After a rare chance to travel and meet with first hand survivors of the 2007 post-election violence, I am left with the haunted memories of the people and their account of what happened to them. One after the other, regardless of ethnicity or location, the survivors speak of horrors beyond belief.
One woman in Kibera, Nairobi tells of how her husband was pulled right through the walls of her mud-hut, and the attackers slashed and hacked at his genitals and left him dying. She was raped, beaten and later learned that she was infected with HIV. A man in Kisumu explains how his attackers chopped off his arms. A woman in Nakuru describes how her daughter was raped and their home set ablaze.
It’s been 7 years since the post-election violence, and in 7 years, we haven’t taken the time to address the fact that the victims are never heard. All too often the government propaganda and narrative with intent to sweep away these people is that they have been compensated and resettled.
The failures of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation commission to put the spotlight on the victims are manifested in the bitterness expressed by nearly all of them. “Why do you come here to ask us these questions? What is the use? Nothing is done!” says Mary* in Naivasha. (*not her real name)
The realities surrounding the conditions of those who survived the violence in are all too clear. They live in fear, poverty and are deeply psychologically traumatized by the events. Many refuse to speak of how they were injured or raped, choosing rather to focus on what they lost – family, homes, livelihoods. There are those who cannot dare go back to where they lived, because the people living in those neighborhoods were their attackers.
“How can we have justice when the people who chased us away are living inside our houses? How can we have justice when the killers and rapists live among us, free?” Mary says with bitterness.
It’s time we as a collective took responsibility for failing to seek justice for those victimized within our society. Even as the Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko declares that of 5000 cases from the post-election violence are un-prosecutable, we must still find a way to deliver some kind of justice.
Firstly, it is incumbent upon us as a whole to recognize that government is not the only one responsible for the victims, but that we as citizens do have a responsibility towards them as well. It’s very sad to see how we have chosen to abandon majority of those who suffered, forcing them to rely mainly on humanitarian organizations for assistance.
Moreover, it’s our responsibility to hold this government to account on behalf of victims, because we cannot surely expect those who died to speak up for themselves. Of the 1300 or more documented deaths, only a handful of perpetrators have been convicted. It may be 7 years on, but those who orchestrated the killings must be known to members of the society; why have we not done something to ensure that these perpetrators are brought to book?
Social justice is a matter of the collective taking it upon themselves to ensure that corrective measures are undertaken. The fact that we have in totality ignored the plight of victims is a stain on our conscience.
There are many needs that the victims have expressed – need to have security, shelter and a decent livelihood, and it is my view these needs can be addressed by the society. We can, through the various opportunities accorded at the county and national levels ensure that each victim receives what is adequate such that they can rebuild their lives. Refusing to acknowledge that those who live amongst us need our assistance only entrenches the social disparities.
As part of the healing and reconciliation process, there have been a few initiatives in areas that were considered hotspots during the PEV; however the impact of these peace-building initiatives is minimal. There is a collective failure by the various stakeholders to try and rectify the situation, and the politicians do not help in this regard, rather, some seem keen to hold on to their tribal enclaves by whipping up ethnic emotions.
The post-election violence was a culmination of several factors that together created a volatile situation within the society. It is completely disheartening that we as a nation have been unable to address these factors. The issues that led to the ethnic hatred still exist, and in fact seem to be further fueled by the attitudes expressed by various leaders across the country.
Kenya is still fragile; its societal fabric barely holding together. In parts of Rift Valley especially, there is a tangible tension between ethnic communities and a total lack of cohesion. It would take only a small spark to fire up the sort of hatred and animosity seen in 2008, and we would be thrust back into a violent period.
It’s time for us to deal with these problems directly even as we push to have government meet its obligations to citizens. We can and should reach out not only to the victims and survivors of the PEV, and also make a concerted effort to heal the fragmentation in the nation’s societal fabric which is based on ethnic diversity. It is up to all of us to heal this country.