Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Tragedy foretold

I once joked that when the worst came to the worst with this pandemic, don't let the soldiers or the lawyers take charge of affairs. The recent tragic affair in Siaya only serves to reinforce my prejudices against the uniformed and disciplined forces and the members of the legal profession. These two groups are incapable of dealing with any crisis with empathy, care or kindness.

Let us begin with my learned friends. When we graduate from university with our LLBs, more often than not, we usually have acquired many bad habits that are usually reinforced by the Kenya School of Law when we undertake the Advocates Training Programme. Among the bad habits is the certainty that with respect to the interpretation and application of the law we are infallible - and everyone one else is either a dilettante or a moron. We will not brook perceived interference from any quarter. In the past two decades, but more so since the Narc government came into office, this attitude has pervaded every sector, reaching its apotheosis with the series of statutory instruments that have been passed to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Save for the two declaring the disease as a notifiable disease and infectious epidemic disease, the rest of them have reinforced the worst instincts of trigger-happy policemen and their superiors.

Policemen and soldiers have the same attitude as lawyers - that the orders they have been issued with are infallible and require no re-interpretation. Watafuata amri, no questions asked. Tragedy has followed such rigidity. Worse still, corruption has accompanied every excessively coercive enforcement of the curfew and restriction of movement. You know it. I know it.

Don't misunderstand me. There are many uniformed and disciplined officers, and lawyers, who are honourable, kind, empathetic and judicious in the exercise of their powers and performance of their duties. You encounter them every day in the course of their work. They are members of your families, communities and workplaces. Your interactions enrich your lives in immeasurable ways. But collectively, and in the context of the system within which they function, you find them and their work to be difficult to parse because of the real harm they cause as they go about their duties.

It is those systems that refuse to countenance a different way of enforcing the law beyond the coercive, and why burials are conducted in the dead of night under the unremitting eye of armed policemen. It is why I deprecate policemen, soldiers or lawyers to be in charge of anything.

A burial is a complex event. It isn't merely the interment of the deceased. It is both a statutory requirement and a cultural event. It is ceremony and ritual. It is faith and culture. It is religion and duty. It is the fusing of physical, metaphysical and spiritual. It is NOT a security activity. I don't know of any Kenyan community, even urban Kenyan communities, where burials are conducted in the dead of night. I don't know of any sensible civil servant who would order and supervise a burial in the dead of night, even if the remains of the deceased were the modern-day equivalent of Typhoid Mary. But a system of unquestioning infallibility and rule-following leads to such absurd and tragic outcomes.

Finally, the inevitable habit of ass-covering totally militates against lawyers, soldiers and policemen being charge. Lawyers, especially bad lawyers, are adept at using language to shift blame, quite often on the victims of their certainty. The uniformed ones shift it upwards to the ultimate authority who is often beyond the reach of the victims. No, dear friends, find someone else to lead. Find someone who feels as you feel and who decides in such a way that you heal. At the very least, even if your leader makes a difficult and harmful decision, let that lead empathise with you and lead you through the aftermath with care. The legal and soldierly classes are not it.

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