Friday, 24 August 2012

Clashes Between Communities Threaten National Security.

Kenya has been passing itself off as “an island of peace” in this part of Africa for too long, and finally the reality of this nation’s so called peaceful state is hitting home. When nearly 50 people were massacred in inter-ethnic clashes this week, the false sense of peace was shattered. No, August is not a cursed, “death” month as some like to think.

These are not the first clashes between communities that have occurred in Kenya in between the elections. In fact, the general assumption has been that these clashes were mere crimes between pastoralists, and that the real clashes only occur during elections. Perhaps it’s the scale of violence and magnitude of ethnic clashes that occur during elections that cause us to form such distinctions between the conflicts. But the reality is, Kenya is in a continuous state of ethnic related conflict through out.

Perhaps also it’s the way the incidences are scattered – conflicts have been going on in Mandera, Wajir, Tana Delta, Baringo, and parts of western Kenya for months if not years. Right now, Kenya has internally displaced people in just about every county. And yet, making the connection of these conflicts to politics and ethnic tension is still difficult. Some have tried to split hairs, defining these conflicts as just “cattle rustling”, clan wars, and fights over resources.

Well first of all; all conflicts are usually over resources. This is why the demarcation of electoral boundaries by the IEBC was so crucial, why the communities concerns and interests were important to take into consideration. The moment that the demarcation exercise was complete, we were assured that future conflict would occur. Why? Because the new boundaries split resources between ethnic communities, between clans and between the government organs mandated to run the new constituencies and wards.

Our nation’s resources are stretched, that much is obvious. So why is it not obvious to this government that more resources should be deployed to serve areas that are in dire need? And so, the hapless chiefs are left to deal with growing tension and retaliatory attacks until the horrific occurs and there is a massacre.

The responsibility for ensuring internal security lies with the Ministry for Internal Security and Provincial administration, and so, at this juncture, the blame would lie squarely with the Minister and his officials. But the situation is so desperate, that this is no longer just a matter for the police. When it comes to internal security, there are several others that are also blame worthy.

Take for example, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, whose responsibility it is to ensure peace is fostered in this country. When it comes to matters concerning ethnicity, the NCIC is keen on coming down hard on proponents of “hate speech”, and has brought case against some in the public limelight, while at the same time, ignoring where the real problem is, at the grassroots and between communities.

Or take for example the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, whose officers seem unable to process sufficient evidence against perpetrators of crimes so as to bring to book the masterminds behind the clashes.

Or even, consider the judiciary, whose slow pace at executing justice in such cases when reported means that instigators of such conflict are almost assured of getting away with it. It’s a well known fact that the performance of the judiciary when it comes to the prosecution and conviction of perpetrators of the post-election violence of 2007 has been dismal.

Let’s also consider the media, who are quick to report the conflicts that occur between communities but are often completely reluctant to state which community attacked which community, downplaying the seriousness of the conflict in the name of not victimizing communities, an action which in fact appears to protect the perpetrators, and instigators.

But I think the biggest blame in this situation lies with the people of Kenya. For not recognizing that your fellow citizens live in utmost fear for their lives, because of their ethnicity, because of overstretched resources and because we have been living in a bubble where the only ethnic conflicts we recognize are related to elections. Kenyans are to blame, for not insisting on inclusive politics, for not considering the needs of other communities when it comes to resources, and for acting on the instigation of politicians or interested parties and attacking their fellow citizens.

Because we lack a national spirit, we lack a collective sense of unity and harmony such that we can allow our country to be riddled with violent conflict amongst ourselves. Its because in the name of democracy, we allow ourselves to be fragmented politically, we recede into tribal cocoons when we think of dividing national resources and worst of all, the average Kenyan dehumanizes their perceived enemies from other ethnicities to the point of murder.

Each election, Kenyans have allowed themselves to gang up against a “common” enemy, and that common enemy is usually members of another community. Kenyans are never citizens when voting, they are tribes, and they remain tribes even when there are no elections and that is why we have conflict in between elections, even as Kenya as a nation claims to be at peace. It is this root cause, that threatens our country’s national security, and this is a bigger threat to peace in Kenya than Al-Shabaab will ever be. We lack national unity, and so, we live without national peace.

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