Kenya: One year on

2008 began for Kenyans with the murder of Kenya’s democracy. It ended with the son of a Kenyan migrant winning the US presidential race. Three pervasive myths still circulate about the Kenya Crisis.
Post election violence in Kenya.
Post election violence in Kenya.

2008 began for Kenyans with the murder of Kenya’s democracy. It ended with the son of a Kenyan migrant winning the US presidential race. Three pervasive myths still circulate about the Kenya Crisis.

First, that it is over. In May 2008, the host of NTV’s breakfast show asked me, ‘Shouldn’t we just get over it and move on?’

On 27 December, the one-year anniversary of the stolen election, the presenter of the BBC’s The World Today programme struggled with irritation when I kept harking back to the civil coup.

‘Hasn’t the country moved on?’, he demanded pointedly.

The answers lie in Ndung’u Wainaina’s exposure of the fundamental flaws of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Bill, and in Ann Njogu’s stark description of the ongoing purgatory of hundreds of thousands of displaced Kenyan women and girls.

We cannot move on because the post-election violence simply ripped the lid off deep historical chasms and inequities that have never been truly laid out for resolution.

The second myth is the idea that ‘It is impossible to know who really won the 2007 election.’ Therefore, revert to myth one – get over it and move on.

I am frequently challenged on my use of the term ‘civil coup’. Anyone who accepts the deeply compromised Kriegler Report at face value must read the articles ‘Unfinished business from Kriegler’s IREC’ and ‘Truths missed and tasks dodged: Kriegler report is a half-baked job’ to understand how Kenyans have still not received the truth they deserve about the election.

The third myth has practically spawned its own genre: the stories of ‘what saved Kenya’. My favourite among these so far was recounted to me, in all earnestness, by a Ugandan lawyer: ‘It was Museveni who told Raila and Kibaki: Guys, you need to sort this out. Remember how he arrived in Kenya with that briefcase under his arm? The mediation agreement was inside.’

The lessons of how Kenya was pulled back from the brink of anarchy are vital for the rest of the continent. They highlight the unsung importance of skilled civil society professionals doing their jobs and doing them excellently.

Of communities standing up for their rights, against poverty and marginalisation. Of pan-African progressive networks. Of building movements and alliances. Building institutions, infrastructure, and coalitions. So that in the moment when somebody needs to speak, the channels exist, and open, for them to be heard.

On 3 January 2008, as bloodshed escalated across Kenya, all three daily newspapers agreed to run the same banner headline: ‘Save our beloved country’.

In the year since, Kenyans have moved from that supplicant pose to one of palpable, vocal outrage at the repeated betrayals of the political class. It is an outrage that has taken to the streets and will not be silenced.

Where do we seek visionary possibility in this moment, when it seems that the ruling class will sell the very soil from under our feet? I find it in the heroes of Kenya’s peoples’ movement.

In ‘On the frontlines of the struggle’, Patrick Kamotho Githinji sets out, with matter-of-fact simplicity, his extraordinary ability to transcend the horrors of Kenya’s prisons to educate, empower and advocate for his fellow remandees.

Save our beloved country. What does it mean to love a country when we shut our eyes to the brutality enacted daily on the majority of its inhabitants?

How can we love our country if we haven’t taken in the pain of our own history? If we haven’t really looked at, or listened to, the schisms and jagged cracks in our own society?

Claiming the truth, feeling everything it evokes in us, is vital political work. To love our country is to demand justice for all Kenyans over sentimental invocations of national unity.

To choose truth, evidence-based analysis, and the enormity of the challenges before us over the fallacy of ‘moving on’.
Shailja Patel is an award-winning Kenyan poet, writer, and political activist.


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