Social order breaking down amidst political crisis

Law and order in Kenya is beginning to fray amidst a political crisis that has killed thousands and left the country adrift.

Commuters look for buses in Nairobi\'s Tom Mboya street.

Commuters look for transport in Nairobi’s Tom Mboya Street. Security problems and a new commuter transport plan have made public transport in Nairobi unreliable and very expensive.

In the capital city, Nairobi, motorists no longer obey traffic rules, commuter queues have been replaced by scrambling and public transport operators increase fares as they fancy. The city is once again getting littered inspite of a City Council offensive. Public smoking, banned in the city in the past two years, is making a comeback. The illegal Mungiki sect is on the rampage and even the police admit a lack of adequate resources to tackle the outfit. Meanwhile, reactions to a 40 member cabinet remain subdued across the political divide.

So prevalent is this sense of a breaking down of the law and order that the Kenyan press has taken notice. Columnist Peter Kimani writing in the East African Standard observes that, “there is a growing recklessness in respecting law, no doubt because our political leadership has largely got away with murder in the Rift Valley and elsewhere” (Standard, 16th April, 2008). Mr Kimani describes this phenomenon as, “a long-term consequence of the anarchy that our beloved land has witnessed of late.”

The capital city, Nairobi, has recorded both legal and illegal demonstrations everyday for the past couple of months. Each day, at least one part of the country will report a demonstration. There have been riots over runaway crime, soaring fares in public transport, illegal hawking and demonstrations against police brutality. Last week, demonstrations over a delay in the naming of the giant cabinet erupted in the Kibera slum as well as the town of Kisumu.

More often than not, police react with excessive force like when they fired teargas to disperse Nobel laureate Professor Wangari Maathai who was leading a few dozen people in protesting against the giant cabinet. The government has been accused of using the police to create a false semblance of peace. A proposed recruitment of 10,000 police officers this year has been met with concern by civil society groups and political dissidents in the country.

The last time that Kenyans were this volatile was during the closing years of Daniel arap Moi’s presidency when a mere power blackout could provoke riots. In those days, Kenyans were frustrated by a corrupt political elite, a shrinking economy, unemployment and out-of-control crime.

With the beginning of President Mwai Kibaki’s tenure in 2002, Kenya became a much more peaceful country with a growing economy which absorbed large numbers of the unemployed. The fight against corruption made a few faltering steps while incidences of petty crime were reduced thanks to a revitalized police force. Parts of Nairobi that had been abandoned due to high crime gained a fresh lease of life. Confidence in the government was restored as previously neglected roads were rehabilitated. Residential areas that had long given up on piped water began receiving regular supplies. During President Kibaki’s tenure, electricity rationing ceased completely.

Events following disputed polls in December 2007 have rolled back all the gains of the past five years. The citizenry is divided after a bitter political contest between Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga. Garbage litters the streets once again while thugs take over the streets in broad daylight. Public transport is expensive when available. Infrastructure development is at a literal standstill due to the destruction and violence of January this year. Food shortages loom as farms lie untilled. Hundreds, perhaps, thousands of people have “disappeared” at the hands of the security forces across the republic.

With this scenario, the Kenyan society has no confidence in things getting better in the near future. Perhaps, this time, the oft-quoted patience of Kenyans may be about to wear thin.

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