Friday, September 20, 2013

A Time to Remember

"Time heals all wounds" is a proverb I have never been particularly comfortable with. It is one of those sayings that is laden with a supposedly profound but somehow elusive truth. Like having your cake and eating it, which we do all the time. It's elusive because time by itself actually rarely seems to heal. Exes remain irreconcilable and vendettas continue long after memories have faded and the original slights are forgotten. Hot wars cool down, cold wars heat up, but the mere passing of the ages rarely seems to reconcile, to turn enemies into friends.

But what time does is dull memories. And today, less than 6 months after an election that was remarkable for the fear it inspired, Kenyans memories today are notably dulled. Senses are dulled too. We have breathed our sigh of relief and want to move forward. The cases at the ICC are, however, a discomfiting shout from a past we had hoped was dead and buried. Talk of the horrors of Kiambaa, the Facebook pictures of charred and bleeding bodies, are all recalling our forgotten fear.

It is important that we face this fear and that will require the courage and the integrity to do the work of remembering and confessing and resolving and reconciling and forgiving and deterring. A recognition that healing will not come from forgetting. All that will offer is a little temporary ceasefire, a chance to re-arm and sharpen more machetes in preparation for the next round of bloodletting. For while it remains hidden, the fear does not abate. It only festers, rotting away our national soul. Unattended, and Kenya will be a ticking time bomb waiting for the almost inevitable falling out -given our history- between Messrs Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto and the all too common realignments of political and ethnic alliances that leads to the exhuming of buried hatchets and rediscovery of "historical grievances".

We have been here before. After independence, the political classes who had been collaborating with the colonial state appropriated the struggles of the landless. They cast Jomo Kenyatta as the victim. Slowly, all but the most heinous atrocities were edited out along with their victims. And even the ones we were allowed to remember were only trotted out during Jamhuri day ad then promptly forgotten. As a result, the colonial state remained, only with blacks at the helm. And the abuse and dispossession and neglect continued. And the hostilities and fear grew. Trying to forget, to forge ahead, to build the nation, brought little relief. 5 years ago, these unresolved issues were the tinder set alight by the untrammeled ambition and warmongering of the political class.

Many of those same problems remain today. but the state and its mandarins are engaged in a whitewashing exercise. To remove the most visible manifestations of the fear while doing nothing about its causes. So we resettle IDPs without sorting out why they were displaced in the first place. First the President, and then Parliament, seek to gerrymander the report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation report to "improve" the testimony of 40,000 Kenyans who have been victims of and witnesses to the atrocities and theft and abuse visited upon Kenyans by their leaders and government. Foreign Secretary, Amina Mohammed goes on TV to say truth commissions should have "nothing to do with justice" and tribalism is not such a bad thing. Despite the fact during the campaigns, candidate Kenyatta had declared that the ICC was "a personal problem" and had nothing to do with the election, his government is pulling out all the stops to get the cases lifted arguing the exact opposite.

All this is part of a campaign to convince us to forget. To tell us that the events of half a decade ago were not as significant as they appeared. There wasn't much harm done. So the victims and their stories are today carefully and systematically edited out of the narratives of the violence. The dead have no one to speak for them. Our permanent representative at the UN, Macharia Kamau, today has the gumption to suggest that the 650,000 IDPs in fact got a great deal out of the 2007/8 post-election violence. After all, most were squatters before. They came out "way ahead". The raped, the scarred, the mutilated remain faceless. They don't matter, they are all lying witnesses. Nothing happened. We have reconciled. Accept and move on. It is Uhuru, Ruto and, to a lesser extent, Sang who are the real victims. Let's pray for them. The real outrage, we are told, is the court case, the attack on impunity, not the killing, raping, hacking, shooting and burning.

Yet the fear remains. We must resist the attempt to rewrite history, to lull us to sleep, to avoid the work of reconciliation. We must not take the easy road of forgetting. If we do, that terror will be nourished by the knowledge that we are all a part of this conspiracy. And we will continue to build the nation during the day and sharpen our machetes by night. For while time may not heal all wounds, it eventually will wound all heels.


Unknown said...

A political problem requires a political solution. While true that early 2008 is a period that we as a country would like to forget, I am not sure that the route taken by the ICC will help. I am not sure that the case has any chance of making right what went wrong. We will only heal when we each understand that ultimately we are responsible for ourselves. We cannot hide behind the excuse that the leaders told us to take up arms and we do, so they are responsible. We must learn to say NO and remove such inciting 'leaders' from those positions.

For a moment assume that the three are found guilty, then what?

For a moment assume that the cases are thrown out, then what?

For a moment assume that either Uhuru or Ruto, not both are found guilty, then what?

For a moment assume that only Sang is found guilty, then what?

In any of those scenarios, like the guy from Eldoret said, would his arm be repaired? Would his hurt be 'cleansed'? Time works wonders, it teaches us lessons and allows us to live a somewhat better tomorrow.

I honestly think that the best way to handle the issues of that period is intense counseling of both the aggressor and the wictim. An eye for an eye sounds great, but it is a primitive form of justice.

I find the ICC insensitive to the plight of the wictims. If truly there is a fund for victims, why are they awaiting for the end of the trial to 'compensate' them? The victims are real, they might even know the person who hurt them, killed their kin or neighbor or even took their property. Would trying these people reconsile the communities?

You mention that the Uhuru-Ruto alliance will not hold, what option do we have as a nation than to ensure that it holds to assure the people peace and hopefully healing?

Time heals only when you allow it to, and face your realities. When a loved one dies, we hurt terribly. We even find it hard to talk about them for a while. Then time does its magic, suddenly, if we accept the reality of death, we begin to talk about them with fondness. The same is true of a relationship gone sour. At the time of divorce, we may not want to see one another, if we allow time to let us see where we lost the plot, the same very bitter parties at the time of divorce become firm friends!

It all begins with me, whether aggressor or victim, I must find the place within me to be the bigger person. I must never again allow myself to be used, since the result wouldn't be something that I would be proud of.

Gathara said...

That too is a rewriting of history. Everyone who has looked at this has concluded that much of the violence was pre-planned. People were armed, gangs assembled then unleashed. Please read the judgement from the Kiambaa case.
Also, the ICC won't right any wrongs, whatever it decides. But it is important blow against impunity. The fact that the top two politicians will be on trial will mean others will think twice before fomenting chaos.
Finally, it is up to us, not the ICC, to do the work of reconciliation. When our loved one dies, or we break up with someone, we have to do the work of confessing and forgiving. Sometimes this means demanding justice and restitution. It never implies forgetting or whitewashing as the government is trying to do.

Maundu said...

This is your opinion which you are 100% entitled to warped as it may be.

No one denies there was violence & bloodshed and that the effects of the PEV will be with us for many years to come. Shoddy (or no) investigations and nailing of big names to prove a point isn't the way to fix it. Whether they are found guilty or not, I am sure Uhuru, Ruto or Sang didn't light a match to set a house on fire; or spilt someone's skull open with a machete. There are hundreds or thousands of men and women that did these acts. They flushed innocent Kenyans out of buses and raped and killed them. Jailing Uhuru or Sang will do nothing to the actual perpetrators. Rape victims and relatives of those killed will continue to meet with their aggressors and we will have achieved nothing....... except maybe rekindle the fire to take us back to the happennings of early 2008.

Gathara said...

If they did the things they are accused of, then they are responsible for the split heads and burnt homes.
I have nowhere suggested that we should let the foot soldiers off. It is indeed an indictment of our system that very few have been prosecuted, let alone convicted and punished.
Finally, why would prosecuting Uhuru, Ruto and Sang "rekindle the fire to take us back to the happennings of early 2008" unless the much-touted reconciliation is a mirage?
Kenyans need to get serious about cleaning out the foundations of our nationhood. Sweeping stuff under the carpet, pretending all is OK when we know it isn't and advocating for impunity under the guise of protecting the peace have not served us too well in the past.

Anonymous said...

Maundu you talk of rekindling the fire that will take us back to 2008 - underscoring that 'great fear' Gathara alludes to: should we sweep our national conscience under that carpet again?

untonyto said...

All politics aside, this is the most logically sound piece of writing I have come across concerning justice within the narrow context of PEV.