BY DANNISH ODONGO
Kenya has taken up the mannerism of the proverbial flightless bird that we see in this proverb. Just like the ostrich, we bury our heads in the sand and refuse to learn from the mistakes of the past. We are plagued by amnesia coupled with an excellent applied mastery of the ‘accept and move on’ philosophy. These are not baseless allegations people. There’s a pattern to our self-destructive behavior that anyone with eyes can see. Just take a look…
When tragedy strikes…
We all become wistful. Hashtags are generated by keyboard warriors. “#GarissaAttack #WeAreOne #WestGateMallAttack #Kapedo #147NotJustANumber” etc. Emotions run wild like a bush fire and we become poetic and plaster our blogs with verbatim quotes of portions of our national anthem. We splash patriotic memes all over the internet and flip through our dusty Bibles and Qurans in a desperate bid to present religious gems of wisdom to our online audiences. Leaders and other authorities quickly call press conferences to issue well-written speeches that are riddled with threats against the perpetrators of whatever atrocities have occurred. “The people who did this heinous act will pay!” “No stone will be left unturned in our investigations!” “We are one! Nobody can defeat the resolve of the Kenyan people!!” Blah blah blah.
We are good at issuing fancy speeches but poor at walking the talk. We are a nation governed by euphoria and fickle emotions. We are good hashtag creators and twitter trendsetters, but our online zeal is never translated into action. We pick up a current story, talk ourselves hoarse about it and quickly forget it days later when a new story comes along to supply us with our next high….Mpeketoni, Westgate, Kapedo, Tana River and now most recently the Garissa attack. How do we as a nation respond to these unfortunate incidents? Predictably, like following a script cast in stone; we express some indignation and make feeble demands for action and before long we succumb to our apathy or pseudo-amnesia. All these incidents have been met with the same laid down order of responses: First an outpouring of emotion and outrage followed by a gradual setting in of apathy and finally, yes, you guessed it, a swift moving on!
How is it possible for terrorists to walk through the borders of a nation that has a functional government in place and take away 147 lives of its citizens studying to make their lives better? Explain to me how a nation with armed forces and a national intelligence body can be susceptible to repeated attacks such as those we have recently witnessed in our land.
Many people have argued that terrorism is a global problem. That is true, but the frequency of these attacks in Kenya and the repeated failure to hold anyone accountable for their occurrence should worry any right thinking member of the society. Sadly, if anyone dares to point a finger at the Government or to demand for answers and/or the resignations of key government officials who have clearly failed, they immediately risk being branded as unpatriotic or being accused of reacting “exactly how the terrorists would want us to react”. Nothing can be further from the truth! Patriotism requires that we question the Government when its errors expose the country to terrorist attacks. We must question any government that repeatedly doesn’t prevent or mishandles terrorist situations and, as a result, allows the unnecessary loss of life. It was a slap in the face for the victims of the terror attack for the government officials to proclaim that there was a great improvement. We lost 147 people within 8 hours, how is it that there was an improvement in response?
Under the Social Contract theory which essentially governs all modern societies, citizens pay taxes to the State and surrender to it the right to bear arms and exercise arbitrary power. In turn, the State is supposed to bear its mandate to protect every citizen from any arbitrary or unlawful exercise of power against their person or property. Citizens are therefore well within their rights to demand answers from the State when it fails to hold up its end of the bargain. Although Al Shabaab is guilty of the deepest forms of evil, my loudest complaint is not against Al Shabaab but against the Government. We do not pay taxes to Al Shabaab but to the Government of Kenya. Opposition leaders like Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka are not mandated by the citizens to defend our country. That responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the legitimate Government of the day.
We thank God for your intention to send condolence letters to these families and settle the bills accrued so far, but the attacks must stop. We cannot continue to weep because we do not have sufficient tears to shed every time tragedies happen. Mr. President, all we desperately want is an end to these atrocities. We want to feel secure in our own nation as we go about our business of trying to achieve our dreams. We cannot be oblivious to the pain that these families have been subjected to. And we must do all we can to stop these attacks.
Allow me to suggest that if we do not deal a death blow to corruption and appoint security personnel on merit rather than political relevance and ethnicity, we will see no end to the bloodletting in Kenya. We must stop seeing the number of deaths as mere statistics and begin to demand decisive action from elected leaders at all levels of government. If we do not do so, these killings will continue. It’s only a matter of time before the next Garissa occurs and our self-destructive response begins again…hashtags, tough speeches, apathy and a swift moving on…that is until the next Al Shabaab strike when we start all over again…more hashtags, more speeches…you get my drift.
So far, no one has admitted that had they done their job better, they would have been able to prevent or at least mitigate the massacre of 147 Kenyans in Garissa. No leader has taken responsibility for failing those 147 Kenyans. They are now just mere statistics in government records. Are we really a nation of ostriches where we rejoice in burying our heads in the sand while pretending that these facts of history will somehow mutate into fairy tales? My observation is that this ability to quickly move on is a luxury that only those who aren’t patriotic enough can afford to take up. Let me conclude with an African proverb which says, “An ear that refuses to listen accompanies the head when it’s chopped off!”
(Follow the writer @DannishOdongo)