The list of things I don’t know is long. It grows longer, but, I will spare you. Here, let’s begin with a few simple things:
- “Free, Fair, and Credible.”
These have become proper nouns. Maana ya hawa wanyama?
Free: Bure. Bure bilashi.
Fair: Feya. Slingshot. Or, no, maybe, ‘ light,’ ‘passable’? Katikati. Even. Or perhaps, ‘bazaar.’ Festival, carnival, exhibition, extravaganza.
Credible: Edible. Cooking votes? Zinakarangwa ama kuchemshwa tu? Wallahi sijui, but ‘incredible’—that I know. Unbelievable. Kwa mfano, feeding five thousand with two fish and five loaves. Credible maybe is feeding 19 million. Feeding 40 million.
I promise I speak English, I do. I’ll do better.
Sijiwezi. Lakini hamtaniweza.
- “Kenyans should maintain peace.”
‘Kenyans.’ I must come back to this.
‘Peace.’ Inatafunwa, au inamumunywa, this peace? The reification of peace into a Kenyan fetish is something I think I know. I think I know that the political and corporate onslaught ramming the propagandist agenda of peace down our collective throat is not only deliberately deceitful, it is blatantly violent. I think I know how capital operates. I think I know that this type of peace is fiscally sound; pushing peace pushes products, safeguards consumption. I think that I know that this peace-above-all-else rhetoric is fancy footwork that keeps us distracted and superficially placated.
There is peace floating about in this Kenya. Like a song no one knows the lyrics to. Like a dead rat that no one can seem to locate. This Kenya is doused in peace.
Maintain peace. “Maintain” presupposes an existence of peace. A priori peace. Peace is not an analytical subject; it is a fragile flower that needs constant tending. But I don’t really know that, do I? Let me leave the academicking to the experts.
Peace must be bred, like broiler chickens. It must be maintained like grass in Nairobi streets. How can this peace be maintained? I think this animal must be raised with a strong hand. The rod cannot be spared. Now, see the peace being bartered and paraded. We are proud of this peace, our prize bull—a little underweight but ah, haidhuru. Chajitembeza, hiki kipeace, chatembezwa. The keepers of this peace are pundits, makanga, teachers, mama mboga, and your cousin who came to visit one weekend and never left. The maintainers of peace don’t even have to be Kenyans, but let’s talk about international non/intervention when I can get these Englishes in check. These peace police know something I don’t.
Someone tell me this thing I don’t know.
- “Elections are never about winners and losers.”
Chambua hii sentensi.
Remember mhenga Ezra Chiloba alivyonena: “[As the IEBC] our job is not to rush to declare the winner.”
- “Police contained the violence.”
This is the headline running across NTV’s banner over and over. It’s 9.23am on August 12th. It’s the lack of sleep, I think; maybe this is why I don’t know what I don’t know. At least I think I know what police means. Police means GSU, military, CID, AP. Police means government. Police means state machinery. Police means sorora, pasua, bomoa. Police means water cannons, tear gas, live bullets. Police means run. Police means shouting at night. Police also means silence. Dushnyao. Beat. Dushnyao, dushnyaoooo. Beat. Beat. Beat.
That beat of quiet. I should stop talking about things I don’t know. Okay, I’ll ask questions instead. Kuuliza si ujinga. When is critique acceptable, and when is it ‘incitement’? Why is state machinery being deployed selectively across this country? Is there a difference between containing violence and perpetuating it? Poleni, academicking. Ntaacha basi.
Let me tell you what I know about violence. I know small violences: walking into Nakumatt to buy sugar, unga, rice and soap, and leaving with soap and unga only; listening quietly when the people in the matatu start arguing over ‘hao watu’; paying school fees in nine installments; chai bila sukari! I also know moderate violences, but let me tell you about strong violences. One, Chris Msando. Ai nimeshindwa.
- “No injuries were reported.”
On Facebook, someone is saying thugs should be handled. Someone else is saying, the police ran after people into Obunga and flattened an entire boma, and then they threw a petrol bomb into a GSU lorry. This same someone says everyone is trying to leave Obunga while they still can. Someone, another someone, is now saying that we should be patriots and that national unity is a priority. Later, this someone says to exercise extreme caution. One more someone says, lots of bodies in Kondele, bodies here in Mamboleo, and they tried to raid the church up here. A different someone says, alright, OK, now the police can use all the body bags they carried, but the second someone tells us a pick-up is following the police lorry tossing bodies in the back, and a whole new someone says security personnel are breaking into houses, looting. I am not these someones.
What I know is: at least one police helicopter has been circling Kisumu. I know most people have been indoors, but we when we go out in search of bread—so far it’s a few unsliced loaves left—we find one cabbage is 150 bob and the fruit mama tells us to stock up on mbogas because nothing is coming in past the roadblocks, not even through vichochoro. I know I keep changing the channel and switching back, first preparing to wait for five days, and then until 2pm, and then 7.30pm, and then—oh! –until they sign things and take a photograph. I know I listened, patiently even, to Chebukati recite the 47 County Chronicles: huyu begat yule, who begat haya na yale, na sasa naomba mlale. I also know I have had to tell a ten year old that those are gunshots, yes, or maybe just tear gas? I know I have been watching dancing in Eldoret and Gatundu on TV. I am watching people singing on the streets, jubilant, and increasing the volume so I don’t hear the gunshots. I am making tea to have something to do. Now, I am listening to KTN playing hits from the 80’s, and strangely humming, ‘Mungu wa majeshi.’
Report, reporting, reported. Reports of ‘hooligans’ and ‘thievery.’ These are criminals, and we must trust the law. This is what they are reporting. Where is the reporting?
I am thinking, now, that it is legal to celebrate, but kulia hadharani ni kuvunja sheria. That’s just a thought. Back to what I know: national unity first, and patriotism; #tribeKenya and hands of friendship extended; no injuries were reported, police contained violence, and order is being maintained.
- 34B. 34C. (Available to the public)
I said that the list of things I don’t know is long. I promised I would spare you. I haven’t been spared. The violence of other people’s ignorance is not new. The aggression of ignorance, of partial information, that is a familiar violence. Nataka kusema, uchokozi na ukombozi hauingiani. Nataka kusema, ushambulizi si ukaguzi. Kura si kesi. Changamkeni, nyamazeni. Haki si ngao, si mlinzi.
I don’t know what Chiloba and Chebukati know.
I don’t know what you know, or think you know.
I don’t even know what I know.
About the Writer:
Alexis Teyie is a writer and editor at Enkare Review. She 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.