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Time to return to fundamental human values

Where did my country go? Just a few days ago I lived in a seemingly vibrant country that was going somewhere. A country that was attracting the attention and investment of the entire globe. A country that seemed set to resolve its differences through a properly conducted, peaceful ballot.

Today I find myself in a land of security trucks rolling across a landscape of burnt vehicles and looted shops. A place where bodies are lined up in morgues. A nation filled with hatred and vitriol which has retreated into its tribal kraals. A place of closed shops and closed minds, where fear rules.

How did we get here? Two things have led us to this awful place. One, the hatred that lies deep in many hearts which was uncorked by a disputed election; two, the lamentable state of our institutions, and the mistrust that that engenders. If we viewed our fellow Kenyans as our fellow human beings, we would not be here. If we had institutions whose authority and respectability we could believe in, we would not be here.

But we are indeed here, and we must find a way out. This is a time when temperatures are running feverishly high. It is difficult to get even men and women of education and reason to demonstrate any sense of balance. The smell of fear and anger is everywhere, and fearful and angry people do not behave rationally.

That is why, more than ever before, there is only one place to go to. We must return to that place in our hearts where our fundamental human values reside. Just because we are angry, let us not forget what it means to be human. Just because we are afraid, let us not forget that we still have to do what is right.

Each and every one of us knows what is right and what is wrong. For some, that knowledge is covered in dust, not having been used for years. For others it is closer to the surface, but hidden by a fresh layer of anger. That knowledge must be uncovered, and it must be used to save the nation.

We do not have to teach ourselves anything new. We know it is wrong to kill, and we should not kill anyone. We know it is wrong to deceive, and we must stop the deceptions. The fact that we have just come out of an election we did not agree on does not allow us to suspend all moral judgement. It does not allow us to become the beasts of the forest. We must reach for the compassion and decency that is the true essence of all of us; it is all we have.

Every person is given an opportunity to be great in his or her lifetime. There is a moment in every life where the right thing must be done. It is a time where a choice must be made: either we choose to do the bad thing, which is seductively easy; or we choose the good thing, which is painfully hard.

Many key individuals were faced with that choice in the past few days, and they chose to do the bad thing. Some chose to deceive and manipulate. Others chose to let anger blind them and strike down innocents. Yet others chose to walk off with the property of others. All of those choices will cost us all dearly. If we do not start doing the right thing anytime soon, we may rue the consequences for a generation or more.

We seem to have forgotten that we had only just stopped marking the anniversary of the birth of Jesus when we collectively lost our senses. Jesus, the epitome of compassion, gave us one very important lesson that will serve us well during this crisis: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Only the truth will save us now. I have no idea what the truth of this election is, and neither do you. All we have are our suspicions and prejudices, our observations and hypotheses. That is not enough to warrant bloodshed. Let Kenyans stop taking sides and take shelter in the truth.

If this election was stolen, then that must be known by all. If this election was won fairly, then that must be shown to be true. In the absence of truth, we are led by conjecture and emotion. If our leaders truly have our well-being in mind, let them agree on a formula to uncover the truth of what happened. And after that, let us all accept that truth, forgive whoever we have to, and move on.

I do not know what the formula for getting to the truth is. But I do know that it does not involve machetes on one side and bullets on the other. Our leaders must stop seeing the people of Kenya as pawns in their power struggles. I urge them to see the people huddled in churches in fear of genocide. I urge them to see the tears on the face of the man who found his car – his only livelihood, which years of sacrifice and hard work must have allowed him to acquire – burnt to a shell through no fault of his own. I urge them to see the face of the little child whose mother has just been killed by a flying bullet outside her house.

Bad actions have real consequences. If we are not very careful, we are going to shatter this country. Once that happens, it will be very difficult to put the pieces together again. It will be very difficult for us to work together in our organisations again. It will be very difficult for us to sell the idea of a great and beautiful Kenya to the world again. It will be very difficult to have thriving markets and businesses again. Let us not get to that point, for it may be a point of no return.

The opportunity still remains for our leaders on both sides of the divide to become heroes. Heroism will not come from intransigence and belligerence. It requires something bigger. If key figures stopped to think strategically for a moment, they would realise that the hero will be the one who goes for peace. A tsunami of ill-will has indeed swept across the nation, and we are all seeking higher ground. But there is only one high ground worth heading for: the moral high ground.

History is likely to cast a very harsh judgement on some of the key players of December 2007. If any of them wish to be remembered kindly, let them still step forward and do the right thing. Let them push for the truth to be known, whatever it is. Let them place their inflamed egos to one side, and do something bigger than themselves. There is no victory in ruling a country reduced to ashes.

I pray that years from now, a history lesson will be taught in the classrooms of Kenya. That lesson will say this: that in December 2007, our country went to the edge of disaster. But it stepped back from the precipice, just in time. It stepped back because heroic Kenyans emerged, to save it. Those heroes were little and large; they were rich and they were poor; they were powerful and they were modest. But they all came to their senses and did the right thing. They recaptured the values of decency and righteousness. And so the country was saved.

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  • InSidious

    me is of the essence if any further deterioration is to be averted. Given the current state of affairs, Amos Kimunya denying the obvious while Martha Karua doing the usual legal kumbaya it is arduous to imagine both sides of the political divide reaching a political resolution.

    The situation has been heightened even more by Kivuitu’s admission of malfeasance and a guilty conscience that is 250 lives too late. To say the Kibaki was unaware of the repercussions especially with an Intelligence Service that was spot on in regard to the legitimate election outcome is rather insincere and reeks of a clandestine operation way before we went to the ballot.

    With food shortages everywhere and regional Governments up in arms due to the resulting effects to the economies, the situation is incredibly daunting to anyone tasked with securing and understanding. All major economies have caught the bluff and Kenyans by and large are not oblivious of what just happened. And while anger consumes innocent lives too young to mutter a plea, the government has taken a defensive approach that is about to unleash a further divide. It seems that we are living in two Kenyas.

    I sincerely hope a solution is in the works, short of that, I’m afraid to even ponder.

  • Shray

    I’m sitting in London glued to BBC and Sky unable to believe what I’m seeing. This can’t be the same Kenya that I know and love. I never imagined that I’d be seeing such images of my beloved country. I do hope you’re right about the history lesson in your last paragraph Sunny… otherwise Kenya will be labeled ‘just another African country that can’t embrace democracy’. And that would be too painful to those of us that take great pride in declaring “I am Kenyan”

  • Okidia Michael

    Greed and selfishness is breaking our country at this particular moment in time. I believe that our parliament is filled with a bunch of immoral people. Kibaki has within a matter of seconds brought down what he it took Kenyans including him to build. I believe that he is a poor role model to Kenyans. As a Senior Citizen he should know that he is above what he did.

  • Beyond our leaders conduct which has never been honorable or respectable; I am finding it impossible to reconcile the motivation one has so where they can run to a church, hack their neighbors to pieces while throwing their escaping children into a fire.

  • Paul

    Sunny I lack words to describe the attitude and vision you have about our motherland. My only prayer is that the vaccum of true and honest leadership is filled soon by the heros you speak about. A number of comments seem to insinuate its one persons fault or the other.

    How “leaders” can continue to condone such violence to become president or remain president is utterly despicable.

    Kenyans who kill and burn innocent peoples property for one reason or the other need to stop

    Many more heros need to preach peace and believe in it. I am particulary impressed by the various heros who have set up help and charity funds to provide for those displaced & bereaved…they actually have risen above the clamor for power.

    Preaching imminent doom and sowing seeds of lack of faith in the situation getting better does not help at all.

    Sunny thanks for the faith you have

  • It is indeed very heartening to see so many emerge with messages of peace in a heartfelt attempt to save the land. The truth of the election must indeed come out, whatever it is. But in the meantime every Kenyan must avoid inflicting violence and vitriol on any other. This problem was caused by the political elite, not by our neighbours. There is no sense in attacking each other because of the misdeeds of a few. Our energy must be directed at unravelling the truth, not in destruction.

  • Mathu

    Having peacefully executed our citizenship right of voting, we were not expecting some individuals whose moral authority and standards we had not questioned before to compromise and allow such a jewel like our country disintegrate into anarchy and chaos that we are in.
    I also think that we have let bad leaders lead good people, consequently influencing us given the heightened emotions that has provided a fertile ground to propagate hate and violence.
    I believe that the situation can be arrested and peace returned home to us. The leaders owe everyone of us an apology and should take the aftermath of their actions responsibly.

    We need to soberly review the qualities of our leaders and scrutinize them again before we decide who we can give the responsibility of leading us.

  • Sunny:

    Thank you for the wonderful words, I hope that sober minds do prevail before the entire country descends into chaos.

    I implore you to read Mad Kenyan Woman’s piece entitled Enough! Excellent writing on this crisis…


    Here is a short excerpt:

    The drunken man in a bar in a PNU stronghold who leeringly raised his glass to me in celebration of the government being “ours as usual” should, as he nurses the inevitable (and I hope excruciating) hang-over, ingest with his Panadol the human costs of maintaining the feudal principality of Kikuyustan–especially when other people would rather live in Kenya. Where does he think he will flee to, when the flames of discontent spread, as they inevitably will unless we come to our senses?

  • Silaha

    I’ve read WM’s piece. If more Kenyans were that honest in their utterances and dealings, we would not be here today.

    Right now depression rules.

  • observer

    Is it just me or does this seem to be a horrible dream I can’t get out off. The images of dead kids in the city mortuary or bodies in burned churches are images I associate with those “other” places in Africa. Groups of Machete wielding men look eerily familiar to the Interahamwe (hutu militia of the Rwandese genocide). I can’t seem to reconcile the fact that this is Kenya, not southern Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda or the DRC . I have tried to read up on how ethnic tensions and hatred resulted in what happened in the Balkans, Rwanda and Iraq to understand how we have gone from the country I saw in a few month ago to where we are now, I find no reprise, this is actually my Kenya.

  • Yes, this is Kenya. Not an ugly new one, just that ‘beautiful’ country whose virtues we extolled to all and sundry. I think we are all culpable: we wilfully ignored the fault lines underneath our feet, and then when the earth shook, we all looked surprised.

    This country is crying out for a new order: leaders who believe in the welfare of their people; a constitution that protects wananchi rather than rulers; intelligent social welfare programmes; and a participatory economy that gives EVERYONE a stake in the nation.

  • Ssembonge

    I’m apalled that respected journalists like Mutuma Mathiu have been reduced to tribal cheerleaders.

    Even the likes of Martin Shikuku, Mutava Musyimi and Francis ole Kaparo have retreated to their tribal cocoons.

    God help us all.