Any Kenyan who works in a multi-ethnic space like Nairobi can figure out why every day, one has to play this dance of pretending not to have a political opinion. Kenyan Mpigs have successfully poisoned the environment, so that it has become difficult to talk about the incompetence of the president without the conversation degenerating into ethnic mudslinging.
That framework distorts our words, so that if you’re a Kenyan from communities besides GEMA, your criticism of the president is interpreted as a criticism of his tribe, not of his plain incompetence. If you’re a Kenyan from Central, your criticism is taken as evidence that you’re a colonized self-hating traitor who is denying your African roots.
So in multi-ethnic forums, we just talk on the surface about the ridiculous nature of corruption. Occasionally, we laugh about 7 million shilling gates and 100,000 shilling non-carcinogenic wheelbarrows, and marvel at 1 billion shilling homes as the blessings of the Lord. On Sunday, we pray for the Lord to give our leaders wisdom to rule the country (if I was God, I’d be telling Kenyan Christians every Sunday: “Seriously?”), and when we’re able to shake the hands of any of these people, we post the photos on facebook and get more likes than usual.
None of us will dare say that the president should leave office since he clearly cannot offer us leadership, or that we need a revolution, because to say so is to attack a tribe or to speak as a tribe. That is how ethnicity has gagged us the professionals, the people with the ideas and the education who are best placed to say “Thus says the Lord, let my people go.” But despite our avoiding the issues, deep in our conscience, we know that these things are not funny, and the ability of a politician to own land the size of a province, or to build a palatial home in this Kenya, is deeply unjust.
And so yesterday, we tried to play the same game of silence. When one of us mentioned the noise and ethnic hatred being spewed by politicians, another said she doesn’t like to talk about politicians, which was understandable. At that point, the conversation became literally impossible and we would have had to change topic or walk away. So my mind had to work overtime to think how we could continue the conversation in a way that affirms all of us. It was depressing.
Then I remembered an article by Keguro Macharia entitled “Wailing,” and I repeated what he said: in March 2013, something in Kenyans died.
As Keguro said so well, when Kenyatta II won the presidency, something in the Kenyan spirit broke. Many of us who voted for candidates beside Kenyatta II sensed that there was something unjust about someone becoming president because he was handpicked and groomed, because he had money inherited from unjust land ownership to run a well-oiled campaign, and because he had the ethnic numbers to support him. Jubilee supporters then said that the numbers don’t lie, and Mutahi Ngunyi irresponsibly told us to accept that tyranny and gloated about his prophecy coming true. But many of us didn’t believe the numbers, let alone that they should be tyrannical. So we put our hope in the courts, which is what those who disagreed with the Kibaki victory in 2007 were told to do. But the CORD Coalition in whom we put our hope concentrated more on the political capital rather than the legal arguments, and the Judiciary exploited this loophole to rule that the case against the Kenyatta II presidency doesn’t hold.
With no institutions to run to, and with violence not being an option, the spirit with which Kenyans had fought for justice for the last fifty plus years was broken. We were overwhelmed by a feeling that Kenyatta II and his cronies have laid a systematic framework of money and ethnicity to keep them ruling this country forever. We were given the hollow slogan that we should accept and move on, as if Kenyatta II’s presidency is God’s will which we have no choice but to accept, rather than a system deliberately constructed to protect the power and property of a few. And we wept, to the irritation of some who told us to stop whining and move on.
And since that time, we are reminded every day that accepting and moving on was more than about the vote tally. Accepting and moving on has meant passively watching the president blame structural problems on the irresponsibility of citizens, watching large scale corruption which the Kenyan ruling class is no longer shy to deny, or reading about personal mega-mansions that cost 1% of the country’s budget, or about absurd charges to the tax-payer such as non-carcinogenic wheelbarrows and 7 million shilling gates.
Acceptance by the middle class also meant withdrawing from fighting for the public good and instead fighting for ourselves on our own turf. And so we parents pay schools to get KCSE exam leakage. We’ve already started calling anyone in a high school willing to listen, hoping to secure a form one place for our kids. While we may complain about the large scale corruption and injustice by politicians, we carry out the same injustice in the institutions where we work, figuring out that if we don’t eat, someone else will.
How have a people as proud as us, standing on the heritage of courageous people like Mekatilili wa Menza, Syokimau, Elijah Masinde, the Mau Mau, been brought to our knees like this?
It’s because Kenya’s soul is broken. Our hope that institutions could affirm the humanity of all Kenyans from all parts of the country, our hope with which we ushered in the new constitution in 2010, has been replaced by a despair that ultimately, theft of public resources and ethnic manipulation will prevail. And few people, except artists in very small circles online, or groups like Slam Africa, have been able to sing the blues for our people, to speak our deep sorrow, and cry out to God about this overwhelming sense of injustice and helplessness.
The Church – which should ideally speak for the oppressed – has been impotent, having lost the plot in 2005. Now they’ve reduced themselves to hosting prayers against an ICC conviction for Ruto and Sang, in the hope that this false peace which we’re in will prevail, instead of speaking the truth about the peace of God that is not subject to threats of violence from mere mortals. The incompetence of the church means that ordinary Christians, without the voice of authority accessible to Church leaders, have to use the scriptures to genuinely cry to God for our country. So I end with an adaptation of Psalm 73:
Indeed you have been good to Kenya
Good to citizens who would do anything
for this country to be upright and for systems to work
Many of us are jealous of the success of the arrogant
Because we see that things are going well for the corrupt
And for those who manipulate us with terror and the threat of terror
Kenya’s political leaders steal from our meagre resources and do not suffer pain
They are strong and healthy
Even when they get sick, they get treatment abroad while they break our healthcare system at home
Our politicians wear arrogance like a necklace, and ethnic hatred and terror like a robe
Their hearts pour out evil, and their minds are wicked with schemes to steal more from us
And then set us against each other with ethnic hatred
On Sunday at church, they pretend to speak well of God
But from Monday to Saturday they give arrogant orders to ordinary Kenyans
They have plenty, but are always stealing more from us
Are our efforts to work hard, to earn an honest living useless?
O God, we suffer all day long,
Every day we go to work, and you punish us with letting others steal our sweat
If we had said such things,
We would be seen as not acting as your people
We’ve tried to think this problem through
But it is so heartbreaking
But when we come to you
We understand what will happen to our wicked political elites
You will put them in slippery places
And make them fall to destruction by the righteous might of the Kenyan people
Our politicians are like a dream that goes away in the morning
They disappear when you rouse yourself, O Lord, through the righteous struggle of your people
And so we will always stay close to you
We will continue to pray to you, O God of Creation, for justice to be our shield and defender
And despite our despair,
you still hold us by the hand.
You guide us through your instruction
Eventually, you will honor us for our hard work and integrity
You will make us heroes to the young, and make us be remembered by history
Those who have abandoned you will certainly perish
You will destroy those who are unfaithful to you and oppressive to the Kenyan people
And for us the citizens, how wonderful it is to be near God
To believe that God’s desire is for protection, justice and hope
To proclaim the way of the Lord.