Whichever way one looks at it, Kenya’s descent into anarchy appears to be gathering pace at an alarming rate.
Raila Odinga’s call for mass protests and the government’s reaction to those protests have created an explosive powder keg for a nation still smarting from the effects of a particularly divisive election. And, as both camps dig in, the country is burning. And hurting.
This is no longer just a protest — as Raila has been putting it — against the cost of living, or alleged electoral fraud, or the composition of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
This is a country having an unfortunately violent conversation with itself, and the political chieftains appear quite happy to let out their dogs of war. In this clash of egos and senseless chest-thumping, the voice of reason has been drowned; and every day the country inches closer and closer to absolute chaos.
Yesterday was, perhaps, the most violent day of the protests yet. The police used brute force on a scale not seen before and the protesters, despite claiming they would be peaceful and judicious, unleashed callous violence against the public and the police.
Physical, mental suffering
In Nairobi, this clash between the police and the protesters brought entire sections of the city to a standstill, caused untold physical and mental suffering to thousands of people, shut down commercial enterprises, and threatened lives and livelihoods. In other parts of the country, thousands of rioters stoned buildings, vandalised businesses, torched political party offices and brutalised police officers.
But for how long can this great nation stand in the rain and endure the now twice-weekly pounding? At what point will the political class tone down its rhetoric and consider the interests of the masses first?
Can’t the politicians see what they are doing to this nation? Or have they become so blinded by power and its sadistic pursuit and preservation that the cries of the millions mean nothing to them?
The time has come now to put a stop to this descent into a dark pit. The memories of 2007 are still fresh in the collective psyche of the nation and the pugnacious behaviour of politicians, their followers and security agents is not helping at all.
The magnitude of the violence witnessed yesterday should be a wake-up call for all of us to sit back, introspect and quickly cede ground. This is not the moment to play the role of a tribal hero or to shout epithets at each other. Concession isn’t submission. It is a mark of gallantry and a welcome display of statesmanship at a time when this country is beginning to fracture.
Raila Odinga must now re-evaluate his call for ‘maandamano’ and calm the nerves of his supporters. He must understand that, while the Constitution allows him to go to the streets and picket, it also protects the rights of those who do not believe in his cause, or who are the innocent bystanders caught in the political cross-fire between him and President William Ruto.
The President, likewise, must realise that he needs to have a nation in the first place for him to lead it. He, and his Deputy Rigathi Gachagua, must stop stoking the embers by appeasing the ghosts of the past and cajoling those who have the courage to call them out.
Great leaders are born in times of turmoil, and this is an opportunity for the Presidency to rise above the political din and rule, not by fiat or the police baton, but by consultation and mutual respect for all.
And, lastly, the police must not allow themselves to be misused for political expediency. Their duty is not to protect the interests of the ruling class, but to guard life and property.
We at the Nation Media Group are in possession of evidence of hooliganism by police officers in the Eastlands sector of the city yesterday, and we must say that it is unconscionable that criminals in police uniform roam these streets, protected from scrutiny by the sanctity of the crown on their berets. Yesterday, however, the police sank even further; they roughed up protesters, brutalised journalists and vandalised cars. For this, they, and their leadership, must be called out and reprimanded.
This nation has survived many disasters and dark periods. Its strength is in the people, and those people are saying enough is enough; cut the rhetoric and give us our nation back. Please.