Report & Essay

Amnesty, and Acceptable Loss.
Al Kags


There are two trains of thought on the awarding of blanket amnesty to
the many Kenyans who are suspected and stand accused of reckless riot
without regard for life and property.

One train of thought, as ably expressed by Martha Karua (the only PNU voice I
have heard consistently on the subject), is that the law is blind to
temporary political situations; since at the time the perpetrators of
murder and reckless destruction of property rent Kenyan nights with true
horror, the law did not understand their cause, or more accurately, their
style of protest. Therefore, this argument continues, the law must not be spared
in prosecuting them and amnesty shall be considered as per mitigation
based on a guilty plea – that is, on a case by case basis.

The other school of thought, as most memorably articulated by ODM’s Henry Koskey,
is that the end justifies the means. That the conduct of the
violent perpetrators culminated in the formation of the kind of
representative government that will take Kenya to the next level. This
school of thought goes on to ask whether it is wrong for one to fight
for his rights, and sees any casualty as collateral damage. Rather like the
Mau Mau war that saw many people killed, maimed and lost in the hands of the
“terrorists” – now called freedom fighters – for the same acts of

I have struggled with this question for a while and I continue to struggle
with it. Right now my thinking starts with an analogy.

In Nazi Germany, medical researchers carried out research on the Jews,
Gypsies (Romanies) and other prisoners that advanced medical
knowledge towards finding important answers that could help us today. For
instance, in Auschwitz, Dr. Josef Mengele got his PhD for his thesis
entitled “Racial Morphological Research on the Lower Jaw Section of Four
Racial Groups”, thoughts that have developed into profiling of, say, dead
unidentifiable bodies. He also did a lot of research into twins.

It has not been overtly acknowledged that the research conducted by Nazi
medical professionals made any remarkable breakthroughs. In fact, it has
only widely been spoken and written of in the context of the inhumanity of
it all and the many deaths that it (the research) caused. However, many
medical professionals quietly agree that the research carried out in the
Nazi concentration camps did advance medical progress, especially in some key
areas such as genetics.

The question is this: if the research conducted by Dr. Mengele or even Dr.
Albert Naisser, who infected prostitutes with syphilis in a bid to find a
cure, had yielded results that helped us eradicate cancer, for example, would
they still be punished for the murder of the thousands of people who died in
this quest as “collateral damage”? Or would we focus on the breakthrough and
therefore move on? After all, they would have saved millions of lives for
eons in future – isn’t the death of a few thousand an acceptable loss?


In the same way, the death of the people in that Kiambaa church is not an
acceptable loss for the very necessary change that is in the process of
unfolding in Kenya. The death of one child in the IDP camps as a result of
cold and hunger is not worth the very important and critical resolution of
the long standing issues.

The people who perpetrated such violence, no matter what their motivations
(and they were likely on the street on behalf of you and I, the middle class
dude and dudette, who takes some aversion to dust and tear gas) and no
matter what their provocation, must be dealt with to the full extent
permissible by law. Blanket amnesty sets a precedent that Kenya will not be
able to justify in future.

Al Kags is a Nairobi-based writer of poetry, journalism and prose whose writing has appeared in the Standard newspaper,, and other publications. He is the creator of the Quarterly Colour Series of poetry, an e-book of poetry that continues to spread far and wide.


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