Saturday, January 26, 2008


BY Philip Ochieng........

Every crisis creates a hero. And, almost always, he elbows his way into history from an unexpected direction. A junior military officer called Napoleon emerged from the backwaters of Europe to spellbind that continent for decades.

My hero is not likely to stun Kenya. But he is in some ways reminiscent of the Corsican midget. A junior police officer produced a method of handling the mob that went completely against the grain and shattered my stereotypes about the police.

The footage remains indelible in the mind. With a handful of uniformed constables, he managed – I don’t know how – to force a large group of Lumpenproletarians in Nairobi’s Eastlands to listen keenly to him.

Said he: “Listen, my brothers and sisters. This is our country. We have built it together for many arduous years. What can we possibly gain by destroying it with the same single ‘stroke of havoc’ with which uncaring people once ‘unselved’ the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “aspens dear’?”

The words are mine. But the message was the policemen’s. I chortled at the idea that lyrical poetry had become the mode of tuition at the Kiganjo police training school. For you do not expect such social awareness – such logic – from a policeman.

From a “cop”, you do not expect any kind of reasoning with suspects.

How do we explain his reflexive thought, his concern for social -- not to mention environmental -- conservation and sustainability?

For whenever a police officer comes upon any mere suspicion of felony, we have come to expect only the bludgeon, teargas and bullets.

And it showed that the mob is not always completely deaf to reasoned appeals. As soon as my hero finished his words, I saw the crowd balk and turn back. I saw a number throw away their “crude weapons” – their faces the personification of Prof Clement Oniang’o in front of his philosophy class.

For this was a new philosophy of policing which not only policemen, but all of us in authority must emulate. Which provincial administrator, headmaster or parent is not in the habit of rushing to a deadly punitive instrument at the expense of didactics?

This was where the political leaders themselves let the nation down. Of course, they could not have predicted what went on at the KICC on the night of December 27-28. Therefore, riots and destruction may not have crossed their minds in advance.

The story that some of the murders and arson had been planned is just that – a story. I continue to think that the upheavals were entirely spontaneous. However, if the leaders had made their appeals as soon as the news reached them, much of the tragedy would have been averted.

Even when they finally made the appeal, it left a great deal to be desired. For, as I say, appeals which are not didactical are almost always worthless.

An appeal must be explanatory. It must teach Kenyans why it is useless and dangerous to kill one another for the sake of parochial politicians.

The reason we kill one another as tribes at critical political moments is that none of our institutions of governance and moral upbringing has done anything serious to demystify and demonise the tribe as a vehicle of politics.

We usually lay the blame on the Government, the Church and the university.

We should. But, in my opinion, the living room is the chief culprit.

It is there that we introduce our children to some of the most grotesque tribal stereotypes. As they say, prevention is cheaper than cure.

The Government, the shrine and the classroom can only try to cure the disease. They cannot prevent tribalism.

By the time a patient reaches an administrative, religious or educational doctor, the disease may already have embedded itself too deeply in the mind to be cured. But if we had applied the methods of prevention, this curative expense would have become completely unnecessary..

All the manifestations of chauvinism which often make the human habitat so nasty to live in -- racism, sectarianism, sexism, fascism, tribalism – can be prevented at the level of the parent.

It is parents who feed their children’s minds with so much drivel about how “different” and how “evil” the others are.

Parents are squarely to blame for the tragic fact that Kenya’s multi-politics will always generate into tribal war-formations. I am not surprised that, when I warned about it in 1991, people who condemned me most vehemently are today’s chief perpetrators.

As tribes, e.t.c, we gain nothing -- but merely play into the hands of greedy politicians – whenever we pursue one another like cheetahs after gazelles.

A junior policeman has shown us that we can solve our differences just by listening to one another. That is what I call heroism.

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