04 January 2008

The right to bear machetes

Several weeks before the Kenyan election, a curious story by Charles Onyango-Obbo in The East African (Nairobi) reported: "A leading supermarket in Kenya has slapped an embargo on large sales of machetes, or pangas as they are popularly known around East Africa."

He went on to say, somewhat alarmingly:

The panga moratorium follows reports that unusually large numbers were being bought, and there were fears they would be used to hack political rivals to death during elections.

As an East African, the surprising thing about this was that the story did not make newspaper broadcast headlines until police intercepted a car with government number plates carrying a rich mix of pangas, bows and arrows, and rungus (clubs).

In Rwanda and Uganda, the story would have been bigger and stayed alive for days because, for historical reasons, machetes evoke a particularly frightening spectre of violence.

Then he goes on to tell what he has seen, having been an eye-witness shortly after events in those other places — and his tone gets quite unreasonable. I didn't tell you the title of the article, but it sums up his paranoia:

Beware the Machete , Kenyans. It Commits Murder Most Intimate

Today there's an opinion piece in The Monitor (Kampala) by the wonderfully named John Smith, which refers twice to the previous article by saying, first, "the Kenyan press warned the public a few weeks back that some people were buying large quantities of machetes from supermarkets prior to the elections." – and next, "Coming back to the fact that the Kenyan press warned the public a few weeks ago about large quantities of machetes being purchased from supermarkets, I would like to ask the question, is the world falling into Oginga's trap?"

Smith ignores the information in the previous article about the government's own pre-election preparations. But in other respects, he is much more a man of the real world than that wimp, Onyango-Obbo. Smith doesn't condemn the machete. He targets the opposition leader.

For, as the National Machete Association says: It's not machetes that kill people. It's people that kill people.

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