Our latest wonder of smoke without fire

Tuesday March 1 2016

Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission CEO Halakhe Waqo at a press conference on corruption cases in Kenya on February 19, 2016. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission CEO Halakhe Waqo at a press conference on corruption cases in Kenya on February 19, 2016. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 


It is human nature to acknowledge that which is fascinating. Thus we have the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Recent events suggest that in Kenya we have created yet another wonder; that of smoke without fire. The nature of this wonder is that somehow we conclude that that which looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck is not, in fact, a duck. Now that is a wonder if there ever was one.

In 2007/2008, there was “smoke”. More than 1,000 people died and more than 200,000 others were displaced from their homes. Property worth millions of shillings was destroyed and men and women were sexually assaulted. However, the matter remains unresolved. Apparently, it was all just smoke without any fire. And now that we see no smoke, then there never was a fire.

Following the “smoke” of 2007/2008, it was resolved that the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission document historical injustices and violations of human rights from 1963 to 2008.

Those adversely mentioned in the commission’s report mobilised sentiment against it among the political elite. There was consensus among the powerful that the findings were without basis, which is to say that this was just another case of smoke without fire. According to this group, Kenyans should believe that there were no violations, no victims, and no perpetrators.

Kenyans are a resilient lot. Against the wishes of the political elite, they voted for a transformative constitution in 2010. One of the hallmarks of the Constitution is the elucidation of national values and principles.

The Constitution was drafted to address the historical governance challenges that have faced Kenya. Notable is the requirement that persons who hold public office must be individuals whose integrity is beyond question. However, the distinction between what we aspire to and what we have in practice is as wide as that between night and day.


So, on a regular basis, one crisis after another bursts to the fore, then recedes as though it never happened. Take, for example, the bungling of the national exams that threatens the legitimacy and standing of students emerging from our institutions of learning. It is just another case of a lot of smoke without a fire because it has been business as usual for those responsible for the mess and no one has been held to account.

In the wake of terrorist attacks, there have been reports of profiling of segments of the population, torture, disappearances, and killings allegedly by security agencies.

Concerns that the measures being employed in combating terrorism may be counter-productive have fallen on deaf ears. No pretence has been made at investigating the concerns of the citizens of Kenya. The State response is that, yes, there is smoke, but we see no fire, so shelve it.

There have been calls to declare corruption a national disaster. The chief executive of the country has spoken passionately against the vice. That notwithstanding, when top figures in government have been implicated in mega corruption scandals, the response has been at best lethargic.

The stock-in-trade response to allegations of corruption or abuse of office is: “I know not my accuser, these are false allegations by detractors bent on impeding my career development.”

Even as we get used to this new and unique Kenyan wonder, we must as a country ask ourselves: What if there actually is a fire? The sages said where there is smoke there is fire. Wisdom dictates that we are dealing with a national blunder, not a wonder. It is in the national interest to fearlessly and boldly deal with issues that negate our aspirations. As for wonders, let us be content with the wildebeest migration.

Ms Nyaundi is the secretary, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. nyaundi[email protected]