Kenyans drink deep at the well
The East African
MARTIN MBUGUA KIMANI
10. Mai. 2008
President Kibaki opening Kenya’s Tenth Parliament: “Please succeed.
Please forget the history of what has happened.” Victory, peace,
stability, goodwill, unity, good faith, integrity, courage - he
used all these words and more. They were like warm little blankets
tossed over sleeping babies.
Amnesia calls and I desperately want to slip into its embrace and
wake to a bright, happy Kenyan dawn.
Parliament observed a minute’s silence for Melitus Mugabe Were and
David Kimutai Too, the parliamentarians who were murdered in
January. Then another minute of silence was added for the more
than one thousand murdered people.
President Kibaki’s was a good speech as such speeches go. The
words followed one after the other to form a picture of a
government once again embarking on its work of governing justly
and well, a country with its eye on the future. Kenya has again
come to a “crucial turning point,” said the president, and its
people — as they have in the past — are reaching for a “collective
vision of a free, just and prosperous nation.”
Accords have been signed, parliamentary Bills will be passed,
commissions will sit and inquiries will be made. Funds with many
millions of shillings have been established, the humanitarians are
busy, the donors are pledging and the churches are praying. The
happy future beckons.
THE PRESIDENT LEFT NO doubt about the state of the nation he leads:
“Kenyans will always prefer peace over conflict, prosperity over
desolation, unity over discord, and justice over injustice.” That
is it then, case closed. Peaceful, harmonious Kenya is open for
business. Even a Mungiki march in the central business district
only momentarily dented my optimism, which I am holding onto like
a drowning man does to a lifejacket.
What I crave most of all is a return to the ordinary routines of
my life in which I do not have to worry how to get my mother out
of Ngummo Estate in case the violence spreads out of Kibera or
whether my cousin in Kawangware is safe. It is good to feel
Parliament was informed by the president that he had “seen Kenya
go through some very critical moments,” and then emerge from them
to embrace peace, love and unity just as his predecessor
constantly reminded us. Fuata Nyayo. What will be different about
this new dawn that was not different about the ones in the past?
I wonder how long the two minutes of silence observed in
parliament on March 6 will last. Kenyan silences tend to last for
very many decades. Our forgetting is not closure but is, I suggest,
a form of trauma so terrible that it stills our tongues and makes
us want to drop to the floor and wrap a pillow tightly over our
ears. It is better to be part of a carnival of celebration than to
be sucked into one of violence. Better to be an inciter or
murderer one day and a healer and reconciler the next, with hardly
a heartbeat between the two selves.
How curious that words like courage, unity and victory that were
used in the Tenth Parliament to speak of peace were being used two
weeks ago to celebrate violence and terror.. Words themselves now
feel unreliable, as if they can be arranged any which way to save
or to kill, to cleanse or to rehabilitate.
Sentiments of peace and harmony are being expressed as if they are
surgical tools that will reach into my mind and press the switch
that allows the unforgettable to be forgotten.
But since in fact there are things that cannot be forgotten, such
as screams of pain, the smell of burning flesh and the sight of
flies settling on blood as it trickles along a crack on the road,
then what these words that the president was using must do is
force me to remake myself into a new being. A whole new person
fleeing into a whole new future.
Yet the past is the reason people were killed. Ancestral land
allegedly invaded by foreigners and then the Kenyan phrase to top
all others: Historical injustice. These words and what they
represented were, I am assured, the cause for machetes being swung
at people. Or perhaps they were swung for the heck of it, as
sacrifices to a god of happy destruction.
WE ARE DOING MORE THAN repeat history. Ours are cycles of massacre
followed by an amnesia that allows us to stand on rooftops and
announce our peaceful nature. The men who two weeks ago led us to
the edge of the abyss and asked us to peer into it are today the
men we lionise. To be more exact, they are the men who lionise
themselves and then with mouths open wide, laugh and laugh and
then pat each other on the back, push one leg out of the
government Mercedes to lean and wave to their adoring supporters.
No apology, not even a simple ‘sorry’ was included in the 1,232
words of the president’s formal remarks to Parliament.
Back to routine and a happy, happy Kenya whose eyes are filled
with a vision of cool streams and gardens in which lions play with
lambs and the dead thousands we have killed over the past 50 years
are commemorated and celebrated out of view. Their destroyed lives
and bodies are spoiling the party we have held again and again
since Independence to forget them and what we have done to them.
I want to hold on to my feeling of optimism. I want to believe
that the same political class and the same politics that led me to
the brink can drag me away from it. But a worm of horror and shame
wriggles in and out of my mind, refusing to go away.