Which way now, Kenya?

Monday February 25 2013

By PETER ODUOR [email protected]  

Sunday, March 3, 2013. An ordinary evening at a shopping centre; birds flying back to their nests. posho mills humming from every corner, the sparkling red-white lights of a welder putting final touches to a metallic chair, a group of children playing sweet-nasty little jokes on each other while rolling in the dust; not even the approaching darkness will break their party.

Two women sit on wooden stools, looking radiant and hopeful as they sell to passersby tomatoes and onions and bunches of sukuma wiki. Men pass by them, tired but still energetic.

Their footsteps echo the beat of the sweet voices of the women accompanying them. It is a fine evening, even the dogs know it.

Monday, March 4, 2013. They will vote. And when they are done, they will get back to their jobs, the shopkeepers will get back to their shops, the children will get back to playing, hospitals will remain open and the factories will chug and tow and grind to the rhythm of resilience, peace, love and unity.

The country is headed for elections in a few days. Campaign dust blurs people’s vision, its noise drowns every other sound and its commotion has designs on peace… but peace crusaders are awake, and they make for unlikely fellows — individuals and groups, all pulling towards the same direction.

The post-election violence of December 2007 into 2008 was a nightmare everyone wanted to wake up from. But they could not, because they were already awake and the brusque violence, the ravaging fires, the distressful tears and the torturous deaths were real. In the end, families were broken, property destroyed, lives brought to points of nothingness and dignity thrown to the wind. The resultant shallow graves, dug in haste, will soon be unearthed by erosion.

Paschalia Nduko knows that all too well. She lived with and took care of some 14 children in Kibera, most of them abandoned. On the day that the chaos broke out, she had woken up from her house in the morning with all the 14 of them. At about 4pm, she heard a commotion outside their tiny house and stepped out to investigate.

Smoke had engulfed the late afternoon sky of Kibera, sending scores in a helter skelter rush to nowhere, and when her nose was assaulted by the foul smell of burning rubber, plastics, wood and oil, she knew things were thick. By nightfall, she had sought refuge in a church with only six children. Eight had run away out of fear before she got back to the house. They have never been found.

Whether these children made it to the list of the 1,133 who were killed in the next one month is not known. And Paschalia is certainly not among the internally displaced, whose numbers range from 350,000 to 600,000. Some of these still live in IDP camps.

You may say that Paschalia is lucky. That she is a live. That unlike others who lost all members of their families, she has some. That she has no scar on her face or a missing arm or a fractured hip. That she didn’t have to rebuild her life from scratch. That she never lost her mind and walked the streets naked. You may say that Paschalia is lucky. But there is no luck in all that. Only grief and pain and loss beyond comprehension or compensation define Paschalia’s daily existence.

Peace campaigns have been going on for some time now since 2007 and, as at now, they are also up and around the block, but with a different message from that of the politicians. The message of peace.

From the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, Civil Society Organisations, NGOs and individuals to artists and religious leaders, all preach the message of peace during and after these elections.

Candles for Peace is one such group; a courageous group of young men and women who have been lighting candles and preaching peace in earnest piety within Korogocho, Kibera, Kawangware and Dandora. The candles, they say, are symbols of light to help people see through their diversity.

What do they want? Peace before and after the elections, tolerance among Kenyans regardless of their ethnic differences, peaceful co-existence and a peaceful transition. Plodding, they walk through the estates and in the streets spreading their message. Their sessions always end in a pledge;

I promise to put personal peace as my primary goal each day, and to interact with others and those around me in a way that best serves my peacefulness

I will choose my words and actions so that the best most likely outcome for me is inner peace

I will sometimes choose to say nothing rather than break my pledge.

I will not use the Peace Pledge as an excuse to “give up”, be “walked all over” or “surrender” when my values are challenged.  My pledge for peace is not a vow of silence — I will continue to take a stand for things that matter to me, but in a new way.

I will not preach, rather I will lead by example and let my new peacefulness shine a light for my friends, workmates, family, community and people I meet in the streets

And so it goes on and on… but the message is clear to all.

Their message is not any different from that of NCIC through, their vice chair chairperson Ms Milly Lwanga. “The NCIC is determined to ensure there is no hate speech, and that Kenyans co-exist harmoniously,” she says.

While Candles For Peace, the National Youth Bunge Association (organisers of the Tuko Rada Peace Festival), individuals like Boniface Mwangi or inter-ethnic peace meetings in Nakuru and Naivasha may have resource limitations, NCIC does not. A peace caravan and a team of youths will been setting off soon to promote cohesion. They have trained over 400 monitors, 290 police officers, and 110 volunteers to sniff through the airwaves and social media in search of hate speech.

And that is just for starters. In December 2007, as the results trickled in and the flaws became obvious, the man in charge — Samuel Kivuitu — looked into the cameras, distressed and distracted, and announced a winner. His last attempt at setting things right was a frightened plea to the discontented individuals to go to court and seek legal redress. But no one trusted the ECK or the Judiciary.

Today, these two offices have undergone fundamental changes within the last three years, and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chair Issack Hassan is confident that no one will knock on the Chief Justice’s door.

“All the loopholes are sealed, and the era of rigging is over,” Hassan said in a recent interview, adding that no one, neither the candidates nor the public, should be afraid.

While there has been progress in addressing the concerns of the electorate through national institutions, some of the issues that led to the 2007 violence are historical and will take time to be addressed.

In the same light, ignoring to deal with the traumatic experiences of Paschalia and many other affected people with worse wounds will only heal the country superficially. A Kenyan filmmaker resident at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, Patrick Mureithi, says unresolved traumatic experiences have a tendency of being handed onwards.

On this, Mureithi is on the same page as Dr Constansia Mumma, the resident reconciliation consultant at TJRC, who argues in the book Peace Building and Conflict Management that “in conflict situations, victims and survivors do not forget what happens to them. If the experiences remain unaddressed and are allowed to fester, they will have catastrophic consequences in the future.”

Mureithi, whose film, Kenya Until Hope Is Found, traces a journey of reconciliation among a group of PEV victims in Kibera, believes that not dealing with the trauma of 2007 will cause anxiety and frustrations that may lead to chaos in the future, something neither he nor anyone else would want to happen again.

At this moment, with only days to the election date, time to heal the trauma, however much it is needed, may not be on the side of the nation. What is needed is wisdom, peace of mind and undying hope, even when the past threatens to bear the nation down and the future is triply uncertain.

Monday, March 4, 2013. They will vote. And when they are done, they will get back to their jobs, back to their houses, the shopkeepers will get back to their shops, the children will get back to playing, hospitals will remain open and the factories will chug and tow and grind to the rhythm of resilience, peace, love and unity.