Our friend and founder of the humanitarian org, Mapendo International, Sasha Chanoff wrote a very necessary op-ed in last Saturday’s Boston Globe.:
FROM READING recent headlines about Kenya, one would think that the post-election violence is the result of tribal hatreds. But this assessment is wrong.
Don’t think in terms of tribal violence. Consider, instead, “politically engineered violence,” or “politically instigated violence.”
It’s not a coincidence that “tribal hatreds” seem to be most prominent during elections in Kenya.
For their own gain, politicians exploit tribal differences and manipulate the poor and the destitute. It’s no surprise that the perpetrators of “tribal violence” are usually idle young men who also loot and thieve while rampaging. Politicians often covertly hire or encourage them.
Sasha also discusses the danger of opting for the “facile explanation” of ethnic hatred when assessing these types of events. These “pithy, yet distorted media summaries” imbue such violence with a false sense of inevitability (which in turn tends to slow intervention from foreign powers who could have a positive impact/bring swift resolution).
In “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” author Samantha Power highlights this reporting and quotes the more nuanced and accurate perspective of an African studies professor who said, “Ethnic groups do have prejudices and people do tend to feel that they may be different from other groups. But it’s not enough to make a person pick up a knife or a gun and kill somebody else. It is when politicians come and excite passion and try to threaten people” that violence can occur.
Sasha finishes the piece with this admonition.
But it’s easier to accept (and write about) this explanation than to examine the complexities of political violence. It’s easy to buy into misleading stereotypes, throw up our hands, and think, “what can you do, that’s Africa.”
To do nothing because we believe nothing can be done, because it’s easy to believe the violence is inevitable, is to turn our backs on a country that is teetering on the edge of real democracy. We can act, and act decisively. We must influence and support Kenya to institute fair and transparent political processes. That is in its best interest and ours.
But how can people be so easily manipulated into wrongdoing? You’ve probably heard of the Milgram Experiment. Check out this updated version done for “The Heist”, a show on Channel Four in the UK.
Duration: 10min 47sec
Duration: 9min 58sec
In this episode, Derren Brown subconsciously influences middle management business men and women with no previous criminal record to pull an armed robbery without ever directly mentioning the idea to them.