By Jerry Okungu
Africa News On Line
May 21, 2009
I have been forced to respond to the Washington Post story on Kenya that was filed by one Stephanie McCrummen supposedly working for the same paper’s Foreign Service department.
The article appeared in the Washington Post of May 19, 2009
It is my hope that despite the contents of this rejoinder, the Editor of the Washington Post will still find it professional to give me as a Kenyan , the write of reply on behalf of all Kenyans at home and abroad so that falsehoods, innuendoes and rumors contained in the article are corrected.
I am not here to defend the obvious weaknesses of the present regime nor am I here to take a partisan stand on the events of December 2007 when Kenya erupted in an orgy of violence.
I am here to correct the falsehoods that the Western Press is fond of visiting on Kenya and Africa in general.
McCrummen believes that “ethnic gangs burnt to death 28 people inside a church” in Kenya’s Rift Valley region. Yes, many people perished in a Kiambaa church whose numbers we will never know.
We will never know the true numbers because the figures have been changing from time to time depending on who one actually talks to. Others have put it at 35, 40 or even 50.
More importantly, the cause of the fire, according to eye witnesses is still in contention with others talking of a cigarette smoker inside the church inadvertently starting the fire.
This is the single reason why Kenyans have been demanding for a thorough inquest into the Kiamba fire and other killings in Nairobi, Naivasha and Nyanza in order to deal with conflicting rumors if peace is to be restored in Rift Valley and Kenya in general.
McCrummen needs to be educated on the history of land conflict in Kenya, particularly in the Rift Valley and coastal regions of Kenya before making sweeping statements about the cause of the conflicts.
She needs to know that Kenya is a multi-ethnic society just like the United States of America. The difference is, you call us tribes when you prefer to refer to various American ethnic communities as races or nationalities.
Groups that caused mayhem in Kenya soon after elections were not “thugs” as McCrummen would like to call them. They were normal human beings with grievances that had lasted nearly half a century. They were ordinary people that had become fed up with lies, conmanship and blatant abuse of their rights to exist with dignity.
The 2007 election campaign was a special one in Kenya’s history. For the first time in more than 40 years, Kenyans were ready to elect a truly democratic government purely on the basis of the popular vote in all of the 8 provinces.
When this obvious theft of votes and abuse of the rights of citizens became apparent, the peasantry rose up in arms to claim what they believed to be truly theirs.
Four types of violence erupted.
First was the State organized terrorism by deploying armed police to ensure votes were tampered with in ODM strongholds. These police officers were deployed in their thousands in Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western regions where ODM had the largest number of supporters. However, what the state was not aware of was the counter intelligence network that ODM had put in place that monitored every government’s move.
With each passing day, these officers were spotted, arrested and handed over to the nearest police stations and mysteriously released even though they were ‘ civilians with dangerous weapons”.
These events built tensions all over the country long before the ballot day.
As a Kenyan, I voted 200 miles away from the capital and returned to the city to wait for results.
The whole day had been extremely peaceful and for the next 24 hours, Kenyans already knew which party was winning the elections. The exit poll conducted by the International Republican Institute and paid for by American tax payer’s funds can testify to this.
However, with counting in progress, ODM had won 6 of the 8 provinces by a landslide.
Suddenly the Electoral Commission claimed it could not receive votes from Central and Eastern Kenya where Kibaki had his base support.
With such delays, panic and tension gripped the entire nation. What with careless humor from the Election Commission chairman quipping that some of his returning officers had disappeared with ballot papers from Central Province and were probably still “cooking the results!”
When suddenly the Press Center where the results were to be announced was cleared by armed forces, Kenyans knew something was amiss. When they saw a few minutes later that the results had been announced in Kibaki’s favor with just 43 parliamentary seats against the ODM’s 105 seats, Kenyans went in a rage.
But worse was to come. Within minutes of announcing the results, Kibaki was taking the oath office as the sun was setting at his palace lawn!
That swearing in was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
Spontaneously, the country erupted in chaos; chaos that even State security could not handle.
If the Kalenjins attacked the Kikuyus in Rift Valley, it was not because they had planned it. They saw them as members of the Kibaki tribe that would do anything to steal their land , votes and even their rights. It was like saying, “ we are tired of being neighbors with people who can stop at nothing to have their way”.
Were they right in doing so? No, I don’t think so because many ordinary innocent Kikuyus suffered for no fault of their own.
But this suffering cannot be analyzed in isolation no matter how self righteous we may want to sound.
We have to see it in terms of the Civil Rights Movement in America in the 1960s, the King riots in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Rwanda and Hitler’s Germany.
It is natural for a human being to react angrily if injustice is visited upon him. It is called self- preservation instinct. And in most cases , the aggressor is not necessarily right. It is an emotive thing.
This was the second type of violence was seen in Rift Valley, Kiambaa church included.
The Kalenjins found a perfect excuse to reclaim their ancestral lands that were forcibly occupied by the Kikuyu tribe when Jomo Kenyatta was president between 1963 and 1978.
It must also be remembered that the Kikuyus that settled in Rift Valley had lost their ancestral lands in Central Province to the Kenyatta family and his ruling elite to the extent that to date, the Kenyatta family alone owns land equivalent to one province in Kenya.
Another thing; the current killings going on in Mt. Kenya area by Mungiki militias has a direct link to the Kenyatta era’s land grabbing spree. These are descendants of Mau Mau fighters who came from the bush to find their land taken by new leaders. That is why Mungikis are causing mayhem in Central province to destabilize the ruling class.
The third type of violence erupted in Nyanza, Western and Coast provinces.
In their nature, they were a class uprising when the have-nots found an opportunity to rise up against the haves in Kenya. It was an uprising occasioned by years of deprivation, inequality and lack of opportunities for young people to earn a decent living.
To illustrate my point; my car was destroyed by marauding youths right in Kisumu my home town where I grew up. They saw me as a symbol of what had deprived them of a bright future! In other words, they wanted me to explain why I was driving a 4 wheel car when they could not afford a bicycle! And I understood their frustration.
The fourth violence was when prominent politicians and businessmen from Central Province, and their names are with Kofi Annan, actually paid and transported Mungiki militias to go and carry out reprisal killings in Naivasha town, 50 miles from Nairobi. In that town, members of the Luo, Luhya and Kalenjin communities were flashed out of public transport buses and hacked to death in broad day light as other gangs locked families in their shanty dwellings and set them ablaze. In one case of James Ndege, he lost 9 children and 2 wives in one fire!
The last type of violence is related to the first, organized by the State and carried out by its armed police.
It targeted mainly Luos, Luhyas and Kalenjins in Nyanza, Western, and Kibera slums in Nairobi. The police alone shot to death unarmed youths , some as young as 15 years of age on the run. Most of them were shot at the back from close range according to government pathologists.
In this operation, 450 were shot in Kisumu, 119 in Kakamega, 39 in Kibera slums in Nairobi and many more in Nakuru and Eldoret in Rift Valley. A simple Arithmetic would tabulate police killings at 600 known deaths out of the 1500 casualties that McCrummen is quoting. The police therefore accounted for 40% of the deaths we are talking about here.
The reason why the Kiambaa funeral service and its planned monument is causing concern and raising tension is the way it has been planned and organized. Kenyans are asking the wisdom of reconciling Kenya by celebrating the deaths of 28 souls of a single tribe while ignoring the other 1000 plus.
They are seeing preferential treatment being given to a handful of one tribe that happens to belong to President Kibaki when nobody is talking of those 450 police killings in Kisumu or those that perished in a similar fire in Naivasha.
They are seeing the usual hypocrisy when leaders talk of reconciliation yet the wielders of state power still would love to discriminate against other communities as they use state resources to mourn and bury their dead.
They know they are lying to the public and the public know it too. That is why than lone voice looked at Kibaki and the 28 coffins and told Kibaki to his face that among those coffins, he could not see any of Kibaki’s or Raila’s children.
It was a statement that spoke volumes for ordinary Kenyans; Kikuyus, Luos and Kalenjins alike.
There is more to Kenya’s problems than the gossips and rumors in Nairobi’s pubs.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
By Jerry Okungu
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