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How Raila-Ruto power contest could bring back 2007/8 ghosts

By Barrack Muluka | January 15th 2022

We are hurtling into exceptionally dangerous space, in Kenya, complete with selective memory of recent history and explosive rubble rousing politics.

This column cautioned the country three weeks ago on the increasingly hostile political competition between Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga, with their UDA and Azimio La Umoja attendants in tow. If not contained by non-partisan law-respecting adjudication, this rowdy hostility could get out of hand. 

The political class is toying with the 2007/08 post-election election Pandora box without the instruments and capacity to deal with it. The Ruto-Raila power struggle is getting out of the range of civilised behaviour.

The hostility is itself at once a postcard from the future and performance of an old script with some of the same actors now cast in different roles.

Historically, it reminds us that we have been in this place before. Futuristically, it is a harbinger for what could be ahead.

Disturbing imagery from the past and conversations around it selectively remind us of the curtain-raiser to 2007/08.

The Philip Waki Commission Report is rich with horrific anecdotes of Kenyans’ inhumanity to fellow Kenyans, in pursuit of political glory and dominance. It is rich with narratives of the war of words that came before the physical violence.

At page 63, it rebukes security personnel who turned a deaf ear and a blind eye, as damaging imagery was spewed. Terminology like madoadoa (spots), maharagwe (beans), bunyot (enemy), sangara (wild grass) was used liberally, “with the additional notation that they should be “uprooted”.

It is suspected that it is in the same spirit that Meru Senator, Mithika Linturi, has recently revisited the madoadoa imagery. The matter is before the courts.

In the fullness of time, they will say what they make of it. Whatever the verdict, grim echoes of the past remain. They resonate with earie foreboding.  

Equally significant is the double-face of law apparatus, and the consideration that some people are licensed to breach the law. 

Fifteen years after the 2007 anarchy, there is now a significant adult generation that was only beginning to toddle during the turmoil.

In a country whose vast populations do not read, think, or reason, it is easy to deceive them about their history, and even current affairs.

It is easy to selectively and emotively tell both the fresh news story and the historical narrative. 

The expansive character of the fires, murder and mayhem of 2007/08, all the way into small villages like Emanyulia is either forgotten, or distorted. In the process, the country cuddles fresh fires.

Persons whose roles we remember with the freshness of the morning dew are at it again, beating the drums of war. We must be sufficiently courageous to caution the political class against playing politics with the 2007/08 national tragedy.

In the interest of not bringing back the ghosts of that tragic season, even columns like this one must exercise restraint.

We must, however, tell politicians, “Please don’t go there.” We don’t have the nerve, or strategy, to face our truth, as our icy silence about our Justice, Truth and Reconciliation Report shows. 

Beyond that, students of war and peace studies remind us that civic chaos are often products of perceptions of injustice, both real and imagined, on the part of sections of the population.

When persons who nurse such grievances have political ideologues to voice their collective grief (real or imagined), what remains is the presence of an idle and partisan youthful population that can be manipulated, stirred up and mobilised. The rest is untold havoc and counter havoc. 

It is unfortunate that elite politicians have been on the stumps for four years – completely against the letter and spirit of the law. The more they have been at it, the less substance and logic there has been in their messages.

We see, instead, increasingly absurd rhetoric and gusty instigation. The gatekeepers of law and order have their assignment cut out for them. Yet, they will fail if their application of the law will not apply to everybody equally. 

Dr Barrack Muluka is a strategic communications advisor. www.barrackmuluka.co.ke

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