The book of Exodus tells us how Moses, after he had received the tablets with God’s ten commandments on Mount Sinai, went on to present it to the children of Israel but found them worshiping the golden calf. In his anger, Moses threw the tablets and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.
The Lord had very strongly prohibited idolatry saying in the First Commandment: “You shall not make yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them for I the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations to those who love me and keep my commandments.
The Lord still insisted that his Laws must be obeyed and he re-issued the commandments. He asked Moses to go back to the mountain and chisel out two new tablets like the first ones, and the Lord would write out the words that were on the first. Chapter 34 of Exodus tells us what happened when Moses got to the mountain.
“And the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses proclaiming: ‘The Lord, the Lord, the passionate and gracious God, slow to anger abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generations.”
Similarly, the human community has developed the phenomenon where ills committed against the community are preserved in memory, and perpetrators of those ills, are punished and reminded of those ills. This phenomenon serves two useful purposes. Firstly, it has a deterring effect on future ills. By exposing those who have been villains to the full glare of public scrutiny, it embarrasses those who would aspire as successors in such villainous acts. Secondly, it assuages the injury of the victim by showing them that the society acknowledges their hurt and is equally wounded by it.
After extermination of six million Jews in the Nazi concentration camps, the Jewish community has struggled to ensure that the world never forgets the Holocaust and that all the perpetrators thereof are brought to justice. The world stands today to remember the Holocaust and remind the Jews that all humanity remains outraged by the Nazi regime.
In many countries, towns, villages and hamlets, communities come together to remember other tragedies they have undergone and to enforce this phenomenon of social justice against their particular villains. In Rwanda, they are forcing the world to face reality and the shame of the 1994 genocide. They are also forcing the killers to face the people they hurt and apologize. And have sworn “never again” to a similar occurrence.
This phenomenon of social justice has also found a very particular political character. In the United States of America, the society banished President Richard Nixon to the political abyss after the Watergate scandal and never allowed him to re-enter their political field. In fact, the Americans have not wasted an opportunity in their politics, art and entertainment to remind each other of the Nixon scandal. No other American President has ever dared to do what Nixon did. President Bill Clinton did so to his near peril.
In Philippines, they banished the late ex-president Marcos to the gutters of their memories and denied him any form of favourable reference. An attempt by his wife to have him buried in the heroes’ graveyard was met with resounding and angry protests. Close to home, the Zaireans banished the former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko to even worse fate. They refused to have him interned in their country. His remains were buried in a lonely grave in Morocco.
But the worst was meted out to our next-door neighbour Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada who had also requested to be allowed to visit the country he had misruled for years. A request by his family to have him buried in the country was flatly rejected by the Museveni regime.
This social justice system is harsh. It has however become a necessity in healing a wounded nation. Many societies that have failed to enforce it have come out the worse for it. In the same United States, and the United Kingdom, despite the villainous nature of the slave trade, they failed to employ any social justice against slave traders and slave trading nations. What was the worst humanitarian tragedy in history of man remains in our memories merely as a regrettable incidence. The racial relations in these two countries is evidence of the resulting injustice. Racism, in some places, is still socially tolerable.
In Nigeria, they have tolerated military regimes since independence. They condone military rulers after every coup d’etat. So many years after independence, they are one of the few countries where military coup d’etats do not wince their withers. President Olusegun Obasanjo is presently predicting another one.
Several South American countries have tolerated dictators for so long that autocracy has become a socially acceptable political fact. Assassinations abound with impunity. Intimidation of judges, lawyers and journalists has become a political reality.
A lot of the political apathy in Kenya today has resulted from the social injustice of failing to expose villains and embarrass them for their misdeeds. Upon independence, President Kenyatta told Kenyans to forget the past. He made them forget the colonialists and the loyalists. The result is that the loyalists came to power and their treacherous acts were forgotten and forgiven. Their lack of patriotism was the cause of the reaping of the economy that started then.
When President Moi came to power, he said he would follow the footsteps of his predecessor and without stating so begun a policy of tolerating the villains of the past and leaving buried the ills of their rule. The result was that the occurrence of ills in the Kenyatta era became reason in itself for the perpetration of the same ills in the Moi era. The Kiambu Mafia was smoothly succeeded by the Rift Valley mafia and with the same wicked agenda.
The political life of this country is in danger of becoming a cycle. What happened in the colonial era was repeated in the Kenyatta era and again in the Moi era. The tribal clashes of 1962 recurred in 1992. The vigilante group “The weeping Kamaus” created by the British in 1963 became the “Mungiki” created by Kanu in 2000. The majimbo politics of 1962 -64 are the politics of today.
Other issues inherited from the colonialists remain unattended. The squatter problems at the Coast remain the same. The Trans Mara problem too. Majority of the Pokot, Turkana, Samburu, Boran and Somali could equally well be living in South Sudan. Tribalism is as bad as it was at the time of independence. This country is stuck in a time warp, oscillating around an axis of proscription.
Of the many unenviable challenges of the current government, herein lies another one. The government must eradicate corruption, revive the economy, re-establish standards in service delivery and public administration, rejuvenate agriculture and lift the status of the farmer, repair infrastructure and build new ones and strengthen institutions of democracy, economy and government.
Contemporaneously, the government must grant social justice. It must cure the ills of the past. Villains must be publicly exposed. Where necessary they should be punished. People who have been hurt in the past must be assuaged. Those who have been ignored must be embraced. The wounds of this nation have to be healed, or they will wait to be rubbed and they will bleed again.
Mr Mwangi is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya.