Monday, October 27, 2008

Punish the warmongers and evolve into a nation

By Tom Mshindi

Vested interests will make it impossible for Kenya’s leadership to agree on how best to implement the recommendations of the Waki Commission on Kenya’s post-election violence. This is a needless tragedy if we all agree – as we should – that the sole consideration on how such sensitive issues are handled must be fidelity to Kenya’s national interest. This failure to place national interest at the centre of our social, political and economic interactions is at the core of our failure to execute the nation-building project this country has been grappling with for the past 46 years.

We have a situation here in which national interest has been subordinated to personal and ethnic interests, fostering perpetual low-key warfare and conflict. The cliché that lack of war does not mean presence of peace resonates very powerfully with our situation. To understand the great unease about the recommendation that those leaders suspected of planning and perpetrating the January 2008 violence be tried by either a local or an international tribunal, think back to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights report of three months ago – a report presented to the Waki Team at the time. When the fairly incendiary contents of that report were exposed in the media, they provoked very angry reactions from powerful individuals in Government. Reason? The report mentioned names of people and presented what it considers to be strong evidence to link those leaders to the planning and execution of the killing and destruction that ushered in the new year.

It requires no great intelligence to guess that some (if not all) of the names in the KNCHR report are the same ones in the envelope Mr Justice Waki gave to Mr Kofi Annan. The names are of senior ministers in the coalition Government, senior members of their communities and key influencers of the way those communities think and act. It is these leaders or their lieutenants who are arguing that punishing perpetrators of the violence would spark further unrest. This, of course, is a petty and blinkered submission. It could only make sense if the country was truly at peace, its various organs and institutions healthy and robust, and its people secure in the knowledge of their own nationhood. But Kenya is not at peace at all. We are seeing a lull occasioned by the truce of the grand coalition deal. It is secured by the expectation that the various sectoral interests that clashed in the January chaos will be addressed in a manner that confirms the importance of those interests relative to competing interests.

There are many examples. They include the sectoral interests that have paralysed PNU between those that want it to convert into an individual membership party, and those (like Martha Karua) clinging to their own parties. These are afraid that suppressing their own identities will deny them a platform to pursue whatever ambitions they have – tribal, class, economic, or thematic. Similar interests are rattling the ODM party as it lines up to have its party elections. The ethnic divide and demands are even more specific. The Kalenjin community is pitted against the Luhya community for the prize of the Number Two slot in the party and a place on the high table chaired by the Luo community. The two communities are convinced that their interests will never be fully met unless one of them occupies that coveted position.

And this is the same thinking among the rest of the communities, with the difference being that the smaller you are numerically, the smaller your claims. The waki commission report threatens this fine and dangerous balance. To charge the leaders will significantly alter the dynamics and could even change the pecking order of things. It is quite scary. Some analysts have argued, quite correctly in my view, that the principal actors in the tragic drama – President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga – should be first in the dock because all others were acting on their behalf! This fear is understandable, but it must not deter Kenyans from the absolute necessity to use this opportunity to truly lance the boil of selfish, parochial and poisonous personal, community and sectoral interests that have completely stunted Kenya’s progress towards claiming the legitimacy of a nation. Dealing with the trauma of isolating and punishing leaders who are chauvinistic warmongers is a necessary rite of passage this country must welcome.

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