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It’s back to ‘Business As Usual’ in Kenya

I imposed a two-week television news blackout on myself recently, and what a pleasure it was. We all need a ‘detox’ from time to time, and there is nothing more toxic than an unending stream of news about Kenyan politics. I am delighted to have been spared the sight of groups of parliamentarians calling facile press conferences, and coverage of politicians swanning around in large convoys doing sweet nothing, and news of grandiose promises made at every corner.

But we all have to return to necessary evils, and keeping abreast of events is, I guess, one of them. One thing I immediately notice is that Kenya is doing the very thing that in March of this year we said we would never do: return to ‘Business As Usual’.

When Kenya was turned upside down after the recent elections, we were all shaken to the core. When we observed the flaws and frauds of our election process, we realised we could not allow this to happen again. When we saw the willingness of angry youths to burn and pillage, we questioned the foundations of our society. When we saw the deaths of so many innocents, little children among them, our hearts bled. And when we saw hard-working people reduced to living in tents, refugees in their own country, our tears flowed freely.

If there is one thing we all said then, it was “never again”. A new phrase became part of Kenya’s lexicon, and was being uttered by everyone from politicians to street-kids: no more Business As Usual. Kenyans of all creeds and colours joined hands then to form action groups, to relieve the pain of the internally displaced persons, and to express their anger at what the politicians had created. Intellectuals and thinkers stepped forward with a spectrum of ideas and reforms that needed to be undertaken so that Kenya never returned to that awful place again.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was just five months ago. And yet today we are all back to the good old ways – also known as Business As Usual. It is as though the carnage never happened, or happened in another country, or was all just a bad dream.

And so the famous mediation team that delivered the Kofi Annan peace accord now refuses to meet to finish the job it started. Having sorted out an immediate peace formula, it refuses to ensure that peace prevails for generations to come. Having stuck a little plaster on the wound, it refuses to address the disease causing the symptoms. And it does this in typically gauche Kenyan style: recently all eight of the team members (from across the political spectrum) failed to show up at a scheduled meeting to address long-term reforms. True to form, they failed to send any word or apology to the long-suffering Nigerian mediator. For the politicians, it is clearly Business As Usual again.

For the Electoral Commission of Kenya, which presided over the whole mess that brought us to our knees, there is not even an acknowledgement of mismanagement, let alone an apology. As Justice Kriegler pointed out recently, the ECK commissioners seem to think it was everyone’s fault but theirs. Clearly, as far as taking responsibility and showing moral courage goes, it is Business As Usual in Kenya.

Vision 2030 is now back on its feet, and we are all having grand visions of a tiger economy in Kenya within our lifetimes. Many are busy imagining that the ‘fundamentals’ are sound, and all that we need are a few world-class roads and a fibre-optic link to make us thrive. Yes, we do need those things, and need them yesterday, but before them we need to address the most fundamental issue of all: our ability to live together in peace. But clearly, for those smoking the pipe of hubris and denial, it is Business As Usual again.

Meanwhile, those people in tents are still with us. We know they are there, but we want to get on with our lives and pretend they are not. Strong, proud and hard-working people have been forced to live like animals and rely on the goodwill of donors for their survival. Apart from a few frivolous pronouncements, no systematic efforts have been made to get these people working and self-sufficient again. One would imagine that any country worth its salt would make hundreds of thousands of displaced innocents its first, most immediate priority. Not here. Here, as far as not giving a damn about the common Kenyan goes, it is Business As Usual.

The point: Business As Usual may be what we are doing now, but it is absolutely not an option for us. The post-election conflagration revealed many fault-lines lying beneath the surface of Kenyan society: inequality, injustice, incompetence, and intolerance amongst them. We can ignore those fault-lines if we like, but the earth will soon shake again beneath us.

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