There’s a cloud hanging over us.
I don’t think that elections should always be times of existential crisis. I don’t believe that we should head towards polls feeling the kind of fear we do now. I don’t think that the most symbolic exercise of democracy should ever be a by-word for terror.
Yet I live in Kenya.
It’s been 10 years since that traumatic event that we can’t get over or maybe shouldn’t. I had plans to go to Mombasa for my first time, the election was just after Christmas and I was getting on a bus to leave for celebrations, not about who won but for the new year.
15 years ago I was too young to vote but I remember that on December 31st people would wave their two fingers and say NARC instead of happy new year, because of this I could make plans to go celebrate.
But this is not how I feel now.
Let me be clear I don’t expect any form of widespread violence. The statistics bear me out. 1,000 people or more died last time in addition to this there are the undocumented rapes, the severed limbs, the destroyed relationships, the traumatised children, and a nation with PTSD. It’s quite a toll on a country. We haven’t gotten over it yet and how you know is how you feel.
I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that we lost 1,000 people and were at war for 2 weeks and the result of this is a “never again.” It proves to me that Kenyans in general have no stomach for the vagaries of war. Wars our neighbours engaged in go on for years. Wars our former slave-masters were engaged in killed tens of millions. The horror that took place in Rwanda killed almost ten percent of their population. That every death is a tragedy is a fact. Every single person who died that day left someone to mourn them. Every single person who died left. They went into the great unknown from which none of us has returned. They may be in any of the versions of heaven or hell that we believe in so much, they may be ghosts roaming our land, they may have come back to us in the form of all the new life since then, they may have been snuffed out and that light they gave the world lost forever. Death is a tragedy for everyone left behind but until we go there and know what awaits us we have to believe and behave as if it is a horrible tragedy for the one who died, otherwise what are we even doing here? Still I take heart from the fact that the relatively small scale of our war left us like this. We haven’t gotten over it yet.
So here we stand within grasp of the next election. The month of July served us up some big hiccups in terms of trust in our institutions, trust in our leaders, and trust in our mortality. The deaths of six Kenyans have left us shaken. Actually the truth is that the general forgetfulness and misogyny of Kenyans means that the deaths of 1 person has us shaken. Four men from the time of Moi died in that month within days of each other. The grim reaper had a field day calling them up to that vastness in the hereafter, by now we don’t really think about them too much because we are Kenyans. Remember that a KRA employee was found dumped on Mombasa Road just last month? He does not affect the math or us this sad reality is part of being Kenyan. Learning the value of human life by how much thought you put into it yourself.
Last week an IEBC commissioner and a young lady were killed. Who did it and why? We desperately want to know. Someone somewhere decided to order at least one death and sanction as many others as were necessary to cover up that first. Someone somewhere for reasons that are difficult to fathom did this to us this close to the election. Someone somewhere does not care about the lives of you and me and our loved ones. It pains me, this situation. It feels like something broke when this was done. There have been deaths and there has been anger before. We don’t speak about those deaths anymore we don’t think about that anger because something makes us forget these things.
When they killed Mr. Msando, when I really considered that they had gone and done it was clear to me at least that no life is sacred anymore. None of them can be protected. God has been endeavouring to remind us of this very fact all of our lives. The four men of Moi were scooped up in an attempt to tell us that death is not part of our province. That death is not something we should deal with. That for death all we should ever do is wait and not even for too long. Yet refusing to listen they killed him. The forces of the world conspired to leave us not only scared as we usually are when there are elections, but also saddened and angry.
They also killed Ms. Mundu. 21 years of life is all that was slotted for her. While medical professionals keep striking this is what our country does to them, it kills them. It kills them at an age when they are still full of life. It kills them before they have a chance to save any lives. It kills them and forgets them.
We have considered the death of Mr. Msando and treated that of Ms. Mundu as a by-line. She died for her country too. She too was a person who had chosen a life of service. She too was killed for all of us. The pain of losing somebody so young for something so senseless is not something I can pretend to understand or access.
And as one more death came to beg us to choose futility instead of hope another came to remind us that there is more than one type of hate in this country of ours. We have been talking about tribalism for so long you would think this was our only problem. Yet there are people always speaking about the other kind of hate. We dismiss them all the time. We say that the problems they talk about aren’t problems. We say that they hate men. We say that their concerns are quotidian. We turn the words of the bible against them. We deny that the world is kinder to us than it is to them. We take comfort in our conclaves. And, because this is how the world has looked to us we refuse to accept that it can look any different to anyone else.
People I consider reasonable waited barely a day before they took this death as a pulpit from which to preach the ills of adultery (as the only explanation they could reach for this association.) Ms. Mundu was blamed for not staying in her lane, she was blamed for associating with older men, women of her age are being told right now that this is what happens if they don’t do as told.
In the midst of this brutal reminder of those dark days ten years past somehow this poor woman was found guilty. If Jesus of Nazareth can see us what must he think? When he said let he without sin cast the first stone in order to show us that this act, whether or not a sin, is not a crime who do they think he was talking to? How can a society that believes that this man is God take advantage of a tragedy like this to cast stones?
There is before us a crime. We don’t know who the perpetrators were but we know what they did. They went and killed two of us. There are people to blame even if they are shadows, even if they are the forces of the world, even if they are the eponymous they. It is the killers to who we should turn with accusing fingers and eyes red with anger and tears. It is the murderers who we should throw at words of morality and quotations from scripture. It is the assassins who deserve our ire and our fire. In a situation where the lines of morality are so clearly drawn in blood red against the soil of our country some of us can still find it in us to blame Ms. Mundu.
We have some problems to fix in Kenya. There is hate in our hearts. There is a love for power which if we squint at just right looks exactly like a hate of people. And there is this hate of women. This thing we have encouraged until a person can in the same day ask us not to speculate on the possible reason for the death of Mr. Msando and use the death of Ms. Mundu as some kind of moral instruction to young women.
I’ve been seeing and accepting that women have it bad here. I had no idea it was this bad but it is.
What are the solutions to these problems? Fucked if I know, fucked if I don’t. Everything here is breaking apart and the truth is it is up to us to hold it together. To grab it in our pain with our palms to make it our aim to give up alms until it is fixed. As for the election, I wish my country and her people the best of luck as they go out to vote.
As to what to do when in front of a ballot paper with the blood of Kenyans dripping from the roof to allow you to vote let us remember the words of he who never wanted a stone cast “Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?”