I am a JaKisumo. Born in Nairobi and raised in Kisumu. Like many people, I only moved to Nairobi after high school. Back in Kisumu, I had a friend called Ford. His father named him after his favorite political party of all time, FORD Asili. No judgment here. Others have been named after worse things, like compass directions. Ford is way younger than me, by like five years, yet the day we moved to Ukweli from Migosi Estate, we instantly struck up a friendship that baffled many.
Ford knew everything. He knew who was dating who, who had a miscarriage and who aborted, he knew who the posho mill man’s wife was screwing- how she used to sneak off to Mamboleo in the afternoon when her husband had gone to Kiboswa to buy supplies for the shop that supplemented their earnings from the posho mill, he knew what time each village girl went to the stream to bathe, he knew who was shitting on our farm just by examining the size and colour of his poop – the green one as big as an arm was the doing of that man who beat his wife all the time, who was also the suspected night runner in the area, whereas the small brown ones no larger than the size of a rock belonged to their neighbour’s kids; the ones whose elder brother, Oricho, was a known thief, the badass of Ukweli. Ford was a walking encyclopedia. That is why in the January of 2008 when the sky was always black during the day and there was no food left in the house, it was him who was told to take me to Kiboswa to buy whatever we could get. The reason I was to go was because I was the youngest, and the reason he was to take me there was because Mother Karua did not want us using the main road.
But what are warnings to kids if not sources of curiosity? We used the main road, just so that we could see what they did not want us to see. We saw stones on the road. Patches of holes on the tarmac that looked like it had been melted. We saw charred buildings at Riat – the shop of that Kisii man had been burned the day before and rumour had it that the people who burned it had also burned his dog alive. What were they doing here when reports said some Kisiis had voted for Kibaki? Stupid Michuki people are the ones who had spoiled Baba’s kura and then had the audacity to stay behind to sell us things? They had to go.
Ford and I went ahead, past the winding turns along the Kakamega Road, the ones that have sharp corners and were on a cliff. We walked on the road because there were no matatus operating. There had been none for a while. Other than vegetation, much of what jeweled the road to Kiboswa were posters of Baba that were now starting to take to the soil. Much like his hopes of becoming president that year.
Ideally Mother Karua would not have sent me all the way to Kiboswa. First of all she knows I hate being sent. And secondly, that road is treacherous; it is a long uphill climb from Ukweli on foot. My brother, Deogratias, is the one who can manage it because he used to wake up at dawn to jog all the way and back. Myself, I was never that interested in physical fitness. But then circumstances forced her to send me. And that is where this story of mine takes a pause to give you a back story.
In those days when you and Kalonzo were on the same side and Duale and Ruto were boys with Baba, we were pretty sure that we were winning that election. Mother Karua was a presiding officer at Alego and my elder brother was a clerk at the same polling station. That December of 2007, my uncle had even travelled all the way from Mozambique to celebrate Christmas with us like he usually does, only that this one was even more special because we knew that by the new year, the second son of Jaramogi – Raila Amollo Odinga – was going to be sitting on the iron throne. He was the salt of the earth at that time, the breaker of chains, the Prince who was promised, the Azor Ahai.
However by the new year, the tides had changed. Deo and I had taken turns monitoring the election results from NTV, Citizen, KTN and KBC. By the time I was going to sleep on 27th Dec 2007, you guys had no hope, then by the next morning, Tharaka Nithi had performed its magic. As my Mother Karua, Nimrod and my uncle (together with his entire family) were coming back from shagz, Baks was sworn in as president. And the way Ukweli estate is on a hill overlooking the whole of Kisumu city, from the upstairs of our unfinished ghorofa we started seeing columns of black smoke. The first one was in Kondele and we were sure that was Kimwa Hotel. Then others came up in Mamboleo, Migosi, Town Center and those areas of Manyatta.
As the columns of smoke went up, so did the prices of airtime and the worry in Nimrod’s mind. Neem, as we have grown up calling him, was dating a Kisii chick. A lovely girl with a gap between her teeth. We all knew her. They had been dating since campus, I think, and they were living in Manyatta. It was not long before Neem’s phone rang to bring news that her family were now residents at Kondele Police station. I presumed the Kondele hooligans had done to them what Ukweli people had done to the shopkeeper in Riat.
You see, we were just coming from a December. We had had food. In plenty. Partly because it is a family Christmas tradition to overcook and partly because we had been waiting to commemorate the victory of Agwambo. So when kiosks started closing down, we did not notice. The fridge was full. We thought, “Aaah, this fighting will be over in a week or so, we are okay.” We were not okay. Meat from the goat we had slaughtered run out. The chickens in our compound went away. The eggs from our coop, finished. The sukuma in the garden lasted a few days. We were about 11 people in that house. My uncle had planned on returning to Mozambique by the end of the first week of January. They were to drive to Nairobi and then take a flight down. But then we started hearing ati there were some crazy people in Naivasha who were beheading guys and lining the road with their heads. Some people said those were scare tactics by our enemies, but others claimed it was true. So my uncle stayed. I mean surely, who could take that risk?
That is how food ran out and I had to go get more from Kiboswa. It was a market day. We got there at a little past noon. The sun on days like those was showing off just how hot it can get, as if there was ever any doubt. We had just bought 5kgs of meat that smelled like it was starting to turn when a fight broke out. We stopped to look. Two guys were fighting over maize. One had apparently stolen from the other then it became a whole to-do. Basically, shit was hitting the fans with the same ferocity that the market men were hitting each other. Perhaps that is why nobody noticed the police truck that was approaching, because the moment it spilled its contents onto the market grounds, only fools stood to bear witness.
They came in like a storm, fierce and unforgiving, armed with wooden clubs and glass that don’t break. They were Roman soldiers, attacking with a well-coordinated and an unflagging viciousness that, even when Ford and I ran away, we could hear the aftermath of their arrival come alive in the form of screams. Then the gunshots came. Have you ever heard a bullet leave its chamber, Mr. President? It is nothing like in the movies. It is not a simple Twa! Twa! Twa! An AK-47 rifle is not that meek. When it goes off, even those who are running have to stop dead in their tracks. As I did. As did Ford. It removes fear and installs hopelessness. When you are scared, you run. When you are hopeless, there is no point of running – you just stop and let what happens happen.
Bullets bring silence. It was in that silence that we stood and looked back and saw people on the ground. That is when our legs came back to life and carried us away on swift wings. This time, we did not use the main road. We only stopped the moment we saw the roof of our house peeping above the trees.
When you are scared, you run. When you are hopeless, there is no point of running. You just stop and let what happens next happen.
Look, Mr. President. You were at the ICC, so I do not expect this story to scare you, or move you to tears. You have heard worse; of that I am sure. The reason I am writing this letter to you is because I need you to remember where we were during that time. When your buddy Ruto was finally freed from the grasp of The Hague, you said, and I remember clearly, that nobody was ever going back there. Perhaps you meant something different when you said those words at Afraha Stadium, but I would like to hold you to those words, Mr. President. Let nobody go back to The Hague. And the only way that is ever going to happen is if people do not rise up against each other like they did in 2008.
I write to you today because yesterday I saw a police officer beat the life out of a man like he did not own one himself. He beat him with a huge wooden baton until the damn thing broke, and even after that kicked his ass, literally. The police beat that man within an inch of heaven. A video of the same was posted on NTV’s Facebook page with the caption, “Just how ugly things can get during demos.”
Permission to speak freely, Lord Commander? Let us be honest with one another. ‘Things getting ugly’ is what happens when you spill someone’s beer at Club 1824. ‘Things getting ugly’ is what happened when some chap spoiled for my girlfriend the Purple Wedding episode (King Joffrey’s death) during Season 4 of Game of Thrones. On that day when things got ugly. What we saw on that clip was not ‘things getting ugly’. It is important that we call it what it really was. No need to be vague with the truth. That was a complete violation of human rights by any standard. That was assault. That was Police Brutality. That was attempted murder. That was humanity gone to the dogs. That was an arm of the government shitting upon the Kenyan Bill of Rights. This was a betrayal of what makes us human beings.
That was not things getting ugly, bwana mkubwa, that was (pardon my tongue) things going to shit!
That was fucked up.
To be fair to NTV, the label of the video was ‘Police Brutality RAW’, but you get my point, sindio? That said, the video scared me, Kamwana. It took me back to that market day at Kiboswa. But thank God that I am still scared. Meaning there is room for redemption, because I am not yet hopeless. I do not want to be hopeless. Nobody does. Lakini did you notice the number of those protestors? They are increasing. At first when these #CORDProtests started, I paid them little to no attention. The way my folks paid the protests in 2007 no attention. But you know what? This time it could get worse. You know why? Because we have social media, cheap internet, and a lot of free time.
People are starting to rise up to fight. It almost a year to elections and the stuff social media handles are saying are telling of an impending doom. The long night is coming back, and the dead are coming with it. If you think I am lying, then just look at the comment sections of posts on Facebook. Follow conversations on Twitter. If it is too much trouble, then you can always have Itumbi read it to you like a bedtime story.
Revolutions are fueled by postings on YouTube.
– Iain Glen, Eye in the Sky
Today, I am not allowed to post anything on social media criticizing you because my name is Oduor from Kisumo, not because I have nothing useful to say. A Karanja or a Koech will start saying that I am a CORD sympathizer. I am not, Mr. President. No offence mate, but I am not on your side and I am not on CORD’s side (they’ve never been really honest about change, they just want their turn – hell, a bunch of their guys also violently robbed people in town jana).
Me I am a very selfish person. I am on my side. And on my side, Mr. President, men still value the basic principles of what makes us human beings. On my side, lives still mean something. On my side, I look around and realize that the things I love – my family, my friends, my life and my country – are not just things worth dying for, but living for as well. And if I was to choose between this life or the next, by George! I would choose this one, hands down. But why should I even have to choose, eh?
If indeed you meant what you said, that nobody else is going to The Hague on your watch, then please, make it stop. I just want my Mondays back. I want to work overnight on Sunday evening night transcribing Biko’s interviews, and then wake up at 9am to watch Game of Thrones. Which, I believe you should watch too, because if you did then you would know Tyrion Lannister, and if you knew Tyrion Lannister, then you would know that ‘you only make peace with your enemies, not your friends.’ You really need to listen to what that guy says. He drinks and he knows things.
I am looking to you for leadership. Not hashtags. You are the President, the Commander-In-Chief. So command, godammit, command. You can never be a lesser man if you extended a palm instead of fist.
Like I said in the beginning, I am a man of my words. I write to live. The other day some chick in a WhatsApp group for bloggers said that my stories are melancholic. Please do not make me tell other sad stories. I do not want to be that guy who mourns all the time like Adele. Please, let the next story I write be sunny. I do not want to write another version of Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza, or another Half of a Yellow Sun. I do not want to bleed on my next page, Mr. President. In any case, you and I should be more concerned about Magufuli and how he is now eating our lunch at the EAC.
Kamwana, are you listening? Please, give me my Mondays back.
Hope to hear from you soon.
Magunga Williams Oduor
A Kenyan Citizen