OTIENO: Consequences of having criminals take cover in parties

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The recent delegates’ meetings called by the big political parties to ratify the nomination of presidential candidates featured choreographed endorsements by minorities.

Glowing citations were read about the watchman, the school cook, the boda-boda rider, the disabled woman or the Luo mechanic in a Kikuyu-dominated ward who rode the democracy wave in one or the other party to win the nomination race.

By all means, affording disadvantaged individuals or groups in society the opportunity to get elected to political office is a good thing and parties are entitled to some bragging rights.

The problem is that the parties never speak with as much passion about the criminal elements in their ranks who are increasingly making political competition unfair and dangerous to their opponents, and their opponents’ families or supporters.

From the crowd gathered at Kasarani or Bomas recently, one was sure to pick out a fraudster who had handed out a fake nomination certificate to an aspirant and conned him of money; a tribal warlord who had incited his ethnic community to attack the other community; a murderer who gave his youths machetes to cut his rival’s supporters; an arsonist behind the loss of some property; or a drug dealer laying some young life to waste somewhere.

The consequences of having so many criminals taking cover in parties are grave in a country where political office or association effectively shields one from punishment.

On Friday, three innocent children were found dead in Uasin Gishu, a day after their disappearance was reported in the newspapers. Their dad, James Ratemo, is aspiring to be MCA. The police will, rightly, advise against speculation as they try to establish the motive of these murders. But what are the odds that the Ratemo family will get justice in case a political motive is established? Does the monster who took away these young lives even have to worry about being arrested, wherever he or she is?

Well, sometime in December 2007, scores of women and children fled the violence that broke out in their villages in Uasin Gishu and took refuge in the safest place they could ever imagine: a church. At night, armed mobs got there and did the unthinkable. Fourteen bodies were recovered from the burnt church building. A number of those pulled out of alive are living with physical and psychological scars.

The Kiambaa church arson attack was at the centre of the collapsed cases against some prominent Kenyans at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

But the low-level perpetrators were not made to face the law at all. Their roaming free, like others of their ilk elsewhere, sends the wrong message that in Kenya crimes, however serious, are not punished as long as they are committed in the name of politics.