I have just listened to son of K’Ogelo and American President Barack Obama address the dichotomous reaction of Americans to the verdict by the jury in Sanford Florida on the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a 17year old African-American boy. Trayvon was shot by George Zimmerman a bi-racial volunteer neighborhood watchman. Mr. Zimmerman, against orders from the police dispatcher who was handling his “report of suspicious activities”, followed Mr. Martin, got out of his car and in the ensuing tussle, shot him dead.
The verdict by the jury of six women; five white and one Hispanic – acquitted Zimmerman of all charges, basically ruling the death of the unarmed 17year old “justifiable.” America’s reaction to the jury verdict, much like Kenya’s reaction to the ruling by the Supreme Court on the results of the 2013 presidential elections and increasingly to the charges of crimes against humanity facing President Kenyatta and William Ruto has been a Rorschach Test on the two countries’ view on social issues such as race, racism, tribe, tribalism and impunity.
The Sanford jury verdict pitted Americans who supported the verdict against those who did not. On one side were Americans who believed that Trayvon Martin deserved what he got i.e. death at the hands of an overzealous neighborhood volunteer watchman who was just “standing his ground” against those “punks who always got away.” On the other side were Americans who believed that once again, the American justice system had let down an innocent black man (not to mention his friends and family) whose only fault was “being black in a neighborhood pre-dominated by non-blacks” and dared to challenge Mr. Zimmerman, who was just protecting those represented by their peers in the jury from his ilk; a young black man!
The April 2013 ruling by Kenya’s Supreme Court to disallow forensic auditing of the much-maligned and sub-standard information technology (IT) infrastructure used by the equally maligned and incompetent IEBC and award the presidency and deputy presidency to Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto pitted Kenyans who supported the verdict against those who did not support the court’s ruling: on one side were Kenyans who believed that the ruling by their Supreme Court was valid, rejection of the forensic audit of the failed IT infrastructure notwithstanding. On the other side were Kenyans who believed that once again, Kenya’s justice system had been manipulated by the rich, powerful and well-connected to maintain they hold on power.
And just as Kenyans who protested the Supreme Court’s decision awarding the 2013 presidency to Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were told to “get over it and move on”, so were Americans who rallied in protest against the verdict acquitting George Zimmerman of murdering teenager Trayvon Martin.
To paraphrase a line from the July 20th New York Times editorial piece on President Obama’s surprise appearance at the White House press briefing http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/20/opinion/president-obamas-anguish.html, just as the verdict crystallized the dissonance regarding race and racism in America, so has the dynamics of presidential politics in Kenya done on matters of tribe and tribalism. Americans idealize their society and mythologize the role the founding fathers played in the creation of said society just like Kenyans idealize Kenya and the role its founding father played in its creation.
Once again, paraphrasing the editorial piece from the NY Times: Viewed within the narrow confines of matters regarding racial justice and harmony, there is no doubt that America has done a yeoman’s job given its sordid history. The tangible/physical remnants of racism and racial discrimination are few and far between, definitely a rarity and an exception in the daily lives of Americans. Similarly, long gone is the overt and blatant tribal chauvinism originated by one Jomo Kenyatta after Kenya’s independence in the early 60s; chauvinism that included oath-taking by those around him after the 1969 assassination of Tom Mboya to ensure that “the (Kenyan) presidency does not cross the Chania River”. http://kumekucha.blogspot.com/2007/08/kenyan-presidency-was-not-supposed-to.html
Given the Rorschach-esque reactions to the twin evils of racism and tribalism in America and Kenya respectively, Republican Andy Harris may as well have been addressing the groups that reacted negatively to the acquittal of George Zimmerman and the hastily convened swearing-in (and prelude to the horrors of post-election violence) of President Kibaki in 2007, not to mention the ruling of Kenya’s Supreme Court to reject forensic auditing of the information technology (IT) system used by the electoral board commission with his flippant “get over it” remark!