An English word: empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. To walk in their shoes, so to speak.
After the announcement of the results of the Presidential election in August, when there were reports of shootings, I called a number of my friends. Many were okay, but two were shaken, and I could feel their fear. Both are Luos. At the time, one was in the outskirts of Nairobi, the other was in Nyanza.
The one in Nairobi told me that his neighborhood was peaceful, but he was apprehensive because of what he was hearing about the shooting in his rural home. He was not sure how things would turn out for him, especially because he was living in a predominantly Kikuyu area. If things took a turn for the worse, his neighbours would stop seeing him as the friendly guy next door. He would become “yule mjaluo anaishi pale”. His fear was real, and raw. 2007 taught us how nasty things can get.
My other friend was at their rural home. She told me she was okay, but she could hear gunshots not far from their home. Rumors were rife that policemen were removing people from their houses and shooting them. She had no way of verifying that. All she knew was that there was gun fire not far from her home. Unlike my other friend whose fear was based on “what if”, hers was immediate. Gunshots in the neighborhood.
Some people will dismiss it as misplaced fear. Others will sympathize. It is easy to sympathize. To say how sad the situation is. How Luos are also people and should feel secure in their own country. Then quickly forget and go back to our routines. But perhaps we should try and empathise. The church I attend happens to be in Parklands. Now, in Parklands there are many Hindus and a number of temples. So during their festivals there are fireworks.
A while back, when those fireworks were going on, I could not help but ask myself. What if those were gunshots? What if we were cornered, the way Al-Shabab had cornered us a while back? We are forgetful people. We have forgotten the era before the late General Nkaissery was brought into the security scene. That period when Al-Shabab was blasting everywhere: churches, buses, markets, shopping malls, universities and even police stations. That time most people were in real fear. Because we were helpless against a force that even the government seemed unable to stop.
A while back robbers broke into the estate I was living in. It was around 4am. Now, our compund had a high stone wall, and thick metal gate. But these fellas casually got in. Perhaps someone had given them a key. Or perhaps they were in cahoots with the gateman. All we knew was that at 4am there was gunfire in our compound. Fortunately, no one was hurt, though they robbed from several houses. The following weeks everyone was living on the edge. Everyone was scared.
I remember attending a prayer meeting just after the Garissa University attack. The moderator told us to pray against the evil that was Al-Shabab for 30 minutes. After that he started preaching. Except he wasn’t preaching. He was going on and on about how Christians should arm themselves and go after Somalis. Because Christians had been docile for too long.
I was about to walk out, but the pastor of the church boldly went and snatched the microphone from the guy, and started preaching peace. I wanted to walk out for a number of reasons. One, praying meant that we were putting the situation to a powerful God. Arming ourselves and going on the offensive, on the other hand, meant that we thought that that God was not powerful enough to protect us. Ironical, I know. Second, and more importantly, I was against the profiling of an entire tribe, the Somalis. Or even an entire religion, the Muslims. Interestingly, while some Christians were plotting, some Muslims were putting their lives on the line to protect other Christians from the terrorists. Terrorists are but a bunch of a few deranged radicals. And it is common knowledge that even the Christian faith has its own share of misguided radicals.
But what we cannot deny was that that sermon was driven by fear. The fear of being terminated by terrorists on the loose. And that preacher was not alone. The call for arms was quickly gaining traction amongst Christians. I debated this issue with many of my friends as pastors and bishops were speaking about it all over. Everyone was afraid. Even I, in as much as I was against the call to arms, was afraid. No one wants to be helpless and vulnerable, waiting for a terrorist to come and test their marksmanship on him/her. And that is precisely what Luos feel when they hear about the murder of their kinsmen.
Now, politics, just like religious faith, is emotive. People are passionate about their side. In fact, religion and politics have been responsible for many atrocities in human history. Sadly, that continues in many parts of the world even today. But that should not be the case in modern society.We can argue about NASA and Jubilee until we become blue in the face. We can debate about Christianity, Islam and Atheism until our voices become hoarse. But we should draw a line at human dignity, which includes the sanctity of human life.
If there is even a suggestion that anyone can take any human life randomly, then we should all shudder. It doesn’t matter whether the killer is a robber, a terrorist, a policeman or a bloodthirsty mob. The Act or arbitrarily murdering human beings should be condemned in the strongest terms.Human life is precious and should not be snuffed out arbitrarily. That is why we should borrow a leaf from those Muslims who put religious differences aside and protected Christians. We should put political differences aside and stand up for Luo lives.
Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/monochrome-black-and-white-woman-1879053/