I’m not an activist. I don’t believe in strikes or protests or demonstrations. I don’t believe in mass action, or violent responses, or glorious ends that justify dangerous means. I’m simply a Kenyan. A patriotic, terribly frightened Kenyan. I’m also the mother of a mixed-tribe child, because I once fell in love with a Kikuyu, even though my dad is a Luo.
In 2007, I wasn’t at home. I was safely in Tanzania with my daughter. I was shaking at work, because of the horror I saw on CNN. I was trembling with panic because I couldn’t reach the (other) people that I love. I was floating in a stupor because there were no phone calls, no emails, no contact from my family and friends back home. And I was helpless to do anything to stop it.
Visitors came from Kenya, from our head office in Nairobi, but all they brought were terrifying stories and misplaced bias. I didn’t listen because I didn’t want to hear, and I couldn’t bear to believe. I heard of relatives attacked for having the wrong ID, and friends terrorized within their own homes. My body was safe, but my soul was in constant turmoil.
So many scary things have been happening lately – grenades and bomb blasts, matatu crews attacking commuters, riots in eastleigh, violence between communities, clashes in Tana, police deaths in Baragoi, KDF in Kismayu, IDPs without basic facilities, hundreds of Kenyans dying near and far from home. Is it worse to have your loved ones die in your arms, or to be too far away to do anything to help them? I don’t know. But this time, I’m here, and I’m scared shitless that I’m going to find out.
A lot of people are too disillusioned to vote. They don’t think their single ballot can make any difference. I used to be one of those people. I can argue it out, and I can be fairly convincing. One thing bothers me though. Every time there’s a protest or a march or a strike, I quietly object. The doctors, the teachers, the airport staff, the nurses … all of them had legitimate concerns, but I was against their choice of how to deal with things. Yet I never say anything out loud, because I have no alternative solutions.
Until now. This morning, I realised that I do have a solution, and that there is something I can do. I can cast my vote. It doesn’t guarantee that my candidate will win. It doesn’t promise that all our problems will suddenly go away. It doesn’t mean that things will change, or that I’ll make a drop of difference in the world. But it does mean that I’ve acted. I’ve taken a stand. I’ve done something.
And you know what? I can do one better. I can make my vote peacefully. Because mob justice doesn’t start out with a crowd. It begins with individual people making individual choices that it’s better to make war than peace. It starts with one single person grabbing a stone, or a stick, or a flaming torch and throwing it at someone else. So if that one person doesn’t pick the first stone, then there’s no fighting, no blood, no pain. And you’ll never really know whether you are that one person.
So if you do anything this week, let it be this. Go get registered. Use your right to vote. Make the choice to vote peacefully. Be the person that just might stop your neighbour from picking up that stone. Yes, I realise that those are four things, not one, but as cliché as it sounds, it really does start with you.