Monday, Dec 22nd 2014

Kenya goes to ballot a wounded nation

Saturday, December 22, 2012 - 00:00 -- BY ZACHARIA CHILISWA

Kenya appears to be going to the 2013 general election a divided nation. Divided because, as a nation we have not been able to confront the ghost of historical injustices including gross human rights violations, 2007/08 post-polls violence, perennial interethnic violence and festering land problem.

The government led Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) transitional justice process appears botched.

TJRC is yet to demonstrate how various aspects of transitional justice including trials of those responsible for gross human rights violations, establishing the truths of what really happened in the past 49 years, reparations for those dehumanised, restoring the dignity of those victimised by political regimes and making it possible for healing and reconciliation to be obtained.

National reconciliation and healing is a complex process. It requires every individual, institutions, community and government to invest in it.

However, this should be based on true facts of a people and this is where TJRC bears the responsibility. Article (5) (g), TJRC is mandated to provide victims, perpetrators and general public a platform for truth telling that charts a new moral vision. Without these platforms, as a nation dialoguing with her atrocious past won’t be possible.

The wounding ballot

Kenyans again bring to the 2013 ballot, wounds of five decades of unresolved memories of atrocities and betrayed political contract:

Memories of politically instigated violence, torture, police brutality, political assassination, massacres, maiming and severed people-to-people relationships. To many, the March 4 vote would be a tour back into the frozen fateful moments of 2007/08.

As the TJRC Act stipulated and many people had high hopes that in its process national healing and reconciliation would be initiated and the outcomes of truth findings forms the basis for recommending appropriate measures to be taken by state agencies, individuals, families and/or communities affected. Many expected TJRC to foment and facilitate national healing and reconciliation as they pursued truth and justice to build capacity for sustainable peace building.

It seems a lost opportunity for Kenyans to understand and reconstruct their past memories into shared future. Since the catastrophic 2007/08 post polls crisis, there have been calls for government to remain steadfast in fulfilling the Agenda IV issues.

Unfortunately, Agenda IV has been overlooked, particularly issues of youth unemployment, inequality, national cohesion, land reforms and impunity.

Crippling government inertia

In many ways the electoral context has evolved. However, many stakeholders are yet to take in these realities, perhaps due to the failures of political leadership.

The behaviours of political class and sections of the public reminisces the fateful 2007 general elections. Already suspicions and tensions among communities are high, especially in areas that have experienced social upheavals before, during and after general elections.

Spectre of violence being experienced feeds from failed processes of Agenda IV and the government has not acted decisively in containing the spiralling impunity of organised criminals. This casts doubts as to whether the government will ensure elections take place under a peaceful environment.

The crippling inertia by state agencies to tackle impunity displayed by the political class inspires no confidence in the public.

People cannot vote freely when insecurity and impunity reigns, leave alone their confidence in an electoral process that is being conducted under this environment.

However, people should not lose sight of the obligation of the government to organise credible and genuine elections. Entrenched selfish political or ethnic interests should not be allowed to push the country to the brink of abyss.

What are action points as elections draw near?

Recently, Kenyans have witnessed attacks targeting sections of population and at one point gangs of rowdy youth mobilised to attack one ethnic group in Nairobi.

This could pattern the voting trends. Roll back gains made in the new Constitution. As interested parties the following could be action points:

Firstly, there is no doubt that Kenyans yearn for national healing and reconciliation. Our national conscience is wounding from the burdens of the past violations of human integrity and dignity.

The three political administrations Kenya has had, have presided over decades of state violations of basic human values and rights.

The structural violence visited on the Kenyan people has created a nation of victims and perpetrators. Therefore, there is need for the Kenyan people - civil society organisations, government and faith institutions to create space for the nation to engage with itself.

These circles of dialogue and search for common bond will transform vicious interethnic suspicions and hostilities to safe space and support network for people to heal and restore relationships.

Secondly, although the nation goes to vote with the wounds from the past, it will be an opportune time for a rebirth. As Kenyans have high hopes in the on-going institutional reforms, especially the devolved government.

However, people must guard against the unsettling debates that might turn counties into ethnic bastions by not voting for individuals riding on ethnic blocs.

In part, analysts warn that devolution might carry on with what nationally everyone has been struggling with, tribalism, corruption, tribalism, impunity and bad governance.

From the standpoint of active citizens’ participation, accountability and responsibility, the 2013 elections ought to be a turning point in the political leadership of Kenya.

Finally, the 2013 elections should embody the centrality of people’s participation, accountability and responsibility as drivers of nationhood.