Kenya: Could You Feel This?

Kenyans young and old watched the news and listened on the radio, speechless that the events that were ongoing in Kenya were threatening our beloved country. Many of us dared not utter the word ‘war’, because we said, “It is Kenya, we are not like that”.The anger about the flawed polls was one thing, but the spillover events saw neighbor turned on neighbor. Unbelievable.

I hoped that the violence that was being reported would stop and tried to close my ears to the threat of words like ‘genocide’ and ‘civil war’. Those words had never been part of our beyond the vocabulary of every day Kenyans. Like many Kenyans all over the world, I scoured the web for alternative reports of what was going on on the ground.

Being so removed from the country, it was hard to gauge the severity of the situation. Were those numbers real? Was there something that even the ubiquitous observers had missed? With Safaricom jammed on New years’ day, I went to the net. A friend asked whether the violence in Kenya and Pakistan were related. Now what do you say to someone like that? Google it? I was too far away from home and my people, I knew for sure. And I was weary of all the waiting, of when it would truly end.

Fortunate enough to have a computer and internet access, I set up camp at my desk, and bleary eyed, I took stock of the AP, Reuters, BBC and other mega-media reports. I waited for time to come to morning, so that I could call home, waiting for the morning time, when I knew people would switch on their mobiles and actually talk. (In some places, people switch off  cell phones at sunset,in the whole neighborhood).I myself found chat rooms hard to navigate, since who knew what was reportedly true and what was false. People from every country who could blog rolled out of bed and wrote bleak accounts of the ‘Kinya’ they knew of the 1960s,70s and 80s; seasoned bloggers dutifully covered the wires and we all waited, hearing the death toll climb higher and higher. The violence shocked some of the most popular Kenyan bloggers into a stunned silence, as we called each other just to see if we were okay.

My best friend stuck on campus relied on food from neighbors as she was marooned amidst the crowds going to and from on Mbagathi way, another friend stayed on Baraton’s campus, locked down. All of the people I got a hold of were physically unhurt. A family I know fled their home near Kibera, and came back to find it occupied. It was not about these elections any more in some areas, the people felt so deceived that they remembered all the past hurts, when forcible resettlement had occurred, when the perceived differences between people came to light. And then the ID checks, and then the harassment and the killing.

The most striking images were when pictures of little babies were posted online, and a burn victim lay exposed in a picture on the front page cover of ABC’s website. Could they not sell their news less gorily? I thought. And then I got angry. The people around me mostly meant well. But again, many said ‘those poor poor people’, ‘i pity them’ and went about their daily lives. They could continue with festivities, but I certainly could not. Why was this happening to my country? When was this going to end? How were we ever going to get past this. Did Kenyans really hate one another this much? I was sure that the end of the world had arrived. It was that striking to me. Words were not enough. A Rwandese friend, whose family fled the violence sent her commiserations, and I realized that we were living the African nightmare, when a country experiences instability and starts to unravel, slowly.

My write-up comes a little late in the game, but I hope that we can learn from our neighbors conflict and find peace. The real problem is how to remove this cancer called counter-democracy, when the politicians decide that what they want is to stay in power at all costs. Today, I heard thatKibaki went to see the humanitarian areas. The date is the ninth of January, we are only just getting back to some sanity. Thanks for stopping by, you are days and days late.

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