Victim blaming culture encourages impunity and entrenches tribalism in politics

Posted by on 5th February 2018

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“What has happened today is a travesty of justice and we shall not relent until we, the bonafide officials of KANU, are recognized; it [Kibaki’s government] wants to manipulate and appoint opposition leaders so that there is no criticism from anybody.” The Associated Press (AP) quoted President Kenyatta in December of 2006 when he served as the opposition leader.

This quote is important because it shows how our politics is dynamic. Politicians in opposition are more than likely to end up in government at some point just like President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto were both once in the opposition but have been at the helm of power since 2013.

Politicians seem to understand this and therefore never create permanent enemies or friends because of their political ambitions or greed.  However, the tragedy of this reality is that Kenyans seem to never grasp this and adopt very rigid approaches to political situations that often end up hurting them.

For instance, President Kenyatta and his Deputy Ruto were on opposite sides in the 2007 elections that degenerated into violence that saw their respective communities butcher each other. First-forward to 2013 and the two leaders buried the hatchet to work together.

As expected their respective communities also agreed to cooperate with each other out of this single act of unity. Whether the reasons that ignited the fight in the first place were resolved or not, became secondary, their leaders were now united and that magically solved everything.

What this pattern reveals, albeit sadly is the fact that we have a country where majority have delegated their thinking to their respective political leaders. Their sense of right and wrong is not based on the rule of law but what their political gods make it.

Take the government’s decision to switch off the three main media houses for instance. The shutdown of the media houses in the country has sparked off a heated debate on the right to access to information; respect for the rule of law and media biases among others.

To nobody’s surprise, whichever subject you pick majority Kenyans are divided on two major lines: pro-opposition and pro-government. Those from Jubilee mainly hold the view that the media deserves what’s befallen them for what they feel was undermining a legitimate government. Those in NASA are obviously against the shutdown but simply because they feel this time the media was on ‘their side’. Interestingly, there’s a group from the opposition that remains unsympathetic to the shutdown, bragging that they expected it owing to what they claim as media’s going to bed with the Jubilee government.

This is the crux of the matter that this blog hopes to tackle; the culture of victim blaming to score cheap points and missing out the bigger picture. It’s ridiculous that a country where people overwhelmingly voted for a progressive constitution only seven years ago would be okay, even attempt to justify extreme violation of the same sacred document.

It turns out the culture of victim blaming comes from personal insecurities where those blaming victims are using it as a self-defensive mechanism. In our case it could be the inability to accept disappointment from your political party or favorite politician. Instead, rather than condemn the act, one looks for what the victim may have done to justify what you inwardly know is wrong.

While speaking to the Atlantic on the psychology of victim blaming; Widener University’s Professor of Social Work, Barbara Gilin, explained that, “In my experience, having worked with a lot of victims and people around them, people blame victims so that they can continue to feel safe themselves.” This has been true in non-political areas where a section of Kenyan men have blamed rape victims for wearing short cloths.

Again, to nobody’s surprise the debate on media freedom got heated in one of the most constructive debate forums courtesy of KICTANET mailing list and the same biases were so visible. However, a member made a statement that the rest of us should live by if we want to move away from the culture of impunity. He said, “Constitutional rights cannot be subjective and our defense of them shouldn’t be either.”

This means that if we’re to protect this country from normalizing extrajudicial activities by either government or opposition we must support only what the law says whether it benefits us or not. We can’t let the government become the prosecutor, Judge and executioner simply because we think we are beneficiaries.

If our short political history has shown us anything, any of the people we hate now can end up in power. What then shall we say when they decide to abuse it in the same measure or worse if we refuse to speak against impunity because we think it doesn’t affect us?

The same way rapists get emboldened when victims fear coming out for fear that they’ll be blamed for wearing short dresses or tempting the rapists, is the same way those who use unconstitutional means feel encouraged to disregard sections of the law if the society supports their impunity.

Already there are credible reports that the government is frustrating Activist Okiya Omtata’s efforts to serve Communications Authority (CA) a court order requesting immediate lifting of the shutdown. The only reason the Executive can treat an order from Judiciary with contempt is when it feels confident it has the backing of a good number of citizens.

Paradoxically, we entrench tribalism and revenge politics by playing blind to injustices we think don’t affect us or support our political biases while at the same time nurturing an environment that makes impunity thrive. If the media has failed let’s call it out for the specific failures but to support an unconstitutional action and yet insist it serves to correct their ‘failures’ is to be hypocritical.

Seeing as President Uhuru was once an opposition leader and relied on the Constitution and rule of law to fight for his party-then and his constituents, let’s champion for the rule of law, even when it doesn’t support our current political bases because your ‘enemy’ might be in power tomorrow and without a culture of respect for the rule of law it will not be pretty!