• The losers in the Jubilee purge have this week been all over social media decrying the country’s continuing slide into a one-party dictatorship.
• People such as Itumbi owe apologies to civil society, whom he took great delight in defaming and delegitimising as evil society.
The local political scene has continued to be in flux following the coordinated actions taken against DP William Ruto’s wing of the ruling Jubilee Party by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his new BFF, Raila Odinga.
The losers in this, such as former Senate Majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen, former Senate Chief Whip Susan Kihika and ex-Presidential Strategic Communications Unit and current Ruto mouthpiece Dennis Itumbi, have this week been all over social media decrying the country’s continuing slide into a one-party dictatorship.
Yet it has not escaped notice that these were the same people who were previously happy to cheer Uhuru when his administration actively abrogated the Constitution and silenced civil society, routinely ignored court orders, stole public money and elections and brutalised and murdered its own citizens.
Now that they have fallen out of favour, it seems they expect that saying the right things — Itumbi apologising to Miguna Miguna for supporting the latter’s illegal deportation two years ago, Murkomen warning of the concentration on power in the presidency and Kihika bemoaning the death of civil society — will immediately and automatically cleanse them of their sins.
This despite the fact that many dozens were killed or disappeared in that time, many more impoverished or otherwise immiserated, partly as a consequence of Itumbi’s and his accomplices’ enabling of a thieving, dictatorial regime for over seven years.
A similar dynamic is at work in the US.
Weeks of protests over the killing of George Floyd by police in Minnesota have led many politicians and citizens to condemn police brutality and demand an end to systemic racism. Yet, despite the rhetoric, many of them continue to support the race-baiting, white supremacist administration currently ensconced in the White House. Again the expectation seems to be that saying the right things, including disingenuous expressions of regret, is all that is necessary to earn an automatic pass.
In Europe, statues of dead slavers and of the genocidal King Leopold of Belgium, who instituted a reign of terror in Congo from which the country is yet to recover a century later, have been removed to appease angry demonstrators.
But have they been truly removed from the hearts of these societies? Why have they been allowed to stay, despite numerous previous attempts to have these countries come to a reckoning with their horrific pasts? Do they now expect that taking down a statue and saying the right things will hand them a free pass even as they continue to benefit from and uphold a grossly unequal and racist international system that is built on the back of Africans?
This entitlement to forgiveness is misplaced. Apologies and expressions of regret are not a “get out of jail free” card. At best, they show remorse and at worst they can be a cynical attempt to avoid consequences.
For an apology to be accepted, one has to believe that the other person feels remorse. And even then, accepting the apology is not the same thing as forgiving the wrongdoing. For this reason, it is difficult to accept a self-serving apology – one that is given when it is convenient for the wrongdoer.
There are three conditions that need to be fulfilled. The remorse must be real, not convenient. It must be accompanied by truth and it must include restitution. It is not enough to tweet an apology to one individual in one instance and ignore the mountain of wrongs you have had a hand in supporting.
People such as Itumbi owe apologies to civil society, whom he took great delight in defaming and delegitimising as evil society. He owes us the truth about the elections, the scandals and the disappearance and intimidation of witnesses during the ICC process. And he must seek to undo the damage he has wreaked. Ditto all his accomplices.
Similarly, in the US and in Europe, those who now express regret must follow up with openness about the wrongs done to black people and with restitution in the form of reform and reparations. They need to tell the truth: Not just about their pasts, but also about their oppressive present and the cost many people in Africa and elsewhere continue to pay to underwrite their privileged lifestyles. And then they must pay what they owe.
A selfish and self-serving, “I am sorry” will just not do.