We are not all responsible for 2008 mayhem

Saturday June 2 2012

 

By LUKOYE ATWOLI

In an attempt to sound reconciliatory and avoid inflaming passions one way or another, many commentators have taken to asking Kenyans not to point fingers at those they think are responsible for our ethnopolitical crises, including post-election violence after the 2007 General Election.

Most have argued that all of us are to blame for these problems, having contributed to the current state of near-total state failure in one way or another.

This phenomenon is not new, however. The claims climaxed some time in 2008 as everyone who could be heard in the public space was busy emphasising peace and reconciliation, and discouraging those of us who thought we had an idea about what had happened to our country from speaking out.

Telling us that if we search deep within ourselves we would find some reason to be guilty was their way of silencing us and buying space for whatever they were calling peace and reconciliation.

Let me be the first one to remove myself from this herd of murderers and arsonists, if no one else will speak out for me.

On the morning of December 27, 2007, my family and I used the Kisumu-Eldoret road via Nandi Hills on our way to Eldoret town where we were registered to vote. All along the way, it was already evident that all was not well.

Burnt tyres, logs and rocks blockaded parts of the road in some areas, evidence that some demonstration or riot had already taken place even before Election Day.

People milled by the roadside at most urban centres we passed and, in some places, there was a bit of shouting and sloganeering that we assured ourselves was born of the usual electoral euphoria.

On the outskirts of Eldoret town, we learnt from the news on the radio that some vehicle had been torched in town, suspected of carrying marked ballot papers.

As we voted, we were acutely aware of the tension, and the possibility of post-election violence. Subsequent events, as they say, are inscribed in the history books.

Two weeks before the 2007 General Election, I had penned an article denouncing acts of violence that had been labelled “political violence”.

I rejected this tag, instead characterising looters and arsonists as common criminals using politics as a convenient cover.

But for the context set in the campaign period, anyone reading that article today would be forgiven for thinking it was discussing the post-election violence.

I was, therefore, utterly shocked when almost everyone feigned surprise and claimed that the post-election violence was unforeseen and caught them by surprise, when all indications before the election had been that a peaceful outcome would be the exception, not the rule.

With this background, I challenge these “peacemakers” to point out what I did to be held responsible for the violence that erupted after the election, and the subsequent dysfunctional government that was rammed down our collective throat.

As a matter of fact, my colleagues and I were intimately involved in designing a response to deal with the physical, psychological and social outcomes of the violence after it broke out.

This habit of rushing to implicate whole populations betrays a mindset that is comfortable with a herd mentality of crime and punishment, which is antithetical to the liberal democracy we are apparently forging in Kenya.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine. [email protected]; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli