No matter what President threatens and regardless of the best efforts of Kinoti and Haji, predominant belief is that you can get away with anything.
Talk of corruption may be on everyone’s lips but put bluntly it thrives because impunity reigns. Corruption didn’t begin the other day; it has been the curse of the nation since the dawn of independence. The first generation of looters grabbed every available piece of land while their cronies and offspring then turned their attention to parastatals, ministries and government houses. Corruption has more recently been devolved to counties and the loot has reached the grassroots even if development and famine relief is yet to find their way there.
No matter what the President threatens and regardless of the best efforts of Messrs Kinoti and Haji, the predominant belief is that you can get away with just about everything in Kenya. Many people were not found guilty for the post-election violence in 2007-8; National Land Commission and Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission have failed miserably and jointly to repossess public land; tenderpreneurs and mega looters have created war chests for 2022 yet our prisons are overflowing with chicken thieves and teenage sexual offenders.
What is most disturbing however is that corruption which had originally been the preferred modus operandi of the ruling elite has now penetrated into every aspect of our lives and distorted every institution.
Now even the traditional, sacred institutions of family and culture have been corrupted leaving communities and families devastated by crimes that had never been heard of since Adam was a baby. The killing of older people accused of being witches is a more dangerous phenomenon in the counties of Kilifi and Kwale than any threat from Al Shabaab. Twenty nine such killings took place in Rabai Sub County in the last 18 months and Kilifi has lost 180 in similar circumstances in the same period. Parts of Matuga and Lunga Lunga in Kwale County are equally troubled.
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Respect for the lived experience and wisdom of senior citizens has been at the heart of every culture in this country. Elders had their respected trees and meeting places, but now they are not safe anywhere. My colleagues at Haki Yetu have traversed these vast counties for the last four years, listening and advising, training and supporting vulnerable elders while engaging county administration in analysing and responding to this grave trend.
It comes as no surprise that accusations of witchcraft are just a cover for the underlying issues of land, inheritance, family disputes and greed that have led to killings. But what is most apparent is that the traditional dispute mechanisms have collapsed, been corrupted or are no longer relevant to the challenges of a society undergoing serious cultural changes. The youth don’t possess the patience of their parents; they want land, wealth and prosperity and they are willing to collude with hired criminals to threaten and if necessary eliminate their blood relatives to quickly acquire it.
Police investigations have been frequently sloppy and disingenuous, dismissing the cases as witchcraft related and thus outside their mandate. When impunity reigns at this level then be assured that killings will continue. When a crime is committed with regularity it may appear less gruesome but that does not give it legitimacy.
Of great concern, however, is when no legitimate dispute resolution machinery is in place at the local or national level, the practice of violence determines many disputes. Violence in the form of extra judicial killings, hired assassins or political thuggery has become frequent and acceptable.
Fortunately, there are administrators in Kilifi and Kwale determined to reduce the killings and to ensure that chiefs, elders and religious leaders learn new skills in Alternative Dispute Resolution that allows them to mediate disputes resulting in a win-win outcome. Thankfully our campaigns under the slogan ‘Mvi si uchawi, uzee ni hekima (White hair is not witchcraft, old age is Wisdom) have brought change. In Ganze and Goshi killings have reduced and hundreds of trained wapatanishi (Reconcilers) are contributing to a more peaceful and cohesive society all over the two counties.
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However, a greater challenge remains to convince citizens to respect the rule of law, support its institutions and confront impunity at all levels. When will that happen?