News 2008


Kenyans drink deep at the well of amnesia

The East African


Special Correspondent

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 relieved.

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.