Articles - The Voice of Garanganze:  The Writings of Patrick Kalenga Munongo

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Kenya: Lessons for the African leadership
  May 17, 2008

The violence that erupted in Kenya early this year, left in its wake thousands of people dead or scarred, both physically and emotionally. Communities, sadly, have divided under ethnic lines. At the peak of the violence, people were forced to flee their land because they did not belong to the ‘right’ ethnic group. The world watched aghast as Africans yet again were killing other Africans. On the internet, there were strings of emails describing vividly the intense fear that gripped the country.  Accounts of students who had found refuge in their school compounds were the most heart wrenching.  Leaving the school grounds meant that these students would have fallen prey to mobs who were threatening to kill them. The images the world saw on Television were not archives from the Rwandan genocide; they were from the aftermath of the 2008 failed elections in Kenya.

The unrest was and remains hard to explain. What caused it? Apparently, the results from a ‘stolen’ election are to be blamed. The incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, prematurely declared himself the winner over his opponent, Raila Odinga, a Luo. Shortly after being declared the victor by a sympathetic electoral college, Mwai Kibaki was hurriedly sworn in, adding to the suspicion that the process had been rigged.

To many Kenyans, especially the people of Kibera, the largest slum neighborhood in Nairobi, this was the last straw. Some groups began protesting and taking their anger out on their fellow citizens. Kikuyu people started killing the Luo people, and vice versa. The protests had given way to acts of tribal aggression. Why? Why do Africans kill their brothers, their sisters, their mothers and daughters? Why is it that Africans, this century and last, appear to have killed more of their own people than any other group? What is going on in Africa that makes people behave in what can appear to be unjustified and unrestrained violence?

Kenya used to be a quiet place, a livable country, with a thriving and diverse citizenry. Though there were a lot of poor people, Kenyans lived together, suffered together, and carried the economic, social, and political burdens together.

Historically, however, the country has had its share of violence. The official British colonization (1920-1963) was repressive and discriminatory towards the Africans. Kenyan Independence was brutally resisted by the British. It took many years of rebellion, including the commonly known Mau Mau uprising to dissuade the British colonial ambitions. In 1982, there was an attempted coup on Arap Moi, second president of Kenya (1978-2002).  This latter event happened while a small group of Congolese students, of which I was a member, was on a trip to learn English in Nairobi. Our quest for linguistic immersion came to a temporary halt one peaceful afternoon when shots were fired in downtown Nairobi. It was a scary moment, for we were foreigners caught in the crossfire. Our collective wish at the time was to return home safely to our families in the Congo. Thankfully, the situation was brought under control after a few days, and we didn’t have to interrupt our trip. We remained in Kenya and subsequently traveled from Nairobi to Mombasa on a long train ride. There, we were given lodging in a remote school dormitory, not far from the Beach. Mombasa was very humid, compared to the dry and cooler temperatures of Nairobi. I do have fond memories of Kenya, and its diverse population made up of Africans, Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians, and Europeans, among others.


When the recent violence ensued, I would watch the news and wonder what had become of the country I visited in 1982. My heart went out for the innocent people who simply happened to be members of a different tribe, or supporters of the wrong candidate. In most democracies, every election becomes a test. The electoral process can stir the passions of an entire country, especially when the country is in a dire situation like Kenya.  When a dream for a better tomorrow is stolen from a suffering people, the consequences can be grave, as we saw. Though I am by no means justifying what happened early this year, I can see how a downtrodden people would resort to such desperate and despicable acts. 

The consequences of this debacle were no longer about Kenya. The world was witnessing a case study of African politics, democracy, and African leadership gone awry. As I was reading up on the escalation of interethnic violence, a thought came to mind: “Are African leaders watching the same news that the rest of us are watching? If so, what lessons are they gleaning from these events?”  These dying children, women, and innocent people had a life, even though it was one of deprivation. They had hopes and aspirations for their country; yet in the high stakes of political gain, the people of Kenya became pawns to the powerful. Their lives and deaths were almost inconsequential. Regardless of who was right or wrong, I was reminded again that most African leaders are not in power to serve the people; they are there for their self-serving interests.

A paradigm shift must occur in Africa. Leaders should begin to value the lives of their people. They should be held responsible for their people’s well-being. They must be accountable for the many avoidable deaths that take place on the continent, whether they are man-made or natural. African lives need to be valued by Africans first, before others can see the value in the lives of Africans. In a deeper sense, African leaders must feel the pain that their people experience everyday. They should go hungry; have loved ones die of AIDS for lack of drugs; go without potable water and electricity; suffer unbearable bouts of malaria; walk barefoot to work and back in the tropical downpours or under the scorching African sun. They should ride the matatu[1], where people are packed like sardines; experience the daily humiliation caused by joblessness; be hospitalized in a local clinic and have to provide their own surgical equipment and medications, while sharing a bed with other dying patients, and so on and so forth. African leaders must live and experience the hardships of their own people. In summary, they must come down from their ivory towers, and face what is the daily grind of their people. However, in light of what is happening in Zimbabwe, I wonder whether African leaders have learned any lessons from Kenya. I wonder…

As I write this article’s conclusion, some South African mobs, motivated by causes that are unrelated to what took place in Kenya, are out beating and, yes, killing their fellow Africans, purportedly because they are foreigners and are taking their jobs….No matter the motivating factor, as Africans, we must put an end to violence and senseless killings, and our leaders must become genuine agents of change.

[1] The word Matatu comes from Kenya. Matatu are overcrowded buses that people have to take as public transportation in Kenya.

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