What About the Felicien Kabugas from Kenya’s Post-Election Violence 2007/8?

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By Washington Osiro,

One of the masterminds of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was finally arrested on May 15, 2020, twenty-six years after the tragedy. Predictably, the reaction of KoSM (Kenyans on Social Media) to the arrest of Felicien Kabuga, a window into the larger society’s views on issues of the day, fell into two camps. Some cheered the arrest of Kabuga, a businessman and former president of the board of directors of RTLM (Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines) accused of paying for the weapons used during the pogrom while others protested it.

Aside from the obvious “You-can-run-but-you-cannot-hide” narrative that formed around Kabuga’s arrest, what stood out was the verve with which some Kenyans cheered the arrest of the Rwandese war crimes suspect. The self-righteous indignation regarding the crimes Kabuga is accused of was a far cry from the “Accept and Move On” flippancy that the same Kenyans adopted after two of their fellow citizens were accused of virtually the same crimes as Kabuga, i.e., fomenting ethnic violence after their country’s disputed 2007 General Elections.

It was a sharpness of contrast that had me asking the question: Why? Why the diametrically opposed reactions to persons accused of the same crime?

While I understand the “He-may-be-a-son-of-a-bitch-but-at-least-he-is-our-son-of-a-bitch” rationalization that take hold in such instances, the hypocrisy such dichotomous reactions garner is extremely dangerous. It is dangerous because of the resultant impunity such duplicity and inconsistencies engender.

To date, I do not know of any Kenyan who has been held accountable for what South Africa’s Desmond Tutu referred to as the country’s “near-genocidal violence” of late 2007. Additionally, it should not surprise anyone that the multi-billion-shilling Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Report that was presented to Mr. Kenyatta with officious pageantry back in 2013 has never been “officially” released to the public.

Unlike Rwanda’s Genocide that has been extensively written about, Peter Mbuthia’s book “Scars of a Nation: Survivor of Kiambaa Church Massacre and the Elusive Justice” is one of four books I have read that address, in depth, Kenya’s post-election violence of 2007/2008. The other three are “Healing the Wound: Personal Narrative About the 2007 Post-Election Violence in Kenya” by Kimani Njogu, “The Kenyan TJRC: An Outsider’s View from the Inside” by Ronald C. Slye and “Performances of Injustice: The Politics of Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in Kenya” by Gabrielle Lynch. I am sure other books are available, but I do not believe they outnumber those that address the crimes Felicien Kabuga is accused of being party to.

Mbuthia’s book stands out because it is a personal accounting of the event that is written in a heart-wrenching and poignant tone. It is a harrowing first-hand account by a man whose then-pre-teenage son was a victim of the depravity that Kenyans have refused to confront in the same pointed manner that Rwandese have done with the depravity that Felicien Kabuga and others are accused of fomenting.

The man’s then-ten-year-old son Andrew was one of the victims of arguably THE defining occurrence and image of Kenya’s Day of Infamy – the December 30, 2007 torching of Kiambaa Village’s Kenya Assemblies of God church. A total of seventeen Kenyans, mostly women and children perished in the horrific inferno when they took refuge in the church, a supposedly “Safe Zone” in times of violence only to be locked in – from the outside and the building set ablaze. An additional 18+ were shot with bows and arrows or hacked to death with machetes. In all, more than forty Kenyans lost their lives in the incident.

Having survived the madness, Master Mbuthia was referred to the Shriners’ Hospital in Sacramento for the painful reconstructive surgery and lengthy recovery needed to treat his third-degree burns. Andrew Njoroge Mbuthia’s image adorns the cover of his father’s raw and haunting recounting of the event. His innocent yet profound question to his father has stuck with me since I first read the book back in 2019. It was a question, a variant of which was revived this week by news of Mr. Kabuga’s arrest in Paris France and the reactions of Kenyans to said arrest:

Why hasn’t anyone been held accountable for the violence that permanently scarred Andrew, his family & friends along with all Kenyans of goodwill?

This is a question Peter Mbuthia’s “Scars of a Nation” tries to answer – especially towards the latter part of his book. In a section titled “A Docile Citizenry,” Andrew’s father points the finger squarely at the same Kenyan citizenry now cheering the arrest of the Rwandese fugitive. According to Mbuthia, Kenyans “spoke openly that anybody who was still pushing for the prosecution of the two leaders (Uhuru and Ruto) was an enemy of the Kenyan people” as was anyone “courageous enough to continue asking for accountability.” In the minds of his fellow citizens now applauding the long arms of the law in the Kabuga arrest, it was more important to have “one of their own” as president (and deputy president) than to allow the “bad publicity” generated by the crimes-against-humanity cases facing them to take hold.

“Scars of a Nation” reminds some of those now suffering the ineptitude of a Kenyan Government that chooses to render some of them homeless in the middle of a pandemic that “an injustice remains an injustice whether committed against a poor citizen or a wealthy individual….(whether committed against) one ethnicity / race…..or another…..” Citing the National Anthem, Mr. Mbuthia tells those who turned a blind eye to the violence of 2007/8 that “not a single stanza suggests that justice will be accorded on the basis of one’s socio-economic status or ethnicity.

Unfortunately, Andrew’s father knows only too well that his fellow citizens have witnessed several high-profile crimes implicating their own Felicien Kabugas. He also knows that these same Kenyans have repeatedly thrown their support behind suspects accused of virtually the same crimes the original/genuine Felicien Kabuga is now accused of.

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