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Resist Climate of Fear

The fear is growing, says L. Muthoni Wanyeki, Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission. But we must resist and dispel it by naming the sources of the violence, and demanding accountability.


by L. Muthoni Wanyeki

This piece originally appeared in The East African
Lives have been lost and continue to be lost. Women have been raped — many of whom find themselves now forced into transactional sex to obtain basic goods and services within the internally displaced camps all over the country. Livelihoods have been destroyed. We are all being forced into a situation of feeling secure only where our ancestors happened to originate. And fear is growing. Day by day.

We held our breath as the mediation process was launched. We are still holding it. A new form of violence has emerged. We whisper: were the murders of two Orange Democratic Movement parliamentarians political assassinations? The propaganda war intensifies.

Part of the propaganda war has to do with naming the violence. The term "genocide" is invoked — ignoring the fact that genocide includes elements of state complicity. The term "ethnic cleansing" is thrown around loosely. Both terms heighten the fear.

Yes, there are historical grievances that need to be addressed. Yes, there are contemporary experiences of exclusion and persistent inequalities that also need to be addressed. And, most importantly, yes, the victims — and survivors — of the current violence have experienced and understand that violence to be the result of their ethnicity. But the violence is politically-instigated. And it finds ethnic expression or manifests itself ethnically because our politics are organised ethnically.

There are now four forms of violence in Kenya. First, the violence resulting from disorganised and spontaneous protests at the announcement of the disputed presidential result. This form of violence has largely died down (or been suppressed). Second, and most critically, violence resulting from organised militia activity — beginning most horrendously in the Rift Valley, but now spreading out from Nairobi and Central. Third, violence by the police force and the General Service Unit’s extraordinary use of force, including extrajudicial killings, primarily in Nyanza Province.

And fourth, violence resulting from communal vigilantism — catalysed by the perceived need for self-defence and security, but also by the influx of internally displaced people into families and communities in Nairobi and Central Provinces. 

All forms of violence are completely, utterly unacceptable. All forms of violence must be condemned. And, importantly, accountability must be sought for all forms of violence. There can be no impunity.

Seeking accountability requires the painstaking work of investigation, documentation and evidence collection — particularly with respect to the organised militia activity. We all have initial findings and preliminary information. But that is not enough. Which is why the propaganda war must stop.

Calling for peace is not enough. We will only slide into civil war if we cannot see through this. We must resist the fear, name the problem accurately and desist from the build up to the declaration of a state of emergency or the deployment of the military or, worse, the usurpation of civilian governance by military governance. We must demand that the organised militia activity stop. We must demand that the police and the General Service Unit focus on ensuring that it does as well as protecting the IDPs. The mediation process has too much at stake for us all to be compromised now. We have lost too much as it is.

About Shailja Patel [1]

Shailja Patel is a Kenyan poet, writer and theatre artist who has performed at venues from New York's  Lincoln Center to the Zanzibar International Film Festival. Patel's first full-length show, Migritude, premiered in the San Francisco Bay Area, and toured Kenya to critical acclaim in 2007. The show was selected as the subject of the 2007 season premiere of SPARK! –  KQED TV's award-winning arts programme .Patel's work has received awards from, among others, the Ford Foundation, the National Performance Network, and Indian American Women Empowered. Most recently, she is a founding member of Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice, a coalition of Kenyan citizens and legal, governance, and human rights organizations, working towards a viable peace in the Kenya Crisis stemming from the December 2007 elections.

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