The season of frantic peace prayers is here again. As usual, it comes fully loaded with hypocrisy and denial. There are whispers of fear and loud pleas for peace, as the clock ticks towards the new year.
People are worried about the likelihood of violence in the electoral season that the new year heralds. Accordingly, there are loud prayers in church houses and fervid pleas to ancestral deities from curious places in the bush, all in search for peace in the election year ahead. Nobody is asking why there could be a breakdown in the established peace order. Praying seems to be our magic antidote to political violence.
Prayer is itself a good thing, as I have kept saying in this column. Yet praying, as I understand it, is a sacrosanct conversation between a private soul and its God. Crowds may, therefore, make all manner of loud sounds and call them prayers, yet nothing useful will come out of them. Such crowds may even call themselves a church, or something close to that (say a crusade), but their so-called prayers will come to naught. For, I will remind you that there are prayers that God does not listen to. Such incantations are classed as useless prayers. And Kenya’s peace pleas to God tend to belong to this category of holy mumbo jumbo.
The country’s divine pleas for peace are of the extraction of the ostrich’s head in the sand. Perhaps the closing of the eyes that we do as we pray is an invitation to shut our eyes and minds to the truth and to the substance that ought to inform our prayers? Accordingly, when praying for peace we do not ask why peace breaks down? We shut out our minds to that.
Students of war and peace studies know that a critical predicate to peace is justice. It may be distributive justice, or restorative justice. How have opportunities been distributed in the society? Conversely, how have those who have suffered social injustice been compensated? Societies that don’t embrace and entrench justice will never know true peace. They may from time to time enjoy some uneasy calm, but not peace. They may therefore make divine noises and call them peace prayers, yet nothing good will flow out of these noises.
As the country makes its way into this election year, Kenyans will want to look at the truth in the eye and accept it for what it is. They will want to recognize the ominous monster that threatens their social order and call it by its right name. They will want to accept that civil strife has always been a factor of injustice or of perceptions of injustice – or even both. If we pray then, perhaps we should pray for justice?
The mere sense of injustice, however, should not necessarily lead to violence. The world is full of people who feel aggrieved over one thing or the other. They have usually sought non-violent means of addressing their grievances. This works only where people have faith distributive and restorative forums, as well as in the instruments of conflict resolution. If the confidence is not there, violence is the natural outcome. No amount of hypocritical prayers can turn the tide against this truth.
Violence is not just a factor of feelings of injustice, but also a people’s surrender to frustration and loss of faith in established institutions and those who run them. That Kenyans are worried about possible collapse of peace in the year at hand suggests a deficiency of faith in institutions that manage elections in the country, as well as institutions that would address any dissatisfaction with the electoral process and outputs.
For a start, the continued stay in office of discredited commissioners is bad for the country. It has been nearly three months since these people were said to have “resigned.” It is of course common knowledge that they were forced to “resign,” after street protests against them by CORD. There is need for them to go home as soon as yesterday. Their continued stay in office is not useful for building confidence in the electoral process.
When the two houses of Parliament were recently recalled out of season to conduct urgent business, it was expected it would be to vet and confirm new commissioners to take over from the old team. Instead it was about passing laws that have been suggested by individuals who should have moved on by now. This does little to build confidence in the electoral process. It undermines the desire for peaceful elections.
Mercifully the Supreme Court is eventually in place. In the event that the Presidential election ends up in trouble, there is hope that those who are unhappy could avoid the option of violence and go to the Supreme Court, instead. The court itself has the onerous task of positioning itself in the public eye as a dependable arbitrator, in the event of a dispute.
The integrity of the Supreme Court and the Judiciary generally sits poorly for now, with some politicians threatening to discuss High Court Judges in Parliament next month. The tragedy is that these are government leaning politicians who ought to be strengthening public trust in State institutions.
You cannot undermine justice and institutions of public redress and still expect that there will be peace. Going forward, Kenyans will want to seek justice and openness in the impending electoral process at every stage. There is need for contending parties to be satisfied with the voter registration process, the hiring of election officials, procurement, use of public media and security arrangements around contestants and their supporters. Other concerns include management of the actual voting day events and activities. It matters when the stations open and close, the conduct of the officials and security instruments, the vote counting, tallying, transmission and announcement. And there are many more detailed and nuanced areas for just intervention. If these are satisfactorily addressed, there will be no need to fret about peace. If not, then even prayers will not help.
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