Thursday, May 1, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

There is the bitter truth that President Kibaki, and Prime Minister Raila Odinga cannot resettle the internally displaced persons in Rift valley through the use of force. It has to be a negotiated and persuasive process that calls for patience and time.

The other bitter truth is that the moment ethnic violence erupted in Eldoret, Molo, Kuresoi and other parts of the country, the political class lost control.

Let us not cheat ourselves that politicians in the Rift Valley or anywhere else for that matter have influence on ordinary people in any more following the December 2007 elections. Kenyans reclaimed their country from the political class for good. Now they are dictating the terms. That is why, the Mungiki, a banned sect can call a press conference and conduct their funerals openly without a whimper from government forces.

What happened in Kenya four months ago has happened elsewhere before. The Nigerian civil war of 1967 was as ethnic as it could be; pitting the populous Ibo tribe against the rest of the Nigerian society. The Ibos were tired of injustices in the Nigerian military and had resolved to break away and establish their Biafra state.

The bitter war that left more than two million people dead in a matter of months was a lesson for Nigeria and the rest of Africa. Although Biafra was vanquished, there were no winners or losers in the aftermath of the conflict. The whole nation was left deeply wounded and bleeding for decades.

Three months after the Kenyan turmoil, I met a Nigerian friend in Atlanta, Georgia. Though now an American, Sunday Adeneji was a young boy during the Biafrian war. He saw a striking similarity between the conflict in Nigeria 41 years ago and what happened in Kenya just three months back. He saw ethnicity as a factor in both occasions where the privileged and powerful ruling class went ahead and discriminated against other tribes in favour of their own.

Sunday told me that just before and during the war, the Ibos moved from all parts of Nigeria back to their ancestral land because they feared retribution from other tribes. They had to stick together to defend their homeland and survive the onslaught from General Yusuf Gowon’s combined government forces.

My Nigerian friend was of the opinion that when such an ethnic conflict occurs like it did in Nigeria, it is necessary to give the ordinary citizens time to find their bearings. Any initiative by the political class irrespective of all the good intentions would always be treated with suspicion. In the Nigerian case, it was the Ibo entrepreneurs who broke the ice. After tempers had cooled down, they started trickling back to other urban centres of Nigeria where they previously did business. Continuous contacts through trade with other tribes broke hostile ethnic barriers and with time, the Ibos were accepted back into other communities.

President Kibaki’s insistence that displaced Kikuyu community must be resettled into their original farms in Rift Valley is understandable but reckless.
After all, these are his kinsmen who have suffered the consequences of a broken political system.

Raila Odinga’s sermon of peace is also understandable because the man must prove his worth as a statesman in the aftermath of a violent civil uprising. The reason Raila Odinga is talking peace in the Rift Valley is because he enjoys a measured amount of following in the region; after all they voted for him overwhelmingly.

However, the two leaders face a real test in their quest for real peace and resettlement of those Kenyans that were internally displaced in the Rift Valley.

May be the first thing to do is to restrict these peace missions to two principals of the Peace Accord and their bodyguards alone. Let the other unpopular politicians stay away from these missions. They can only make matters worse. And the next time they venture into Rift Valley, let President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga take a deep breath and listen to the real issues of land and marginalization in public service since Kibaki came to power in December 2002.

The Kalenjins may have ruled Kenya for 24 years under Moi, during which many Kikuyus lost out to new power brokers while Luos continued to me marginalized by the same regime. The fact that Kikuyus suffered under Moi was no good reason why the Kalenjins had to be condemned as a community in 2003. Two wrongs never make a right. Good leaders improve on the performance of their predecessors, not the converse.

This is the time to correct past injustices and imbalances. This is the time to give and take; not to flex muscle. More police stations have no role in this process. The Ibo example is the only option we have.