From afar, the Rwanda genocide is history, an old story. After all, it was nearly 22 years ago that the bloodletting on a vast scale shocked the world.
Rwanda today is a success story that in many ways puts Kenya to shame. The clean streets, neatly-trimmed lawns and landscaped gardens all over Kigali prove that it need not take magic, expatriates or a recent colonial history to make things work.
The orderly traffic and respect for the rules reminds us that we live in madhouses in the gridlocks of Nairobi and Mombasa.
The kind, gentle, friendly and honest people make a refreshing difference from our loud, rude, garrulous and corrupt ways.
Then I visited the Genocide Museum in Kigali, and the true horror of what befell that little country hit me. It wasn’t just the fact that nearly a million people, a tenth of the population, were slaughtered in the orgy of violence.
For one, I couldn’t reconcile myself to the fact that the kind, gentle, shy, polite and courteous people I was meeting in the markets, streets, pubs and clubs of Kigali could have descended to such depths of bestiality; that these people, at signals from politicians, could have been unleashed on neighbours, friends and workmates with such blood-curdling ferocity.
I was still trying to make sense of the Rwanda story when I came back home, and hardly with time to rest, was at my desk monitoring on live TV the simultaneous political rallies in Nakuru and Mombasa.
ICC suspects Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were at the Afraha grounds in Nakuru unveiling a political union they hope will propel them to State House in an election they want to turn into a referendum against the International Criminal Court.
In Mombasa, Prime Minister Raila Odinga was at Tononoka for a rally widely expected to have him introduce Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka as his running-mate.
It was a bit premature, for the VP put in a no-show, but it was still a highly-charged event used to demonstrate ODM’s command of coastal politics.
Both rallies were successful by the crowds they pulled and what they demonstrated of the political weight of the conveners.
But for me, just back from Kigali, both rallies were frightening. I heard statements that reminded me of what I’d learnt at the Genocide Museum about the background to the violence.
Tononoka and Afraha were not just about political campaigns, the unveiling of alliances and policies and programmes. The only ideologies on display at both rallies were anger and hatred.
From Tononoka, I heard the Afraha gathering dismissed as “siafu” (safari ants or termites), a stark reminder of the language preceding the Rwanda genocide where the Tutsi minority was likened to cockroaches set only for extermination.
It also reminded me of the “madoadoa” (blotches) used as a code-word against “outsiders” from the inception of the ethnic-cleansing programme in the Rift Valley in early 1990s which culminated in the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
The language used and the mood evident at both the Tononoka and Afraha rallies was positive proof that our so-called leaders have never learnt their lessons. They will still be reckless enough to incite their followers to violence against any persons or groups that they think might block their path to power and privilege.
Worse is that the gullible masses might again be foolish enough to take as mortal enemies worth eliminating anyone the leaders point at.
The principals at the two rallies — Odinga in Tononoka and Kenyatta and Eldoret North MP Ruto in Afraha — may have spoken in more measured tones, but they were still directing their followers to regard political opponents as mortal enemies.
They also were quite happy to look on with arms folded as the minions they handed the microphones to delivered, on their behalf I presume, messages of anger and hate calculated to incite and excite.
The March 2013 General Election, I state again, will not be about the Uhuru-Ruto twins handcuffed together or about Raila and Kalonzo in their improbable nuptials. It will be about whether Kenya can survive selfish and reckless politics.