I don’t do politics. Or rather, I don’t do it well. I voted at the very last minute, and I ascribe to being truly Kenyan. I have no tribe. I get pissed whenever my daughter comes home from school with some tribal spew that she picked from a classmate.
Post Election Violence was frightening for me because for the first time, I saw friends judge my by my father’s tribe. I had people approach me in the office trying to get me to pick one side or the other. I had a stranger from *my tribe* walk up to me and talk ish about *that other tribe* in mother tongue. I pretended not to understand, so the Tanzanians watching us assumed that we were from opposing tribes. I guess I looked pretty hostile.
During PEV, I wasn’t in Nairobi. I was in Dar. I watched terrified but safe as CNN and Aljazeera aired the worst of the worst. I blogged about my feelings and received scathing responses. One reader suggested I should stop hiding in comfort, and that I should come back home and fight on the ground instead.
I sent him an email in response. I said it wasn’t his country burning – it was mine. I said he didn’t have family in danger – I did. I said I hoped he never felt as damaged and helpless as I did just then.
Whenever people in the news talk tribally, it shakes me to my core. It makes me remember just how bad things got, and just how bad things are. It shakes me even more that while some people are still living in tents on relief food, others are pretending to be IDPs so they can benefit from handouts. For every 3 genuine cases, there’s some leech trying to get what isn’t his – or hers. I know that’s human nature, but it stings, and it stings deep.
Today, while idling on Twitter, I tweavesdropped an exchange between @Nittzsah and @MisterNV, fellow members of the DR crew. I wondered what it was about, so I followed along to this article. It’s describes Raila Odinga from the writer’s perspective, which I fear is shared by a lot of people.
The writer feels that Raila isn’t serious or important enough to resolve the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire. He accuses Raila of political and ideological seasonal migration.
My hands always shake when I read stuff like this, because I fear that it will stoke idle fires. There’s still a lot of misplaced passion in the hearts of many Kenyans, and I’m afraid they’re just waiting for an excuse to let it out. So when I hear statements like this, I curl into a corner and start saying my rosary, and I’m not even Catholic.
I don’t particularly like Raila, but I don’t dislike him either. I understand that it’s a fault in my DNA, because I’ve seen shrines to his holiness in many places, some a lot closer to home than I’d like. I’ve seen family members faint in his presence and jump at any excuse to take pictures with him. I’ve seen him at funerals of my cousins, and watched as the framed mourning pictures were placed on household pedestals, literally.
I saw him at another cousin’s wedding – and watched in disgust as he was ushered by the crowd to sit on the ‘right side.’ My cousin was the groom, and Raila had arrived with a party representing the bride. A little wheedling and vernacular got him sitting in the wrong chair with the right crowd. Yes, it was a tribal thing. You see, Raila had come with the father of the bride, who was a personal friend of his – from another tribe. ‘My people’ convinced him to cross over to the groom’s side and sit among ‘his own’. I almost cried.
So you see, I have no allegiance to the man as a person. I enjoy his jokes and his speeches, and I think he’d have known better than to do a sunset swearing in, but other than that, I have no opinion on the man – which is why I was surprised by my reaction to the article. It was harsh and inflammatory, and vastly inaccurate.
I agree that while I was in Dar watching horrors on the news, I was angry at the man. I knew he had been conned, denied of victory, but I was mad. I knew that his followers are capable of madness. Any idiot who runs at an armed cop holding a stone is NOT mentally okay. People who uproot railways with their hands are very strong … and very amusing … but also very disturbed. Very, very disturbed. To do this in the name of a politician is nothing short of frightening. That kind of devotion cannot be reasoned out, and it can – and does – get people killed.
I didn’t believe for one second that Raila put them up to it. I believe those nutters acted on their own volition, and their action was driven by a fanatical love, the kind from Basic Instinct or Cruel Intentions. Pure, unadulterated nuts.
And then, the worst of the violence wasn’t even in Nyanza – it was in Rift Valley, which is a whole different ball game. The bad blood there goes back to Molo and beyond, and Tom Chlomondeley is just a teaser in the waters. When it came to PEV, both sides were involved, both sides got nasty, and it became a hellish orgy of tit for tat with no way of knowing who threw the first blow. To the people who got hurt, it doesn’t even matter who picked up the first stone.
The real reason I was mad at Raila is because he knows the power he holds. I honestly believed that if he really wanted to, he could have made it stop. He could have stood upon a podium and said ‘Enough!’ and it would have been. I still believe that.
Earlier today, I read a story that made me smile. It mentioned a church service with seven wedding bans, each of them involving couples from different tribes. I hear stories like that and it warms my heart, because it shows me that 2007-2008 won’t happen ever again. There will be people willing to stop it, or at the very least, willing to try.
But stories like the one that portrays Raila as a butcher don’t help matters. They enrage his supporters, enliven his opposers, and start the whole ugly mess all over again.
If that story had been written by a Kenyan, Lord knows what would have appeared on the news tonight. But the fact that it was written from the outside is – in some ways – infinitely worse. The guy [or girl] who wrote that story truly believed it, and so will lots of people who read it.
The average Kenyan is – I think – hoping to see justice served to the Ocampo 6. Of course there are those who disagree, and a lot of them hold the title of Honourable So-And-So. I refused to be dragged into this debate earlier, but I’m moved enough to give my two cents. What happened after elections was beyond words. We shouldn’t just pretend it didn’t happen. Ocampo’s accusations didn’t come out of the blue. They were backed by research, evidence, and data, and whoever caused this hurt needs to pay.
But even more than that, we need to get those people back to life, back to homes, back to farms. We can’t have a nation of refugees within their own borders. That’s insane.
I pause in my ranting to think, to breathe. This all seems like idealistic nonsense, and I’m sure someone will say I should get up and do something about it. Thing is, I’m not sure what. But I do know that as long as people ‘out there’ have that view of people ‘in here’, and people ‘in here’ are only concerned with playing politics, then nobody is really going anywhere.
I started this post asking whether we love Raila or hate him. I think there’s a good number of people that do both. I don’t understand the machinations behind sending him to Cote d’Ivoire. I leave that to sharper minds than mine. But when I read that article today, my heart stopped for a moment as I wondered how the people would react.
In the past few weeks, there’s been a lot of talk on Twitter about revolutions and people thinking someone should just set themselves on fire. I think many times, we do, except we do it with words. I just wish writers with authority would think carefully before they put theirs down.