Sunday, April 21, 2013

We. Don't. Care.

Larry Madowo and Farah Maalim had an interesting conversation on tonight's NTV bulletin. Their thrust was that the State was doing precious little to interdict the terrorists raining havoc on the people of Garissa and the forgotten Northern Frontier. They bemoaned the continued massacre of Kenyans at the hands of al Shabaab affiliates and wrung their hands at the continued hands-off approach of the State in securing the persons and properties of the long-suffering residents of Kenya's continually at-risk communities in the North Eastern Province. Larry Madowo and his co-anchor went out of their way to demonstrate that in the same week terrorists wrecked havoc in the city of Boston, and Garissa came under armed attack, the reaction of Barack Obama was markedly more hands-on than that if Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta. They questioned why Kenya's law enforcement agencies, including its security and intelligence agencies, continued to fight the war against crime that the United States' government seemed to be winning.

The harsh truth that we are unwilling to admit is that we get the security that we pay for. The United States, even in the midst of an economic situation that is hostage to the bitterly divided and partisan Congress, spends more on national, and local, security than any other country on earth, bar, perhaps, the dictatorships in Iran, North Korea and Cuba. Kenya, on the other hand, is not the fount of dollars that we'd all like to believe it is. Our priorities, such as we see them, seem to revolve around holding expensive elections in the name of "bringing democracy closer to the people." We spend more on our politicians and their pet white elephants than we do in the institutions that will guarantee us basic security, whether we are in our homes or places of employment or palaces of leisure. We laud such inherently unwise investments as free laptops for school-going children as by-words of "keeping election promises" instead of investing in the tools that will keep us safe. We have lavished billions of shillings on our soldiers in the name f keeping our borders secure, and still billions more on our politicians in the name of facilitating their function of "making laws for all Kenyans." Witness the hundreds of millions we spent on a Vice-presidential palace, a prime-ministerial "office" and a "refurbished" Parliament, and weep at our pro-democracy leanings.

Decades of political sclerosis have led us to this dark pass; waste and corruption has bequeathed us a national police force that spends more and more of its time reacting to criminal incidents (and collecting bribes from Kenyan motorists) than in investigating and intercepting would be brigands with proto-religious messages of "purity" and "liberation." In our zeal to eat at the same table as our political leaders, we care not for the things that make a democracy resilient in the face of incessant broadsides by those too invested in the politics of war and violence. When we walk by the ramshackle hovels we call Police Lines, we do not care to see the dehumanising conditions our men in uniform endure. Nor that of their families and loved ones. When they crack under the strain of keeping us safe and turn their weapons on each other, we simply chalk it up to "an act of God" (or the devil, depending on what your pastor said recently.) Until we can learn to prioritise our needs, and until we can learn, once again, what it is to be a nation, Garissa and similar attacks will forever be a hallmark of the "tranquility" we market to the "five million tourists" William Ruto wants to attract to our white-sand beaches of Mombasa.

As in the past, we will swear "to leave no stone unturned, no lead un-pursued" in our "zeal to bring the perpetrators of the Garissa attack to book." But we know this is just paying lip-service to the victims and their families. IN a day or two, we will return to our daily staple: whether Parliamentarians should earn a fatter pay-check or whether the Cabinet will "reflect the face of Kenya." By all means, shed a tear for the suffering, but please, try not to pretend that you care. If you did, David Mole Kimaiyo, Maj Gen Michael Gichangi, PS Mutea Iringo and the rest of the National Security Council would be answering hard questions from determined peoples' representatives and swinging into action. Baragoi, Tana Delta and Garissa are proof that we don't give a damn and never have.

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