Friday, May 31, 2013

Personal Challenge: Cartooning Post-Election Kenya

Dear Cartoonist,

As you know, Kenya in March underwent its first elections since the disastrous aftermath of the 2007 polls. These were conducted under a new constitution and on the ballot were two politicians indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in relation to their alleged role in the conflagration that followed the previous polls. Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto joined together to form the Jubilee Coalition and have now been elected President and Deputy President of Kenya respectively. The elections, while generally peaceful, were not without controversy with the outcome having to be decided by the country's fledgling Supreme Court. 

Ever since the election, the Kenyan Government has been on a so far unsuccessful crusade to get the ICC charges against its two top leaders, which Uhuru Kenyatta had famously called a "Personal Challenge" during the campaign, dropped. In this effort, it has been rebuffed by the UN Security Council and embraced by the African Union. Despite pre-election threats of isolation, the indicted President has visited with UK premier David Cameron (though away from No. 10 and without the customary photo-op). Coupled with the aggressive campaign by his government, the Kenyan situation is now seen as the greatest threat to the legitimacy -and even existence- of the ICC.

Other casualties of the March elections include Kenyan civil society organisations whom the winning Jubilee coalition sought to paint as stooges of the imperialist West both during and after the election, and the Kenyan media which has been accused of forsaking its traditional vocal watchdog stance and turning a blind eye to malfeasance in the name of preserving the peace.

To further complicate the picture, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission has recently released its report which covers government massacres, rapes and other atrocities against its citizens, illegal land grabs, corruption and larceny. It names over 400 individuals, including Messrs Uhuru and Ruto, and many of their allies and rivals.

The Association of East African Cartoonists is organising an international cartoon exhibition on these and other aspects of the aftermath of the Kenyan Elections. The theme is  "Personal Challenge: Cartooning Post-Election Kenya". The exhibition is open to both professional and amateur cartoonists.

To participate, please send your entries to:

All entries should be in JPEG format with a resolution of at least 300DPI and should be received by 21 June 2013.

Thanks and I look forward to receiving your works.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Change Merry-Go-Round

The problem with revolutions is that they tend to go round in circles. Over the last half-century, Kenya has seemed to undergo its own slow-motion revolution. We have gone from an oppressive and extractive colonial state, through a repressed one-party dictatorship to a relatively open, somewhat prospering, pseudo-democracy. Two years ago, we made the crowning achievement -for the second time in our history, we had a new constitution.

Yet, it is still easy to despair with Kenya. We still have pretty much the same crooked politicians, the same corrupt and brutal police, a judiciary that despite "radical surgery," struggles with the concept of justice. Poverty and disease and ignorance and violence are still running amok. A lot of times it just feels like we are aboard a change merry-go-round. The more we change things, the more they remain the same. After twenty years of reform, we seem to have to have ended up right back where we started. We created new constitutional arrangements but, at its core, the country didn't change.

It remains very much the product of the colonial past. As the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission reminded us this week, the colonial state was never dismantled. We simply exchanged one bunch of oppressors for another. The relationship between the powerful and the people remains one based on exploitation, not the platitudes of service we are treated to every day. It is still very much a country that defines success in terms of the fortunes of its government, not those of its citizens.

Our first attempt at independence to pour the new constitutional wine into the old wineskins of the of this colonial edifice did not result in the bursting of the latter. Rather, it was the constitution that was extensively mangled, spawning decades of political, economic and social crises.

It's a lesson we should have learnt by now. Our legalistic approach to all kinds of social problems has not worked. The alcoholism ravaging our communities has not been assuaged by passing laws on opening hours. Ever more copious layers of legislation have not brought order to our roads and illegal drugs are still easily available. Since we do not bother addressing the underlying reasons for destructive behaviour, new laws are either ignored or perverted and sometimes create even worse problems.

Similarly, changing constitutional arrangements without changing the nature of these understandings between citizens and those who exercise the authority of the state, and between the citizens themselves, is thus futile. As was the case 50 years ago, a new constitution will not automatically erase either the century-old practices and attitudes in institutions like the police, or the ingrained habits of those who consider themselves our lords and masters.

A new constitution is therefore insufficient to wring the change we desire. We now need to do the work that the independence generation failed to do. We need to engineer a rebirth of the nation. In a sense the real problem with Kenya was always that it's full of Kenyans and to change that means refashioning the very idea of what it means to be Kenyan.

During the struggle for the second liberation, there was much talk of "the Kenya we want". Not much was said about the the Kenyans we want. We must begin there. We could choose to inscribe the constitution on our hearts, to affirm the value of universal values of life, dignity, and liberty; to begin to measure our progress by the quality of life and opportunities enjoyed by our poorest citizens as opposed to that of our richest.

We cannot change the past but we can make our peace with it, and decide not to let it define us. And that's why I think the TJRC report is so important. It is about releasing Kenyans from the shackles of the past and so freeing them to choose their future. It can be the start of a real national self-examination. If we have the courage to do this, then we can finally begin to learn from the mistakes of the past instead of being condemned to repeat them.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Tribute To GADO

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What We Must Accept In Order To Move On

It is easy to poke holes into the report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. And I'm certain many will seek do so. Journalists are, after all, a pretty cynical lot. We delight in nothing more than tearing down the edifices of officialdom and being the small axe that chops down the big, big tree.

So in the coming days, aspersions will be cast of the report's credibility given the delay in issuing it; the infighting within the commission which dates back to its establishment; the missing signatures on the land chapter and rumours of a minority report; the contradiction of condemning impunity on the one hand and, on the other, seemingly letting off Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki despite acknowledgement of the gross violations of Kenyan's rights that happened on their watch.

All these, and many other valid criticisms, will be levelled at the report and at its authors (I've done my share). And it is right and proper that they are. A report such as important as this should be held up to the full glare of public examination. However, as we do so, we should be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. For despite its failings, and there are bound to be many, this report is a monumental achievement for Kenya.

As we focus on the findings and recommendations of the report, we must keep in mind that it represents the first real and concerted attempt to tell an aspect of the Kenyan story through the eyes and experience of the Kenyans who lived it. The 40,000 or so statements collected by the TJRC, the largest number of statements of any truth commission in history, represent a living history of the troubled times that Kenyans have endured (and continue to endure). It is not a history that you will read in any of the textbooks that purport to teach our children about the travails of independent Kenya. And it is neither a perfect, or even complete, history by any means. It is, though, a valuable start in demolishing the walls of myth, lies and official silences that have surrounded traumatic events, and shedding light on some of the darkest chapters of our common history.

It was critical that these testimonies were recorded before memories faded and the events disappeared into the mists of time. Now the stories, some of which were only whispered in the shadows, have become part of the national record. Lodged at the National Archives, they`should provide fodder for historians seeking to tell a more accurate version of what happened in our past.

For the rest of us, it is important that we hear these Kenyans and recognise that their voices are representative of countless others who remain unseen. We must strive to hear them all. Their testimonies are raw and uncomfortable to hear, but we must not turn away. Their pain is real and cries out for acknowledgement.

But more than merely listening, this report should spark a discussion, a radical and honest reappraisal of our common past, a reformulation of our national identity with the aim of fostering a fresh and deeper understanding of the ties that bind us. The discussion must not, like has been the case previously, be restricted to the ivory towers of academia. It must go on in our homes, in our schools, in our places of worship, in our pubs and in our social gatherings. The stories in the report must become our stories; the pain, our pain.

And that is only the beginning. It would be unreasonable to expect that any one report, however well intentioned and resourced, could  capture every aspect of our history. I therefore hope the report sparks more exploration into the events that make up our past.  We must keep up the effort to fully document, to borrow from Chinese novelist Liu Zhenyun, the easily forgotten tragedies that occur in places abandoned by government and its enemies.

Finally we should, as a nation, seek to understand how that past still influences attitudes and actions today, how present-day Kenya is very much a product of its past. We must, for example, see the common thread running through the Shifta War, the many atrocities committed by the security forces in the North East and the recent "security operation" in Garissa. We must understand the militancy of the Nyanza politics through the prism of the region's nearly half century of political and economic marginalisation. For it only when we see these linkages that differentiate history from just another interesting story, that transform the accounts into a tool for refashioning our nationhood and for ensuring that we do not continue to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Then, and only then, can we truly and honestly accept and move on.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Oppa Kenyan Style

“This is Kenya and things have to be done the Kenyan style.” That was the angry message reportedly given to Ronald Slye, a commissioner at the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, the body charged with exhuming Kenya's past so we can exorcise the ghosts and lay to rest the fears that have supposedly petrified our national life. His crime was the refusal to "ngo srowry" on the chapter covering political assassinations which, as his Kenyan counterparts recognised, violates deeply entrenched cultural beliefs and taboos.

You see, Slye is American. He and the two other non-Kenyan commissioners seconded to the TJRC by the AU's Panel of Eminent African Personalities -Zambian Gertrude Chawatama and Ethiopian Berhanu Dinka- have failed to appreciate the traditional "Kenyan style" of report writing. Namely, that reports can only reveal the truth when the government has opportunity to frustrate the consequences of such revelations either by withholding the findings from the public or by bungling long-drawn out prosecutions.

The TJRC report, however, does not afford the Kenyatta administration much room for manoeuvre. The report can be made public immediately the President touches it, and indeed the TJRC said to have copies ready to go live on its website once President Kenyatta gives them a date to present it to him. They have been waiting for better part of three weeks though, so I guess he is not too keen to get it.

Also, like the Waki Report, its recommendations must be implemented. The self-propelling mechanisms ensure that once the report is handed over to the President, the wheels of justice are set in motion and the culprits must be brought to book. Even more worrisome, its pages probably contain potentially career and freedom-threatening observations on issues such as grand corruption, illegal land acquisitions and political assassinations

Embarrassing and punishing senior government officials is most definitely not "the Kenyan style." We rather prefer that the foreigners shut up unless they have something positive to say. Just look at where Waki got us -our excellent Excellencies having to endure the ignominy of a trial at the Hague. Therefore, we must all hope that the TJRC has not followed Waki's un-African example and come up with yet another secret envelope to be handed over to Western imperialists in the event of local non-compliance with its recommendations. That might bring the wrath of the gods.

For there is only one thing that is more Kenyan style than impunity. And that is forgetfulness, our time-honoured and traditional tendency to bury our heads in the sand. Our culture does not permit to speak ill of the dead, and that includes those with a deadened conscience, especially when they control our version of the nuclear football. Kenyan style reports should not allow us to learn from past mistakes as doing so risks acknowledging that our ancestral warrior-kings -the heralds of independence and peace and all things democratic- and their present descendants may have made mistakes, or even worse, that they may have knowingly acted in immoral, thieving and murderous ways. Chaos and mayhem, we fear, may be visited upon us as these spirits take their vengeance on our self-righteous souls.

On the other hand, there is no need to waken the spirits of the non-victims of past non-indiscretions though. Their powerlessness and anonymity follows them beyond the grave so long as we have the good sense to ignore them. Better to let sleeping dogs lie.

Now, since the ignorant foreigners have already raised the spectre of wrongdoing, a traditional cleansing is required. The report must therefore become a whitewash of all sins and must meet with the approval of our priest-king. Any mention of his name, and those of  his friends, must be deleted in the course of this cleansing. In return, he will intercede for us with his glorious ancestors who will resume the flow of riches from heaven and, for the present at least, spare us violence.

In future, fellow Kenyans, if we must remember the past, then let us remember the good times and the silver linings. Our children should only hear the positive and the embellished. Like how we always came first in class, and how they are all descended from great chiefs. We must purge our history books of anything that may be remotely embarrassing, any references to colonial collaborators or murderous and thieving governments. They must understand that all were freedom fighters, especially those who fought from the inside, and all were honest-to-God patriots.

That is the Kenyan style, the path to a Kenyan peace.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Back To The Future

Every once in a while, just when you think you've figured them out, Kenyans can surprise you and give you an almighty kick up the backside. Yesterday was one of those days. And it was an almighty welcome kick.

Those who've been following this blog over the last few months will have been treated to fulminations on the fear and apathy of our nation in the face of monumental iniquity by those in government. I have held forth and pontificated on the myopia, incompetence and laziness of our journalists and the demise of our civil society. I believe much of that still to be true. However, on the streets of Nairobi, I think we may have witnessed the stirrings of a nation starting to awaken from a deep slumber.

For over ten years now, our famously greedy parliamentarians have been used to hiking their pay at will, and ignoring the loud protests made in press conferences held in five-star hotels. No more. Today the fight was moved away from sanitized conference rooms and back into the streets where we had taught the KANU government a thing or two about people power 2 decades ago. And that fact is more significant than a straightforward struggle over MP salaries.

Yesterday was all about going back to the future. It was exciting to see the campaigners old mixing it up with the new upstarts. Having lived through the mass action of the 90s, to see Rev. Timothy Njoya, Maina Kiai, Davinder Lamba and Yash Pal Ghai once more marching through the streets of Nairobi  in support of a new generation of activists led by the likes of Boniface Mwangi and Okiya Omtata brought a lump to my throat. After Boniface shamed us on Labour Day, here was the old guard stepping in to teach the new dog some old tricks of the trade. But the young puppy showed that he too had some aces up his sleeve.

There were also glimpses of the old alliances that had been so effective in pushing the reform agenda. Churchmen, activists and, belatedly, media. Even the police seemed determined to recreate the nineties atmosphere, charging at the unarmed and peaceful protesters with their rungus and tear gas and water cannon.

There are, however, crucial differences. This was not a mass protest against the government. It was, in fact, just a few hundred demonstrators advocating the government line against an intransigent Parliament. Secondly, one of the main pillars of that old alliance was missing -the opportunistic opposition politicians. It is they in the 90s who mobilized the people. Many, however, have since either been co-opted into the lootocracy or are still licking their wounds following defeat at the polls. Further, we were not fighting to get a new constitution, but to defend the new one we have from gerrymandering MPigs.

Still, the moment was significant. For the first time since the election, a group of people publicly and loudly refused to "accept and move on." For once, they refused the logic that it was better to keep the peace even when they were being screwed. They drew a line in the tarmac and stood by it. The moment was also significant because for once, the government let its mask of civility slip. The reaction we saw on TV was far removed from the polished and rehearsed State House presentations. It was the raw brutality that lies behind that facade. This was a government unleashed from the strictures imposed by media consultants intent on winning elections.

With a core of determined, bloodied but now blooded, activists and a government that may have overplayed its hand, the scene my be set for a rather quick end to the Uhuru's administration's honeymoon. Of course, there is still some ways to go. The people still need to be won over. Those who voted for President Uhuru will need to be convinced that they can hold the government to account without betraying their communities or being humiliated. Those who didn't, and particularly those who weren't entirely convinced that he won fairly, will also need to be convinced that continuing to participate in the process is still worth it.

The activists will need to make allies out of progressive politicians both within and without the legislature. To do so the activists must begin to articulate an agenda, one that might conceivably form a platform for a future electoral run. Finally, they will need to partner with the media. Here, they will be faced with persons just like themselves, newbies with limited experience of the 90s struggle and whose careers have been made in a relatively open era for the press. Most journalists today seem inclined, strange as it may seem, to give officialdom the benefit of the doubt, to be wowed by its propaganda. They will need to be shown the bigger picture, pointed in certain directions, brought up to speed on the issues and pressed into digging deeper.

All that will take time. In the meantime, if yesterday's protest proves to inaugurate a season of more intense questioning of official conduct and policy, then the protesters will have achieved a much greater victory than simply expressing public displeasure at the thieving ways of legislators. They will have given the nation the beginnings of a real voice and a real boot. If I were Uhuru, I'd be watching my backside.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Are We Trying To Fake It Till We Make It?

There is an interesting scene in one of those dreary, black and white independence era TV documentaries that the media trots out every national holiday. A colonial settler expresses his shock and outrage at the brutality of the Mau Mau uprising. He seems genuinely outraged that a man to whom you have been kind enough to offer employment, whose kids play with yours and who you have even allowed to live on and farm a small corner of your land, could steal into your house in the dead of night and massacre your entire family.

Of course, what makes the statement so unbelievably cretinous is the idea that the Africans should have been grateful for getting back a tiny fraction of what had been stolen from them. It seems that the colonials had come to believe their own hype, that the country's bounty was theirs as of right. Today, I can't help feeling that we , inheritors of the artificial country and systems they created, have been similarly lying to ourselves, and have become victims of our own hubris.

The problem with fake societies is their people do not feel anything more than a superficial duty to them.

Consider the recent elections. We invested a great deal of money in technology meant to safeguard its credibility and disregarded all concerns about its efficacy. When it all failed, we were unwilling to even consider that the results might be fraudulent. Despite all our earnest protestations, we were not really interested in democracy or the will of the people or justice. We were, on the contrary, quite content to fake a free and fair poll. Like the settler, we were careful not to give it too much thought lest we discover what lay under our seemingly honest exterior.

Similarly we celebrate our new and improved constitution even when it seems to do nothing to regulate the behaviour of our famously avaricious politicians. We speak reverently of a reformed judiciary though it still seems incapable of delivering justice. We have a penchant to compare the young(ish) duo in Statehouse with US President Barrack Obama,  all the while pretending that it is normal to have an ICC-indicted president who has to be whisked through the cargo terminals of international airports, hidden from the press and whose hosts are camera-shy when he's around.

Today the carpet of economic growth covers many ills. On the back of GDP figures and the number of kilometres of tarmac and fibre optic cable, we are taught to believe that things are improving, the country is moving forward, that we should just sit back and enjoy the ride. As a result, buoyed by narratives of a rising Africa and blinded by the gleaming towers of our cities, we forget that we live in one of the most unequal countries on earth, where wealth is concentrated in the top ten percent. On a per capita basis, the biggest economy in East Africa, as we like to refer to ourselves, ranks only a mediocre 24th out of 48 sub-Saharan economies. One survey of the income distribution of workers in the formal sector found that the top 10 percent lived off monthly wages that were more than 6 times those of the bottom 90 percent. In fact, another study found that the top 10 percent of households control nearly half of total income while the bottom 10 percent take home nearly nothing.

We have little inkling of the country that lies beyond those numbers which is still very much a Hobbesian one. Where men live without security and in constant fear of a violent death; where life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." It is a place where people are set alight while crowds cheer and where young girls can be pulled kicking and screaming from crowded commuter buses to be gang-raped without anybody intervening.

We prefer the compartmentalized view, the trees to the wood. Thus we periodically rotate the thieves in government without tackling the systemic attitudes that incentivize bad behaviour. Like turning a blind eye to the rip-off that is the presidential retirement package while at the same time berating Mps for trying to get in on the enrichment act. We reach for legal bans as a quick fix to social problems even when we know that the laws are rarely enforced and even when they are, provide avenues for graft, can be ineffective and can even create worse problems. We thus celebrate traffic rules that fill the government coffers without doing anything about the anarchy on our roads and abortion bans whose only effect is to kill and maim our women and girls.

One would think it would be the job of the media to disabuse us of such inaccurate notions. But the fact is, the Kenyan media long ago shirked its duty to expose truth and to challenge our assumptions. In fact, it is itself a mirror of the society it serves. Famed across the globe as one of the most vibrant on the continent, it has produced award winning journalists by the dozen, many of whom have been snapped up by international networks. Yet back home,  they are not given to critical scrutiny and revel in sensational tales of superstition and sex. For our comfort and pleasure, they provide us with a smattering of sanitized news bulletins conservatively sprinkled atop a diet of entertainment and advertising.

Though loudly proclaiming their independence and objectivity, they nonetheless seem almost as ignorant as those they are supposed to inform. As I was writing this, the news anchor on TV was saying something about the Mandera clashes. She declared, with little apparent embarrassment, that the fighting had been going on "unreported" for 3 months. It was unclear whose job she thought it was to do the reporting.

It seems that we are a nation that is determined to fake its way through the world. That we believe we can continue to pretend to be virtuous or successful and all will be well. However, at the end of that road lies an inevitable and painful collision with reality. Like the colonial settlers, we will eventually discover that we cannot paper over the truth indefinitely.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Hire-and-Forget Dumbocrats

A little over two months ago, Kenyan voters were harangued into queuing up for hours in the hot sun to cast a vote. "Go out and vote" was the mantra parroted by every pundit, columnist and anchor. Someone was slapped on an internet video for saying he wouldn't vote. The message was clear: if you don't vote, you have no right to speak.

Well, Kenyans, in their millions did exactly as they were told but today it doesn't seem to have made much of a difference. In fact, voters seem to have even less of a say in how the country is run than they did previously. On Election Day, we were urged to vote and then go home. When murmuring begun about suspicious technology failures and inconsistent tallies, public protests were immediately banned. The media went into over-drive, providing non-news and calling for patience and peace. 

Neither was much heard from the people of Garissa when a security operation supposedly cracking down on terrorists was carried out by what government officials called "a rotten team" and seemed to only target non-terrorists. When citizens in Bungoma decide to highlight the spate of brutal gang attacks that have claimed tens of lives in the last few days, the authorities respond with clubs and tear gas. 

Even when the voting public is allowed to speak, it seems rather easy to ignore them. Howls of outrage do not seem to have any effect on elected representatives' determination to gerrymander constitutional checks on their greed. When reminded of the recall clause, MPs smugly point out the fact that it doesn't kick in till two years into their term. The sub-text: "We can afford to ignore you till then."

I think the MPs scorn underscores what the citizen's role in the Kenyan version of democracy is. An advertisement now running on Kenyan TV also alludes to it. In it, young celebrities praise us for the peaceful voting and acceptance of the outcome. "Tunawacheki! (We are watching you!)" the successful candidates are warned. The kicker: Five years is not a long time. 

And there it is: citizen involvement reduced to the act of voting, the act of expressing a preference. Vote, then shut up till the next election. Military folks have a term for weapons that do not need active human guidance once deployed. Fire-and-forget. In Kenya, the prevailing sentiment when it comes to the politicians we have deployed seems to be: "hire-and-forget."

But citizens are an integral part of the democratic system, of ensuring that the elected deliver on what they have promised, of protecting the country and the constitution.  We may have devised systems of checks and balances as well as created institutions to these, but they all only act on our behalf. The ultimate responsibility for the defense of the realm lies with us.

However, this is not the narrative we hear. Today we are exhorted to forget politics and focus on building the nation. The voices that were urging Kenyans to participate in democracy prior to March 4 seem to have fallen silent. It seems that casting a ballot was all the citizen was required to do. Once you did that, you had done your part, and could go back to your normal business. There is little call to any follow-up action. Though one might still hear a few isolated voices such as the activist Boniface Mwangi or Okiya Omtata, the new norm seems to be an increasing reluctance, perhaps fear, even intolerance, to challenging the official stance. 

Yet, to my mind, citizens should be doing more than keeping a silent 5-year vigil. I wish for a vibrant and engaged people demonstrating, querying, debating. Challenging official truths. Expressing passion, outrage even. Discarding the stupefying relief at surviving yet another election. We should no longer accept a role that reduces us to dumbocrats. To be seen every half decade but not to be heard in the intervening period. Like French general Charles De Gaulle, we should realise that politics are too serious a matter to be left to politicians.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Uhuru Should Lead or Get Out Of The Way

"Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony." It is a line from the hit movie, The Matrix, that our "Digital Government" should be intimately familiar with. On the day that Uhuru Kenyatta stepped on the plane to London on his maiden visit as President to a Western capital (we had all thought that would be elsewhere), it was reported that his hosts in the British government were finally taking steps to address the impunity surrounding historic crimes perpetrated during the MauMau uprising.

The timing of the visit is, of course, ironic because our dear President himself faces his "personal challenge" across the Channel with regards to his alleged role in funding murderous militias during the 2008 post-election violence. He is expected to receive an invitation to visit there soon, though not necessarily in his illustrious capacity.

However, his trip to the UK is also ironic because of some nasty business he has left undone back home. Last week, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, which was created to "establish an accurate, complete and historical record of violations and abuses of human rights, committed between 12 December 1963 and 28 February 2008," took out acres of newspaper space to announce that it had completed its report and was about to hand it over to the President. In fact, it gave the day for the handover as Thursday, 2 May 2013.

Well, it transpires that the President was apparently unable to make the time to receive the report. Now, most of the Kenya media are familiar with his "personal challenge" when it comes to punctuality. However, given the importance of this report, one would have expected more than a few eyebrows to be raised. The TJRC is expected to provide details regarding to abductions, disappearances, detentions, torture, murder, massacres, extra-judicial killings, crimes of sexual nature against female victims and expropriation of property suffered by Kenyans in the last half century. Its report should expose those responsible for gross violations of international human rights law and make recommendations. Further the report will look into historical injustices affecting the irregular and illegal allocation of public land, economic crimes including grand corruption, the perceived economic marginalization of communities and misuse of public institutions for political objectives.

In short, the TJRC will  exhume the ghosts of the past and give the country an opportunity to finally confront them. The need for such a reckoning cannot be gainsaid. The just ended elections exposed deep faults in our body politic, many of which reach all the way down to the foundations of our nation. The presentation of this report was to inaugurate a season of debate and reflection on the report leading to a critical reevaluation of our common history and a new understanding of the basis of our nationhood. Such an outcome would improve prospects for a real peace, real justice, real national unity, real healing, real reconciliation and real dignity for the people of Kenya.

However, with his disappearing act, the President has effectively put off that discussion. TJRC officials, while not speculating on the reasons for the snub, say that they cannot release the report findings until he has officially taken possession of it. Shortly after the handover, they planned to have the entire report posted online, for once circumventing the presidential prerogative of deciding what we could and could not be told about our past and the acts perpetrated by the state in our name.

Perhaps it's too much to expect our feckless journalists to ask about this. After all, they have not seemed overly  concerned over the violations of citizens' rights that we have witnessed in more recent times.  Just a day before the report was to be presented,  the cantakerous and obnoxious COTU boss Francis Atwoli declared before both the President and the Nairobi County Governor, Evans Kidero, that he had his own "army" to deal with troublemakers such as pesky political activists, Nary a question was raised. No one has since asked our dear President why he stayed seated when Atwoli ordered police not to interfere as his goons proceeded to "deal" with Boniface Mwangi. Today, none of them questions why it is the battered and bruised activist who is on trial while Atwoli and his thugs roam the streets free.

Then again we shouldn't be too harsh with the press. Their fear of truth, their propensity to put off till tomorrow the thinking that can be done today, their worship of empty celebrity and their celebration of mediocrity - all these are endemic within our society. Our fake news is a reflection of our fake society. Or is it our society of fakes? After all, many had pledged support for Boniface Mwangi's protest. A few even turned up at Uhuru Park. But when he stood up, he was alone. No one stood up for him when he was assaulted.

All this is reminiscent of the days when we keep ourselves locked in our homes when our neighbours are attacked, hoping we won't be next. Or when we watch impassively as girls are pulled kicking and screaming out of matatus and gang-raped, thinking our own daughters are immune. When we laugh at women being publicly humiliated for "dressing indecently." When we condone the abuses meted out by the authorities in far away places like Garissa.

We must shed this cloak of fear that holds us back from articulating a more useful and confident narrative of citizenship. We should once and for all confront our demons and lay them to rest. The President, who perhaps has more of them to face than most, should either lead the effort or get out of the way. We do not have time to waste and we cannot afford another false start.