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We must say never again to orgy of violence

Saturday July 13 2019

Ms Elizabeth Wangui Kimunya

Ms Elizabeth Wangui Kimunya wails outside the burning Assemblies of God Church in Kiambaa, Eldoret on January 1, 2008 at the height of the post violence. This photo made her the face of the 2007-2008 post-poll chaos. Ms Kimunya died on July 6, 2019 aged 76. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

LUKOYE ATWOLI
By LUKOYE ATWOLI
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On July 6, 2019, Elizabeth Wangui Kimunya died at a hospital in Eldoret, almost eleven and half years from the day I first saw her. Many Kenyans might just remember her as an image accompanying a gruesome newspaper story in January 2008 at the height of the ethnic violence that convulsed our country after the disputed 2007 elections. But to me, Elizabeth is the face of the depths we can plunge into as a country, and perhaps also of our potential to rise to the apex of what it means to be human.

I first met Ms Kimunya when she was brought by a team of emergency workers to our hospital in early 2008. She had suffered the devastating loss of family members in a church fire that was started by arsonists whose goal was to kill people they perceived as ethno-political enemies. She had difficulties dealing with the fact that despite her loss, she still had to play the role of primary caregiver to a young boy who had suffered extensive burns in the church fire whose life was on the line.

Our role in that first meeting at the hospital was to figure out her main problems and to develop a plan to help her start dealing with them in a coherent manner. It is difficult to tell if we achieved any measure of success, given the magnitude of the trauma Ms Kimunya had faced. But we know that she did her bit in trying to work her way through the experience in order to find meaning in life.

In an ideal world, the woeful portrait of Elizabeth Wangui Kimunya with her hands raised to the sky would serve as the ultimate statement that never again would this country witness madness such as that which we subjected ourselves to in 2008. In an ideal world, that portrait would be flashed on national TV and all media any time an idiotic politician attempted to rouse crowds into tribalistic fervour for political reasons. In an ideal world, the name Elizabeth Wangui Kimunya would be on the lips of all children as they learn about the evils of groupthink and the perils of sectarian violence.

Unfortunately, Kenya does not exist in an ideal world. Ms Elizabeth Wangui Kimunya was a Kenyan, and to this day a section of our population considers her and her family to have been legitimate targets of ethnopolitical violence. Indeed, there are parts of this country in which dinnertime conversation veers into vehement denunciations of people like Elizabeth Wangui Kimunya, just as there are parts of this country in which people sympathetic to her plight daily curse members of ethnopolitical groups perceived to have been solely responsible for her situation.

The future of this country belongs to those who believe that we are capable of creating an ideal world here and now, and not in an indistinguishable future that is so remote and uncertain that we can live as if it doesn’t exist. The future of this country lies in the hands of those who are unafraid of speaking out the name of Elizabeth Wangui Kimunya, and saying that what happened to her shall never happen to another person in this country, no matter their perceived ethnic or political transgressions.

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Sadly, it seems to have become a revolutionary act in this country to say “Never again!”

Lukoye Atwoli is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Dean, Moi University School of Medicine; [email protected]

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