By Joshua K. Njenga
Just 8 years ago, Syria had an army, a police force, and an economy 4 times bigger than Kenya’s. Then this happened:
“Pro-democracy protests erupted in March 2011 in the southern city of Deraa after the arrest and torture of some teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall. After security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing several, more took to the streets.
The unrest triggered nationwide protests demanding President Assad’s resignation. The government’s use of force to crush the dissent merely hardened the protesters’ resolve. By July 2011, hundreds of thousands were taking to the streets across the country.
Opposition supporters eventually began to take up arms, first to defend themselves and later to expel security forces from their local areas.”
Today, it does not matter who was right or wrong. It is a loss for the families of the 250,000 Syrians that have lost their lives. Also, it does not matter who was right or wrong for the 11 million who are living as refugees.
They do not care about power sharing. It does not matter whether their leaders will get “full bread” or “nusu mkate” (half bread) when the conflict is over. All the talk about the size of bread is meaningless, if your child dies, and you lose your home, and livelihood,
A tragedy is about to happen in Kenya
With all the chest-thumping happening in our midst, it is easy to miss our unfolding tragedy. From conversations that take place around me, I feel that our nation is hanging on a precipice. It dangles on a slender thread that shows every sign of snapping.
Every day I listen to conversations of war, ethnic profiling, police brutality, and secession.
On social media, I have seen conversations:
- praising the police for killing members of a certain community,
- about how certain communities are good fighters, and how others cannot fight at all, and
- about which communities should perish.
On national TV, I have watched President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga take part in the conversation. (The President saying “sisi sio waoga” (‘we’ are not cowards) and Raila Odinga defending one of his allies who had advocated for violence).
On vernacular FM stations, I have heard popular presenters asking their viewers to get ready to defend their communities.
From parliament, I have heard conversations about how communities will perform in the coming war. The pre-match contest between Jaguar and Babu Owino is the basis for that. I have also seen a respected senator (from NASA) take part in this conversation. His exact words were “Kama mbaya, mbaya. Wacha kiumane” (Let the crisis play itself out).
I heard a governor and an MP from his county participate in this conversation:
- with the governor asking members of communities that did not vote for a certain candidate to vacate that county, and
- the MP donating machetes to his followers.
We are heading down a slippery slope
These conversations take place moments before nations step into the slippery slope. There is no turning back thereafter. These conversations took place in Somalia in 1990. They are the conversations that Syrians were having in 2011.
An election, police action, or legislation cannot stop or change such conversations.
We must first be bold enough to admit that Kenya has a serious problem. More so, that it is a problem for which we must find urgent but lasting solutions.
I call this problem “Them vs. Us”. It is the problem that
- Triggered widespread violence in different parts of our country in 1992, 1997, and 2007.
- Made thousands of people to flee back to their ancestral homes a few weeks before the August 8 general elections.
- Makes some people say they want to secede.
This problem has now reared its ugly head in form of an electoral dispute.
Unless we do something about it, eventually we shall have to say goodbye to Kenya. No memory of it shall remain, as we know it.
What we must do
The reason I write this piece is to ask us – the ordinary people – to start our own conversation. I hope it will force our leaders to prioritize a permanent solution to the “Them vs. Us” problem.
When our leaders say, “our communities will fight”, they do not mean themselves and their children. They mean our children and us. Our children who will lose their lives, forfeit their education, and forego a future.
If we lose our country, they will fly their families to European capitals. Their children will go to the same high-cost schools, they will play golf in the same high-end clubs, and they will take holidays – to exotic destinations – together.
In the meantime, the rest of us – irrespective of tribe – will be refugees. We will probably be sharing the same crowded tent at a refugee camp in Somalia or South Sudan.
Injustice is like a revolving door. Those who are in it this time will be out next time, and those who are out will be in.