Monday, October 20, 2008

An angry article about pangas and barbarism

By Mutuma Mathiu

When I write my memoirs, which I intend to do soon, I will say that the post-election violence has been one of the greatest influences in my life. It changed me. It shook my confidence in myself and my country. It destroyed the hope of my life and corrupted something I loved deeply. Before December 2007, I was an idealistic, left-of-centre cynic. I thought the most important thing in life was to secure the rights of Kenyans from an overbearing government, create a little room for them so that they could create wealth and a good life for themselves.

Now I sound like Senator John McCain; soon I will look like him.

Having read the accounts in the Waki report about a Kenyan cutting the vagina of a fellow Kenyan with a panga so that he and his three friends could rape her with greater ease, of police officers cheering as mobs slit the throats of their neighbours, of grown men forcibly circumcised with broken bottles, I know that my innocence has no chance against the outrage pushing against my chest.

WE, MY BROTHERS, ARE BARBARIANS. We have been brutal beyond comprehension against our fellow human beings. And our leaders, who have filled our heads with tribalism, fear, hatred and lies, are sick barbarians. Our priority today is not to fight poverty or any of that; it is to discover how to be human. We become human when we accept that the next human has every right to claim the same rights we claim for ourselves. And the Luo, Kikuyu, Kamba, Kisii, Meru and the rest of them are, believe it or not, human beings. When you treat them like antelopes, hunting them in buses and massacring them in the name of revenge or politics or land, you, too, become like an antelope; a bloody animal.

Do we have brains? If we did, we would have realised by now that things like tribalism are the preoccupation of broke fools. Among the business, political and professional elite, the language is not tribe, it is money. When two of them meet, they don’t think: what tribe is this man? They think: how can this guy advance my interests? Occasionally they will think: how can I play the tribe card to win this contract?

Yes, people from the same tribe will sit together at the club to speak their mother tongue and explore opportunities where tribe might be played to their advantage. But to them tribe is a game, just like corruption. Tribe as an identifier is the mark of the African idiot. The clever ones know no one is going to write them into history books just because they came from middle Eastern, Mt Kenya, or South Rift or Luo Nyanza or any those other blasted tribalisms. They know it is the work of their brains and of their hands, or the sheer ferocity of their avarice, that will win them immortality, fame, wealth and all those other things that drive human beings.

How many years do we need to figure out that we have been total fools?

For example, we have been trained to believe that wherever power goes, wealth follows. Mr Mwai Kibaki has been President for six years; how many millionaires have been created in Othaya as a result? I have been to Baringo many times and the folk there looked to me like the most destitute you will find anywhere. When a man becomes president, a coterie of jackals, about 100, or 1,000 tops, becomes rich. And many of these individuals would do well under any leader; they are good at doing well. Ninety-nine per cent of the President’s tribesmen remain jobless, broke and quite probably steeped in tribalism. So if you are taking a panga to go and fight for power, it will not change your material conditions; you will be as broke as you were before you killed or maimed. Doesn’t it strike you as kind of stupid to kill people for something that is of no use to you and your family?

HATING PEOPLE OR FEARING PEOPLE because they are from another tribe is going to fix nothing. Minding your own business, allowing other people to mind theirs and occasionally getting together to mind the common business, will. Tribal pride, being happy because a fellow Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Luo, Luhya, Kamba or whatever, is riding the presidential limousine is a bogus thing. It is the handle that politicians use to squeeze things out of you. We have fallen for it in the past; if we continue to fall for it, then quite obviously we are beyond help. I think we shall begin to reassert our humanity when we put some distance between us and the murders.

So the game now should be to find the financiers, organisers and perpetrators of these atrocities, and then we remove them from our presence. Funga hii watu. Then we shall reform the state so that all of us are equal before the law, enjoying its protection wherever we live, with equal access to opportunities and communal resources.

Remember, the same politicians who are now dripping honey were dripping poison in December last year. The near-destruction of this country was their handiwork. It is insanity to trust the same people with important assignments and expect success and unity.

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