Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We are all hostages

This is how you fight a war, not with independent reporters traipsing all over the battle-field reporting on any and all they see, but with embedded reporters telling what they are told to tell. The Kenya Defense Forces, and the mandarins calling the shots, have kept a tight lid on the KDF exploits in Somalia, and for good reason too. Despite the false starts to the war, the management of the information coming out of Somalia has been controlled to such an extent that al Shabaab is unable to control its press in Kenya. Reports by international NGOs are not receiving the print-time they deserve; Human Rights Watch called for an investigation into alleged atrocities by KDF that received barely a mention in the Kenyan press; TV completely blocked it out and only a brave editor-in-chief even considered running the story in their paper.

Thanks to the peculiar Kenyan obsession with the 2012 general elections, and the chances of the Raila juggernaut being stopped, Kenyans have lost all interest in the Somalia incursion. The economy has taken over a large chunk of our mental bandwidth too. If Kenyan soldiers and sea-men are dying in their war wit al Shabaab, we will not know and I doubt that other than the soldiers' families and their commanders,that we will care either.

The Americans discovered that it is impossible to run a successful war in a democracy when their Vietnam War was rejected by the masses, especially by the young men and women who would be conscripted to go fight Communism in South-East Asia. The KDF is an all-volunteer army and therefore, there is little likelihood that young men and women will be conscripted to go to the front-lines of Somalia. Kenya's democracy is not mature enough where the free flow of information is guaranteed; the government still exercises great control over the access to public information, even where it is in our best interests to be well-informed. It is the same case as regards Kenya's external debt; we still do not know exactly how much we have borrowed, how much we owe, how much we pay in servicing this debt, or where the money to sustain such a policy is coming from.

Even in the area of our national obsession, politics, very little light is shed on the goings on in political parties or the National Assembly. When Mutava Musyimi's Parliamentary Committee rejected the two principals' proposed Commissioners for the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the reasons that were presented before the National Assembly did not rise to the level of carefully thought out grounds, but seemed to be motivated by something other than professional considerations. The debate that ensued seemed to be a test of wills between the two principals and their challengers in the National Assembly; it remains to be seen which side will prevail in February 2012. It also remains unclear where the money that is the engine of Kenya's political parties is coming from, especially when we know for sure that these parties are not mass movements with committed subscription-paying members.

The law on access to information is yet to be enacted so Kenyans have very little access to information that is crucial to making intelligent decisions regarding their future. Its enactment is no guarantee that Kenyans will be better informed. As a nation we have a demonstrated a serious lack of curiosity in government or governance matters. We are satisfied when our tribal chiefs give us titbits of information without rigorous interrogation. As a result, whenever matters of national importance are debated, the debates usually revolve around the whims and desires of political personalities. Even sensationalisation by the media is not enough to arouse in us a curiousity that is the bench-mark of a civilised society. We are held hostage by our biases and ignorance.

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