I was looking at the Kenyan newspapers today, and as usual politics dominates – the politics of elections, the politics of the ICC trials, the politics of guaranteed party breakups, the politics of land, the politics of political succession – politics, politics, politics!
There were a few brilliant non-political pieces – like Caroline Mutoko’s profound advice to recent Form 4 leavers in The Star, urging them to find something useful to occupy them as they await the next stage of their lives, to make a connection between work and money, not to unduly focus on being “cool”! Unfortunately, wisdom is a comb that life gives you long after you have lost all your hair … and it is unlikely that her heartfelt words will register with the target group! Especially when our society is overflowing with examples of how corruption and lack of integrity pay, and pay handsomely; how hard work rarely brings success; examples of “know-who” trumping “know-how”!
But, true to my Kenyan self, back to politics! That is a most fascinating report from the International Crisis Group on the impact of the ICC cases – especially their condemnation of the “press”! But really, why would we expect a higher standard from the media – aren’t they part of us, don’t they share the same biases, suffer the same tribalisation, seek the same patronage? Don’t they too benefit from “our man in the House” and “our turn to eat”? Can they really be any different, drawn as they are from the same cesspit that we all exist in – analysts, university dons, businessmen, drug dealers, hawkers, fishermen, youth, women’s groups, diaspora, the whole lot of us? Can the mainstream press really be free in a nation such as ours? Can we, in all sanity, expect that our national sack of potatoes actually has palatable components when eight out of every ten pieces that we pull out are diseased, squishy and malodorous?
Friends, Kenyans, Countrymen – I submit that the only true free press exists on the Web, where you can without fear or favour show your true self while being whoever you want to be, where you can preach hate and love and win an audience in equal measure, where a name like “Muruithiaihi” is just as valid as “Ngunjiri Wambugu”, and in no way inferior to “Akukudanger1” or even “TruthDoesNotRot”. A media sector hobbled by things such as accountability (to the media owners), transparency (against those we do not support), and truth (if it is self-serving) cannot by any stretch of imagination be truly free! Like the the malignant (and saintly) Netizens, the “mainstream media” are just as putrid or just as aromatic, only more refined about it – you see, they have names and faces attached to them, and an address that can be raided by unknown persons!
Amidst all the gluttonous servings of our favourite national intellectual tripe, occasionally that confounded figure 1,133 and that acronym Aidipee (it is now a word, not initials!) gets tossed about by the press – or those covered by the press. Dear People, numbers dehumanise and acronyms obfuscate! That is why Hitler’s concentration camp victims were numbers, not names .. or even people! That is why prisoners are known by an inmate number, not by their baptismal or “tribal” name! As for Aidipee, it no longer means a person violently uprooted from “home”, a person living in conditions worse than a rich man’s pampered guard dog; it does not mean a father who can no longer provide for his children, or a mother nursing a toddler conceived during a gang rape! It does not mean a child with dreams postponed – permanently, or a young person full of anger and bitterness at the injustice of it all, anger and bitterness more virulent for its powerlessness. It does not mean a retiree, with absolutely no chance of ever getting her life back together before she exits the stage. In fact, the more one thinks of it, the less comprehensible the term becomes! One thing, though, is clear – because they are “internal”, they are not “refugees”; because they are not in Daadab, they do not concern the interfering international community!
But we continue with our politics, with generous coverage from our ever obliging free press – the most robust in the region! We pray for the “victims” of the Hague, and we demand that “all” IDPs be resettled. We do our political mathematics, painting sophisticated scenarios on “what if….”. We make it seem like “greatest responsibility” is the only crime that was committed. I ask, was murder committed? Was rape committed? Was assault, causing bodily injury, committed? Was arson committed? Was theft committed? Was destruction of property committed? Was rumour-mongering, likely to cause alarm, public despondency, breakdown in law and order committed? Was government property damaged? Was our national infrastructure destroyed? Were people unlawfully displaced? Was negligence committed by those responsible for our safety? Was our sovereign right as citizens to choose our leaders violated? Were there irresponsible calls to popular uprising? Is the crime of keeping people away from their land still being committed? Is incitement still ongoing? Most important, is politics as usual still happening?
And is our free and vibrant press abetting all these? Where are the personal stories to remind us that Aidipees are human beings, with names, with dreams, with nightmares? Where are the pieces that remind us that when we slashed them they bled, that they have organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Where is the clarion call to the Supreme Court of the People, higher than any other court, to speak through the ballot and deliver a decisive verdict against everyone that advanced the cause of Cain and visited a plague upon the land?
I say – by all means report the politicians, report them verbatim – you must! But also figuratively wrap their deceitful tongues around their necks and strangle them! Meet their every call to tribal mobilisation with a national call to repudiation of their parochialism, their every new lie with the searing truth of their past statements, their every twisted statement with indisputable fact, their every churlish act with derisive caricaturisation, all their grotesque convoluted reasoning with inviolable common-sense. And then pray that the people follow, in the same way that it is alleged by persons of considerable intelligence, that they follow your lead on the important issues of the day.
But having said all that, I regret I am a realist – which in the Kenyan context means I am a pessimist! Tomorrow I shall still be judged by my presumed tribe, and condemned and praised by the usual suspects! The IDPs will still not be a national issue, and the circus of prayers, rallies, party elections, national elections, governors and senators will still continue … and as has happened again and again, the national baby will yet again be stillborn!