Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The enemy within

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
 Martin Niemöller (1892 - 1984)
We stare at the conflagration, filming the flames with our iPhones, Galaxies, Notes and iPads. We stare emotionlessly, or so we persuade ourselves. We rationalise. We dissemble. We equivocate. We don't turn away, but we don't intervene either. Instead "we bear witness", though we shall refuse to testify when called to do so. Some of us will even make money from the images stored as ones and zeroes on our phones and computers. Some of us will make money from the flames. Some of us will make money out of the flames. So long as the blazing bonfire is not razing to the ground the detritus of my life, so we tell ourselves, it is really none of my business.

It never occurred to us that the establishment of the elite Anti-Stock Theft Unit of the Kenya Police Force in the mid-1980s was a bleak admission of neglect and failure by Daniel Toroitich arap Moi's government. A cultural practice that had outlived its utility enjoyed currency more than twenty years after Independence. In the bad lands of West Pokot, Turkana and Samburu, the failures of the ruling party, and indeed the central government, were laid bare in the ashes of the aftermaths of cattle rustling raids that left manyattas right across the three districts razed to the ground, and men, women and children butchered in the most savage manner.

We were cowed by the national security apparatus then, and so we stared at the shattered images with horror and resignation, shook our heads, and pretended that they had nothing to do with us. After all, we reminded ourselves half-convincingly, they were uncivilised and there was nothing we could do about it. Because President Moi did little to stem the tide of tit-for-tat raids, the close of 2014 sees ever escalating raids in the same three districts, using sophisticated combat tactics not only against other tribes but also against the very same Anti-Stock Theft Unit.

In August 1998, a few months before Usama bin Laden was politely ejected from the Sudan, and three years after the Blind Sheikh attempted to bring down the Twin Towers, bin Laden financed and oversaw the co-ordinated attacks against the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Scores were killed; several scores more were injured, some for life.  Again, because of our fear of the national security apparatus, we persuaded ourselves that the real target was the United States; we were mere collateral damage. The 2002 attack on the Paradise Hotel in Kikambala should have shaken us from our slumber. It didn't. It was an Israeli-owned hotel, we said, catering to Isarelis only; it had nothing to do with us. All the while we refrained from pointing out the myriad problems with the national security apparatus out of fear.

We have come full circle. 2012 to 2014 has been one of the bloodiest periods in our history, though it doesn't seem like it because we are not in the thick of it. Mwai Kibaki may have salvaged the economy, resuscitating or attempting to resuscitate mothballed state-owned companies, but the ballooning youthful population found fewer and fewer job or investment opportunities. A large cohort simply extended their stay under their parents' roofs until something came along. Still another cohort became part of the criminal underclass trying to make ends meet. There was that minority that blamed the government for their marginalisation, encouraged in their rage by preachers inspired by Usama bin Laden and his acolytes to join the global war against the Great Satan. They heeded this call. And still we turn a blind eye; our national response has changed little in thirty years.

When this "war against terror" has been waged, and its bitter fruits harvested, like the bitter fruits of the wars against corruption or drugs, we will finally realise that the war was waged against us. The comfortable ones in the capital, Ukambani, Central, or Nyanza, will find their fates tied closely to those of the Somalis, Waswahili, the Miji Kenda, the Pokot, the Samburu, the Turkana and all the Others who have waged war against the State, and the State has waged war against. The war on terror will not be won on the battlefield with soldiers, secret police and assassinations. It can only be won with economic empowerment that offers every man, woman and child in the republic an opportunity. Limit that opportunity to a corrupt elite few, and we might as well turn this whole nation into an armed citadel, not to keep our enemies out, but to ensure that the enemy within never escapes so that we can destroy him with extreme prejudice. Keep in mind, though, that enemy is us.

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