Once again, a political rally in Kenya was disrupted by violence between opposing youths. Disruptions, heckling, incitement and violence seem to be permanent features of our political culture. Not long ago, two young people were killed in Murang’a County after violence erupted at a political rally. In by-elections last year, the whole panoply of electoral malpractice and crimes were beamed live in our living rooms.
Incitement. Hate speech. Bribery at polling stations. Beating up of electoral officials. In all of these and other incidents, politicians were the perpetrators, financiers or inciters. And yet not a single one has ever been prosecuted or otherwise sanctioned for these acts which are prohibited under our elections laws, Chapter 6 of the Constitution and the code of ethics of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
In all instances of violence, the cannon fodder is young poverty-stricken youth. The multiparty crusader the Reverend Timothy Njoya once opined that it was not in the interests of politicians to end poverty.
A young man or woman with a well-paying job cannot be lured by a few shillings to cause violent mayhem.
The National Youth Service (NYS) corruption scandal of 2015 in which an estimated Ksh2.5 billion ($22 million) was stolen would seem to give credence to Rev Njoya’s view. The money was meant for training and creation of opportunities for the youth. Yet high ranking officials in the government, which had run its election campaign on the promise to end poverty among the youth, masterminded the heist.
Thus the already bloated bank accounts of officials and politicians swelled exponentially while the condition of the youth remained as desperate as ever. There are many other scandals in the past — like the Goldenberg scandal under Daniel arap Moi or the Anglo-leasing heist under Mwai Kibaki, which robbed a generation of their future. What makes the NYS scandal stand out from these and other theft is the fact that the money was set aside specifically for uplifting the youth.
In a profoundly painful irony which captures the tragedy of Kenya, and Africa by extension, is that politicians use a tiny fraction of the stolen billions to lure youth to perpetrate violence and murder on their behalf. It is akin to a thug pickpocketing you, then paying you a small amount from your own money to commit a crime for him.
This column has argued before that we cannot create a culture of political tolerance by sporadic and inadequate reaction to electoral crimes. Punishment for masterminds and their foot soldiers must be swift, merciless, consistent, and applied across the political board.
If those who caused the violent chaos during last year’s by-elections had been mercilessly punished, the disruptions and violence we are seeing now — just a few months to the General Election — would be a thing of the past.
But, like in everything we do, we will pay lip service to action and do nothing until the next orgy of violence.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator