Magazine article The Spectator

An Act of Evil That Recalled the Atrocities of the SS

Magazine article The Spectator

An Act of Evil That Recalled the Atrocities of the SS

Article excerpt

Seldom can a New Year have dawned so bleakly as 2008 and rarely can a news story have spoken of evil so starkly as the New Year's Day report from Kenya of children being deliberately burnt alive inside a church. The calculated, heartless wickedness of the act recalls one of the most notorious atrocities of the second world war, when the SS herded the women and children of Oradour in France into the village church and then set the building alight. And there are more recent echoes from another genocide. The principle that the Church should provide a sanctuary from violence and hatred was breached by the actions of individuals during the Rwandan horrors of 1994. The revelation that certain nuns and priests had acted as handmaidens to the Hutu campaign of slaughter underlined just how deep into depravity Rwanda sank 13 years ago.

The images from Kenya we have seen this week, the charred remains of the Church in Eldoret, the raised machetes of enraged youths, the grief of the inconsolable, the thousands uprooted from their homes, recall not just Rwanda but other African tragedies -- from the collapse of the once stable Ivory Coast into communal bloodletting and the descent of Kenya's neighbours, such as Sudan and Somalia, into civil war.

What makes these images so shocking for so many is the success Kenya appeared to be enjoying. With an economy growing at around 5 per cent every year, a thriving tourist trade and a valued place as a Western ally in the war on terror, Kenya was East Africa's favoured child. And Kenya had appeared to enjoy one other advantage -- a strengthening democracy. The replacement of Daniel arap Moi's Kanu government by Mwai Kibaki's administration five years ago was heralded as a specially significant moment. The peaceful ceding of power by a traditional African autocrat, the change of governing party decided via the ballot box and the rallying of different tribal and communal groups behind the new government were all hailed as welcome signs of an even more hopeful future.

Which is why the current crisis in Kenya seems so tragic. Mwai Kibaki, the man who appeared to offer an end to traditional autocratic rule, has become an all too familiar African figure -- the leader who cannot imagine how his people could survive without him and his clique at the helm. And the rainbow coalition which appeared to promise new hope five years ago now looks fractured beyond repair -- with re-asserted tribal loyalties fuelling communal violence.

The hopes which were fastened on Kibaki's government five years ago, while understandable, were, however, misplaced.

I argued at the time that there were deeprooted problems in Kenya's political system which needed to be addressed if the country was to enjoy the brighter future its people deserved. I feared that Kibaki would not be capable of providing the dynamic leadership Kenya required after the Moi years, and was concerned that too many of those in his political machine would revert to a business-as-usual style of governing, specifically warning that corruption would continue to blight Kenya's political culture with old tribal resentments rekindled.

It is impossible to understand what is going on in Kenya now without appreciating the tribal context. Just as in Zimbabwe it is necessary to appreciate that Mugabe and his Zanu party derive a core of support from Mashona tribal loyalties and in Nigeria power struggles are set against a backdrop of Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba, so the dominance of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe in Kenyan society has become a focus for anger among those who consider themselves the dispossessed. …

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