GLOBAL VILLAGE

Interconnectedness drives major events in Kenya

It is part of an established pattern.

In Summary
  • When was the last time that an event which took place in a country thousands of miles from Kenya, had as powerful effect on us as this coronavirus pandemic?
  • It started with the Falklands War between the UK and Argentina, waged in mid-1982.

With every major crisis in Kenya, new voices tend to come to the fore, and thereafter continue as media commentators even beyond the crisis.

So here is a question for all those who currently aspire to some kind of long-term punditry:

When was the last time that an event which took place in a country thousands of miles from Kenya, had as powerful effect on us as this coronavirus pandemic?

 

There may well be more than one answer to this question. But what I have in mind is a political earthquake, not a public health crisis.

It started with the Falklands War between the UK and Argentina, waged in mid-1982.

What the two countries fought over was a couple of tiny islands just off the Argentinian coast, which Argentina asserted it was “reclaiming”. But Britain, which had possessed these islands as a “crown colony” for over 100 years, considered this to be an “invasion” of its sovereign territory.

After Britain won this war, the military junta that had ruled Argentina for about a decade was compelled to give way to a democratic election, which brought their rule to an end. During this period of military rule, as one source puts it, “an estimated 30,000 people were abducted from their homes, blindfolded, taken to detention centres, and were never seen again. These people are known as the ‘disappeared’.”

As always, the things which end up truly shaking our country invariably have their roots in events in places so far away, that you would hardly think they had any power to ever touch our shores.

With the military junta out of power, Argentina embarked on a “trial of the juntas” seeking justice for the families of “the disappeared”. And during these trials, a young Argentinian prosecutor called Luis Moreno Ocampo made his mark, leading to his eventual appointment as the first prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, established in 2002 at The Hague.

When the 2008 post-election violence erupted in Kenya, and as the evidence mounted of prior planning for this violence both in the initial massacres and in the revenge killings, the ICC took note.

By any standard, it was a much darker time than anything we have seen during this coronavirus crisis. Currently, 14 days of compulsory quarantine is the worst that can happen to you if you are caught at the wrong place at the wrong time. That is – of course – apart from falling seriously ill or dying, if you catch the infection.

 

In 2008, over 1,000 Kenyans lost their lives to machete-wielding assailants; or to security forces apparently operating under a shoot-to-kill order.

I have read analyses which argue persuasively that Ocampo knew all along that he was unlikely to get enough evidence to sustain a conviction of the people who were finally indicted. Those who became known here in Kenya as “The Ocampo Six”.

You could almost say the whole drama was a contrived political gesture, intended to send a message.

Likewise, turning to our present time, we find that the butchering of bats and pangolins in a Chinese “wet market” for exotic animals, is what set in motion the tide of the coronavirus pandemic that has made us all familiar with terms like “lockdown”, “quarantine”, “social distancing” and “curfew”.

All the same in 2011, the head of the civil service; the Deputy Prime Minister; the national police chief; a prominent journalist; and two cabinet ministers; all turned up at the ICC as defendants, having first “stepped aside” from their positions.

Thereafter, many Kenyans could hardly get any routine work done. Their focus was entirely on the live streaming of the court proceedings at The Hague. This drama was like nothing that we had ever seen, and beyond anything we could ever have anticipated.

But as every Kenyan knows, none of these men was ever convicted.

And two of them were to rise to even higher office: Uhuru Kenyatta who was then Deputy Prime Minister is now president; and William Ruto who was a Minister for Agriculture back then, is now the Deputy President.

It all began in Argentina.

Likewise, turning to our present time, we find that the butchering of bats and pangolins in a Chinese “wet market” for exotic animals, is what set in motion the tide of the coronavirus pandemic that has made us all familiar with terms like “lockdown”, “quarantine”, “social distancing” and “curfew”.

It is part of an established pattern.

As always, the things which end up truly shaking our country invariably have their roots in events in places so far away, that you would hardly think they had any power to ever touch our shores.