Enough of the bloodletting, please

Friday July 15 2005

By LUCY ORIANG', [email protected]

The statistics in the Marsabit massacre are damning enough, but there is nothing like seeing the lifeless bodies to bring home the gravity of what happened in Turbi this week.

And so it was that I sat before the television two nights ago, glued to my seat by the graphic images of death. That bullet hole in the wall, the puddle of blood spreading out and darkening the soil, the child wailing for the comfort of her mother’s arms when both her parents were gone forever – they all told a story that should rattle anyone with a conscience. 

There was this man pointing out a room where seven schoolchildren had taken refuge from the raiders. Something masquerading as a human being broke down the door and executed those children in cold blood. 

How terrified they must have been, not even anywhere close to understanding why anyone should want to wipe them off the face of the earth. Did any of them cry out to mum, who never came because she was dead too? 

There are so many questions that follow these mass killings, and so few answers.

But for the numbers, those images of a woman slaughtered in her eighth month of pregnancy and the dead strewn about might as well have been a replay of Rwanda 1994. The excuse for the killings was the same, and ultimately so very frightening in a country increasingly locked into tribal cocoons.

As I write this piece, 89 people lie dead not because they had done anything wrong or gone out of their way to provoke their attackers. They are dead simply because they were born into a particular ethnic group. 

If subsequent reports are to be believed, this is yet another atrocity that we can lay at the feet of the political leadership, which stands accused of either making inflammatory remarks or taking lightly warnings of the impending attack. 

These people are everywhere and anywhere but never in the right place at the right time. In the same news bulletin that featured the killings was a clip of MPs having dinner at a grand Nairobi hotel. What was to celebrate, for pity’s sake?

Vice-President Moody Awori was at the podium, dressed as sharp as a razor and mouthing the usual platitudes about delivering a new constitution as some assistant minister dug into a full plate in the foreground. 

They will be at an equally posh hotel in Mombasa this weekend, where the feasting and chest thumping will rise to a crescendo as the women of Turbi wail and try to piece together their lives again.

These people have no business talking about a new constitution – which they are all hell-bent on mutilating to suit their vested interests, anyway – when they are unable to show an iota of respect for the one that is in place. We should pack them in sealed boxes and send them by freight to northern Kenya, where violent death is as grim a reality as the absence of meaningful government. 

Successive regimes have treated this part of the country like a nuisance stepchild – not quite detested as taken for granted like so much furniture. It is as if the people and the hostile terrain will go away if they are ignored long enough. 

There have been enough killings and internal refugees in this country for the security machinery to have invested in an elaborate policy and game plan to end ethnically motivated violence. What we get instead is indistinct mumbling about Marsabit being remote and difficulties establishing what is happening on the ground. 

I have news for you, ladies and gentlemen: The blood runs red in your veins whether you are Borana, Chonyi, Luhya or Kikuyu. No Kenyan is here by accident and every one of us has the right to demand of their Government the basic right to security and a place to call home.

If we injected into security just a small fraction of the money, time and energy – not to mention intrigue – that has been spent trying to ensure a bloated presidency forever more, we would drastically reduce the number of Kenyans walking about traumatised or lying in the grave.

But, just like the governments before it, this one appears to have an unwritten policy of reacting to crises rather than heading them off in the first place. Likoni, Mau Forest, kumi kumi, floods, hungry people eating poisoned maize or dead dogs – history repeats itself here without fail and in precisely the same format. 

The response is just as predictable. We throw a few people into the cells, blame poverty and the opposition and then get on with the serious business of pitting Kenyans against each other.

At least 21 innocent schoolchildren, some of them coming from choir practice, paid the price of this lethargy and negligence this week. How many more must go the same way before someone sits up and pays attention?

If anything comes through clearly here, it is the shameless vanity of the ruling class. We have on the national payroll men and women so obsessed with succeeding themselves in 2007 that they have forgotten that they will need voters to get there. 

Political survival has taken precedence over the challenges that the average Kenyan faces. I don't know where the people we elected get the courage to swan around the country with all the violence going on.

Every time I see a parade of the white-haired, complacent fat cats who have a stranglehold on leadership, I marvel at the delusion that we can summon the energy to make the seismic changes necessary to make Kenya all that it could be.

I’ve probably said this before, but it bears repeating: Ethnic chauvinism and the herd mentality that accompanies it will be the death of this country – literally, as it turns out in Marsabit. 

You wouldn’t know it, of course, from the conduct of our pseudo-leaders. They are busy sub-dividing the country into little ethnic fiefdoms. The folly of it is this: we are glad to fall in with their power games. We well and truly have the leaders we deserve. 

We can stop this charade whenever we want. But it is easier to do the Kenyan thing and blame it ad nauseum on poverty and ignorance. If we shout about it loud enough, some donor might even throw a few breadcrumbs our way, beautifully packaged as – wait for it – civic education. Much good it has done us so far! 

I pity President Kibaki. It is one thing to win an election and another to pull a country from the brink. We are still waiting to collect on the promise of a new Kenya. I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. 

Lucy Oriang' is managing editor in charge of magazines.