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Thursday, September 13, 2012

the Bak stops here

In a few months president Kibaki comes to the end of his 2nd 5 year 3 month term, somehow even in that finding a way to circumvent the constitution. As this happens people will start looking back over his reign and try to find a legacy within it. A thing that will forever define what he stood for, the event that will be written down in history books for generations to come because Kenyan children need to know about their third president.

When he was sworn in for this term our country was tittering on the brink of chaos, no one knew which way it would fall and dark days surrounded us all. There was suspicion and fear amid hatred and enmity. There were smss circulating telling people not to drink the tap water because someone had put poison in it. Remember that? I do only barely though because a Kenyan characteristic imprinted in me is the ability to forgive and forget. To be a good little Christian even when it leads to results in repeated infractions. But for a few weeks I lived in a country where people were asked not to drink the tap water because it may be poisoned. I lived in a country where machetes and bullets were the way to settle arguments. I lived in a country where my 5 year old niece had to make a joke that she was scared her neighbours would cut off her braids, that the machetes would slice into her mother’s belly and spill forth the baby that had been growing there, a country where her brother in a moment of clarity had to drop his trousers in order to show he was circumcised just so his neighbours of 2 decades would let him go. For weeks we lived in a country where people didn’t go shopping for groceries they bought provisions, where the flow of information was stifled and people heard more about what was happening in the country from relatives outside it who could still watch CNN. Are there any of us who did not know a refugee? An internally displaced person? Someone who had to move out of their home because they were scared of what may happen if they did not?

A lot of my friends sometimes say that it wasn’t so bad that the media exaggerated what happened, that in some places people sat at home and nothing was happening there. But I think they forget the atmosphere of the time. Even if you weren’t physically touched by violence there was violence in the air. Do I believe emotions have power? Do I think thoughts can stain the air and that malevolent spirits spread their power not through some mystery of the ether but through the minds and intentions of human beings? Yes I do and you would too if you ever walked into a room where a particularly truthful argument had happened when people had spilled their emotions into the air and you walked in and felt tense. For weeks an honest argument occurred. The instruments of convincing were machetes and bullets. Blood was spilled. Hate was shown, security was shorn. Life came to a standstill and screams rent the air. Families split apart. Children lost. Sons, daughters, wives, uncles, nieces, nephews, aunts, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends, they all died. They all died. That spilt blood, the emotions that led to the swinging of that machete, those were all part of what polluted the air of our country and if you lived somewhere untouched by violence and never saw it with your eyes never heard of it with your ears you still felt it in your soul. You felt the uncertainty, the fear that comes of a child playing with a tinderbox near a clutch of dynamite.

Against this background president Kibaki was sworn in. He whisked himself off to a private ceremony all in attendance being him, the chief justice and some unlucky cameraman. The only person who had no choice in what they were doing being the cameraman. I can’t quite remember the sequence of events now. Everything seems to blur together. We had the most participatory election we had ever had. The people believed that their will would be reflected in the count. Rigging was unimaginable in the hearts and minds of anyone even those who rigged didn’t think they would. Otherwise why would they allow the counting to be televised? Why would they be so clumsy as to have constituencies returning 120% of the vote. Why would all these things happen if they had wanted to rig? I know we went to bed one night and the spirits of those who supported the government woke up while we slept and slipped them a few hundred thousand votes. I remember the uproar. That much freedom of press is not something you give if you expect to rig. Was the violence spontaneous? Am not sure anymore. Was the morning when we saw how blatantly cheated we all were the dawn that brought out the worst in all of us? Am not sure. What I do remember was that by the time the president was being sworn in the soul of our country was black. Grass fields, bald president, national TV station. This was it. What had happened to the government that had allowed any member of the media with a camera in to film the counting of votes? Why was this historic event being witnessed by only the cameras of KBC? How did the government that allowed the results of a referendum election that they lost stand come to this. Where was our happy jovial president? The uncle with the bulging cheeks? The man who never angered except when he did. How did this kindly grandfather disappear and be replaced instead by this spectre? By this symbol of the remove between politicians and people?

We had seen such a transformation once before. When the government lost the 2005 referendum president Kibaki stood up and sacked his whole cabinet. In him we saw steel on that day. He was not a man to be trifled with, he was someone who could be angry, who could respond to emotion, to anger, to loss, to defeat by lashing out. Our kindly grandfather could be a child throwing a tantrum after losing a favourite toy except he was made of steel and iron. Ice was his breath as he sacked them then and ice was his will when he lost again.

What is president Kibaki’s legacy?

Well I remember 2002 too. I remember those days and those nights. When instead of happy New Year we said NARC. When for a time politics wasn’t a divisive factor. It was something that brought people together. The flowers that rose, the balloons, the happiness of the first inauguration. I remember a president being sworn in surrounded by people who loved him and what he represented. I remember that the swearing in wasn’t a hastily put together event. It was a national day and anyone who wanted to be a part of it could be. It wasn’t hurried in order to put an irrevocable seal on stolen elections. There was foreplay, there was excitement, there was daylight, and there was happiness. He wasn’t surrounded by power he was surrounded by people. Here was a man who was handed Kenya in its prime a country of sun and flowers and brotherhood. Kenya stopped for that

I can’t quite remember how the second inauguration looked or at what time it was but in my mind it was always done in the evening. The sun was setting and already withdrawing its light from the earth. Those men, our leaders. The head of the judiciary and the head of the executive stood together on a lawn with no one to witness save one cameraman and muttered words at each other and with that he won his second term.

Is there a difference between the truth and what I believe to be the truth? There probably is. What I believe to be the truth is that president Kibaki stole that election. That in front of the eyes of the whole nation he conspired to sell our faith for his power. To sell our unity for his victory. Post-election violence didn’t happen just because of a stolen election and the First World War didn’t occur just because some archduke was assassinated. Things like this have far reaching reasons. Pains that reach back and wounds so large and scabbed over we don’t know they are wounds. But like the child playing with a tinderbox near a clutch of dynamite things need something to set them off. Like that child he had no idea what he was doing. No one who plans to rig puts so many eyes on himself.

This is what I think is his legacy: I never felt those wounds. I didn’t inherit the genetic memory of distrust, mistrust and tribalism that so many of my tribesmen carry around. I couldn’t see from physical features what tribe that person belonged to or from all but the most common surnames what part of the country this other person hailed from. I didn’t have that. I still don’t consider myself a tribalist, some of my closest friends and biggest crushes have been kikuyu but and this is what I blame him for, now in front of them I daren’t say what I know in my heart to be the truth. In my heart I know that the election was rigged but talking to people I love I still can’t tell them that. I don’t want the argument that may occur, and how tribalist is it of me to assume that just because they are kikuyu they automatically don’t want to hear this. In my mind this is what his legacy is a rift between me and these people. An automatic tribal assumption on my part. A fear of what my friends will say or think or how they’ll look at me if I just say what I believe to be the truth. The stench of hate that poisoned the air after that rigged election has not left us yet. The barrier is there and no matter what this is a legacy that that man has left behind.