Thursday 3 January 2008

Kenya on the brink.....

It's not exactly difficult to feel utterly hopeless when considering Africa. In the seeming blinking of a lazy western eye, certain Kenyans have turned their country - which was, until very recently, considered something of a model state (give or take some injuriously endemic corruption, of course) - into a seething and bloody mess, pockmarked by the handiwork of the diseased. 

Following the chaos that erupted in the wake of the disputed election result, killing is the new black, it seems - as evidenced, amongst other things, by the apparent torching to death of 30 - 50 people as they sought shelter in a church. "Those killed in the church in Eldoret were among hundreds believed to be sheltering there. Witnesses said that a mob, angry about the election result, doused the church with petrol before setting it alight" (BBC).

Meanwhile, Eric Kiriathe, a police spokesman, was telling Aljazeera that "this is the first time in [Kenyan] history that any group has attacked a church. We never expected the savagery to go so far." Why did you not expect this, Eric? Which part of recent African history led you to believe that such a thing was unlikely? Why would you assume that Kenya was immune to a continent-wide disease? Aljazeera also reported witnesses as saying that "those who escaped the building were hunted down and killed with machetes."

As ever, in Africa, tribal tensions colour and complicate the political divisions. Kenya is "on the edge of inter-ethnic war," according to Le Figaro, and "both sides [in the contentious election] have accused each other of ethnic violence" (BBC). The African Union chairman, John Kufuor, is heading straight to Kenya in an attempt to bring the factions together - and if platitudes can heal ancient enmities then he's got to have every chance of succeeding.

Aid agencies, predictably, are warning of an impending "humanitarian catastrophe" and The Wall Street Journal seems to agree with this bleak assessment, worrying that "Kenya threatens to become Africa's latest tragedy." Yes, it certainly has this potential. The article goes on:

"That a country with strong democratic credentials could come to such a pass is disheartening. Despite rampant corruption....Kenya has experienced annual economic growth of close to 5% since...2002." 

It may seem rather crude, I suppose, to talk about financial growth as people are being hacked to death, but it does matter. "Optimists saw the chance for a young democracy to take a large step forward and set a much-needed example for its neighbours." Quite. 

In the West, people are asking:"how can we help Kenya?" How indeed? It's sometimes difficult to stop the bubbling hysteria of an alternative question having its day:"why should we help Kenya, or Africa, at all?" 

It's like that hideous Muslim guy who was on the news recently. Huge story. Anyway, he simply got up one morning - cool as you like - and went to work. He did his job, said goodbye to his colleagues at the end of the day, picked up a newspaper and a piece of fruit on the way home, kissed his wife as he came through the door, joked with the kids, had some food, watched tv, asked his wife how her day had been, made plans for the weekend and then went to bed and slept like an angel. 

The outcry when this story hit the headlines was immense. Do you remember it? You must remember it? No, of course you don't, stop being fucking stupid - this kind of stuff never makes the news. The Muslims you'll see on TV will likely be calling for jihad or denouncing your daughters as whores, whereas the guy simply trying to get through his life will never be glimpsed unless he does something equally repulsive - and the chances of that happening are next to zero.

Anyhoo, I'm expecting to see a whole heap of Kenyans on TV in the coming days and weeks, brandishing machetes and looking like total bastards. Some of them will be total bastards, no doubt. It's not always easy, but it kind of helps to remember that the vast majority of people - silent and unseen - just want to get by, peacefully. That's what I keep on telling myself, over and over again. And it's those guys, not the machete guys or the church-burners, who deserve the unstinting and perpetual support of the depressed and disgusted onlookers.

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