Letter from America #8: 10.21.2011 Unsettling Times


At this point I don’t know what disturbs me more: the way the Kibaki government jumped to the conclusion that Al Shabaab—rather than renegade pirates–was responsible for the kidnappings of white women at the Kenya Coast, or the fact that Jubilation and Gloating were the first widespread reactions to the public execution of Moammar Gaddafi.

I’m afraid both stories leave me saddened and angry at the knee-jerk reactions of men who believe that guns, revenge and militarized solutions should take precedence over the rule of law, diplomacy and level-headed analyses of what’s at stake in the short and long run for our country and the continent as a whole.

In the case of the Gaddafi slaughter, I was grateful to the Guardian.co.uk online for publishing two videos a few hours after Gaddafi’s death was announced. One was of the Big Man’s bloodied body, which left me with no doubt that indeed he was dead; the other shot moments after he was grabbed from an underground sewage pipe, clearly showing Gaddafi was alive and actively engaging his captures who were obviously intent on ‘mob justice’.

The blood lust was palpable, and I believe it wasn’t any one rebel that offed the Big Man. It was the mob thirsty for Gaddafi’s blood. The gruesome glee was visible for all to see.

But it wasn’t only in Sirte that I saw the blood lust graphically displayed: When I switched my TV channel to see President Obama applaud the death of a dictator and Hilary Clinton equally elated at Gaddafi’s assassination, I couldn’t help recall that even Saddam Hussein got the benefit of a court conviction and “civilized” public hanging!

Switching the channel again, I then saw a late night news interview of an ordinary American standing at a Petrol Pump speculating how the price of gas was bound to go down now that Libyan oil would be back on line (probably pumped through a French- American- or British-owned corporate pipeline).

If there was any doubt at that point that the Obama-Sarkozy-Cameron troika, also known as NATO, didn’t swoop into Libya just to “save civilian lives” at Misrata, but there was in fact a bottom line at the base of their external intervention, then all you had to do was listen to Mr. Man-on-the-Street to hear what NATO’s interpretation of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ is all about.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who saw the video evidence of Gaddafi alive and dead. Now, Human Rights groups are demanding the circumstances surrounding the dictator’s death be examined thoroughly before the Gaddafi chapter is closed for good.

At the same time, African scholars are cautioning that we beware of a repeat of what happened in the late 19th century, when Western powers decided to divvy up the region in their notorious “Scramble for Africa”. Could the coming of NATO to North Africa and the Americans to East Africa signal the start of a re-scramble for the region?

One sign that suggests Kenya may be inadvertently aligning itself with that path is the government’s hasty decision to take on Al Shabaab in Somalia. Using the kidnappings of white women tourists at the Coast as the basis of their reasoning, the government overlooked the more feasible explanation of Somali pirates being the ones responsible for the murder of Mr Tebbutt and the abduction of Marie Dedieu and Judith Tebbutt. (Sadly, Ms Dedieu reportedly died in captivity.)

Instead, it patterned its actions after those of the former US President George W. Bush who, when the Twin Towers were hit in 2001, didn’t go after 19 criminals, most of whom were Saudi nationals. Instead, he decided to attack an amorphous, previously unknown group known as Al Qaeda.

9/11 launched Bush’s ‘War on Terror’, and we hope that President Kibaki’s pre-emptive strike into Mogadishu doesn’t also get Kenya into a wider conflagration having unfortunate unintended consequences.

The fact that Al Shabaab has already spoken up with assurances to that effect is not a good sign. Nor do the Kenya police help pacify the circumstances when they promise to do a sweep of Eastleigh to weed out Al Shabaab sympathizers living in our midst.

Dark clouds seem to be gathering over the continent right now, and we pray that reason, rule of law, and a return to level-headed negotiations prevail. However, it doesn’t look like rationality is to rule the day right now.

The more cynical assessment of the situation is as follows: Rather than be forced to explain to Kenyans why shillings are so hard to come by and why their value has depreciated so fast, the Government goes to war. Now we have no time to think about hunger, unemployment, IDPs or corrupt politicians. Now we just have to watch out that we don’t find bombs in our beds or Al Shabaab attacking from its base in Eastleigh!

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