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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 January 2008, 12:00 GMT
Ngugi laments Kenya violence
Renowned Kenyan novelist and playwright Ngugi wa Thiong'o tellls BBC World Update his views on the unrest that has engulfed Kenya since last month's disputed elections.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Ngugi's politically charged writing led to his arrest in 1977

Writers must sometimes feel like the Greek prophetess Cassandra, gifted to see the future but fated not to be believed.

What is unfolding in Kenya could as well have been lifted from my novel Wizard of the Crow where the ruling party and the opposition parities engaged in Western-sponsored democracy become mirror images of one another in their absurdity and indifference to the poor.

The picture of men and women burnt down in a church where they had gone for refuge still haunts my mind. A child running away from the fire was caught and hurled back into the flames.

One of the few survivors was quoted as saying: "But they knew me; we were neighbours. I thought Peter was a friend - a good neighbour. How could Peter do this to me?"

This crime should be investigated by the United Nations

I had heard the same puzzled cry from Bosnia. I had heard the same cry from Iraq. I had heard the same, same words from Rwanda: "We were neighbours; we'd married into each other. How could this happen?"

And now I hear the same cry from Eldoret North in my beloved Kenya. For me this burning of men, women and children in a church is a defining single instant of the current political impasse in Kenya.

And this must be separated from accusations and counter-accusations of rigged elections by the contending parties.

Makeshift displaced camp in Eldoret, western Kenya, on Tuesday
The violence has forced thousands of Kenyans into camps

Rigged elections is one thing - it can be righted by any mutually agreed political measures - but ethnic cleansing is another matter altogether.

What is disturbing is that this instant seems to have been part of a co-ordinated programme with similar acts occurring in several other places at about the same time against ordinary members of the same community.

Ordinary people do not wake up one morning and suddenly decide to kill their neighbours.

Ethnic cleansing is often instigated by the political elite of one community against another community. It is premeditated - often an order from political warlords.

Or it may be the outcome of an elitist ideology of demonising and isolating another community.

Either way the aim is to drive members of the targeted community from the region.


Frantz Fanon, the intellectual visionary of the Third World, had long ago warned us of the dangers of the ideology of regionalism preached by an elite whose money can buy them safe residence in any part of a country.

Protesters in Nairobi
Political tensions have brought ethnic divisions to the surface

A single instance of premeditated ethnic cleansing can lead to an unstoppable cycle of vendettas - a poor-on-poor violence - while those who tele-guided them to war through the ideology of hate and demonisation are clinking glasses in middle-class peace at cocktail parties with the elite or the supposed enemy community.

This crime should be investigated by the United Nations.

If it is found that a political organisation has run a campaign on a programme that consciously seeks to isolate another community as a community, then they ought to be held fully accountable for the consequences of their ideology and actions.

It is often easier to blame a government when it is involved in massacres. This is as it should be.

A government must always be held to higher standards, for its very legitimacy lies in its capacity to ensure peace and security for all communities.

But what about if such a massacre is inspired by a programme of an opposition movement?

This ought to receive equally severe condemnation from all and sundry, for being in opposition does not give an organisation the right to run on an ideology of isolation and hate targeted at another community.

The world does not need another Bosnia; Africa certainly does not need another Rwanda

An opposition movement is potentially a government of tomorrow. A programme that such a political organisation draws while in opposition would obviously be the programme they'll try to implement when in power.

That's why such acts must be condemned even when they are clothed in progressive, democratic-sounding words and phrases.

I therefore call upon the United Nations to act and investigate the massacres in Kenya as crimes against humanity and let the chips fall where they may.

For the sake of justice, healing and peace now and in the future I urge all progressive forces not to be so engrossed with the political wrongs of election tampering that they forget the crimes of hate and ethnic cleansing - crimes that have led to untimely deaths and the displacement of thousands.

The world does not need another Bosnia; Africa certainly does not need another Rwanda.

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