Everyone is a loser during times of conflict
Published on February 8, 2008, 12:00 am
By Nancy Mburu
This is a letter to Dr Kofi Annan:
Your Excellency, Dr Kofi Annan, you are the best thing that has happened to Kenya in recent times.
Ordinary Kenyans may not sit on the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation team, but they are with you.
One look at your calm face assures us there is hope amid this gloom. Through your diligence, sagely humility and quiet firmness, you have made President Mwai Kibaki and Hon. Raila Odinga, shake hands and share a cup of tea. Kenyans need you. Much as we understand that time is of essence in the mediation efforts, talk that you may not be there sometimes is unsettling. I cannot pretend to have the answers, but you hold the key to our complex situation. You have seen the uncertainty that has left Kenyans this vulnerable.
I, for instance, feel like a little girl again, begging daddy not to leave her alone in the dark, because a monster will eat her. Annan, you have seen the monster in this country ravage its own.
You have seen the degree of violence. You have seen communities try to do a holocaust on each other. Now you know that true to the biblical saying, our fathers ate sour grapes and now we, the children, have our teeth set on edge. We suffer because they failed to address the issues tormenting us. Posterity does not have to suffer likewise.
Maybe it is time we formed a citizens’ movement and paid you a courtesy call. You are the political-cum-peace mentor Kenyans never had. We endorsed your team long ago. We want to make it official, joining the litany of international and regional voices that have given your efforts a thumbs-up. You and gracious Graca — whom I nominate as the Mother of the Continent — have struck a chord with Kenyans. You feel the suffering of the ordinary people. Your first concern is to see an end to the violence and humanitarian crisis. You have made political leaders commit themselves to promote peace. You must not relent in ensuring they keep their word.
But being human, you are bound to be fatigued by leaders’ doublespeak. We have seen the evident frustration on your face, when the two sides harden their stances some more. It is because of this stubbornness that one month after the General Election, 950 people lie dead and close to 500,000 are displaced.
But thanks to your no-nonsense manner, you have cut through the ice to make progress.
This week, you have steered the talks to delicate waters – the disputed presidential election results. This stage is described as “make or break”, which triggers another bout of cold sweat.
You must drum it into the leaders that “break” is not an option. Both sides have enough war casualties and do not need more. “Break” means all those frightening proposals might come to pass, God forbid — “the army should temporarily take over” (how temporary is temporary)? “If Kenya does not resolve the crisis, US might be forced to intervene” (I get the image of war tanks and constant explosions in Nairobi). “UN and AU peacekeepers should be deployed in the country” (peacekeepers basically fight insurgents, so their role is not so rosy).
If the situation prevails, communities might be reduced to just conscripting their school-age children into their militias, to fight for survival. We shall only be driven by base instincts.
You must remind the leaders that you have seen it all, so you know better. You were in Iraq, East Timor, Yugoslavia, Gaza Strip, Lebanon and other dangerous spots of the world. Everybody is a loser in war.
You have seen Kenyans’ strong will to live despite the odds. Let this make you soldier on, for you are fighting the good fight. Do not do it for our leaders, but for Kenyans.
Think of the women and children, who stand to lose the most. Think of the youth, who have great hopes for the future. Think of the ordinary person’s dreams and ambitions, which cannot be achieved in a refugee camp.
From the erstwhile most optimistic people in the world, Kenyans are now probably the most hopeless.
This violence has exposed unemployment, poverty, inequality and constitutional and leadership gaps in a patriarchal society that relegates women to the periphery. It is about power.
You must make our leaders address these issues expeditiously. Remember you said that every Kenyan must feel “the cloth of government’.
Leave us on a solid foundation for real change.
In the meantime, you could haul off some of our leaders to the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre for lessons on conflict management and promotion of peace.
The writer is the Chief Sub-Editor, Standard Weekend Editions.