Thursday, September 22, 2005

Flying Oranges, Flashing Pangas, Rising Anger & Unfinished Political Homework

Onyango Oloo Delves Into the Phenomenon of Political Violence in Kenya

As Kenyans draw closer to the November 21st rendezvous with democratic destiny- when a referendum decides whether Kenyans build on the dejure proclamation of 1982 with the endorsement of an imperial presidency, or build on the gains of December 1991 and December 2002 with another step forwards to a democratic Katiba- as we draw closer to the climax of the contest between oranges and bananas, as we veer closer to what some people see as a precipice we can fall over or a doorway we can walk through- with each new day looks like yet another Made in Kenya Ground Hog Day- another ballot box face off, another round of unbridled politicized violence.

Last Saturday 4 ministers and other lieutenants of the YES campaign were pelted with oranges and rocks by a rowdy, irate crowd in

Garissa- an incident which left several injured and scores incarcerated.

This Wednesday

a NO rally in Thika

(Some of the 14 people who appeared in a Thika court charged with preparing to commit a felony during a rally organised by the Orange team on Wednesday. Pic by Jackson Ngugi)

was disrupted when two bus loads of panga wielding, YES hooligans tried to hack their way to the dais where Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, Raila Odinga and other leaders of the anti-Wako Draft campaign were seated.

Today, Thursday, September 22, 2005,

(Anti-riot policemen beat a man who had tried to disrupt a rally organised by the Orange group at the Baraza Park in Garissa Town, yesterday. A number of people were injured. Photo by Bashkash Jagsodaay. )

after another NO rally had been disrupted in Garissa, KANU Secretary General William Ruto called for the arrests and questioning of John Michuki, Kiraitu Murungi, Chris Murungaru,

Maina Kamanda and Juja MP William Kabogo alleging state interference and instigation in the acts of political hooliganism while LDP leader Raila Odinga questioned the role of a civil servant like Andrew Mullei in the Yes Campaign- even as

Kiraitu Murungi was insisting that the YES "Must Win" and Michuki was telling the Agikuyu in Mathioya:

Mugikuyu no athii akome na ang’orote atakuhura ngoro tondu thirikari ya Kibaki na Karume na aria angi nitumugitiire” (You Kikuyus can sleep soundly and let your hearts not be troubled because you have Kibaki, Karume and others protecting you).

The admission by Kiraitu, Michuki and others that they are using state coffers to fund their Yes Campaign is quite bizarre given how DP in opposition berated Moi for using tax payers' money to rig himself back to power in 1992 and 1997. It is also a bit of a misnomer for a faction of the coalition government to arrogate itself the role of the "government" unless of course they are tacitly admitting that Onyango Oloo was right in August 2003 when he predicted that this very clique was planning a civilian coup!

My former attorney should realize that one of the reasons why the civil service networks in Canada and the UK- and these are NOT perfect organisms- are lauded for their efficiency and professionalism is precisely because they assidiously stay out of partisan politics in their official capacity although they enjoy their full citizenship and civic rights as private individuals. In Ontario or Quebec for instance, you would have to guess the ideological leanings of that Ministry of Education officer or that Health and Safety Inspector that you spoke to on the phone last week. In fact their jobs are liable to be on the line should they display any overt biases. Likewise a prospective employee for the municipal, provincial or federal services can sue a hiring committee if they grill him about his or her political beliefs or voting record. For the same reason the same bureaucrat will still be doing their job no matter who is voted in or out of power. I know for certain that things are not any different in Kenya- at least in terms of policy expectations. If anything, these desperate ministers are playing with fire- are these not the same civil servants who were being clobbered only months ago when they tried to strike for better working conditions? Some of them are from the Moi era and if I was in that government of so called national unity, I would not PROVOKE civil servants further by basically ordering them to campaign for a document they may privately detest. It may very well boomerang and I am shocked at the crass display of naivete mixed with arrogance and tribal chauvinism that was on display within the Yes team today. Kiraitu Murungi is a fairly smart chap and he used to be a squeaky clean man of impeccable integrity. What happened to my once hard working and conscientious human rights lawyer? Did power get to his head? That is so sad...

These three incidents point to two persistent strains in Kenyan politics:

Machismo and organized thuggery.

In a sense, this is how we have grown up politically.

Before I came to Canada in the late 1980s, I used to assume that the very act of attending a political demonstration or rally implied donating your skull to be cracked open by rung'u wielding, tear gas lobbing riot cops engaging their “opponents” in running street battles.

What a “shock” way back when we used to huddle together with people like Abdallah Bafagih, his sister Shekha, Mohamed Ibn Yusuf, the brothers Mohammed and Omar, the late Mzee Mahmoud Adam, Adongo Ogony, Hussein “Buyuni” Jahazi, Kathure Kebaara, Julius “Marx” Tago and other founder members of the Kenya Canadian Society filling out an application to hold a demonstration either outside the US consulate just south of Dundas on University here in Toronto or the Kenyan embassy on 415 Laurier Street East in Ottawa.

The “shock” came from the fact that permit was ALWAYS granted; more than that, there were at least 4 police officers assigned to the demonstration to PROTECT the protestors and guarantee that the two hour protests started and finished peacefully. Far from battling the cops, we actually rushed to report our then ambassador Peter Nyamweya to the police the moment he took out his camera and started taking snaps of the demonstrators- many of them from the Greater Toronto Area.

Those days we could go to a demonstration confident that we would survive the peaceful expression of our political stance against the undemocratic government of Daniel arap Moi.

Of course these years (1989-1992) coincided with heightened repression and simultaneous opening up of democratic space in Kenya- Muoroto; Saba Saba ’90; the Matiba/Rubia led clamour for multi-parties; the emergence of the original FORD; the repeal of Section 2 A; the launch of FORD and its amoebic offshoots; the formation of DP; the politically motivated clashes; the dastardly activities of YK 92; the election of a slew of opposition MPs all over the country and of course the political assassinations of Bishop Muge and Dr. Robert Ouko.

It seems as if we Kenyans have allowed the violence of the state to spawn a counter violence from the masses- that saw for instance a Special Branch lynched at a FORD-Kenya rally in Nairobi in the early 1990s.

This either/or treadmill is fuelled often by machismo chest thumping often orchestrated by our respective “leaders”:

Kama ni wanaume wajitokeze tumenyane!” implying this is NOT a contest for females;

Whether it is a Dr. Bonny Khalwale inviting Andrew Ligale to a fist fight in a Kakamega bar or a Garissa NO supporter aiming an orange at the nose of John Koech or a hired Yes hooligan brandishing his brand new panga in the direction of Uhuru Kenyatta- it would appear as if all our political discourse from the state repression( the police, the chiefs, the AP, the GSU, the Special Branch) of the government of the day to the spontaneous and not so spontaneous hooliganism during the public rallies- it would appear as if we Kenyans are politically stunted by violence.

Where does this violence come from?

Ugandans, Somalis, Ethiopians, Rwandese, Sudanese, Burundians, South Africans, Angolans, Liberians, Congolese and Sierra Leonians reading this may be surprised to hear a Kenyan describe his fellow Kenyans as inherently violent- because our country has the superficial reputation as one of the most “peaceful” nations in Africa.

Frankly that is a MYTH.

Let us look at the violence against women- whether it is sexualized as rape or “domesticated” as wife battery; let us reflect on the violence by teachers against students; the violence of students against other students; the violence between communities, ethnic and otherwise; the violence of cattle rustlers and their Anti- Stock Theft Unit pursuers; the violence of competing soccer hooligans; the violence of rival matatu touts; the casual brutality of criminal home invaders; neighbourhood ngeta specialists; marauding kuzacha jewel snatchers and of course the gangsterism of opposing political factions….

And of course the state violence often exhibited by the Fanya Fujo Uone GSU, the AP, the regular police, the Flying Squad, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Prison Warders, the Chiefs, the Sub Chiefs, the PCs, the DCs, The Dos, Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Ministers, Assistant Ministers, MPs, Councillors, Bishops, Imams, Cult Leaders.

We do live in one of the most violent societies in the world.

How many people reading these lines have paused from lunch time window shopping in downtown Nairobi to participate in a deranged orgy of “mob justice” scrambling to smash the biggest rock on the head of a stranger fingered as “mwizi” by another stranger who may or may not be the actual culprit?

A few days ago, about three quarters of an hour past midnight, I was strolling along Bloor Street just west of Ossington with a certain young Kenyan woman friend of mine. We had just emerged from an Ethiopian eatery where we had feasted on Lamb Tibs (avoiding the Kitfo- in those injera serving restos, “rare” meat means served raw, literally dripping with fresh blood, ok?).

We struck up a conversation about the worrying escalation of violence within the Somali communities in Toronto’s west end. She had been barred by the police from entering an apartment complex because three young men had just been shot to death within that edifice- and this came in the wake of other killings earlier in the summer outside the Phoenix Theatre around the Sherbourne and Carlton area.

We talked about this upsurge in violence because it was NEW and STARTLING- Toronto for such a major North American city, is one of the most placid- a metropolis where you can roam the streets in the wee hours of the morning and expect to sleep in your bed safe and sound without accosting a single brigand. Meanwhile I can remember how worried my hosts used to be in Nairobi when I was not back home by 7:30 pm – the last time I was in Kenya in 2003.

But really, seriously:

Are Kenyans born with a “Violent Gene”?


As a practicing Marxist-Leninist I do not buy the socio-biological determinist reductionist HOGWASH that reduces complex social issues to imperfect DNA wiring.

To get a handle on the roots of the violence embedded in Kenyan society, you have to look at our history as a nation.

Two hundreds years ago Kenyans DID NOT EXIST- although the peoples who make up present day Kenya were already inhabiting many of the regions they still claim as their traditional homes today.

The creation of Kenya was an aggressive, external act of extreme political violence. In order for the British to create first the “Protectorate” and later(1920) their “Kenya Colony” they literally had to kill thousands of people, grab hundreds of thousands of hectares of communal lands; displace millions of people and force entire communities into colonial servitude via forced labour and mandatory taxation. The cultural violence of imposing Christianity and denuding us of our African traditions- the very process of claiming the territory we now know as Kenya for Queen Victoria was a horrendous act of violence. And with that act we instituted systemic state violence. The modern day police officers and chiefs learned their “trade” from the colonial askaris and chiefs. In Gem the name Odera Akango invokes an early 20th century “reformer” as well as a very brutal colonial servant... The Kenyan Armed Forces is a clone which was until barely twenty years ago led by career soldiers who had first cut their teeth in the colonial Kings African rifles. Many of the prominent public administrators after “independence”- PCs like Mathenge, Mahihu, Oyugi and Nyachae had been first employed by the kaburus; people like Hinga, Gethi and John Michuki were notorious Home Guards in one form or another.

The laws we inherited in 1963 had been colonial Ordnances put in place to stifle our people’s collective aspirations- with some being written specifically with the Mau Mau War for National Independence in mind. Those of us who were born in the early sixties had parents who could relate RECENT anecdotes of colonial whites unleashing their Alsatians onto African children.

The Kenya we became in 1963 emerged from the womb of a battered mother who had been brutalized by imperialism and colonialism.

All of us pretend to be Pretend Dr. Phil these days and there is no shortage of unsolicited psychobabble advice waiting for you at the end of the telephone line if you deign to call up a friend for a chit chat. So since we are all Dr. Phils, I am sure we are all “experts” on “violent” and so called “broken homes”- if the violence is not addressed, it will be perpetuated in that home, in that family in those individuals and their offspring.

In a macro sense, until we start asking with Chinua Achebe where the violent storms started “beating us” we will forever flail, wringing our hands and draining our bleeding hearts with consternation about our propensity for violence.

If like I am arguing, the violence flaring up at Garissa and Thika is a direct outcome of the violent colonial and neo-colonial circumstances that have so far shaped the destiny of Kenya, it follows that only a sharp departure from that imperialist, colonial and neo-colonial trajectory will lay the basis of a more peaceful, more humane, more just Kenyan society.

And you guessed it- we come full circle to the way we live, the way we govern or misgovern ourselves. If our current laws and the constitution it is based on is rooted in our colonial legacy of violent state repression and widespread violent social relations throughout the length and breadth of Kenyan society, it therefore follows that a new political dispensation will provide an impetus for that potential reality to emerge.

At this stage in our country’s political history we have reached a national consensus as nationalists, liberals, communists, social democrats, conservatives, people of faith, women, youth, elders- we have come to a national consensus that the most democratic way forward in building Kenya Tuitakayo is through a New Katiba that is Democratic and People Driven.

So it all comes back to:

Saying NO to Wako!

Rather surreal, isn’t it, how we keep coming back to that pesky Zero Draft that was passed at the conclusion of the National Constitutional Conference at Bomas of Kenya on March 15th, 2004 ama namna gani?

Onyango Oloo


No comments: