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Divided, we fall

Let us not just count the dead. Let us see that it is someone’s loving father, someone else’s only child, a family’s income-earner who has been snuffed out.

Terrorists ran amok again in Kenya last week, massacring the residents of Mpeketoni in Lamu County for hours. The full death toll is yet to be confirmed. What is certain is that clueless law enforcers left the poor folks of that settlement entirely to themselves, where they were picked off at will by ruthless, cold-hearted attackers.

When diverse people are under attack, they tend to unite and fight off a common enemy. They seek solace in their common loss, and find steel and resilience in one another. Terrorist attacks have shaken many corners of this nation for the past two years. But far from uniting under attack, we have only deepened our fractures.

Those who terrorise us must also laugh at us. Kenya is not only an easy target, it is one that turns on itself after being attacked. First, we rounded up Kenyan Muslims randomly in response to the attacks, as though the religion itself espouses terrorism. Now, the Mpeketoni attack has unleashed the demons of tribalism, kept from public view since the horrific post-election violence of 2008.

The evil brains that coordinate and execute these attacks must be laughing their heads off. Kenyans not only crack under pressure, they start accusing and counter-accusing one other and peddling one conspiracy theory after another. So it was after Westgate, so it is after Mpeketoni.

Adversity is no bad thing for a nation, when you take the long view. It builds the national fabric and collective resilience. As we mourn the poor innocents who are lost to these violent attacks, we should be coming together to take stock: to assess our weaknesses with brutal honesty; and to build a united front to overcome further attacks.

National tragedies are a time for statesmanship, for nation building, for grieving together. Here, they become an opportunity for muck-raking and for the surfacing of lurking tribal animosities. The peddlers of hate come bursting out from under the stones they hide, and start their full-fledged assault on the national discourse.

This is unbearably sad. Has Kenya not suffered enough, and so many times, from self-inflicted wounds? Must we do it all over again? The 2008 violence cost us hundreds of lives, untold suffering and dislocation, and years of economic growth. Are we really going to go there again?

It is these very issues that have made us so vulnerable to attack in the first place. Failing to arrest corruption for decades has allowed terrorists to breed unchecked in our midst, and let funds meant to strengthen the security services be lost. Failing to unite as a nation has made it easy for diseased minds to exploit differences, hide incompetence behind the veil of ethnic balancing, and fan the flames of bigotry.

Isn’t it time to say enough? Doesn’t the sight of slaughtered bodies sicken us to the point of departure from a nasty past? Are we so numb to these outrages that we now think everyday terrorism is the new normal for Kenya?

We can’t think like that. It’s time for every true leader in every sector and corner of Kenya to stand up for the right things. We must fix our insecurity problem once and for all. We must understand what it is that makes us so weak and vulnerable to attack. We must accept failures and make tough decisions.

Most critically, we have to shed the dried and dead old skins of ethnicity, and cloak ourselves properly and regally in national colours. United, we have a chance of standing up to those who take the lives of our brethren so callously. Divided, we shall keep falling, again and again.

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