I want to stay here in Kenya. Yes, I want to stay, even though every part of me is telling me that I probably shouldn’t. On the way to the office Sunday, the ghost of a deserted city centre was mocking me with every step I took. It was the ghost of past events which appeared to suggest that all was not well in this country — that all might not be well for a long time. Empty streets. One or two pedestrians strolling towards uncertainty as they braved the chilling silence in the city.
And on lamp posts, walls and buildings were posters of politicians, they in whose hands the fate of a Kenya remains. It is Monday, the 31st. The very last day of the year 2007. I had planned to write something invigorating and uplifting, something full of cheer. Something warm to celebrate the end of an eventful year. However, the events of the past four days have shifted my focus because the fate of Kenya hangs in the balance.
On Saturday, it all dawned on me, just how dangerously we were treading on the throes of violence. A friend’s brother knocked on my door in the evening. He was accompanied by his wife and a two-year-old child.
They were seeking refuge, fearing that violence would erupt in Kawangware slums. They did not even bring with them basic belongings after rowdy crowds spilled into the streets to protest over delayed results.
As I fumbled for provisions to make the family comfortable, I wondered to myself: is this really what we are coming to? Does it really have to be this bad?
On television, the images from across the country were not encouraging either. So much anger and anxiety! So much hatred and resentment! So much pent-up fury! What has happened to us my brothers? Just when did the rain begin to beat us so hard? In so short a time, the country has been transformed into a potential time-bomb just waiting to burst at the seams. I am not sure what will happen tonight. I don’t even know if we shall wake-up to bask in the sunlight tomorrow. But if you are reading this and feeling the way I am, then you will agree with me it is just not worth fighting for.
Still I am angry with politicians who have been sending out insincere messages of peace and tranquillity. Some of them have failed to put the well-being of the country ahead of everything else.
Now I know for sure and I have been convinced beyond doubt that the problem is never really with us the voters. It is not with you and me who woke up on the morning of Thursday the 27th to line-up and cast our vote.
Greedy for power
The problem is and has always been with those at the top, those hungry and greedy for power, and those with the responsibility to decide for the rest of the millions of Kenyans. The problem has always been with those already in power and those scrambling for it.
We were tribe-less on that early morning queue on voting day. We all braved the chill to stand up and be counted in a major historic event. We met in the queue — strangers from different parts of this nation. For over five hours, while moving along slowly and in orderly and patient manner, we became friends of the moment, chatting and joking among ourselves about this and that.
The discussions were wide and vast, bordering on family, careers and other life issues. We laughed as we waited. We knew why we were there, surprisingly none of us got into the nitty-gritty of the political tempo that was the undeniable reason for our meeting.
We did not need to. We had exhausted that in months of campaigns countrywide. It did not matter then that we had dissenting views on who our favourite candidates were. We knew that. It just did not matter. At the end of it, we gave each other the thumbs-up, wishing each other well as we entered the voting booth. There was no fight, no scuffle.
This is one of the reasons why I want to remain in this county even as it seems like an un-attractive place to be in at the moment. Kenyans are peaceful people.
They are calm and rational. They love their country. Trust me, they do. That is why even amidst all the melee and pockets of violence reported across the country, Kenyans still want to see and experience the best of positivism that can come out of an anxious situation.
Today, despite the uneasy calm in the city, I caught myself staring into the eyes of strangers so that I could catch a glimpse of their souls.
Eyes do not lie. Believe me when I say that what I saw in the eyes of the strangers was something profound. It was something peaceful and calm. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason I want to stay here.
Bhutto is dead but her ideals live on
They just had to kill her! Benazir Bhutto had emerged as the champion of the poor.
She had been warned not to return to Pakistan from exile but she still chose to do just that. An attempt was made to assassinate her once. She was put under house arrest, but she still defied the order, saying someone has to speak for her people and that democracy has to be restored. I salute her because the suicide bomber has only managed to create a heroine out of Bhutto. She may or may not have won the elections that were coming up in early January, but she had stood out as a strong leader for her people.
I wonder how many leaders in Kenya now would be ready to die for their country, for the sake of democracy.
Our leaders may have been pre-occupied with the elections when the heroine passed on, but I hope they will look back at this woman and understand what it takes to be a leader and a selfless one at that.
The fact that she was a woman makes it much more significant with the likes of Mary Robinson, former Ireland’s president, having led the way in putting compassion into leadership. Robinson was known for doing rather than politicking.
She went from president to UN human rights commissioner and then quit before her second term expired. Some would say her departure from the UN was both unfortunate and predictable. Predictable because she didn’t know how to do politics. But before she left, she “put human rights on the map”.
Before taking over the mantle as Ireland’s chief executive, Robinson revealed herself to be tenacious and a fearless defender of human rights, championing women’s rights and campaigning for the liberalisation of Ireland’s laws.
Later as Ireland’s president (1990-1997), she achieved international standing by injecting compassion into politics. Among other things, she visited famine-ravaged Somalia and post-genocide Rwanda at a time when the big men of the world were pointing fingers at each other on why they never intervened on time.
Indeed, Bhutto will be remembered for trying to bring back sanity to Pakistan. She was seen by many supporters as compassionate and the only hope for her troubled country. She is indeed a heroine. May her death not be in vain.
What will Western journalists say about our country now?
Who can forget 2002? Not even the rest of the world who were so thoroughly impressed by the overwhelming maturity displayed by Kenyans. I recall that year with nostalgia.
I doubt that the same can be said of the events of the past weeks. Sadly, it is the same Western sceptics bent on portraying Africa negatively who are now sniggering and sneering. They predicted that our “democracy romance” of 2002 would be short-lived, that Africans are notorious for having a penchant to fight each other at the slightest provocation.
In the last few weeks, the country has been awash with scores of foreign observers and international journalists. What they report about Kenya makes me shudder because I know how skewed Western reporting on Africa can be.
But while they are still at it, in all fairness, I hope they appreciate too the manner by which ordinary Kenyans have become politically mature, enlightened about their rights and vigilant about the power of the vote.
It was clear during the campaigns that people had become issue-oriented and were demanding accountability from their leaders. This time round, those who turned up at the polls were not merely adding up to the long queues.
They were aware of what casting a single vote means in determining the tides of leadership.
Lest the West forgets, this is an undeniable achievement, which should not be overlooked.
After all, what is democracy if the people themselves do not acknowledge their stake at the polls?