What Is Wrong With Jason Carrying Flag?
Whenever the Olympics games begin, Kenyans routinely rally behind their competing compatriots with a feverish sense of patriotism that is palpable. And this year, nothing was different, with President Mwai Kibaki leading the cheering brigade from the front. The usual fissures of ethnic loyalty that continuously screws –up our sense of cohesiveness were temporarily rendered irreverent during the preparation stages of this grand jamboree, gelling in a quiet respite of togetherness.
Sadly, this choreographed act of perfunctory togetherness has since come unstuck in the London Olympics of 2012 unwittingly bringing to the fore our pernicious under belly. For since it emerged that some jingoistic, ethnic chauvinists were apparently peeved by the innocuous but widely popular choice of a Kenyan of Caucasian decent –Jason Edward Dunford- to carry the National flag during the opening ceremony, the whining constituency, has indelibly left a bitter taste in the mouths of many patriots here.
It turns out that the stomping ground of this thoughtless act was perpetrated in the social media,a platform of choice for faceless cowards, who ordinarily would not have the balls to back their twisted wishful thinking in a generically open forum. To acquaint the world with Jason is humbling. Because this Kenyan, beginning 2007 to 2011, has acted as the quintessential ambassador of our motherland, winning 21 medals, amongst them, seven gold medals, in various international competitions where he has wowed adherents of aquatic sport of swimming.
At the time when the Olympics were launching, the captain of the aptly called Team Kenya, David Rudisha, the sensational 800 meters world champion, was doing his paces here, and therefore the task of leading the team in the parade, automatically fell on Jason, as the second senior -most colleague in the team. Unfortunately, this is a fact that those commenting on Dunford's choice as flag bearer either conspired to ignore or were determined to have their say regardless of the long term consequences.
It’s hardly five years since we witnessed what an unbridled form of intra ethnic violence can lead to.Close to 1500 people lost their lives in a record time of only 60 days. And the example above, where a Kenyan has been singled out because of his colour is a real indication that the disciples of doom are legion and the authorities should be forewarned that the elections scheduled for March 4 2013 have all the hallmarks of a repeat of what happened in late 2007 and early 2008.
Already, ethnic conflicts are happening away from the media headlines. The perennial conflict between the Borana and the Meru of Igembe North has the characteristics of a yo-yo. In late May, rivalry between the Turkana, Tugen and Pokot people in the Baringo county saw 5,000 people,most of them Tugen displaced. Seven people were killed during the skirmishes whose causes were cattle rustling and a boundary dispute.
In the Marsabit county, rivalry for political power has caused intermittent skirmishes between the Borana and Gabra over water and pasture land. The involvement of the Gabra from neighbouring Ethiopia last year led to a fierce battle. Also along the Borabu–Sotik border, tensions between the Kisii and Kipsigis communities continues. The problem has been festering for more than a decade. The late Internal Security minister Prof. George Saitoti was expected to spearhead peace talks between the two communities had he not died in a helicopter crash in June.
Government sanctioned reports provide a telling story. Late this June, a report titled, Availability of Small Arms and perceptions of Security In Kenya: An Assessment report:- which surveyed 31 counties under the auspices of the Small Arms Survey, an organization based in Geneva, Switzerland revealed a worrying trend. The report said there are nearly 700,000 illegal firearms in Kenya and demand is rising in some parts of Kenya. The demand has risen as the country approaches the General Election because ordinary Kenyans fear a repeat of the violence triggered by the 2007 polls and are thus preparing to protect themselves, states the report.
“The election- related violence, mass displacements, and widespread insecurity are believed to have fed a new demand for arms especially in Central and Rift Valley provinces. There are reports of communities seeking to acquire more sophiscated arms and the growth of existing gangs. It confirms the need to put in place well-founded arms control measures alongside peace –building efforts,” says part of the report commissioned by the Government. “The December 2007 elections left marks on the population: Majority of the respondents feel insecure during election periods. More than 40 per cent of the respondents felt there is a likelihood of them being a victim of violence or crime in the next year,” another part of the report says.
This dismal picture can only change if all Kenyans embrace a genuine sense of patriotism that eschews all forms and shapes of ethnic, religious, gender and political bigotry. It starts now. Lets all cheer and pray for Jason, who is our son, brother and friend and the rest of the Kenyan team that they give the competition a hiding.
Peter Kuguru is the author of Trailbrazer: Breaking through in Kenya, an autobiography.