Kenya’s Grand Coalition last Thursday buried the country’s feeble efforts at ethnic reconciliation. The shreds of national healing were laid to rest together with the bodies of victims of the Kiambaa Church attacks.
38 bodies were buried at the Kiambaa church compound in a poorly organized ceremony led by President Mwai Kibaki. The victims were members of the Kikuyu tribe killed during the 2008 post election violence for supporting the President. President Kibaki is Kikuyu.
Kibaki, as usual, messed up what would have been a major milestone in Kenyan history. Instead of the mass funerals contributing to national healing, they have worsened inter-ethnic relations in Kenya. The situation is so bad that there are fears the bodies may be dug up by elements unhappy with the mass funeral.
As a pointer to how low the Kenyan state has sunk, Kibaki’s chief rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga skipped the ceremony. The entire rank and file of Raila’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party were missing at the ceremony. Even local elders and youths from the Kalenjin tribe opted to stay away, making the funeral an exclusively Kikuyu affair.
In a country where support for the President and Prime Minister split the country into two resulting in ethnic clashes last year, the Kiambaa events bode ill for Kenya’s future. Though the Grand Coalition is to blame, Kibaki’s poor handling of the funeral potrays his contempt for peace and reconciliation in Kenya.
ODM legislators say they were not involved in planning for the mass funeral. They were not invited either. Even Prime Minister Raila Odinga was apparently not aware that a mass funeral was in the offing. Government Chief Whip George Thuo, a key Kibaki ally, sent out mobile phone text messages to ODM leaders just hours to the funeral. Neither was the local ODM Member of Parliament kept abreast of events.
ODM has argued that President Kibaki did not attend the funerals of ODM supporters killed in Nairobi, Naivasha, Nakuru and Kisumu and the President was displaying ethnic discrimination by attending funerals of Kikuyu victims.
What should have been a sober moment of national soul-searching was turned into a mockery. This is the tragedy in which Kenyan leaders have driven the country. It is akin to having September 11 commemorations in the United States turned into a black-white or Republican-Democrat affair. Kenyan politicians simply lack a sense of shame as they turn politics into the national staple diet.
As Head of State, Kibaki should have ensured the total participation of all of Kenya’s political leaders. It is difficult to understand why elders in the vicinity and the area member of parliament were not involved. Kikuyu and Kalenjin families had lived peacefully together for decades until political incitement ruined that harmony. Kibaki should have created a situation that would enable the affected communities to remember the peaceful lives they shared until recently.
Kibaki should have engaged with Kalenjin leaders in a dialogue that could bring the Kalenjin community into participating in the mass funeral. The points of difference between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin are not as far apart as they appear. Indeed, Kalenjin political king-pin, William Ruto, has stated that the fighting was not about land but instead, it was political. That proves that Kenya does not need to wait for constitutional and land reforms to attain lasting peace in the country. If political differences between Kikuyu and Kalenjin leaders can be resolved, then incidences of clashes will be stopped.
At the national level, Kibaki should have consulted with ODM and personally invited them to the mass funeral. Had they been approached well in advance, it is very likely that Raila, Ruto and the rest of the ODM fraternity would have jumped at this rare opportunity to put the 2008 clashes behind us. There would have been speeches of forgiveness, co-operation and peace. People from the Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribes would have seen their leaders preach peace together. This alone would have made a major psychological impact.
But then, it is possible the funerals were never about national reconciliation. Kibaki is obsessed with returning the country to “normalcy” hence his decision to erase all marks of the post election violence. The president has ordered the closure of camps that hosted internally displaced persons. Those who were camping along major national highways have been pushed deep into the interior where they are out of sight.
Kibaki has been eager to get rid of the bodies of the Kiambaa Church for a long time and the mass funeral was the culmination of Kibaki’s displeasure at being constantly reminded of the plight of 2008 clash victims. The bodies that were buried on Thursday have been lying at the Moi Teaching and Referral hospital since January 2008.
A few months ago, the government was caught secretly burying the bodies with the help of the police. There was a public outcry and the scheme was abandoned. The Kikuyu were bewildered by Kibaki’s evil act. Last Thursday, Kibaki finally succeeded in getting rid of the bodies while masquerading the event as a state funeral.