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We must address social causes of crime
by MAKAU MUTUA
For the past several weeks, Kenya has made international headlines for the wrong reasons. First, it was the macabre violence of the Mungiki, the shadowy movement whose barbaric killings have left the nation and the world stunned.
No less lawless was the government’s shoot-to-kill policy, a response that indiscriminately massacred suspects without due process.
To make matters worse, some dangerous knuckleheads exploded a deadly device this week in Nairobi. It feels as though things are falling apart in Kenya.
Something is deeply wrong. The government seems to have no clue about who exactly is responsible for these savage acts. Even worse, the State appears not to know why the dastardly crimes are being perpetrated. It feels and sounds as though there is a security vacuum in the country.
Inexorably, Kenya is drifting towards a lawless culture, the type of malevolent condition that has devoured many an African state. Are these problems temporary, or do they signify an irreversible descend into utter chaos and State failure?
We must strive to understand why matters have gone so awry. Only with a clear diagnosis can we cure the malignancy. But we must first appreciate the basic reasons for the existence of the republican State, a designation that Kenya proudly claims.
Shorn of all other obligations, the basic functions of the State are to protect the lives and property of those who live under it. Any State that is unwilling — or unable — to perform these tasks risks the forfeiture of the solemn duty to rule. Think of the dying hell that Somalia has become and you know what I mean.
President Kibaki looks gentlemanly and you want to believe him when he tells you something. When he announces that the country’s economy grew by the respectable figure of 6 per cent -- the largest in two decades -- you want to rejoice. But the facts on the ground seem to tell a different story. Facts are stubborn things.
Amid this historic growth, crime has skyrocketed, and Kenya is as unsafe today as it has ever been. A record numbers of Kenyans are fleeing to countries in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. Something does not add up.
I hear that the economy in certain parts of Somalia is booming, but you will forgive me if I do not want to go and live there. Ditto for Sudan. The point is that statistical economic growth is virtually meaningless to the majority if the tide does not lift all boats.
Who can argue against the fact that there is a deep sense of alienation and marginalisation in large segments of our population today? Who can tell us that they do not see – with their naked eyes – the grinding poverty of their relatives and neighbours, even as the state trumpets record levels of GDP growth? Is there any part of the country that is not wracked by property crimes?
I certainly want to support lawful and responsible government action to address Mungiki and other merchants of death. But it behoves us to first comprehend these phenomena so that we can deal with them effectively. It serves no purpose to simply label them criminal, as if that is an explanation or a cause. Yes they are criminal, but why? Is it an accident, for example, that the Mungiki find refuge and breeding ground in the economic cesspool that is Mathare?
As a society, what do we expect to reap when we steal the dreams and aspirations of our youth? How can we expect those we have made hopeless to act with any hope? A society that breeds hopeless folks is a factory for criminals who have no regard for human life. That is why shooting to kill them is not really the answer.
There is an attempt by some leaders to mystify the Mungiki problem and paint it as though it defies any rational explanation. Nothing could be further from the truth. That’s what the British colonialists did with the Mau Mau. They built such impossible myths about our freedom fighters so as to de-legitimise their cause.
Granted, the Mungiki are not like the virtuous Mau Mau. However, like the Mau Mau, the Mungiki are a direct result of the failure of the state to accommodate the basic aspirations of a marginalised group. Only a genuine attempt to resettle the landless and give economic meaning to a lost generation of people in Central and Rift Valley provinces can cure the problem.
We need to understand that the Mungiki phenomenon is unfinished class warfare partly inherited from colonial rule and the Mau Mau war of liberation. The legacy of the social distortions, dispossession, marginalisation, and exclusion of the colonial era continue to haunt us. We can pretend that this is not true, but we would only be lying to ourselves.
President Kibaki’s government should imagine social programmes for poor youth. The State must think deeply about social justice and produce a blueprint for bridging the incredible gulfs in the society. As they say, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. That is why a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
In the meantime, I expect the State to carry out operations against the Mungiki. But these must be done according to the constitution and the laws of the land.
Suspects must be arrested and put through the criminal justice system, not shot like animals in the dead of night. The use of good human intelligence is critical in identifying those culpable. But the use of force and the law can only go thus far.
Ultimately, we must address the social causes of Mungiki so that it can be effectively addressed. Otherwise, this will be like the so-called American war on terror that assumes that you can end terrorism by dropping bombs on people.
The Mungiki is a timely warning that marginalised groups will successfully defy the writ of the State unless they are embraced in the body politic. African history tells us that this is how some states have gone to hell. President Kibaki must understand that his neo-liberal economic policies are a double-edged sword.
Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and Chair of the Kenya Human Rights Commission.
Source: Daily Nation