By Yusuf Korow
Just 8 years ago, Syria had an army, a police force, and an economy 4 times bigger than Kenya’s. And then this happened:
Pro-democracy protests erupted in March 2011 in the southern city of Deraa after the arrest and torture of some teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall. After security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing several, more took to the streets.
The unrest triggered nationwide protests demanding President Assad’s resignation. The government’s use of force to crush the dissent merely hardened the protesters’ resolve. By July 2011, hundreds of thousands were taking to the streets across the country.
Opposition supporters eventually began to take up arms, first to defend themselves and later to expel security forces from their local areas.
Today, it does not matter who was right or wrong – for the families of the 250,000 Syrians that have lost their lives, and the 11 million who are living as refugees.
It does not matter whether their leaders will get “full bread” or “nusu mkate” when the conflict is over. If your child is dead, your home is destroyed, or your livelihood is shattered, all the talk about the size of bread is meaningless.
In the midst of all the chest thumping that is happening in our midst, it’s easy not to notice our unfolding tragedy. From conversations that take place around me, I get the feeling that our nation is suspended over a precipice, and that it is dangling by a slender thread that shows every sign of snapping.
Every day I listen to conversations of war, conversations of ethnic profiling, conversations of police brutality, and conversations of secession.
On social media, I have seen conversations praising police killing of members of a certain community; conversations about how certain communities are good fighters, and how others cannot fight at all; and conversations about which communities should be wiped out.
On national TV, I have watched the President and Raila Odinga take part in the conversation (The President saying “sisi sio waoga” and Raila Odinga defending one of his allies who had advocated for violence).
On vernacular FM stations I have heard popular presenters asking their viewers to get ready to defend their communities.
From parliament, I have heard conversations about how communities will perform in the coming war – based on pre-match contest between Jaguar and Babu Owino. I have also seen a respected senator take part in this conversation. His exact words were “Kama mbaya, mbaya. Wacha kiumane”.
I have heard a governor and MP from his county participate in this conversation: the governor asking members of communities that did not vote for a certain candidate to vacate that county, and the MP donating machetes to his followers.
These are conversations that take place moments before nations step into the slippery slope from which there can be no turning back. These are the conversations that took place in Somalia in 1990. They are the conversations that Syrians were having in 2011.
Such conversations cannot be stopped or changed by an election, police action, or legislation.
We must first be bold enough to admit that Kenya has a serious problem and that it is a problem for which we must find urgent but lasting solutions.
I call this problem “Them Vs Us”. It is the problem that…
- Triggered widespread violence in different parts of our country in 1992, 1997, and 2007.
- Made thousands of people to flee back to their ancestral homes a few weeks before the August 8 general elections.
- Makes some people say they want to secede.
It is this problem that has now reared its ugly head form of an electoral dispute.
Unless we do something about it, sooner or later we will be forced to say goodbye to Kenya – as we know it.
The reason I wrote this piece is to ask us – the ordinary people – to start our own conversation.
It is a conversation which I hope will force our leaders to prioritize the development of a permanent solution to the “Them Vs Us” problem.
When our leaders say “our communities will fight”, they don’t mean them and their children; they mean us and our children. It is our children who will lose lives, forfeit education, and forego a future.
If we lose our country, they will fly their families to European capitals. Their children will go to the same high-cost schools, they will play golf in the same high-end clubs, and they’ll take holidays – to exotic destinations – together.
In the meantime, the rest of us – irrespective of tribe – will probably be sharing the same crowded tent at a refugee camp in Somalia or South Sudan.
The writer is Peace and conflict Monitor for IGAD’s Cewarn units, Garissa, Kenya and a Nep Journal contributor.