We were bundled at home that fateful December. Uncle had gone missing since taking his wife to Naivasha for a new posting. The eerie election hue had swamped the country in a drunken stupor. Time was sluggish. There was a lot of emptiness in the air. The smell of dread simmered through our lungs. Dad was away in Nairobi meeting fellow authors for a joint writing project and mother was just about to undergo a miscarriage. My siblings and I hadn’t even known she was pregnant.
Mwai Kibaki was hurriedly sworn in as President that evening as though he had stolen something. Then violence broke out. They ordered the media to stop live broadcasts. Ballots to bullets. All of a sudden bloodshed filled our TV screen. Grace to gory.
Kibera was losing her mind. But Naivasha had gone to the dogs.
Uncle still missing.
We heard a little bedlam had ensued in neighbouring Kajiado County. Holding on. Wishing none of it would come near where we lived.
His number stayed unreachable. Panic. Even his wife hadn’t heard from him. He had two beautiful daughters. The first born named after my late sister who was named after my maternal grandmother. It was difficult to stay afloat. Our blood froze fast.
Nobody could travel. Waiyaki Way was impassable. No one knew what could have happened to him. So waiting was the only option. Waiting. Hoping. Waiting.
Koffi Annan arrived. He tried to get the two political rivals to talking terms. None looked willing. As Kenyans hacked each other, those politicians seemed unmoved.
January 2008 was a long month. All news was bad news. One day as we were glued to our screen, a feature about Naivasha chaos popped. We saw rowdy youth with machetes surrounding a matatu. They were interrogating the passengers. Then a man frantically leaped out of the vehicle.
It was uncle.
We had no pleasure of pausing to confirm. But that was our blood. We knew him.
His face was full of chagrin as he flushed in front of the camera running for dear life. They followed him. Someone grabbed his shirt but he managed to remove it. He’d rather run naked but reach alive wherever he’d go. Sometimes you just want to keep running without a care where you’ll stop.
He lost his balance just a few strides ahead, thudding on the hot tarmac defeatedly. Painful to watch. His head hit the ground fast like a heavy stone falling from Mars. The angry young men caught up. We could hear women pleading with them to stop mauling him. They were a group of about ten – kicking and hitting, leaving him for dead.
His Kikuyu had failed him. They were looking for Luos to drown in death.
My family quickly tried to follow up with the media house on the whereabouts of that man. They said he was picked by a police truck taking dead bodies they found on the way. No further information.
Two days later we received a call from a nurse in Naivasha.
“Your relative is with us. He’s alive. Lucky to be alive.” She crooned.
He had regained consciousness and could fortunately remember some phone numbers.
His Indian boss hired police escort to Naivasha and a van to bring him to Kenyatta National Hospital. We were moved. I shed tears when our eyes met. He had no teeth and his head had cracked. But a lot of life in his eyes.
Hearing about violence is different from experiencing it. It changes you. You get reborn or you die. You don’t remain the same.
He was hospitalized for some time. We never thought he’d walk again. But somehow, uncle got on his feet. He even went back to cycling to work. A tall handsome man. His body a shadow of what it used to be.
An ardent reggae fan with a peaceable spirit, uncle told me he forgave those men. There was nothing else he could do to move on. I don’t know what it took him. I’m terrified to ask. Having someone close to you go through that kicks you in the stomach. You suffocate. You stop trusting people.
It’s beautiful he had an endearing family for a support system. Maybe that helped in his healing. I’m certain there are parts of him that never came back. It’s just hard to talk to him about it. But many more Kenyans lost more than teeth. Thousands lost their lives. More than half a million were displaced.
My uncle’s story is a drop in the ocean. For 41 year old Lina, a Kibera resident, she was gang raped by policemen whom she thought had come to rescue her out of her hiding when the violence broke out. One was in her vagina, another in her anus and the third in her mouth.
Survivors of rape and other sexual violence continue to experience significant physical and psychological trauma and socioeconomic hardship. This is worsened by the Kenyan government’s failure to provide medical care, psychosocial support, monetary compensation, and other redress.
83 year old Joseph’s home was attacked by about 50 youth. They raped his two daughters and ordered him to rape them as well, but he declined. He was beaten senseless and sexually defiled. They hit his teeth with a metal bar, causing them to come out. His two girls are since dead. One was infected by HIV. She met one of the rapists once, went into shock and never recovered. The other one had been badly beaten and shot with a poisoned arrow. They amputated her leg but she kept ailing and died in May 2015, 9 months after her sister’s passing.
The endless horrendous stories of the 2007/8 post-election violence numb me. It was hard to understand what called for a celebration when President Uhuru Kenyatta hosted a “thanksgiving service” expressing his gratitude that the International Criminal Court (ICC) dropped charges of crimes against humanity against him, his deputy president, William Ruto, and a co-defendant, Joshua arap Sang, in April 2016. Nobody in the top office seemed to worry that the PEV survivors would not get justice for the crimes committed against them.
It showed a lack of commitment from the government to end the culture of impunity in our nation. The 2013 General Election took place in “peace” and its dim success blanketed the underlying issues that are yet to be dealt with among Kenyans. It is therefore assumed that Kenya has healed from that phase of her history. 10 years have elapsed, but for very many people, it is just yesterday. They live with fresh wounds in a country where politics and corruption are milk and bread, and not solutions to the pertinent issues people are ailing from.
We head into another election year and already things are heating up as they always do. The Kenyan media is once again at the core of striking up people’s emotions with political rhetoric. Scores of Internally Displaced Persons are yet to regain decent livelihoods. Many more survivors barely imagine they shall ever grasp justice in this lifetime and the middle class is not exerting pressure on the government to work these issues out. Perhaps the citizens are the bigger problem.
We seem to have given up, leaving our country to be run by crooks and devils. But maybe we are the bigger devils. How do we stand watching our fellow countrymen suffer yet we have a government in place which should be taking care of all of us?
There is a reason we vote. It should not be to sign in our tribesmen in the top offices. It should be to spark holistic growth of the economy and everyone MUST be a beneficiary. But until a majority of us understand that, we should prepare for more suffering.