Thursday, February 19, 2009

Our enemy is not famine, it’s our leaders


The inability of Parliament last week to pass a law to enable the trial of post-election warlords at home is a sign of the gradual but sustained decay of the Kenyan state. We can argue the whole day about whether justice is better served by a tribunal on Kenyan soil or whether it is a good thing for a country to be unable to punish its own criminals and has to palm them off to foreigners.

Some of the warlords regard The Hague as a joke. They look at the scale of atrocities on this continent and around the world; they look at Congo where more than three million people have been brutally massacred; they look at Rwanda where almost a million were put to the machete and they look at the Sudan where the cries of African women being violated still haunt the nights. Then they look upon their handiwork, a mere thousand dead and nearly a million refugees, then they conclude that the world has bigger crocodiles to slay.

In their calculations, they don’t think they will be indicted before the next election and after that they intend to be so powerful that they can use all the diplomatic resources of the government to either delay or kill prosecution. In their thinking, they will plunder this country so fundamentally that by the time they stand trial, if at all, they will have money to buy militia, the best lawyers in the business and the best instruments of propaganda. They are also counting on the rigorous application of the law by the international legal system. Using their vantage positions in politics, they will no doubt go to every length to contaminate evidence, possibly including having the most effective witnesses promoted to glory. If the trials take place in Europe, organising former warriors and survivors to go and testify would not only be prohibitively expensive, but it would be a logistical challenge as well. So they have called Mr Kofi Annan’s bluff.

Then there are the instrumentalists who have smelt blood and moved in to bite off the heads of their potential 2012 rivals. These ones are counting on the stigma of being investigated by a world court for crimes against humanity to destroy the careers of their rivals. I don’t know of any one who is genuinely crying for the children who were burnt in Eldoret and Naivasha. And if there is one such person, they should do their best to forgive me.

The Kenyan state is so depleted and so morally bankrupt that it does not have the political capacity to try the most vile and repellent human beings, those who have incited and facilitated the massacre of Kenyans. There is no Kenyan institution which is venerated, trusted and obeyed. Yet, the state is merely an assembly of institutions, functioning a rule-governed interaction. I think the condition of the Kenyan state today is a reflection of two things: one the success of the Left in destroying the neo-colonial state, one institution after the other, and, secondly, the failure of the same group to replace those institutions with functioning instruments of government.

The post-colonial state had been subverted by corrupt tribalists into an instrument of plunder and oppression. It was right that it was replaced by something more democratic and more useful to the masses. If judges were being used to fix dissidents, wasn’t it fair and right for us to get judges who would dispense justice and serve the people? If the political parties of that time existed to perpetuate one-man rule, wasn’t it fair and right to replace them with mass movements which would, in the way of Mao Tse Tung, harness the creative energies of the people? If the police were corrupt and killing innocent people on the orders of politicians, wasn’t it the right thing to replace them with a group to protect and serve all?

My own theory is that the Left burrowed into the flesh of the state and slowly ate it dead. But rather than fresh, supple and strong muscle growing in the place of the old one, nothing but the rotting corruption of the neo-colonial state remains. The reforms we sing about are an attempt to grow back some of the neo-colonial flesh. The Kenyan state is neither renewed nor stronger.

Take the political party as an example. Kanu was a monolith of decay and dictatorship. After the repeal of Section 2A, we formed many parties which, we thought, would be everything that Kanu wasn’t. The new parties would be places of debate and freedom, of principle and patriotism. They would belong to the people, vehicles by which the ideas of the people about government and development would be carried forward.

What did we get instead? We got words, rivers of words, corruption and the worst levels of tribalism and greed ever seen in this land.

The clincher is that even if one genuinely wanted to lead this country back to the road of reform and restoration, they would get nowhere. Kenya is a captive nation, hijacked by a wealthy, powerful, corrupt and destructive elite. Sadly, the majority of Kenyans are not wise. Only an unwise person trusts a politician. And only a fool believes that tribe is the most important frame of reference.

We probably should be praying for two things now: an enlightened dictator who will come, ignore our tribalism and reform us by force. Or we can pray for an old thief whose house is so full of money that he can steal no more who will come and, for sport, reform us.

If we are in an optimistic mood, we can pray for the veil of foolishness to be lifted so that we can see that our greatest enemy is not famine, disease, poverty or even ignorance. It is the men and women we have chosen to lead us.

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