WHY ARE SOUTH AFRICANS BLACKS SO FORGETFUL?

NB: In May, 2008, there was a spate of xenophobic violence targeting blacks in South Africa. I wrote this opinion to the Nation, but it was never published. I republish it, as I reflect on what to write about the current attack. I sent this on 23rd May, 2008.

In September 2005, the Sunday Nation ran a column by Simwogerere Kyazze titled ‘Listen up you foreigners, you are not wanted’. Mr. Kyazze has stayed in South Africa and teaches Journalism at Rhodes University. In the column he expounded the plight of black foreigners, starting from the harassment at the embassies of South Africa in their countries to what it takes to live in South Africa.

South Africans are known to be virulently xenophobic towards black foreigners. The recent attacks are only a culmination of an anger that has been simmering over time. Over the last decade South Africa has become a destination to many job seekers from the many African countries for obvious reasons.

Being the largest economy in Africa and assumed to be joining the league of developed countries, it can only attract more foreigners. It is disturbing that Kenyans and other foreigners are being externally displaced in South Africa. The big question is are the South African locals justified to opt for violence in remedying their perceived injustices?

First, the gap between the rich and the poor is becoming wider and wider. The black elite and the whites own nearly everything. South Africa could be well in its way to a first world country but there are a million things it has to correct before another revolution erupts.

There are two significant events that will be happening in South Africa in the two years. We have elections next year and the World Cup. The timing of violence couldn’t have been more ill. South Africa has a tremendous calling of correcting its image. The latest attacks are the type that not even the military will contain. That will be only a short-term prospect. They ought to be addressed fully.

The proliferation of foreigners to South Africa probably angers South Africans, as they are perceived to be taking jobs they believe are justifiably theirs. There is a blatant unequal distribution of resources in South Africa. It is known that Thabo Mbeki, their president and his cronies care more for the rich than the poor. He is characteristically standoffish. He has tried to upgrade slums in Soweto and the poor receive monthly remunerations but they can hardly suffice.

As someone recently pointed out they might be demanding cars soon enough. It is a fact if you are foreigner in any country you are likely to work harder and send some money back home. Ever been to Eastleigh? You will understand why the Somali brothers are so industrious. In fact throughout the country they are extremely enterprising. Some might argue the locals don’t have the capital necessary to start the businesses. That can’t necessitate us to start killing.

Africans so much believe in violence. Whereas we have all the evidence that violence is never the solution we almost always resort to it. The leadership that should be demonstrated by South African politicians is not yet here. Apparently the many years of apartheid changed their mindset about fellow Africans. Apartheid memories are the ones that evoke really bad memories about colonization from Cairo to Cape Town, from Mogadishu to Free town in Sierra Leone. Now they have turned against many of their own.

Those who have been to South Africa say that South Africans behave like ‘black whites’. Ostensibly, hatred between people of the same colour is the worst. Or is it the case of like poles repelling? Since most of them are poor and not learned, the menial jobs are theirs for the taking. But as a friend who lives in Johannesburg told me the shrewdness of the businessmen from Kenya and Nigeria is unmatched. The only place where foreigners are not allowed is the transport sectors.

Zimbabwe has many immigrants in South Africa because of reasons you and I know. They have taken many menial jobs that the locals incidentally used to frown upon. It is dawning on them that they are not any different from us. Many Northern neighbors like Zambia, Namibia, as well as war-torn countries have exported a number of their citizens to South Africa.

We can’t expect much from Mbeki who is so silent about Zimbabwe either. He has good trading partners in his northern neighbors and cannot risk upsetting a few big men. South Africa may soon start having fragile diplomatic if it is not going to address this issue. I’m persuaded that South African citizens will be treated considerably fair in any other country.

It is ironic that South Africans consider the rest of the continent as a jungle. It is perturbing that when the world is going global that is the only news that can be churned out of Africa. We all love South Africa. We like their music, sports and everything. We cried and fought with them to be emancipated. Why have they turned against us?

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May we never go the inter-religious war way

The scariest words I have ever heard came from a distant relative. It was moments after Kibaki had pulled that mother of comebacks, December 2007, sending the country to chaos. We were tucked in a small room, watching Kibaki swearing at dusk, totally benumbed at what had just happened.

Everyone in that house wanted war. People had voted for Raila overwhelmingly, and Raila had been leading for several hours before we learnt of the vote bank in Tharaka Nithi. We were red-eyed. As Kisiis, we could not punch anyone from a different tribe given we have a high number of our clansmen spread across the country. We had to be careful. Besides as Bantus, and businessmen at large, we dislike anything that upsets the business environment. So we were not ready to pick arrows and bows, though, we had to stop an attack from the North in the Borabu region.

There was this Luo man who ran a wielding shop nearby. A close family friend. He was with us. He could not stop speaking, totally overwhelmed at the chicanery that had been played on Raila. Then came the news that Kisiis were being beaten and killed in Kisumu and Kericho, their business being torched as well. Suddenly, we withdrew from him and became livid. Then the relative muttered those words that will forever be immortalized in my heart and mind,

“What is wrong with this Luo man, can’t he just shut up. Or should we go after his wife!”

Of course, he was reprimanded. He had the lowest level of education and I can assure he was not the brightest bulb in the room. But in that statement, I saw the strange and warped way in which the mind works. I had trouble connecting the dots from supposed rigged election to raping someone’s wife. As in the wife had nothing to do with the elections and the said rigging. Neither did the man. Only that, they almost became vessels for us to vent our misplaced anger. And I know, that is how more than thousand people lost their lives: for voting their preferred candidate and belonging to the politically ‘wrong’ tribe in a ‘wrong’ geographical area.

Now, I will not claim to be totally responsible and innocent. When we reported back to campus, I remember bumping into my best friend, a Kikuyu, who wanted my sympathies. To her horror, I uttered perhaps the most irresponsible words ever to come from my mouth. I told her that whatever happened was self-inflicted, and the Kikuyus who suffered should blame no one other than their powerful elite who had tampered with the elections. She went away crying, leaving me to reflect. She was horrified that a university student can speak such words.

To my defense, I was may be 20 years old, without a mind of my own and had been brainwashed by politicians. I would later reflect and regret every single words and wish I had never uttered them. With hindsight, I realised those who died were human just like me. Had dreams, families and when they went to vote, they did not know the outcome would seal their fate. It could have been me or you in some other circumstances. I have come to treasure every single life, regardless of its ethnic background, religion, sexual orientation, race and anything that we use to classify humans. I believe we are all equal regardless of what politicians and rich white men think.

I know the life of a woman in Turkana is no less important than that of a woman enjoying a pizza in Galitos. That the beggar in the street is much my responsibility as that of the government and his or her kith and kin. I now judge people individually, not collectively. I have great Kikuyu friends and I have Luo friends. Not all my Kisii friends are as reliable as my friends from other tribes. Hell, there are even some relatives I can’t stand for more than 5 minutes.

The aim of this blog is simple. Three years ago, I was at the bus station, lining up to board a Double M on my way to Umoja where I used to say. Around the time, al-Shabab was bombing matatus randomly killing a one or two people routinely. On the specific day, they had bombed OTC, which is a couple of metres down from the bus station. We had heard the blast or read it on Twitter while in the winding queue.

We were palpably apprehensive. The the police came and cleared us from bus station, so that the more than 1,000 people had to find alternative means to their home-it was around 8.30 p.m going to 9.

As we hurried from the bus station, some man said,

“Na hawa watu, wanadhani hatuezi enda Eastleigh hata sisi tuwauwe!” the man in a suit said, clearly exasperated.
“Tuende hata saa hii!” another one said, more angered.

It sent a cold chill down my spine. At that time, if the al-Shabab threw another grenade, the two men would have willingly sacrificed to go to Eastleigh and murder any person who looked Cushitic.

And that is the danger with latest terrorism dilemma in the country. Those familiar with Central African Republic know the Christian-Muslim war that has rocked the country ever since Bozize was ousted from power. In a country that is predominantly Christian, our patience can only be stretched to a certain limit, before people take matters unto their hands.

That is why I am thankful that the usually quiet and ambivalent North Eastern Province leaders have come to speak against and condemn the Garissa attack. Their new assertion that they will smoke out the al-Shabab financiers and sympathisers is laudable. I particularly respect the sobriety displayed by former deputy-speaker Farah Maalim. He is man whose counsel is worth seeking.

Without NEP leaders as well as the entire Somali and the Cushitic brothers condemning the attack, they risk being lumped together by ignorant non-Muslims who might feel they support them indirectly. Already, there are a section of Kenyans ho are convinced that Islam is a violent religion and collective punishment should be meted on them in the communities. Thankfully, we have a sober government and citizenry who are bidding their time. When Muslims openly speak against al-Shabab, it enables us to look at al-Shabab as criminal gang, no different from Mungiki or other militia groups that often kill, rape and maim innocent people.

But I hope, KDF will reexamine its objectives in Kisimayu. The allegations that they are up to mischief do not augur well with the prevailing mood in the country. Pulling out might be an act of cowardice, ill-advised, given they were busy bombing and kidnapping our people and tourists before we went there, there is no guarantee that they will stop shooting innocent people. But we need to find a way of reducing the death toll from their brutal and unsparing guns.

A more honest KDF, police force and government might be a good start. If in deed there are elements within the government that seek to profiteer from the war, trust me, you can amass all the wealth in the world, but rarely will you have time, the good health to enjoy it. Either way, we all pay for our sins in this world. You can make all the money, but you are cursed by the tears of that parent who lost his or her child. You are doomed by the pain of the children who senselessly lost their parent. And your self or your kin, often perishes the same way.

If you were sent to protect the country, let that be the chief mission. Overall, as Kenyans we must from now raise our voices where injustices and inequality exist. We need to make everyone feel a part of the country. We need to clamour for fresh, clean elections which gives the president, not just the votes, but the authority, the credibility and legitimacy that can guarantee the collective him our full support. Not fractious as it is now. Not one half the country feeling cheated and always ambivalent in their support of the president.

Equally, we must stop ‘othering’ others. The empathy extended to the Westgate attack is incomparable to the subsequent attacks-to wit; the Mandela bus and Mine attack, Baragoi massacre and Mpeketoni. Hitherto, these attacks seem very far, removed from us. Yet, these terrorist are indiscriminate. We moved on pretty fast after the Garissa attack. No demonstration or highly publicised fundraisings. blood donations and such things. We can do more than hashtags by calling the government to account on its response to terror and the consistent inability to act on intelligence. Every other time, they seem to strike al-Shabab camps as soon as al-Shabab have struck and left blood following. We need them to do it before. Furthermore, it is time schools, neighbourhoods, universities, shopping malls were permanently safeguarded by well trained and equipped police. We cannot risk losing one more life to terrorism.

Finally, for now, Uhuru Kenyatta is our president. We have to support him and trust that he has the wise counsel to guide him through these tumultuous times. Opposing him merely because you think he did not win elections legitimately, for now serves no purpose. Let us support him and his efforts as he starts his third year. In two years, we can elect him out. In the hope that the elections will not be muddled by any scandal.

Of corruption, misplaced army barracks and insecurity

Imagine, if after independence, having claimed the Northern Frontier, the government actually endeavored to build roads and schools and equitably share resources in the country? Well, they say, the Southern part was more agriculturally productive, thus deserved the roads and the requisite infrastructure for us to move the coffee and tea. But imagine if the successive governments (Moi, after 1982, Moi after 1992, Kibaki after 2002 and Kenyatta after 2013) had actually laid down a road network, hospitals and schools up in the North after taking care of the South.

I can only imagine that the largely Cushitic people of Muslim faith would have felt a part of us and we will not be looking up North with a casual detachment. Like it is another country. Presently, the only statistics that the North Eastern folk are better off is they have less HIV infections, and this is largely attributable to their religion. Kenya would be like Tanzania, more homogenous and the Christian-Muslim problems would have been stifled. Also, in the wake of terrorism, they would have a workforce from within themselves that can be dispatched to work there until we steady things up a little.

It had been a while before we were attacked. But we all knew it is a matter of time, before al-Shabab struck again. This time around, at least 17 people have been confirmed dead, their lives cut short mercilessly. They are possibly young men and women in pursuit of education that would have helped the community and in deed the society rid itself the dangerous ignorance that endangers our lives.

There is no guarantee that there will be no more attacks into the future. As a country we are so flawed, so recklessly and unacceptably unpatriotic. Few people have the mental agility to connect corruption to insecurity. As I write this, a building has collapsed in Roysambu. Luckily, it was under construction, many lives would have been lost unnecessarily and we know why the building collapsed. Someone was definitely trying to cut corners. And as I write this, the whole government is scandalized by the stinking mess that thieving adults have left temporarily as they are being investigated. Kumbe the monies the kids of these rich politicians flaunt is possibly stolen from us. Why do adults have to be thieves.

The billions stolen can buy cancer equipment for our hospitals, pay doctors, nurses, teachers and doctors well. It can build them houses and afford them medical insurance. It can build key infrastructure in agriculture and the educational sector that can help alleviate poverty in the country. Yet, most of these alleged thieves are men in their 50s, who will die, sooner or later but the damage they wrought the country cannot guarantee their progeny a good future. Because when you steal, you run down the very country you want them to live and destroy their future.

I wonder how the men who ran down Mumias Sugar Factory sleep easy with conscience. I mean there are many elderly farmers whose livelihoods depend on the sugar industry. You can sleep in that humongous house, own property worth billions, stash more billions in a Swiss or Luxembourgian accounts but know there is a an old man who cannot take his daughter to school. There is an old woman, perhaps a single mother who cannot buy her son bread and butter. In the meantime, all her two-year sweat is that rangerover you are driving with a socialite.

Few rich men have a conscience. Look at the kind of laws the rich come up with. At some point slavery was legal. So was colonization. So was apartheid. Yet, the damage they cause us should awaken the brute animals in us and storm their posh homes and run them out of town. Rich men are scarcely likely to be affected by the evils of the society such as terrorism (their kids are probably studying in some University in the West), they do not go to Gikomba to shop nor do they use public means of transport. These are the things that susceptible not just terrorism, but police harassment, pollution and anything in between.

But the millions of our taxes they steal, if redistributed well can ensure a more equitable society with fewer criminals. What is better, to have a few Kileleshwas, Rundas, Muthaigas and Kilimani and more Mathares, Mukurus, Kibera, Pipeline and Dandora? The rich invest in their security, so much that private security firms are rake in millions owing to the insecurity in the country. Yet, we pay taxes to be protected, but the poor man is left for the police who extorts him, often kills him and harasses him like he or she is not human. Perhaps, the reason, so many adults are stealing and milking the government dry is to be powerful enough to rise above petty harassment of the police and the kanjo!

Anyway, back to this Garissa attack. We have at least six military barracks in Nairobi. An AP and GSU training based in Nairobi. Besides, we have countless police stations in Nairobi and its environs. While the police:citizen ratio is wanting, I believe that time has come for us to think about the value of the military bases in Nairobi. They were installed by the British Colonizers to safeguard Nairobi, essentially protect them.

To wit, we have DOD, Maroon Commados, Kahawa, Eastleigh, Thika and there is some military installment in Westlands. We have a GSU training camp along Thika Road, AP training camp at Embakasi. We have other military establishment in Isiolo, Eldoret, Nakuru among other places.

My thinking is, what if we decentralized some of these bases and spread them North Eastern Kenya and deal with al-Shabab, man-o-man. In the event, I am ignorant about military operations, what if we established serious military bases in the border towns and have all the border crossing point and have a special trained military to man our borders and roads. And to hope they will not be corrupt and start selling charcoal and importing illegal sugar.

The future of this country is in the hands of the educated and empowered middle-class who should hold the government accountable.The more we keep quiet, the more these things come to haunt. Nowadays, you cannot go to school in peace. You cannot enjoy your beer in peace. Walking through a shopping malls fuels your imagination with scary images of masked gunmen.

We have the capacity and the power to effectively deal with terrorists. The government can start by being truthful and insist on doing the right thing. We just need to make their movement impossible by investing in technology, not stealing the money meant for the equipment. Deal with inequality and you have done, half the job.