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Fears of war in a peaceful country

Why should peace not be one of those things we take for granted in an election year?

Social media is full of calls for peace in Kenya. I see them every day. My guess is that you do too. They are so clamorous, it is impossible to ignore them. And recently, another call has come which many consider, wrongly in my opinion, to be the opposite of this call. It is a call for justice, transparency and fairness in the upcoming elections. If these are assured, so the call goes, there will be no need to call for peace, for peace will be their fruit.

I have to admit I also succumbed to the bandwagon of the evangelists of peace, and posted some peace stuff on Facebook recently. Moreover, every day, when I go to Mass, before the end, we say this prayer for peace in the country. It has been specially written and printed precisely for this purpose, with the title “PRAYER FOR PEACEFUL ELECTIONS IN KENYA.” It is a beautiful prayer, and I say it with gladness, for love of God and country. But I find the whole experience just a tad weird, a bit out of place.

Why should peace not be one of those things we take for granted in an election year? Aren’t there enough things already to worry about? Things like having to wake up early in the morning and queue for half a day to get a chance to scribble some markings on a sheet of paper and drop it into a plastic box. Things like going back home after this tedious process, anxious that what you just did was useless and your candidate won’t win anyway, that you just wasted your time. Things like following the process of vote-counting with your heart in your mouth, ready to jump out should any unexpected news, nay, any news, come from the mouth of some impertinent reporter.

I ask you my fellow Kenyans, aren’t these things already enough causes for worry? Why should I then, after applying my heart and mind to this drab obligation of democracy, this one boring prerequisite of a claim to self-governance, have to worry also about peace? Why should I not assume that peace will be mine whether my preferred candidate wins or loses? Why should you plaster my social media feed with calls for peace as if Kenya were at war? Why should I plaster yours?

It is true that our calls and concerns for peace are motivated, in the main, by our memories of 2007/08 PEV. The trauma, the pain and the loss are still too close behind us to dismiss. Nobody can forget that time when Kenya infamously came so close to full-scale civil war. The luxury of forgetting it, or rather not having experienced it, is reserved only for those who were born after the madness had abated.

But it is also true the oldest of those people, if you need reminding, is only nine years old this year. Too young to participate in our democracy. Too young to know that the peace they enjoy can be shattered at a moment’s notice. In fact, too young to know that peace is something to be worried about. The implication is that every Kenyan calling for peace on social media and praying for it in church was a conscious witness to the depths of barbarity into which we descended in those dishonourable times. None of us has forgotten. And no, none of us needs reminding.

So when we claim we are concerned that peace might be compromised, and when we counter-claim that justice has to be done first, we are also, wittingly or unwittingly, admitting our awareness of the fact that the same elements that resulted in 2007/08 persist. We are saying the toxic mix of tribal hatred and institutional incompetence that plunged us into the putrid melee of 2007/08 never really went away. And if they never went away, it can only be because we never really let them go. Somehow, we let them hang on in the depths of our social conscience. Which means we are deluding ourselves; our earnest calls for peace are masterpieces in the art of self-contradiction.

Logically, the next question then becomes: wasn’t 2007/2008 supposed to be a learning experience? For everyone, and not just those who took part in the killings? Why should it be, for instance, that our calls for peace end at just that, peace, and have to rely on contrarians for a defense of its prerequisites? Why should IEBC, for a second example, so brazenly show its non-commitment to integrity in the polls, and still be defended by those who call for peace?

Why should the President, for a third example, be given a break for brazenly disrespecting the judiciary, an institution whose role, among others, is to provide a check to his own powers as the head of the Executive? And why, for a final example, should so many political candidates be allowed to make inflammatory comments and fund violence and still be defended by their sympathisers?

These are questions which some, taking convenient note of my last name, and their semblance to the views of some in the opposition camp, may dismiss as mere opposition hogwash. But allow me to pre-empt this, if you are one of those who do so, by saying I will then be justified to dismiss your own opinion as mere pro-government claptrap.

And then do you know what will happen? We, you and I, will become yet another impressive show, another undeniable proof, of the stupidity and shortsightedness of Kenyans, who are ever calling for peace but always ready to chop off the heads of those we disagree with. There has to be another way. We have to be able to have a conversation.

That said, I will not stop praying for and urging peace, for love of God and country. But that does not mean I am blind to the millions of factors that could work against my prayer. Factors that have everything to do with our unwillingness, or could it be inability, to learn from even our most obvious mistakes.

But while I doubt our sincerity, here is something you could try to do to prove me wrong: the next time you see a warmonger calling for peace, first ask him to lay down his weapons; and if it is an apparently peaceful man you see scared of an impending war, call him out on the reasons for his fear. Perhaps he fears war because he will the first to declare it.

Feature image: kelvinbrown.net.

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