Prison warders mutiny sign of trouble

The mutiny by Kenya’s prison warders entered its 5th day today, epitomizing a nation lurching from one crisis to another.

Though less confrontational than they had been last week, Kenya’s prison guards harbor deep bitterness against the state over numerous failed promises in the provision of adequate housing, payment of allowances and generally better terms of service. The government, through Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, has threatened to prosecute striking prison warders while promising to address these grievances. Media reports indicate that several senior prisons officers have been questioned by the Criminal Investigations Department.

The Prison warder’s strike is an explosion of social discontent over the conduct of the State in the past three months. Kenyans have become disillusioned with the country’s leadership which is seen to sacrifice the lives of the poor for the purpose of seeking political goodies. And with discontent growing across the country, sociologists fear that worse is to come.

Unlike most of Africa, Kenya’s security forces are regarded as highly professional and have largely kept out of politics. The last time there was a mutiny of similar proportions was in August 1982, when junior officers of the Kenya Airforce went on a rampage on the streets of Nairobi and declared a coup. However, the coup lasted a couple of hours and was crushed by combined elements of the Army and paramilitary police. In 1964, just after independence, sections of the Army mutinied but the presence of British forces prevented the situation from getting out of hand.

The December 2007 General Elections that plunged the country into an orgy of looting and killings divided the country socially and politically. It is believed that these divisions have affected the security forces as well, with personnel professing split loyalties to either political faction. On the national scene, the country’s political leaders show little inclination towards creating a process of social healing.

As further testimony to the infighting wrecking the country, Kenya’s Minister for Labour said that his ministry should not be sidelined in seeking a solution to the prison department’s labor dispute. “I will not allow my ministry to be sidelined. As the Minister for Labour, I must be involved,” said Mr John Munyes.

The current situation in Kenya has all the ingredients that a coup-plotter could exploit. Indeed, had Kenya been any other African country, a coup (military or otherwise) would have taken place long ago. It remains to be seen whether the country’s leaders are awake to the crisis they have created or whether they are waiting for the tide to sweep them off the stage.

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