I vote for the first time in my life on August 8th, 2017. I am the only person in the polling room in the polling station somewhere in Embakasi West. The whole thing takes about five minutes, and when I’m done, I walk back home. Outside, all is quiet; the people at the local bars talking about Owiso, the mkokoteni pusher vying for MCA who we all hope will win. On my way to my apartment, I scan the fingers of fellow pedestrians, looking for the familiar blue ink on their fingers.
A few days before the elections finds me sitting on the balcony of a bar overlooking Moi Avenue. Crowds of people clad in orange move up and down the street, whistling and screaming and following saloon cars with loudspeakers. The friend I’m here to meet, in that very particular Kenyan way, asks me where I’m from, and when I tell her Kisumu, she asks whether I am voting in Kisumu or in Nairobi. Nairobi, I say, because this is where I live, and Kisumu is no longer home for me. This is a lie.
Conversations earlier in the year with different people. My best friend, telling me why he isn’t registering to vote. He eventually does. The local butcher in Kisumu asking about my schooling, asking where I study. You young men must come back and reclaim Kisumu for us, he opines. A family friend, Kikuyu, who fled Kisumu for Nairobi in 2008, fearing for her life and those of her children. But my son, she confides, identifies as Luo, seeing as his father his Luo, and we all live in Kisumu. My best friend’s sister in a café in Nairobi, telling me about hiding in the bathroom in 2008, their neighbor screaming to the crowd outside that he knows them, that they have gone to Migori for a matanga. I wish we wouldn’t keep voting for people who inspire us to violence. My father, explaining to me why he would not vote for Uhuru, not ever. It’s not about his Kikuyu-ness, you see, I voted for Kibaki in 2002 after all.
On the balcony again, my friend asking me why I am voting for Raila over Uhuru. He’s destroying the economy. I’ve only been in class for three weeks this year. The killings. Nurses. Doctors. The obsession with destroying the economy. The ethical concerns arising from the ICC cases. The truth, but not the whole truth.
During the #IEBCMustGo demos, people are killed in Kisumu. Looters. Rowdy youth. Babies in houses in Manyatta. Moses Kuria on Facebook, praising the police for the good work, for killing the cockroaches. Cockroaches, Olwenda. I rant and rage to my friends. Moses Kuria gets away with hate speech, again. I make a joke on Facebook about registering in Gatundu South even if it means being the sole voter against him.
In a bar in Kileleshwa with friend, early 2017, where after the waitress brings her the Ginger ale, and me the Guinness, we swap drinks, and talk about Raila. A personality. Agwambo. Unbwogable. We remember an alliance, G7, formed expressly to compete against Raila. We reminisce. We remember.
A few days before the elections, our favorite Facebook personality again, verbal diarrhea again. So this is Chris Musando’s vehicle right now here in Roysambu. The idiot is enjoying sweet time with a woman. And the story was that he is privy to ‘rigging’ and he can’t be found. Verily, verily I say unto you Raila. You will not burn this country. Not when I am alive.
Elections again. Voting. I am back in the house watching Key & Peele on Youtube. All is well.
Yvonne Adhiambo. Dust. Kenya’s three national languages. But then there is memory.
My roommate and I talking about Msando. He in a rage, seething about what he claims to be murder by the state. Quiet, I listen. When finally he gives me the chance to speak, I ask him why he is surprised, that this is just another killing of a luo man by the state. Mboya, Ouko, Kodhek, Mbai, Oulu, Owidi, even Jacob Juma, my concerns about his character aside. Msando. Our dead are always with us.
My father, complaining about being blatantly overlooked for promotion at his government job, his luo-ness an unsurmountable barrier. An uncle, quitting his prestigious law firm for another, a new one whose list of partners is very unmistakably Luo. A judge, ruling on a petition filed by the opposition, being questioned, because he is Luo. My father again, unpaid for his sugarcane all these years, watching as importers make millions. Even at an early age this cynic knowledge that Luo-ness is a barrier, is painted into me early.
Back in Kisumu during Easter for a short holiday before the resumption of my classes. I am rarely out past eight, conscious of a curfew. Curfews for young men are usually aimed at preventing drinking, partying, getting wasted. Curfews for young men in Kisumu are aimed at preventing arrest, death, getting wasted. You fit the profile, my mother says, with your shorts and your height and your beard and your hair. Police in Kisumu yesterday gunned down a young man who was looting from a shop. The young man, as yet unidentified, was shot as he fled, resisting arrest. A small paragraph on page 23 of the county news.
Re-reading Dust. Hints of shady officials immersing vials of cholera into water sources. Dust is not the Kenyan novel, I remark to someone, it is the Luo novel. A Luo man, fleeing state torture, running to Turkana. Wuoth Ogik. The journey is ended. The man’s son, an engineer, gunned down in Nairobi by police. Wuoth is not Gik. A Luo man, refusing to declare independence, not unless Jomo is released. Uhuru na Kenyatta! Independence, wuoth ogik. The man’s son, an engineer, rigged out of the presidency by state mandarins. What journey?
Kenya is a cruel marriage; it’s time we talked divorce. An esteemed economist.
Other countries have the mafia. In Kenya, the state is the mafia. A human rights activist.
You Luos always vote for Raila. Brainless sycophants.
A couple of days after the elections, a Whatsapp message: How are you feeling today? I text back: How do you feel as a Luo man when faced with a history of Luo men and women being killed by the state, and all signs pointing to a similar ethnic cleanse being undertaken right now?
She asks if she can call. Not today.
Messages from people in Kisumu. Military choppers in the air. Gunshots. Six dead. No, seven. Eight. I go to sleep.
Body bags donated to Kisumu police by human rights organizations.
A police state.
Cases that collapse because of witness intimidation and bribery.
Choices have consequences.
I DM a friend on Twitter: This is the main reason why I didn’t register in Kisumu. Here, in Nairobi, I can hide my Luo-ness and not be killed for it.
54% of Kenyan voters voted for Uhuru Kenyatta, is what they say. In his acceptance speech, he reaches out to opposition supporters, an all-inclusive government. Then state mandarins, of whom Mr. Kwani Mnataka Nifanye? wants us to believe he has no control, start killing young Luo men in Kisumu.
Why should I vote again?
About the writer:
Carey Baraka is a writer and editor at Enkare Review. He sings for a secret choir based in Nairobi, Kenya
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 reflections 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 email@example.com 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.