Thursday, February 21, 2008

How did we get here?

In the streets of Perth Western Australia am sitting in the train, the lady next me is reading the local news paper the West Australian. She looks up with concern and tears on her eyes and she asks me where are you from? I say Kenya and she looks again at the article and asks how did you get here? For a momment am thinking thats idle talk, I came by air, then before I can answer her she points to the article and the pictures jump out. It is a scene that I have seen, smoke raising from a burning house, a man running away with a little girl on his back. And immediately I know what she is asking.

I have no answer, all I can say is we did not see it comming, the elections were very peaceful, there were observers, we had an electoral commission that had the experience having overseen the past elections of 2002. I also muse to my self, that there was a lot of investment in civic education, promoting peace, tolerence and all desirable virtues. I do my best to explain what I think must have transpired.

Painful as it is once again we have been reminded of how fragile peace is and how in one action mayham can be caused. There are those who believe that the violence was premeditated and as such are looking around for the inciters. There is the other school of thought that says the violence was all spontenous a reaction to events as they unfolded.

The first premise of organized response to the election is easy to deal with as it gives us the false comfort that people were acting under orders, it basically shifts the blame on the individuals who violently reacted to what was happening. The second idea is hard to deal us it forces us to squarely look at the reality that amongst us there are people who are ready and willing to kill and maim to make a statement.

In a country with a judiciary and a well ordered way of resolving dispute this is a big blow as it negates all the gains that we had made in advancing democracy and human rights discourse in Kenya.

She then asks why do people in Kenya like living in their small communities even when they migrate in the city? And am thinking right, we got Kisumu Ndogo in almost all cities of Kenya, we got Garissa in Nairobi, for a momment I wonder if that shows how tribalized we are, but then I point out that in so many countries there is a China Town, and I have always visited the China town's to get some Chinese stuff and it is so beautiful. The landscape of Perth City or Sydney would be incomplete without the little china town's. I also remind my self that the Indians almost without exception reside in one area of whichever city or town they might migrate to. So in a sense living with ones own kin should not be seen as a bad thing of itself but the flip side is that when the tension rises this blocks can feul a conflict.

I also tell her that in any community there are people who are just waiting for an opportunity to be disruptive, we have witnessed mob violence in the streets of Nairobi that point out clearly to a complete disregard of human life and due procedures. The lady gets off am heading to the last station from Perth and as such I have the rest of the journey to reflect upon what has become of Kenya..

As I journey in Australia am a walking source of curious looks, talks and discussions, suddenly everyone has realized that there is a country called Kenya and they have issues to deal with.

As dutiful Kenyans we have joined hands here in Perth Western Australia to raise awareness on the plight of people affected by the post election, we are also collecting funds to support relief efforts and hope we will be involved in the long term process of finding sustainable peace.

Hope she reads the message that we are sending out, that we as Kenyan's in Western Australia will work as hard as we assist people to overcome the challanges that have been caused by the conflict..


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Rapho's Take on Post Election Crisis in Kenya

BY OBONYO raphael
13th February 2008

The open wound!

Kenya is going through moments of unutterable destruction with horrifying statistics and scenarios. The post election protests that were triggered by the announcement of the disputed presidential election results on the 30th of December 2007 have taken a more shocking turn. So far, at least 1,000 people have lost their lives, scores of people have been injured and over 350,000 people displaced in the post election crisis. More over, properties worth billion of shillings have been vandalized setting the Kenyan economy on a free fall.

During the period that commenced on December 30th 2007 to date we have seen unbelievable demise of people’s fundamental rights and freedoms. This include, the right to life, right to decent shelter, right to own property, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of movement amongst many other freedoms. Killing of innocent men, women and children, extra judicial killings by police, ban of public rallies and protests, ban of live broad casts are what followed the announcement of the disputed election results. Today more than ever our ethnic groups, communities and classes are so divided. Ethnicity has become a defining factor in the way we conduct our businesses, communities are turning against each other and thousands upon thousands of walalahois (the very poor) pour the streets to protest while others engage in looting and destruction of property they perceive to belong to walalhais (elite) and walalaheris(middle class). In addition, impunity and insecurity continue to reign supreme as gangs and militias engage in acts of lawlessness.

While it is true the election results spurred a lot of anger and protests the post election crisis in Kenya is not only about electoral dispute but also about the age old injustices and disquiets. The two problems are inextricably bound to the other. However, we have always swept our problems under the carpet and buried our heads in the sand. Simply put Kenya has been ignoring the wound for far too long. We thought that the wound would heal naturally. We preferred to cover it and carry on business as usual but not any more. The wound has now been opened and to heal proper diagnosis and prescription must be sought. We must go as far back in history as we can for us to resolve the problems once and for all. This is because our roots would define our growth.

What surprises me though is the fact that we are all surprised about the happenings in Kenya as if we have forgotten our history and more so the activities that preceded the 2007 elections. Truly, we have lived with all these problems but like it is our characteristic we preferred to suffer in silence to avoid scaring investors and denting our ‘legacy’ as an island of peace in sea of turmoil. In brevity, the wound has been there all along it has just been opened. While there are several issues that underlie the post election crisis in Kenya, I would like to refer to authoritarian presidency, inequalities, land conflicts and negative ethnicity.

1. Authoritarian Presidency
In Kenya, the executive and in particular the president still wields excess powers. The president is in charge of everything and everyone and can hire and fire at will. I remember a joke about the immediate former president of Kenya Arap Moi that he was farmer number one, teacher number one, doctor number one and number one in a litany of areas. Nothing much has been done to transform our presidency from being a seat of power to that of service. The president is the head of State and the Government at the same time. In addition he has lots of control over a myriad of other institutions including police, National Commissions, Judiciary and even parliament. As a result the seat is not only coveted with passion but every community feels like they are only safe with one of their own at the top. More so this has led to regime institutions like regime police, regime executive, regime judiciary, regime parliament, regime commissions and so on. Everything seems to be revolving around the president and this explains in part the cut throat contest for the position and the dismissal of the judiciary as an avenue to resolve the current impasse. No doubt, the 2007 elections has affirmed the need to cut down the powers of the executive and more specifically the powers of the president. The law should be amended to make the presidency less powerful and hence, less attractive. In this case reform of all key institutions is essential to ensure their independence restoration of public confidence.

2. Inequalities
The deep socio-economic and political disparities in Kenya seem to have also contributed a great deal to the post election crisis. Kenya is rated tops amongst the countries with the largest income gap between the rich and the poor. Some pundits have advanced that the economic growth in Kenya is spelling peril as it is not distributed proportionately at all levels. This is better explained by the high percentage of those languishing in poverty in Kenya and the handful of Kenyans who own immeasurable wealth. No wonder the post election protests especially those staged by young people from the urban ‘slums’ and the rural areas were accompanied with massive looting. For instance, a majority of youth in Kenya are poor, unemployed and untutored. To them the protests were not only about the disputed election results but a demand for dignity, equality, jobs and equal citizenship. In this view any attempts to resolve the current problem must take into consideration the balance between twin goals of economic growth and distribution.

3. Land conflicts
The foundational issue that needs to be understood for a debate on land conflict in Kenya to be useful is the question ownership. Immediately after independence there were sharp differences between the ruling elites and the freedom fighters on issues regarding the distribution of land. While some would argue that history belong to the authors, it has now come to haunt us. Land is an essential factor of production but many Kenyans don’t own land. This is because ownership of land in Kenya has for a while been pegged on ones proximity to power. This explains why the political class in this country own large tracts of land while a majority poor remain landless and impoverished. To crack the stalemate Kenya must address historical injustices in land ownership. There is dire need to implement the land policy which was allegedly shelved because it was perceived to be too radical.

3. Negative ethnicity
With at least 42 tribes, Kenya is regarded as multi ethnic. But the problem does not lie in the number of tribes. The problem lies in the polarization, stereotype and ethnicization of all facets of our country. It is really sad to note that in Kenya discrimination along tribal lines has been so common. Many Kenyans if not all prefer to fall back to their ethnic groups especially when they are in trouble. Worse still many always want to tout their tribes as most superior and the others as the inferior. Kenyans have failed to realize that one can love his or her tribe without necessarily hating the other. The post election crisis has shown that Kenyans have just been coalescing. Nothing binds us together and that is why we break so easily. We are reaping what we planted as recent as three months ago during the campaigns that preceded the general election. During the election campaigns we tolerated and cheered at the aspiring leaders as they unleashed inflammatory hate speeches about other communities. They heightened our hatred and now we are actualizing their dream. To resolve the current crisis we must seek to make Kenya a nation that is bond by common values and not mere amalgamation of tribes.

Search for peace and justice
Kenyans have banked all their hope in the on going mediation talks that are being chaired by the immediate former United Nations Secretary Kofi Anan. Looking at the weight of the problems that were triggered by the disputed elections we cannot afford to treat such an important sitting as a joke. We must all accord the team the support they require. We must move with a sense of great urgency to resolve the political impasse and further the deep and long rooted injustices. That is what would unite, heal and give Kenya sustainable peace.

We have tasted the bitterness of violence and we should not allow anything to plunder us further abyss. Violence as a way of seeking justice is both impractical and immoral and can never bring permanent peace. Whatever the outcome, we must act with maturity and reject, renounce any acts of violence, injustices and amputation of rights. I have always admired greatly Martin Luther King junior who has a towering record of non-violence. He reminded us not to rely on arms and weapons of struggle in resolving our differences. Neither should we seek to liberate ourselves at the expense of the humiliation and enslavement of others.

OBONYO raphael is a human right activist. Currently, he is a consultant stationed at the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) Election Monitoring Centre. He holds a postgraduate diploma in project management and has extensive experience in working with communities.