Friday, July 3, 2009

Moaning about Annan won’t bring the justice we crave


Someone really wise once coined a saying that what goes round comes round. I like to think of it as the Boomerang Effect. Our political corps is now discovering just how disastrous some of the things it does under cover of darkness can be for its ambitions.

Big and small, the presumed suspects are stewing in their own soup over last year’s poll violence — all because of a handful of names in an envelope held by Kofi Annan. There has been little evidence of remorse so far in those quarters, just more bravado and a determined effort to escape justice. Last year’s victims are dead and gone. The walking wounded no longer matter. We can appease our conscience by throwing a couple of billions of shillings or so at them in the Budget, and hope they are too emotionally drained to care for anything but basic survival.

But while money makes the world go round, it cannot guarantee amnesia when it comes to the kind of atrocities that have happened in Kenya all the way from independence. We can postpone the day of reckoning, as we have consistently done with each massacre and assassination, but the past refuses to remain buried and forgotten. Putting off the opening of the Annan envelope just ensures that those who are haunted by their evil deeds will continue to look over their shoulders. Ordinary folk have already launched their campaign for a public show of regret for their role in the unprecedented political violence of last year. It is easy to laugh off the goings-on at rallies such as the one put up by evangelist David Owuor in Eldoret recently. But they say a great deal about the state of the nation. The most unlikely agents of crime turned up with loot ranging from chicken to rolls of iron roofing sheets in an orgy of repentance. They confessed their sins and begged for forgiveness. It is hard to tell whether they were genuine or simply terrified of divine retribution or the long arm of the witchdoctor. But they at least opened the door to reconciliation.

The political class has some distance to go before it can lay down arms, it seems. From them, we get walk-outs and predictions of dire consequences should anyone attempt to bring to book the yet-to-be-made-public prime suspects. We get misguided attempts to hold this nation hostage to their chequered careers. Kenya is not ready for truth and justice, if the top dogs are to be believed. So here we are, having sent all of three distinguished lawyers to plead with Kofi Annan for more time to form a local tribunal to try the violence suspects. The Gitobu Imanyara camp is equally determined to defeat again any move short of taking the bad boys and girls to The Hague. In the early stages of this debate, I was in the Hague camp. I am having second thoughts.

The alarm bells are ringing too loudly to be ignored. When MPs start speaking the same language, the conspiracy theory antenna goes up, as it does when they talk too fast and too often or issue collective threats. ODM ministers have recently been beating the drums of war, saying the special tribunal route will “finish” the party and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. They definitely know something we do not.

But there might be an unexpected gain from this “finishing” business if all this soul-searching leads to ending impunity and guaranteeing that future elections will not be tampered with. We have a backlog of political assassinations and ethnic violence dating back to the immediate post-independence period to come to terms with, after all. Mr Odinga is on the proverbial horns of a dilemma. He can say no to hostage politics and let ODM die. That way he claims a legacy of having taken a stand on something essential to the survival of this nation and gives way graciously to a new way of doing things. There is a challenge there for us too. There is no such thing as collective Kalenjin, Kikuyu or Luo benefit or guilt over the events of years past. Nor is there blood on the hands of every member of any community that has been caught up in ethnic/political disturbances in Kenya’s relatively short history. Criminals have identities. They should carry their own cross. The politicians really ought to stop bleating about Annan’s envelope and trying to pre-empt justice.

We, too, can do ourselves a favour and stop worshipping little gods with feet of clay. If they are having sleepless nights over the imminent collapse of their political careers, it is well deserved insomnia.

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