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Kibaki is neither Pharaoh, nor does he require amnesty

Publication Date: 6/18/2008

IN AN ARTICLE CARRIED IN THE  Sunday Nation (June 15) titled ‘‘Is Raila a turncoat revolutionary?’’, the author, Mr Mutahi Ngunyi, makes untenable arguments that are misleading and deserve correction.

In commenting on the issue of granting amnesty to those involved in the post-election violence, Mr Ngunyi argues that the person who needs ‘‘amnesty’’ most is President Kibaki.

The argument is that the President committed a sin of omission which, apparently, means he failed to take action that would have saved the country from drifting into civil conflict.

To argue, as Ngunyi does, that the President neglected to act portrays a very simplistic understanding of the causes of the crisis we experienced, and indeed, the causes of conflicts in African countries generally.

What we experienced in Kenya is, in modern political discourse, described as intra-state conflict — also known as identity civil conflict.

In the study of such conflicts, two key causes have been identified. The first is horizontal inequality, which arises when power and resources are unequally distributed between groups that are also different in other ways — for instance in terms of ethnicity, religion and race.

TO ARGUE THAT PRESIDENT KIBAKI needs amnesty is to imply that he failed to address horizontal inequality as a possible cause of identity civil conflict.

This would be a most unfair accusation. It is he who has made the most elaborate and systematic effort to ensure that power and resources are equally shared among Kenyans.

To begin with, President Kibaki constituted a Government of National Unity during his first term with a view to ensuring that all Kenyans were represented in government. In terms of resource distribution, he introduced a wide range of measures to ensure equity.

These include the devolution of resources through the Constituency Development Fund, the Constituency Bursary Fund and the Road Maintenance Levy. To these efforts must be added the free education programme and free treatment of Malaria, TB and HIV/Aids.

The second cause of identity civil conflict is what has been called the abuse of ethnicity and other types of identity. In this case, political leaders or the so-called sectarian entrepreneurs, manipulate ethnic, religious and historical differences in their search for instruments either to ascend to power, to legitimise their rule, or to advance a particular cause.

President Kibaki has never been known to incite people against one another. Indeed, the call to Kenyans to shun tribalism has been a constant refrain in his speeches since 2002.

What this means is that those who need amnesty are those who manipulated ethnicity and other sectarian issues such as religious and historical differences to incite people against each other.

Indeed, and as will be clearly recalled, ‘wedge issues’ such as class, ethnicity, generational gap and religion were exploited to win the hearts and minds of voters during the last General Election.

It is important to note that the manipulation of sectarian issues such as ethnicity, religious and historical differences has been the cause of serious civil wars in Africa. In many cases, the issues that ethnic entrepreneurs use to foster divisions are mere excuses.

Rwanda offers a good example. In that country, Hutus and Tutsis coexisted peacefully for many years. They spoke the same language, shared the same  culture, and practised the same religion.

Therefore, it cannot be argued that recent rivalries are rooted in medieval differences. Communal violence did not begin in Rwanda until 1959, and did not worsen until the 1990s.

The case of Rwanda is not an exception. In Bosnia, the Serbs and Croats coexisted, and both claimed Muslims as members of their communities until World War II. Similarly, Muslims and Jews in Palestine had no special history of hatred until 1921.

This late emergence of identity conflicts strongly suggests that it is agitators who dream up fancy historic pedigrees for their disputes, but the mythologies of hatred they contrive are, in reality, largely recent inventions.

It is comforting to note that President Kibaki has moved to put in place legislation aimed at addressing negative ethnicity. This legislation will go a long way towards enabling the country to deal effectively with leaders who manipulate sectarian issues that can lead to ethnic hatred and conflict.

BEYOND THE ISSUE OF AMNESTY, I take exception to Mr Ngunyi’s reference to the President as Pharaoh. There is perhaps nothing wrong in being  called Pharaoh which, today, is used interchangeably with the Egyptian word for king. But the reference to Moses suggests that Ngunyi is likening President Kibaki to the Pharaoh who enslaved Jews.

It would be a travesty of justice to liken President Kibaki with the Pharaoh of the Exodus. He has all the credentials of a leader liberating his people from poverty, ignorance, disease and repression.

For example, it is the Government that has freed parents from the burden of paying fees for the primary and secondary education of their children.

Moreover, under President Kibaki, Kenya is perhaps the most open society in the world where people enjoy unfettered fundamental rights and freedoms.

Mr Irungu works with the Presidential Press Service.

Write to the author

About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.


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