The United States, depending on whether you watch Al Jazeera, is aflame, the match being put to the tinder by the decision of a small town's grand jury not to indict a white policeman who killed an unarmed Black man. When that young man was killed in August, the manner of his killing elicited so much rage that Ferguson, where the killing took place, erupted in popular riots among the Black community. Terrible truths about the state of race in the United States were revealed. The truths were aired without the fear that they would enflame passions further.
Contrast that with two events in Kenya over the past three weeks. Over twenty police were massacred by bandits in Kapedo. A week ago, twenty-eight travellers were massacred in Mandera. About the same time, Senator Otieno Kajwang' of Homa Bay died after a very brief illness. Mr Kajwang's death elicited more State pomp than the deaths of the police or the travellers in Mandera. Though President Kenyatta visited Kapedo to order the securocracy to find the murderers of his police, it is evident that local political passions were being played out in the explanations for the massacre. The same is being played out regarding the Mandera massacre; local politicians accuse national politicians of ignoring warnings of the impending attacks in the county.
What distinguishes the events in the United States and those in Kenya is that even though it was almost certain that violence would erupt among the black community because of the decision of the Ferguson grand jury, there was little, if any, attempt to stop the political or legal processes from proceeding. Of course self-serving politicians got involved, but theirs' was to exploit the circumstances for their own selfishness, not to actually prevent a national conversation regarding the killing of young Black men by white police in the United States. At no point did the Governor of Missouri, the Attorney-General of the United States or the President of the United States suggest that public safety was the principal responsibility of the people; that has been, and shall remain, the preserve of the government, whether at county, state or federal level. The people, on the other hand, have an obligation to obey the law, even if the law is an unfair one.
The President of Kenya, his Cabinet Secretaries for the Interior and Devolution, are living under the misguided delusion that primary responsibility for public safety lies with the people and that the vast security edifice that we have built merely plays a supporting role. It is why they see nothing fundamentally flawed in turning the National Youth Service into a paramilitary force or in the incredible insistence that the Nyumba Kumi initiative will lower crime.
Wallace Kantai wrote that Kenyans would demand the resignations of those who had failed in their duty in vain. In the United States, in the space of a month the Attorney-General and the Secretary of Defence have both announced their resignations, the former because he had become a political liability for the President of the United States, the latter for failing to anticipate the evolution of the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant. In Kenya, the only thing of note that took place in the previous six months was the shuffling of Principal Secretaries, with the ones for Defence and Interior changing places. The fact that under both their watches, whether they were in their former or current bailiwicks, hundreds of Kenyans have lost their lives from violent crimes, terrorist and bandit attacks has not pricked their consciences to resign in shame. They carry on, secure in the knowledge that their political ledgers will never be in the red even when their pages are awash with the blood of innocents.
We may scoff at the banana republicness of the riots in the United States, but let us not forget that popular anger against the federal, state or county government has not led to bizarre demands that would curtail the people's civil liberties. In Kenya, the more ridiculous the demand, the more likely the national Executive will make it and a pliant Parliament will legislate it into life. The US riots are proof of the robustness of its democracy; the uneasy calm prevailing in Kapedo and Mandera are proof that our police state has failed, and failed utterly.