Kenya’s Elections: A Blip in Memory

by Nduta Waweru

© 2017, Pearl Kimemiah

My sister and I disagree over the 2007 post-election scenario.  She says we slept in the garage’s trench but I say we slept under a huge truck at the police station. I blame this on memory. It has been almost ten years since we ‘hurriedly’ left our home in Iten to look for shelter at the police station as the crisis of what we thought would be a few days escalated.  But that’s just a blip in my memory, or hers.

Memory is a thing we love to play around with. The 2017 elections and the results that have followed have unveiled aspects of this country that we tend to forget, aspects that we tend to sweep under the carpet and hope tomorrow will be better or fit our perceptions of better.

Moving and Migration

They come in flashes: incidences that we ignored days before the 2007 elections.  For us, it was never an idea that we would have to leave the place we had called home all our lives. I never thought we would be forced to leave the small town with the two main roads, the market that kept shifting from one location to another (Last time I was there it was at a place Kariobangi), and an expansive field that once turned into a pond during the el Nino.

Every morning, we would cross the field to get to our small shamba where we kept a cow, a bull, and a few sheep. We lived in the middle of town, just a walking distance from everything—the post office, the shops, and the bank. It was home for years and leaving was never an option, until it was.

For many in 2017, this movement and migration was pre-meditated. I would imagine they sat and conferred with their families and friends the things they needed to do before August 8 with a calendar at hand, ticking away time and dates to the D-day.  This made sense as many were caught unawares in December 2007 and the first few months of 2008 and faced horrors that will forever be a mark in their lives and those of their descendants.

As early as late 2016, people made plans and even started to move away. Residents of Naivasha started relocating fearing attacks after intimidation and threats. For Ngong, residents received pamphlets asking them to vacate if they do not vote for a particular candidate.

Of huge trucks and boots

We spent almost a week at the police station; counting hours before help could get to us. It was quite a hustle for others to access Iten as roads from Eldoret and Kabarnet had been blockaded. The only people that could access and give us help was the military.  They became that beacon of hope for us, taking some of us to Nakuru’s Afraha Stadium where there was a temporary internally displaced people’s camp.

Fast-forward to 2017 and trucks and boots became a symbol of terror. In Kisumu, Mathare, and Kibera, the police unleashed terror on people protesting the results of the August 8th elections.   The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights place the number of people who died at the hands of the police since election day at 24—something that the Kenya Police have refuted, claiming that they have only recorded six deaths. According to the police spokesperson, George Kinoti, the six casualties were “criminals armed and acting with deadly intent” to attack police who were trying to arrest them. The police have termed the death of the 10-year old Samantha Moraa in Mathare as an “incident by unknown persons.”  The Independent Policing Oversight Authority has started a probe into the death of Moraa and Samantha Pendo, a six-month old baby who succumbed to head injuries inflicted by police officers in Kisumu as they were fighting off protestors following the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission declaring Uhuru Kenyatta the president.

Protests in Kenya many times take a violent turn mostly because of the police resulting into extrajudicial killings that are almost always reported but not resolved.

Covering elections

Election day in 2017 found me on duty, a journalist visiting different polling stations to capture the mood of the country as it cast its vote. My assignment started weeks before, and after 10 years of running away from issues surrounding polls, I started head on. It was both scary and liberating. The fears of 2007 resurfaced, and hopes of a better future resonated among Kenyans, young and old, if the queues at the polling stations were anything to go by.

The scary part was seeing the fear in people’s eyes, especially the women from low income settlement areas. They were already scared that there would be poll violence, some of which had already manifested itself months before August 8.  They talked of gangs and police harassment, intimidation by politicians, and use of alcohol and drugs to lure youth into violence. They spoke of fear of leaving their homes and fear of staying in their homes. It was heart wrenching and sad that we still use elections to fight one another, especially the marginalised.

The liberating part was seeing the youth take the leadership head on.  Some as young as 23 years old ran for office—against top political honchos—and won.  Others lost, but they set a precedent that will be remembered.  It was great seeing a vibrant young crowd at polling stations, many seeking to make a change from the traditional take of their parents and grandparents.

Security and credibility were top of the list for all. Whether that was achieved is a question for another day.

Reconciliation

While 2007 opened up a space that can never be closed in Kenya, 2017 just widened that gap leaving us with the question of where we are as a country.  We need to face the ghosts of the past and make amends, we need to dig up the graves that bear our collective memory and face these memories head on.

I have gone back to Iten only two times after the 2007/08 Post election Violence. After our week-long stay at the police station, I had to stay home, waiting for my university to re-open. Walking the streets of Iten then was difficult because you had to stare at the faces of the people you had thought had your back but did not.

Reconciliation was a fallacy for many. It was as if we did not know how to deal with each other after the Post-Election Violence. Our shame was right in our faces, just like our failure to face the how, what, and why of the actions and inactions in our different capacities.

The ten years that have gone by have not changed anything. We trust each other just to a level we can manage our risks or none at all.  We go on with our daily business without dealing with the burdens of history from 1963 onwards, as if we don’t feel the heaviness bogging us down. We have turned our eyes away from the festering atmosphere.

Kenya ni jeraha sugu, and if we are not careful, we will run out of medication to fix it.

Abut the Author:

Nduta Waweru considers herself a reader who writes. In her daily work, she’s Like a duck: calm on the surface, but always busy paddling underneath to get you the best stories. She has a poetry collection called Nostalgia.
This piece is part of a longer series that Enkare Review is running on the post-electoral situation we find ourselves in as a country. We welcome bits of photography, reportage and essays on the same as part of the process of getting A Sense of Where We Are. Submissions, of which we encourage a word count of between 500-1200 words, should be sent to submissions@enkare.org as word documents under the subject line ‘A Sense of Where We Are.’ Enkare Review would like to compensate you for the time spent and thought put into your writing. However, it is unfortunate that we cannot afford to pay for your work yet. Kindly bear with us for now

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