A Society Afraid of Itself?

Away from the ICC related matters for a moment to talk about the ubiquitous peace campaigns going on in Kenya.

From the Inter-religious counsel (IRCK) to the Federation of Kenyan Employers (FKE), every acronym worth naming (add NACADA, the GSU and an assortment of CSOs) has recently aired or published adverts calling for peace during the election period (unfortunately only the voting and counting are finished- the electoral process ain’t over ’til the Supreme Court sings).

Billboards abhoring violence pepper the towns. Every second ad on TV and radio informs us that violence is terrible. The newspaper pages are littered with ‘Amua Amani’ (choose peace) messages. No doubt Ad agencies made mad mullah. At least someone did, given the state of paralysis for the rest of the economy during these elections.

During the election season, Supermarkets did not re-stock- presumably a mitigation measure in the event of looting. Citizens stockpiled in anticipation of shortages if violence broke out. The Stock market was paralysed in the days running up to the poll; only to rally like a rocket when everything passed off peacefully.

We had over 90,000 police officers, prisons officers and national youth servicemen patrolling to keep the peace. Apparently a number of them are yet to be paid, leading to go-slows and riots among the disciplined forces. The Inspector-General recently had to plead for patience from his officers over delayed allowances for elections duty.

Not that Kenyans were prepared to accept any international speculation that this preoccupation with peace was excessive. Even a mild suggestion by a Washington Post contributor that the Kenyan press was self-censoring to avoid a repeat of the violence of 2007/8 led to a near-hysterical reply in a local daily. Apparently the backlash was sufficient that the original Post article is now ironically well hidden deep within the Washington Post internet site. This, however, paled in comparison to the reaction across Kenyan society to a CNN-aired clip suggesting youths from some ethnic groups were preparing for election violence (see here, here and here). Though CNN apologised for a misleading story banner, it stood by the actual piece.

Sideshows aside, the outbreak of peace after voting disappointed the doom-mongers. It seemed that the country would return to normal. But the respite from triumphant peace-mongers was short-lived; by Saturday last week, GSU were once again out in force to keep the peace in the capital as Raila Odinga’s lawyers filed a petition challenging the Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory.

Now, not only were media self-censoring for peace, but mobile telecoms got in on the act, censoring 300,000 of their customers’ text messages daily for inciting words such as ‘kill’. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (or as I like to call them: Ministry of Love-thy-Neighbour) also announced that it was prosecuting 4 unnamed persons for spreading hate on social media. The acting Spokesman for the Administration Police Service was not left out, threatening lawful violence against any unlawful gathering, street parliament, or kamukunji near the Supreme Court building- as far the Police were concerned, the political season was over and these gatherings were creating unnecessary tension. Finally a blanket ban on political rallies went into effect this week as judges began listening to Odinga’s election petition.

This is a very brief overview of the type of anti-violence measures the nation has been living under this year. It felt at times like a state of siege; perhaps this was why there was almost a sense of victory at the prevalence of peace (so far) in these elections, even though that is what is supposed to happen in the ordinary course of events.

However imaginative and heartfelt the non-violence message was, as Dwight D. Eisenhower once said: “The best morale exists when you never hear the word mentioned. When you hear a lot of talk about it, it’s usually lousy.” One could say the same about peace. A peaceful society is likely to be one where peace is rarely discussed.


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Following the Hague trials of 4 Kenyans to the end. A blog by Archie Nyarango

UK Constitutional Law Association

affiliated to the International Association of Constitutional Law


Advancing the rule and role of law in Africa

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