “unite” them in what? In hate?
For their part, media pick up these localised sessions of hate and carry them into our living rooms and to our bedrooms. Then there is a rabid social media that has gone viral with ethnic based hate campaigns. It is raw, brutal, and shameless, stoking the ugly fires of tomorrow.
In the volume, Gender and Genocide in Burundi, Patricia O Daley reminds us of the late Prof Cheikh Anta Diop’s insight into the architecture of societies that will roast in their own fuel. She says, for example, that such societies have “genocidal institutions: These include those institutions that are organised for incitement. In particular media, especially hate radio. Church and religious institutions are also organised for promulgation of genocide.”
The environment is suffocated with politics of exclusivism, racism, and ethnicity. “Opponents are characterised as vermin. People define themselves into racial and ethnic categories for purposes of social and political control.” Critically, we are reminded that there emerges “a kind of thinking that devalues the lives of other human beings on the basis of their ethnicity or race. For example if a car knocks down a person in the street, the driver will come out and say, ‘Oh, it is only a Hutu.’”
While we do well to preach peace, we will do better still to begin building an environment that supports peace. It is not too late. We could still wake up and begin interrogating ourselves – each one of us. We can ship some people to The Hague and blame them for the 2008 mayhem. We could railroad the entire political top brass to Siberia. But we solve nothing. Eventually, we must come to terms with our past, accept it, ask for forgiveness, correct old mistakes, compensate victims, be forgiven and move into the future. Then we shall find peace.