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Crime waves: the apathy continues

I am writing this column because I am still alive. Sounds obvious, but many are no longer alive to read these words. The insane crime wave that has gripped the country over the past few weeks has taken many casualties. We, the survivors, are able to talk about insecurity and feel outraged by it. Those who didn’t make it have no such opportunity. For them, that’s it. Full stop. A life extinguished, curtailed. And all because we can’t be bothered to manage crime.

I am writing these words and you are reading them. And yet it could all have been very different. Either or both of us could have been on the wrong road at the wrong time, and this interaction would not have been taking place. So, even as we discuss this matter, let us reflect for a moment that the people most awfully affected are no longer here to discuss it with us. Let us be silent for a moment to think about the families those brutally murdered have left behind: the fractured lives, the terrible memories, the scarred futures. And don’t be too comfortable as you sit there; it could be you, or me, next.

It’s just a lottery, after all. We have conceded whole towns, roads and times of day to criminal gangs. They rampage with utter impunity. They are armed with the best weapons and reportedly protected by bulletproof vests. They appear to have no fear of arrest. They walk into shops and homes when they feel like it; they stop your car and strip you of valuables routinely; they kill you or your loved one on the slightest provocation. Whether you live or die in this lottery is a matter of pure chance.

You draw your own conclusions as to why we are in this situation. I have drawn mine. I watch the utter disregard displayed by those empowered to deal with this, and I surmise something. I listen to the obfuscations and excuses deployed by those who are supposed to protect us, and I infer something. Something is very rotten in the state of Kenya, when we cannot distinguish law-breaker from law-enforcer.

As before, the fear of being the next target is in every heart. Whether you are a quiet villager worried about the next attack by a political gang, or a mother worried about the spate of kidnappings of schoolchildren, you are now ruled by fear. You have no space for positive emotion, for fear has its cold fingers inside you. I watch people cutting out going out after dusk completely, and I wonder what will happen to the economy. I see investments postponed, and I ask: was the current recession not deep enough for our leaders, that they had to add this to the mix?

Actually, I have written about this problem at least half a dozen times on this page over the past few years. Nothing changes. The causes of chronic insecurity are well known to all of us. We even know exactly what to do about it; a set of actions has been spelled out here many times. I am not going to repeat all that. What intrigues me is why nothing, absolutely nothing, is done about this problem, and why we keep having this discussion every two years or so.

Here’s something I do know. Suppose you had the power to really do something about insecurity. Suppose you could do ONE thing that would make a difference. Stay in fantasy-land with me for a moment, and I will tell you what that one thing is.

Here’s what you would do. You would take away all bodyguards from all leaders. You would confiscate all their weapons. You would cancel all the security arrangements in all their homes and offices. You would force them all to drive around in white Toyotas every evening.

Let me tell you this for certain: all our security problems would evaporate within a few weeks. The reason insecurity is tolerated is simply that our leaders don’t personally encounter it. Sure, once in a while an MP gets car-jacked, or a technocrat gets shot. But, by and large, decision-makers are insulated from this problem. They do not get dragged out of their homes and beheaded; they do not watch their womenfolk getting raped before their eyes; they are not humiliated every day by thugs as they walk home.

In short, this is a wananchi problem, not a wadosi one. And the way to solve it is to make it a wadosi one. We were, of course, fantasizing: we are never going to make the leader class bear the brunt of the crime problem. But my point to you is simple: this is about mismanagement and corruption. There is nothing natural about the levels of crime we encounter in this country. It is a problem with straightforward solutions. So, as we work our way through the latest wave, stop for a moment to think why we still have this problem.

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