When the devils that drive the beasts of men to their madness finally reached their destinations, everything descended to shit. Started with the blackout. When lights came back, even us kids knew exactly what had just happened. We did not even need Citizen TV to tell us, we read all we needed to read in the faces of my Mother Karua, Uncle Richard and Auntie Grace. They just sat on the sitting room, staring at the television. One with hands locked behind her head like she is about to break into mourning, another with her hands on her hips, her chest bellowing up and down in fury. The other one just sat on the couch, a palm covering his mouth as if trying to prevent something from coming out of his mouth – a cry, a wail or words he should not be saying around children. Even in that moment when anger and grief boiled underneath, he still felt the need of self preservation. I think he was more hurt than he was angry, but he could not show it. That is not what men did. Not when the kids were looking. These were the days when men were men and women preferred them that way.
The kids? We were not really children. Maybe in our parent’s eyes we were- in those eyes we never really grow up, we just grow tall. Yet we were old enough to understand that everything as we knew it was about to go left. It did not even take long before it did. As soon as every other TV station went offline and KBC was the only one working, as soon as Kibaki was sworn in as president at State House that evening, we knew that holy hell was about to descend.
And descend it did.
Uncle Richard came all the way from Mozambique to beat ombulu. As a matter of tradition, he visits at the end of every year. He puts his kids in an SUV and hits the road so that he is in dala by Christmas. This time, however, he was not just coming for Christmas because this was no ordinary Christmas. This was the Christmas to end all Christmases. This was the Christmas season when Agwambo wuod Adonija was supposed to take telo of this country and the bald History lecturer from the University of Mozambique was not going to miss this moment. He dropped his ballot in Siaya County on the 27th and then drove back to our house Kisumu to await the results.
Then Samuel Kivuitu happened.
The first thing we heard were gunshots not so far away. Karua instructed us to stay inside, but the thing with stolen elections is that it makes everyone a ballistics expert. All of a sudden, the men in the house could tell the difference between an AK47 rifle and a pistol, they could calculate how far a shot had been fired, whether it was real or rubber bullets and whether it was a warning shot or a shot meant to kill. Of course those experts said that it was safe to step outside. Of course we took their opinions more seriously than a mother’s worry.
We were staying in Ukweli at the time. A burgeoning settlement on the hilly outskirts of Kisumu on your way to Kakamega. There was a time when Maseno University Sacco bought large swathes of land in this place, then subdivided it and sold the bits to members willing to buy. Convincing people who had already settled in the surburbs to buy and build a home on these hills was not easy, but Mother Karua is not the type to be convinced about acquiring land she can afford. She sliced herself a portion and started building a house. This was long before William’s kidneys failed. Before William checked out. Before we went broke. Before we could no longer afford the KES. 8,000 rent in Migosi. Before the landlord asked Karua to vacate. Before we moved from the place the umbilical cord of my childhood is buried. Before I left the neighbourhood I first had my heart broken in. Before we moved to the house Karua had barely finished building, with no roof, no windows and no doors. Before we, the kids, came to the realization that nothing ever stays the same when the man of the house dies. Before my Uncle came to visit in the Christmas season of 2007 to celebrate the birth of the son of man, and the victory of the son of Adonija.
If Kisumu ever had a god, Ukweli would be his favourite seat. The removed green hills of Kanyakwar rise to overlook the entire town like a majesty of seraphims. The mess at Bomas was ugly, yes, but what was worse is the stink it left behind. The first, a column of black smoke rising to heaven around Kondele area. Then another in Mamboleo. Then one at Kona Mbaya. Then another in Ukweli.
The black smoke was just but a signal of what to come. The mode of operation was simple. If you were a Kikuyu living in a Luo’s house, pack and leave or else people would help you leave and your stuff would find new owners. If you were a Luo living in a Kikuyu’s house, you would vacate that house and then it would be razed to the ground.
Anyone who grew up in Kisumu at the same time I did knows Kimwa Grand Hotel. It stood in the heart of Kondele right next to that iconic building that has never been finished till now. Kimwa was a famous club back then. It was the shit. My brother would sneak off with some other girl to go dancing in Kimwa; climb out of the gate when Karua was asleep and then climb back in before sunrise. Sometimes, that other girl was my sister being swept away by some other boy with something to prove. Even us, the little ones, had our moments when Kimwa held dance competitions. Kimwa was so legendary such that the likes of Owino Misiani, Atomi Sifa and Princess Jully sought it out when they wanted give Kisumu people a treat. Kimwa was not just a hotel, or a nightclub. It was the belly button of Kisumu.
Lakini you know the kind of amnesia that plagues even the best of men when politics turns sour. Even places as significant as Kimwa are given labels then put on the weighing scale. I did not know the owner of Kimwa. I just knew of him. I knew the children – akina Mureithi. We grew up with them in Kisumu. They had a little mapedho, yes, but which rich kid didn’t. They were just alright. I cannot bet my life on this, but I can swear those must have voted for Raila in 2007. They were okuche by name only. However, by the time Kisumu was done with them, Kimwa was nothing but a shell of charred bricks and betrayals. The same with their home in Migosi.
I would be lying if I was to say that 2007/08 violence took something from me. It did not. I was sheltered. Up in the hills of Ukweli, we remained marooned. We suffered little sufferings like buying 50 bob airtime at 200 bob. Of course there was the inconvenience of Uncle Richard not being able to get back to Mozambique because horror stories abounded about Mungiki beheading travelers and using their chopped heads as roadblocks. Other than that, we were just fine. We still ate three square meals and slept eight hours.
Then one day I woke up to find that Nimrod was not in the house. Looked around for him, nothing. Then I heard Karua speaking to Auntie Grace about his girlfriend. You see, the thing with violence is that as long as it is not extinguished, it cannot be sated. Even when its intended target is long eliminated, it will always look for something to place its bony hands on. That is why when there were no more Kikuyu buildings left to burn, it turned its fingers on any other person who did not speak the tongue of the Lake. The first culprits; the Kisii. What they forgot was that Raila still managed to garner a tidy loot from the banana highlands thanks to the Member of Parliament for South Mugirango, Omingo Magara.
But what is common sense to a depravity of angry men baying for an excuse to set something on fire?
Nimrod’s girlfriend and her family lived in Manyatta. They too, had been staying there ever since God was in high school. Then one night, a craving of golems stood outside their gate shouting things they never had imagined would be shouted at them. If it were not for policemen rescuing them from the crowd and taking them to Kondele Police Station (now a refugee camp for tribes), they would have lost much more than just TV sets, a sound system, wardrobes and seats.
It has been ten years since 2007. A lot has happened. There has been a coalition government, a constitutional referendum, a brown envelope, ICC trials at The Hague (witnesses to which either recanted their testimonies, disappeared, or died), a General Elections and in true fashion, party defections. Politicians fall in and out of love with one another like characters in The Bold and The Beautiful. Isn’t it a wonderful thing when people actually live up to their expectations? In 2013, elections happened and because of what had happened a half a decade before. We only wanted peace. Kenya did not burn. Hard questions were shouted down as incitement. We accepted and moved on. Somehow, we mistook fear for tranquility and convinced ourselves that they mean the same thing. Musicians made a killing singing peace songs and making videos of themselves in white clothes and angelic doves flapping around.
If this country was to ever fall, it will be because we decided that promotion of peace is something we only care about once every five years. It will be because we decided to be selective with quoting the national anthem; remembering may we dwell in unity, peace and liberty, while conveniently forgetting the part that says justice be found within our borders.
Now here we are again. In 2017. The stakes are as high as they were in 2007. It is a do or die situation – both in the proverbial sense; Uhuru Kenyatta has a seat to retain and a surname to protect, while Raila Odinga has one final chance to become president or else settle for a pat on the back after a 35 years politica stretch; and in the literal sense – politicians being assassinated, the children of politicians being fished from rivers, other politicians reportedly kidnapped, a minister getting a “heart attack” and dropping like a gassed fly and an officer of the IEBC kidnapped and murdered in a manner too reminiscent of Robert Ouko and J.M Kariuki to be a ignored. There’s a list. Even as I edit this post, news just came in that Police in Kisumu have received first aid and disaster preparedness equipment including hundreds of body bags ahead of tomorrow’s elections. “We will use these kits including the body bags in cases of emergency or accidents or casualties arising from the election,” said Regional Coordinator, Mr. Wilson Njenga.
It has become a matter of life and death.
When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. -Cersei Lannister
Yet the most annoying thing about this election is not that we seem to have forgotten what happened a decade ago. The tragedy here is that the players have played their games and we, the Kenyan mass, are blind to the fact that we are the rooks on this table. Politicians who were enemies in 2007 became friends in 2013. The friends of 2013 became enemies in 2017. The only thing that has remained constant is us. We have never graduated from being rooks. We are always on the frontline of battle when the drumbeats of war are beaten. Fighting for what has never been, and probably never will be, ours in the first place.
In politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies. Only permanent idiots with poor memory.
Democracy is the counting of heads, not what’s in them –Padraig Deignan
After witnessing what happened ten years ago, perhaps then we should vote for our tribe. Perhaps we have been wrong all along trying to tell people not to engage in politics of identity. Ati you should not choose someone because you identify with them, but rather because of what they have/can do for you. Politics is about identity. It is about choosing who you think will do right by you. That is what it has always been about. That is why sometimes I look at online conversations asking people to drop their tribes every time politics come into play, and shake my head. It comes from a good place, that notion. It even rolls nicely from the tongue. Yet, I beg to differ.
There is nothing wrong with voting for your tribe. Absolutely zilch. Yeah, I said it. The only problem is that we have been defining our tribes wrong. We have been fighting the wrong tribes. We have been focused on engaging in censuring the wrong kind of tribes and then using that mathematics to determine who becomes king where.
My closest friend, James Mbugua, and I, rarely agree when it comes to many things. I mean, he is voting for Kidero and he defends it ever so passionately. However, the other day he rocked up the diggz with Captain Morgan and Coke in hand. We sat down, spanked the rear end of the bottle, poured libation and then put on some music. Adele and Labyrinth for the heart. Rum and Coke for the head. And we all know that where two or three men are gathered around a bottle of alcohol, politics will be in the midst of them. James is the kind of person who becomes wise the moment he sips something more potent than water or milk. When that happens, sadly, he breaks into a different tongue.
This time he saged thus.
Ûthamaki nî wagîrîire kûrorwo maita merî. Ûthamaki wa mûgongo na ûthamaki wa nda.
Ûthamaki wa mûgongo ûkuagûo kaingî nî athîni. Ûthamaki ûyû nî wa arîa matunyirwo mîgûnda na arîa matarî mawîra etc. Andû aya gutirî kîndu magaire kumana na wîyathi witû ta rûrîrî na ta bûrûri. Ûthamaki ûyû nîguo ûtûmagirwo kûgitira aici tondû nî ‘aitû’.
Ûthamaki wa nda kaingî nî wa athani a rûrîrî. Aya nîo ene mîgûnda na ûtonga wa bûruri. Kuma wîyathi aya nîo magaire mîgûnda na kaingî îrîa yarûirwo kaingî kumana na ûici na ûtunyani. Ûthamaki wa nda nî wa aandû matarî aingî. No ta nîo maita maingî matindaga makîhenanagia atî rûrîrî nî rugûhinyîrîrio nî andû angî. Ûthamaki ûyû utamagîra athîni kuîenderethia na kûgitira maundû mao.
Rîuûria andû o magaire kî?
It later turned out to be that this was not one of his deep seated pearls of ancient wisdom, but rather a paraphrasing of what one of the independent presidential candidates, Prof. Wainaina, said during a radio interview. For those who do not understand High Valyrian, Ûthamaki can loosely be translated to the common tongue to mean royalty. Mûthamaki is a high born. Anyone who is not a visitor in Jerusalem, has heard of the phrase ‘defending the uthamaki’ which is pretty much a rallying call to all people of the Mt. Kenya region to turn out in large numbers and keep one of their own in power. Usually for no other reason other than the propaganda that it is better for the leadership of this country to stay in Central Kenya.
In essence, what the two paragraphs mean is that there are two types of Ûthamakis. Ûthamaki wa mûgongo and ûthamaki wa nda. That is ‘ûthamaki carried on the backs’ and ‘ûthamaki of the stomach’. Ûthamaki carried on the backs is a reserve of the poor, the disenfranchised. The ones who lost their land, their jobs etc. The common folk who have not really benefited from the Ûthamaki they are called to defend. This ûthamaki is used/manipulated to protect thieves because they are ‘ours’.
‘Ûthamaki of the stomach’ is dominated by the leadership of the tribe and country. The high born. Those of purple blood. These are the owners of the land’s wealth. They own an awful lot, and too much of it. They got the wealth from independence, mostly from outright theft. They are an elite small group. They are the ones who mostly preach that the tribe will be oppressed if at all ‘other people’ ever manage to take power. They use the poor to protect interests and wealth that never really trickles down to the common man.
Now please ask yourselves, Prof. Wainaina said, what you ‘inherited’ or what/who you are protecting?
If there has ever been any person who explained my point is, it was this man, Prof. Wainaina. In politics, there are only two tribes – the rich and the poor. The concept of Ûthamaki is not peculiar to Kikuyus only. It is not even peculiar to Kenya. It is a concept as old as time itself. In different places, it is called by a different name, or sometimes, it has no name. Lakini Ûthamaki by any other name is still Ûthamaki. Because when Raila clears his throat to speak, Luos gather by his feet to pay attention. Same to akina Mudavadi and Luhyas, William Ruto and the Kalenjin, Kalonzo Musyoka and Kambas and and and…
The feud between Luos and Kikuyus is nothing ancient. It came about when one person lost his job (unfairly of course) to another person who was just being a dick. And ever since that fateful day in1966, these two communities have never known understanding. They have been banned by some unspoken rule from co-existing. And those of us who came later towed the line without interrogation. We were born in a certain geography, given a name and a language and told not to have anything to do with people from another certain geography. We were taught how to speak, but not for ourselves, or if you have to, speak for those who speak like you. We were told to look, but not touch. Fuck, but don’t marry. Live next to, but not vote for. And whatever you do, they said, don’t you dare ask why or why not.
Today I call bullshit.
I am not voting six piece like I did in 2013. I am redefining the tribes that I identify with. Mine is a politics of identity, though not identity of geography. I identify with Boniface Mwangi because of his valour, bravery, and because I want to see a young man like me with an interest in the arts like me, in parliament, making the voice of the people like me to be heard. Steve Mbogo and Jaguar are, at best, a bunch of jokes compared to Boniface Mwangi. The problem with political jokes, however, is that they get elected. Henry Cate VII.
Not with my vote.
I identify with Miguna Miguna – rough on the edges and tart-tongued, yes. But still, I would rather a man like him with no scandals to his name, than that lunatic called Sonko or that fox called Kidero. I identify with Johnson Sakaja regardless of whether he is truly Luhya or Kalenjin. He has stepped up when he was needed.
Every single day of my life, a person’s tribe has played a very little role in how I interact with them. This will not change tomorrow.
Mûthamaki no egetîre, nîguo? Omoteneneri goika erwanerere ere omonyene, taribo? Umwami genyekana yikingi mwene, sindio? Omwami omwene khakekhupanile, namwe? Musumbi aile kwitetea, Tiwo? Jotelo kadwaro dhau to gidhau adhawa mana kendgi, kose?
Let those seeking power fight for themselves. Ama namna gani, my frens?