Friday, 27 September 2013

Still waiting for “The Official Truth”

21st September, 2013 will forever be etched in the history of Kenya.  That was the day that shoppers at Westgate Mall were mercilessly attacked by gunmen in broad daylight. We lost 72 of our loved ones, some of them children and it hurts us very deeply. Some 61 people are still reported missing and over 180 people were injured. We have been a nation in mourning this week, trying to make sense of what happened to unarmed civilians.

As the events of that Saturday morning unfolded, what initially appeared to be a robbery gone wrong slowly turned out to be a siege that would last four days. During those first hours of confusion, it is understandable that information was scarce and unreliable. But as the media houses rapidly shut down on communicating anything to the public as they waited for “official truth” from the responding government agents, the real machinery of terror reared its ugly head.

In the subsequent lull driven by a media campaign dubbed #WeAreOne, the gunmen identified themselves as Al-Shabaab on twitter. While the Kenyan media completely shut down on giving any information other than “official truth”, Al-Shabaab agents through their twitter accounts and through their representatives fed social media and the international press a consistent barrage of threats and intimidating rants aimed at driving fear among the masses. 

This is where we were failed.  While Kenyans were told over and over that “now is not the time to question” the international press had broadcasted the threats and intentions of a terrorist organization to the whole world. In that time, when we were grieving, and still trying to come to terms with the events, the terrorist had taken center stage and were literally bragging off their success in the Mall attack and our government was still not communicating.

It soon became clear that government was reluctant to give consistent and honest updates in a timely fashion. We have a situation where the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs confidently tells the international media that there was a woman among the attackers, of whom some were believed to be citizens from nations other than Somalia or Kenya, and then the Cabinet Secretary For Internal Security denies repeatedly that there were any women among the attackers.  While all this was happening, a blog mysteriously turns up on social media, which informed that Samantha Lethwaithe AKA the “White Widow” was the woman leading the attack inside the mall.

When it came to the propaganda that followed the Westgate Attack, the Al-Shabaab was way ahead of government. While the Kenyan officials waited several hours to address the public, the Al-Shabaab leadership had a representative named Abu Mansur in direct contact with the international media and giving several interviews on why they attacked the Mall and what their future intentions and demands were. They disputed the figures released by the government of those who had died, they disputed the information released that the mall was secure, they disputed that there were no hostages inside the mall by Sunday night.

Al-Shabaab’s strategy to drive terror through information worked very well because of our government’s response. While the government kept insisting that the situation was in control and would end very soon, it dragged on for 4 days. While the government claimed that “most” hostages were released, there were no images of any released hostages after Saturday. While the government said that the situation was coming to a final push on Sunday night, we heard gun fire and explosions on Tuesday morning.

The lack of consistency in informing the public was epitomized in Joesph Ole Lenku, who announced that the dark plumes of smoke rising out of the building were “burning mattresses.” Hours later, the “mattresses” were still burning and the roof of the parking area had caved in.

When Kenya invaded Somalia in October 2011, operation Linda Nchi was a push to end the menace of Al-Shabaab and to secure our borders, and our government was very cocky and self assured. KDF forces were consistently giving updates to the press through regular briefings and the media was allowed to be embedded with the forces on the ground. The campaign was run very smoothly according to our officials, “the official truth” was that KDF had captured, killed or subdued Al-Shabaab fighters in each and every town they controlled up to Kismayu. We were told confidently that the Al-Shabaab threat had been contained and that KDF forces were now ‘re-hating’ under AMISOM.
Two years later, the same government of Kenya is caught unprepared and seemingly unaware. The previously effective and efficient KDF takes 4 days to secure a Mall from attackers said to be only 10-15. The information given out by officials is inconsistent and unclear, allowing for wide confusion as to what was really going on. Instead of reassuring us that KDF indeed had the situation under control, the misinformation by the government affirmed the frightening announcements by Al-Shabaab that they had the upper hand.

“The Official Truth” is a cringe worthy phrase. It is a statement that should make the hackles rise on any journalist and immediately raise suspicion.  When the entire nation is told repeatedly that “now is not the time to question” you have to wonder why we should not question what we are not being told. In a war, there is always propaganda; it is extremely distressing that in this particular event we got more mind numbing propaganda from our own government than our enemy. “The official Truth” is an approach that actually fuels the fire of terror, and one has to question WHY the government would do that.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Ethnicity verses the Victims of Atrocity - featured on

In 2010, I visited Mt. Elgon region of Western Kenya, a place called Cheptais. I went to Nasala Primary school, where the head teacher informed me that because there were several children who were mentally affected by conflict and violence they had witnessed, they had a special needs classroom. The disturbing fact was that the classroom was full, with about 70 students out of a total 600 regular pupils in the entire school.  “Those are the ones well enough to come to school every day.” He told me.
Mt. Elgon region has been the eye of the storm as concerns ethnic conflict broadly based on land rights issues. The Sabaot Land Defense Force, formed in 2006, is a militia group that took advantage of extreme marginalization by the Kenya government.
The formation of militia groups due to failure by the government of Kenya to either respond to serious concerns in ethnically diverse sections of the country, or the deliberate marginalization and oppression of entire ethnic communities is a consistent post-independence narrative.
When the mostly illiterate Sabaot youth led by Wycliffe Matakwei decided to form their small nation state, complete with taxation, kangaroo courts, judgments and executions, the rest of the country just ignored them. It is believed that Matakwei’s group consisted of about 25,000 young men and women, who were recruited at the behest of politicians, with the intent to influence and control the voting pattern in the region. As the recruiting process increasingly became brutal, the politicians lost control of the militia group, and the Sabaot Land Defense Force became the de facto authority in the region. The SLDF were known torturers, killers, and criminals and were the most feared militia group in Western Kenya. Throughout this, the Kenya government remained slow to respond if at all. The rest of the country simply ignored the harrowing reports in the media.
Over a period of 2 years, the SLDF employed the most extreme and gruesome tactics to instill fear in the people of Mt. Elgon. Tales of mass rape, mass graves, torture, beheadings and almost ritualistic killings indicate the level of atrocities that SLDF were committing.
In 2008, the Kenya government finally responded, and instituted military action through a unit deployed to Mt. Elgon region. Within a short span of weeks, the threat posed by the SLDF was wiped out.
What people forget, about the atrocities committed by the SLDF, is that these were crimes committed by a militant political group against members of their own ethnic community. It wasn’t strangers but neighbors who would rape, maim and kill. Survivors of these atrocities thus will naturally be very afraid to name their tormentors, because they live with them. So, in the fashion that is so Kenyan when it comes to such grave crimes, no investigation or prosecution of the perpetrators occurred. The leadership of the SLDF were executed by the Kenya Military unit, and those members that survived went back home to live among their victims in silence.
When we speak of justice for victims of violence, we so often forget that these victims may know their attackers.  They live with the killers of their children, wives, and parents. The survivors of the conflict are forced to see those who murdered their families live in peace in their villages, with no fear of reprisal or prosecution.
In a country where the absence of justice means that victims live with murderers it is no wonder that every election we thus have ethnic cleansing in certain parts of the country. The events of the post election violence in 2008 are just a culmination of a consistent pattern of murder without reprisal for the sake of spreading fear and gaining the upper hand during an election.
The Kenya Judiciary and the Legislature have failed repeatedly to address these crimes and seek justice. Often times, members of the legislature are suspected to be behind the conflict themselves. This means that victims of atrocity are quite assured of facing the same atrocity every 5 years and, like in the case of the SLDF, they are assured of living under the rule of dangerous criminals even when there are no elections.
So whenever it suits the political class, they will orchestrate the formation of militant groups, that will attack and spread fear, even among their own neighbors with the sole intent of winning an election.
Whenever it suits the political class, they will then unite with their fellow politician from another ethnic community and claim that they have brokered peace between the two communities.
Whenever, it suits them, they will repeatedly claim that this “peace and unity” that they have between themselves as politicians is representative of the situation in every village.
Because it suits them, they will thus claim that the victims have moved on.
In Kenya, victims of violence can be assured of being silenced and intimidated in the name of politics by even their own ethnic community. This is not necessarily a phenomenon uniquely present in the cases at the International Criminal Court, but it is, for the first time in Kenya, being represented and expressed by the victims lawyer, Wilfred Nderitu, and in the 900 brave victims willing to speak up.
In Kenya, one does not identify ethnically, but politically. Thus, for example if you are Kikuyu, you identify with the Kikuyu leaders. If you are Kalenjin you will identify with the Kalenjin leaders, and so on. Your democratic right to vote is not determined by your own understanding of the political ideologies of candidates, because they have none. The long standing political ideology among the ruling class has always been to utilize one’s ethnic community to muster votes. So, the politicians will “unite” with a candidate from another ethnic community and declare that this is the person they will support and vote for. They will of course, expect the community to follow suit, failure to which they will organize gangs to spread threats, intimidate and harass dissenters.
So when the victims of these crimes which are politically motivated remind the country that they suffered, were maimed, killed, raped and displaced they are roundly hushed by their own people because they dare to speak up against those that instigated violence, especially when these politicians are now “united.”
Because Kenyans don’t actually identify ethnically but politically, it is no surprise thus, those victims of violence will face oppression from their own ethnic communities, their own neighbors and their own family and friends.
It is a psychologically devastating situation, to be so isolated, living in fear of reprisal, oppression, intimidation, and to expect no end to this. The absolute failure of the Kenya government to institute prosecution and legal proceedings in a swift and adequate manner so that people can live in peace is the reason why Kenya is a violent and primal society.

Don’t Let Trolls run the ICC discussion!

It’s so easy to absorb negativity and be the focal point of everything nasty, obnoxious and hateful. That’s something that happens so often online there is even a word coined for such people. Internet Trolls.
“In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”-  Wikipedia.
I have to admit; when it comes to trolls Kenya has more than its fair share. In its broadest definition, I think every single person I know is a troll on some forum. I know that we each will, from time to time, digress in conversation on a topic or forum and say something that is anecdotal or that is emotionally inflammatory. But when it comes to sowing discord, spreading hate and fear, Kenya has hordes of trolls.
It’s a horrendous thing to face but there are simply hordes of people, who identify as Kenyan, who go onto social media and online communities and spread their bigotry and hatred and harass and intimidate any and everyone who disagrees with them.
You have to wonder at the psychology of these trolls. Do they really live in an urban setting as do most internet users? Because the racist, tribal junk that is spewed by these people is indicative of a closed minded person who most likely is socially isolated by choice away from the ethnic communities they hate on.
Kenyan trolls tend to be rather vile by the way; there is no depth to which they will not descend. These trolls lack any sort of self identifying marker, rather they identify with politicians. So, should you have the misfortune of having a political opinion on any number of political leaders you will surely come across a group of trolls who will immediately insult, harass, threaten and intimidate you.
Take the 2013 elections for example. We know how the Kenyan media kept preaching peace on the airwaves as though hypnotizing the masses. Meanwhile on social media a vicious political battle was ongoing, spreading so much hatred that the only way people could have possibly been peaceful is because one cannot actually reach across the screen of their phones and hack his opponent to death.
By the way, we need to define what exactly we mean by peace. An absence of physical violence is not peace. Kenya at the moment is at psychological war within itself, and there may be even greater causalities than the sum total of every violent conflict within our borders.
I am talking about the fact that because every single election is always rooted in ethnic politics and supported by vile and divisive propaganda, this country is forever fragmented into enclaves where the very morass of politically instigated psychosis festers and rots.
We have a majority population that is psychologically incapable of living in harmony with the person next to them because that person is from a different ethnic community. These sociopaths may not actually kill their neighbor, but the potential for such violence simply simmers under the surface and online.
 If you find yourself in a forum on social media online, and you are bombarded or are bombarding people with your ethnic bigotry and hatred you are a sociopath of sorts and are potentially violent.
We know this to be true because of the furor the ICC trials are generating. Regardless of one’s views on the ICC, a trial at court has to come to its full and logical conclusion.  As far as we all know, there are 3 suspects, two of whom are now principles and heads of state. The three have their own legal teams.
It is acceptable and expected that much discussion will go on during the process of these trials, and it is expected that “supporters” and “detractors” will have disagreements on various issues surrounding these trials.
What is totally unacceptable is the hatred being spewed in the name of support or detraction.  We don’t seem to remember that the head of state is the head of state of Kenya and not just whatever ethnic group you belong to. He is also the president of witnesses, victims and those affected by violence.
If a bunch of trolls are creating utter discord online and fragmenting a fragile society even further is that criminal? I think so. I think that if you are the sort of person who is so cowardly as to go online and threaten and harass people for their ethnic background and abuse and insult people for their opinions on the ICC trials then you are acting like a criminal. In the spreading of your hatred you also place the lives of people in direct harm by revealing the identity of potential witnesses or just giving out the names and images of people and claiming that they are witnesses or enemies of those you support. When you do such things, you need to remember, that even though you think you are many trolls, there are more Kenyans who want to live in peace and harmony.
Simply because 50% of this country’s caste votes went to the President doesn’t mean that YOU as a troll have the support of those millions. You stand alone, in your diseased mind. The rest of Kenya is determined to see justice reach its full and final conclusion and those charged given the chance to exonerate themselves of any wrong doing.
If the intention this week was to instill fear in the masses so that a healthy debate on the trials cannot occur then the trolls and their backers failed miserably.  We have come too far as a nation to turn back now, and we must go further so that we can heal as a nation.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Some women are more equal in Kenya - featured on

It’s amazing how much outrage insulting a prominent woman generates. In the past few weeks the number of conspicuous women who have been attacked by first equally conspicuous men and then later a Senator and lastly a Governor cause such uproar that you would imagine the feminist movement was alive and thriving in Kenya.

If, in its most basic and simplest definition, feminism means that women are equally human as men; then some women apparently are more human than other women. A female politician barges into the Nairobi Governor’s office with protestors and during the confrontation, he slaps her. Instant OUTRAGE, #Kideromeltdown.

Two days prior to that incident, the same female politician leads calls for Kenya to withdraw from the Rome Treaty and rants about how “Witnesses were coached” in complete disregard for the hundreds of  women who were victims of extreme violence including rape. Not a SQUEAK. On Thursday, house majority MPs went so far as to accuse civil society and the victims represented at the ICC of FRAUD. No one remembered that those victims also included women, who were brutalized and whose lives were destroyed.

Maybe, it’s the fact she was slapped. Oh wait, this same week, a woman in labor was forced to give birth on the floor of Bungoma District Hospital and the FEMALE nurses slapped her for messing up the floor. Outrage? No. There was no #Bungomanursemeltdown. There was no avid banter on how the mother may have deserved being slapped coz she messed the floor. There were certainly no demands that the nurses or even the MOH of Bungoma District Hospital be fired for slapping her.

Some women are certainly more equal than others. It’s not getting slapped that gets you attention round here it’s who you are when you are slapped.

For some perverse reason I am supposed to relate with this female politician because we both have female genitalia. She certainly doesn’t remember what’s underneath my skirt when she denounces the only court that has attempted to prosecute ANYONE for charges pertaining to rape. Hell, in the whole of Kenya not a single PEV rapist has even seen the inside of a jail. The Director of Public Prosecution, Mr. Keriako Tobiko admits that he has at least 5000 cases related to the post election violence yet to be prosecuted. Thus far, only 2 suspects locally have faced prosecution and conviction in murder trials related to the PEV. 

More than 5 years later, how many rape victims are likely to see any sort of justice? Aren’t those victims, some of whom are right now raising the offspring from that crime also female?

What does feminism mean anyway, in Kenya? Is it the meaningless Gender AGENDA activism that demands 1/3 of elected and constitutional posts be filled with women for the sake of them being women regardless of how competent they are for that position? Now that we gave those many posts to women, how many of those women stood up in parliament on Thursday to remind the house majority that the women who were victims of violence are not fraudsters?

A female politician is slapped and I am supposed to care because I have female genitalia as well. Audrey Mbugua identifies as female too, why are we not outraged that her much needed gender re-assignment surgery has been denied and yet this is a procedure done in Kenya ever since the 80s? Will we be outraged if she is insulted only AFTER she gets the right genitals?

Looks like its only genitalia that I am supposed to have in common with these female politicians. So since the poor man also has male genitalia like the politicians when he is forced to pay tax amounting to about 46% of his income and the politicians are NOT paying any taxes, does he feel like the man’s brother? Apparently they feel like they are members of the same fraternity such that when a female politician is slapped by the Nairobi Governor that poor man burdened by tax immediately says, “women should not provoke men.”

This is the result of a society that simply thinks with its nether regions. We only value people for what they can do with their genitalia; GENDER is defined by what you were born with in between your legs. So no matter what the level of injustice is and no matter who is perpetrating the evil, we all must relate with that person based on what we assume they also have between their legs.

That’s why Audrey Mbugua has no fem-Nazis online championing her cause, because she was born with the wrong genitalia.  Women thus refuse to recognize her as female as well, men think that it’s up to them to heap insults on her for having gender identity dysphoria.

Hypocrisy is when a women’s representative decries the International Criminal Court because she supports the suspects and yet she represents the victims in the County Assembly!
Kenya, and its erstwhile legislature and failed judicial system, is as far away from an equal society as it can possibly get, and please let us not talk about feminism here. 

We only take prominent women seriously. The ordinary woman should expect to remain sub-human. That’s why you can feel outraged that a prominent woman is insulted but heap insults and “slut shame” 11 girls accused of making porn with a dog, even THOUGH the media lied about the “crime.” 

We keep saying that Kenya is lucky not to have gone the Rwandan genocide route. Well, in 19 years since the horrific war, the Rwandan government has co-operated with the international community, has actively participated in the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda and in addition has prosecuted thousands of cases in local trials conducted in “Gachacha” courts as well as in the Judiciary. Rwanda took feminism seriously, knowing full well how fractured the society was, especially because the women and children were the greatest victims of atrocity. 

It took the trial and conviction of a female suspect of crimes against humanity at the ICTR for the world to know that even WOMEN can be tried and found guilty of war crimes such as rape. Kenya will only be as progressed as Rwanda as a society and nation when crimes pertaining to conflict and violence are taken as seriously.

When our female political representatives are as vocal against the course of justice as the men, regardless of the fact that women were victims of crimes, and in total disregard for their constituents that is MISOGYNY, not feminism.  You cannot possibly expect me to relate with a female that hates me for my genitalia simply because she also has the same genitalia.  We may both be female, but we certainly are not the same kind of woman.