That was an interesting photo-op of President Uhuru Kenyatta and diplomats from the much-maligned “western imperialist powers” United Kingdom, US, Australia and Canada on April 5, 2014. The respective diplomats Dr. Christian Turner, Robert Godec, Geoff Tooth and David Angell all paid a courtesy visit to Mr. Kenyatta at State House Nairobi, a visit whose timing could not have been spot-on given the country’s apparent inability to deal with the violence perpetrated by extremisms in their midst; home-grown extremism if you will.
Visibly absent and I will add silent thus far as Kenya faces the scourge that is violence driven by radicalism is its new BFF China. I would imagine that the Chinese, who also have their own problem of (Uygar) extremism, are on board with Kenya’s fight: A public pronouncement of that support would be nice unless I missed one.
The challenge for Kenya and Mr. Kenyatta remains adherence to its constitution and all that is enshrined therein: civil/human and religious rights while protecting ALL its citizens.
Based on the government’s recent utterances and actions, I would argue that Kenya’s leaders are desperately trying to thread the needle between these oftentimes conflicting ideals. It is a task made even more daunting by a country whose past is littered with isms of many permutations and has potential fault lines along said isms which can and have easily been exploited thus making its stability tenuous at best. It also does not help that Kenya finally has a constitution-based/driven democracy that is still struggling to find its land legs.
ALL communities in Kenya form the mosaic, the fabric that is Kenya. ALL these communities also have a solemn responsibility to flush out any extremism in their midst be it Al-Shahaab sympathizers or adherents to the Mungiki or any other indigenous and tribal-based extremist groups within the country.
Beyond focusing on the “clear and present danger” posed by the visible and tragic actions of a few, Kenya and Kenyans have an equally solemn responsibility to avoid sweeping bigotry and stereotyping that puts the onus on members of any one group to prove that they are “good people” as one blogger put it. The foregoing brings to mind the silliness of “real Americans” vs. “un-real or fake Americans” birthed and peddled by GOP extremists here in the US. Such a mindset is akin to asking all Luos to prove that they are not “stone-throwers” or asking all Kikuyus to prove that they are not sympathizers of the Mungiki. The notion that there is something wrong with Mr. Aden Duale’s protestations against the actions of the government he serves for making sweeping indictments against a community/region he represents puts Dr. Martin L. King’s caution about the silence of the majority giving tacit approval to the hatred of a minority on its head.
Few would doubt that the country of my birth Kenya and most of her citizens have been steadfastly unequivocal against intolerance and hatred. However, Kenyans have also been party to evil and hatred predicated on perceived differences as recent as the post-election violence of 2007/8.
I have always believed that the anonymity of the internet provides a window through which one can get an unvarnished view into the soul of any society albeit a narrow one: To wit, the notion that there are some who have zero compunction about referring to entire groups as “cold blooded idiots…and…evil comrades who don’t even respect house of worship…are filled with irrational hatred and rage…” further telling another that “…your kind are not capable of human feelings…your evil parasites who hide underground like ravenous rodents” maybe the opinion of some misguided and angry individual(s) whose identity is “protected” by the internet – Edward Snowden anyone?
The problem occurs when a watered down variant of the foregoing hate-speech is echoed by the authorities.
Mr. Kenyatta and his ruling Jubilee Party are at a cross-road regarding Kenya’s fight against radicalism and extremism. Far from being the election-cycle driven ethnic violence most Kenyans expect and are macabrely immune to, the current spate of bombings and wanton violence against civilians including a one-and-a-half year old baby is well outside the election cycle. The violence has a religious dimension to it. And in a near-perfect storm, the violence is playing out in a polity whose citizenry has allowed its politicians to play up and prey on their differences (tribal/ethnic) to hold on to power and “eat”!
I do not have any answers on how Mr. Kenyatta should deal with the religious-fueled violence facing his struggling administration. I do know that playing the “religious card” as some in my adopted home tried doing shortly after 9/11 is a slippery slope that the president and Kenyans would be well-advised to steer clear of.