On 11 June 1963, at a busy intersection in Saigon, South Vietnam, a monk known as Thich Quang Duc sat down in the traditional Buddhist meditative lotus position. A fellow monk poured gasoline and he was set ablaze.
According to witnesses, flames consumed his robes and flesh and black oily smoke emanated from his burning body. All this time, a group of monks were meditating around him even as shocked by passers walked by.
When the flames died down, his burnt lifeless body was lying on the road, burnt but fallen down in the same position he sat on when he set himself ablaze. A group of monks went and wrapped him in a yellow robe.
They later found out that his heart wasn’t burnt in the raging inferno.
The monks were tired of a repressive administration led by Ngô Đình Diệm who consistently advanced the agenda of the country’s Catholic minority and discriminated against majority Buddhist monks. The government was equally vindictive, hunting down dissenters like a squirrel, torturing some and killing many.
The regime was bolstered by the US’s support of JF Kennedy’s government who supplied the country with thousands of military advisers to train the army and raise civilians enough o take on the communist North Vietnamese who were determined to unite the country.
Journalist David Halberstam from the Associated Press (AP) who had been tipped about the radical and unexpected event captured the monk’s self-immolation and won a Pulitzer Prize for his it.
He later recounted the moment in one of his books, The Making of a Quagmire: “Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shrivelling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning flesh. … Behind me, I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think.”
Six months later, on 2nd November 1963, the despot fell in a bloody coup where he was murdered in cold blood. However, before he fell, fit took our other monks setting themselves ablaze and the world acknowledging that no news picture in history had generated so much emotion around the world as that one.
History is full of examples where small sparks started by ordinary people consumed empires and nations. Also, history tells us that desperate people pushed to the wall can take radical options to rid themselves of scoundrels masquerading as leaders sucking their countries like a hungry hookworm.
With the just concluded (we hope so) election fiasco that dogged the country from August 8th, it is clear that our political class are completely out of touch with reality.
Kenya’s public healthcare system is on its knees with the nurse’s strike in its 152nd unfortunate birthday. Countless lives have been lost in the process as those in authority chest thump and pass the blames in the ever selfish contest of “who will blink first”. The opposition is quiet, the governors are threatening to sack the nurses instead of prioritizing their grievances for the public good, and the government has turned a deaf ear.
Kenya’s security forces have gunned down approximately 63 people since the August 8th elections according to Human Rights Watch. Instead of an uproar against extrajudicial killing, a considerable section of the nation cheer on because the barrel of the gun hasn’t been pointed against their family members.
The very same taxpayers who toil in the dungeons to finance a police force that is experienced in extrajudicial killings are targeted in an orgy of executions.
But we can always find ways to cough 12B shillings to run sham elections.
We are one of the youngest countries in the sub-Saharan Africa where 80 percent are below the ages of 35 years old but the majority of them are unemployed. Some agencies like the United Nations in the Human Development Index (HDI) 2017 report put the rate at 39.1 percent, the highest in the East African region.
With all the challenges that this country faces, our obsession with politics is mind-boggling. Though we are one of the most active political countries in Africa, the only shortcoming is that we defend our ethnic demigods with our lives regardless of where they stand.
How I pray that we would come out to demand accountability of how our funds are used at the county level as we shout horse in defence of our ethnic demigods. I wish we could use that energy to demand better affordable public health care, that we would fight to see a country where the rule of law is upheld and institutions strengthened to serve the people.
As long as the political class knows that our tribes come first ad the country second, our politics will still be held hostage with the divide and rule colonial strategy, as ethnic minions are charged to vote against candidates, not for policies.
But I would like to caution the political class. The season of joyriding on the misery of Kenyans is soon coming to an end. The cannibalistic and transactional politics that has benefitted an elite class and impoverished the majority of the people will soon come down crumbling like the tower of Babel. When citizens are tired of status quo, a flame of change will burn across the country and usher in a season of dedicated selfless leadership.
The writer, @DannishOdongo is a reporter with Capital FM and also the Chairman of the Political Leadership & Governance Programme Alumni Network. Views expressed here are his own.