On a cool Sunday morning of June 28, 1914, the royal party drove down the main avenue of Sarajevo, Bosnia, in an open-topped car. Princip Gavrilo, a nationalist second-year student from Belgrade University, mingled with the dense crowds lining the royal route, armed with a revolver. He shot twice, instantly killing both the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife. This simple act triggered the First World War that killed over 20 million people.
The bloody conflagration forced American President Woodrow Wilson to convene the Paris Peace Conference to ‘make the world a better place to live’ and to forestall a ‘repeat of such mistakes’. This made a lot of sense to the war-weary combatants who were now yearning for a ceasefire. Only 10 years later, another war of a scale never seen before started. It ended with 60 million casualties.
The First World War, which had been stopped prematurely and inconclusively without clear winners or losers, was the cause of the Second World War. Many nations had contravened the peace terms of the Paris Peace Conference and produced warlords such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini whose deadly discontent was the main fodder for the new war.
Back to Kenya, when former Secretary-General of the UN Kofi Annan and his eminent team successfully brought Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki to the table to sign the National Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008, there was a collective sigh of relief that the incendiary post-election violence, which was raking in an increasing number of deaths and practically getting out of control, would finally come to an end.
Island of peace
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Although the ensuing lull was much welcome, the aura Kenya had long cultivated as an island of peace in a volatile region was now irreparably shattered. It could not be business as usual anymore. From then on, the country has had to live the cautious life of a recovering drug addict; the danger of relapsing never too far away.
This national fragility has been underscored by the current political activities heading to the 2022 elections which have been marked by heightening tensions and sporadic violence so early in the day. Although the President has banned public political convocations until further notice, the strong undercurrents of animosity still feature palpably in the social media and other informal outlets. This state of affairs calls for Kenyans to seek instructional lessons from history.
In sum, negative indicators such as early campaigns, hate speech, ethnic antagonism and impunity have been hallmarks of current political activities. All these are definite harbingers of a seething disaster, and by the way, one does not need to be a Hegelian philosopher to make a prediction. It is enough to read the body language and psychology of some key political players holding rallies in various parts of the country. As in the First World War, the 2007 Kenya post-election violence (PEV) will be the unfortunate cause of the second one in 2022. Here are some of the reasons.
Firstly, the 2007 post-election violence was concluded prematurely, a war without fronts, without closure. It left many Kenyans wondering who they were fighting and for what reasons. The war, therefore, lacked clear winners or losers. Cautiously, we submit that if the PEV had been conclusively fought, there would have been no need for any future wars. The Rwandan 1994 conflict is an example of a war fought to a conclusion. It had an official causality of one million people while the Kenyan casualties were ‘only’ 1,330?
Secondly, the termination of the Kenyan ICC cases without convictions bred impunity for Kenyans to engage even in more PEV. The collapse of the Kenyan cases greatly weakened the standing of the International Criminal Court (ICC) before the eyes of many African states. We submit that the word out there is that the ICC based in The Hague is a toothless dog, incapable of conclusively prosecuting indictees. There have not been sufficiently punitive indictments to instil fear in potential warlords.
Thirdly, the 2010 Constitution which was created to ‘end any other conflict’ was a hastily cobbled contraption of the ‘angry’ civil society that wanted to stop or fight excessive dictatorship. As we have argued in these pages before, it was not well-grounded on the historical and cultural Kenyan ethos. The unforeseen consequences of the Constitution, therefore, included stripping the presidency of powers thus rendering Head of State helpless in some critical national issues. Excessive executive powers were donated to the Deputy President, an eventuality that has resulted in him being accused of insubordination. The unmitigated ascendancy of the BBI is also a veritable consequence of the new constitution. The stage, therefore, seems to have been set for a possible conflict in 2022.
Fourthly, there were no proper post-conflict transitional justice and reconciliation efforts after 2007/2008. The TJRC report was heavily politicised and ultimately abandoned. The consequences of this may not be apparent until the 2022 General Election. Kenyans have a famed ability to suppress negative emotions. Despite the apparent lull, it just takes a political actor to package real and perceived tribal grievances as ‘historical injustices’ and so on to ignite a conflict.
Fifthly, Kenyans arguably suffer from selective amnesia, yet memory is often seen as a prerequisite for healing wounds of the past, and therefore a necessary condition for reconciliation, both on an individual level as well as in politics and society. Kenyans seem to select what to remember and what to forget. We are quite good at repressing memory. Kenya has never mended its past which features numerous mystery political murders and state-sponsored killings. This has resulted in many decades of increased ethnic mistrust and fear. Only those who remember the past will be able to prevent the recurrence of evils from the past.
It would be, therefore, morally callous and possibly unjust to simply dismiss every historical injustice as overtaken by time. Unfortunately, all former heads of state in Kenya have dismissed the past and admonished citizens to forge ahead and forget the foregone in the popular aphorism: Tusahau yaliyopita tuanze upya (Let’s forget the past and start afresh). As a general issue, the challenge of dealing with any historical injustice touches on a wide range of deeply contested, yet essential concepts in contemporary political philosophy, among them; nature of justice, rights, and responsibility.
Sixth, the existence of two unelected persons DP Ruto and Raila Odinga at the opposite sides of the ring going to 2022 is worrying. Both men are overly ambitious and were at the centre of the 2007 political impasse.
Ruto is bitter and wounded after falling out with the president he helped get elected. He believes that he has the following of the majority of Kenyans and that he has the moral authority to be the next president by the virtue of having served as a DP.
On the other hand, Raila believes that the last two elections were unfairly snatched from him and that 2022 is the right moment of redress. The two have extremist followers who would do anything -including indulging in hooliganism- for them. Their hardline positions are tinderboxes for another round of PEV.
Seventh, the loathsome Kenyan culture of an unending campaign mode is in full glare. A whole two years to the elections, political decibels are ear-splitting and increasing, with the media playing the familiar role of modifying people’s characters, eclipsing other newsworthy events, and amplifying differences of different political camps.
The bitter Mau Forest evictions are still unresolved, and the DP’s bold incursion into the Mount Kenya region is receiving surprising and increasing support. Some Mt Kenya folk view their warm embrace of the DP as their statement of protest to President Kenyatta’s perceived neglect of the region.
If the state, the political class as well as the civil society do not move fast enough to arrest the breeding adverse conditions, then the 2022 elections will be bloody. The possibility that future conflicts may be less ethnocentric and more class-based does not necessarily give anyone a peaceful night!
-Dr Chacha and Dr Wahome teach at Laikipia University