“Africa is a strange continent. It has always been, and probably will forever be. Here, nothing knows when to stop. When things start happening, they go on and on and on... to a devastating end.
When drought knocks on this continent, it burns the air, the tree leaves, the grass and the soil. And when it rains, the drops come large and violent, swelling and raging the rivers and sweeping away bridges and vehicles. When we politic, we do so all year round, in joy and in anger, at home and at work, at the bar and in church with the Bible in hand”.
These words by Daily Nation journalist Peter Oduor have refused to leave my mind since the first time I read them. They aptly capture the state of the nation. When we politic, we sound the war cry as we angrily denounce each other in public gatherings, on radio, TV and Internet.
We blog and post on social media as we shake in anger, hitting computer keyboards in a mad frenzy. We call for our tribesmen and those of our political leaning to “rise up” against the other side. And our politicians increase the political noise to deafening decibels.
This goes on and on and on, at times with devastating results.
Some are subtly calling for violence as if it has ever solved anything. And the two major political camps are spreading coded propaganda messages to their followers that are not helping calm the tensions. This breeds fear, angst and mistrust.
As the Guardian’s Ana Marie Cox once wrote: “There are urban legends about a lot of things – from spiders in hairdos to red velvet cake. Some are funny and some feature a satisfying comeuppance, but folklorists agree that the stickiest of them, the ones that last for generations and resist debunking are the ones that live off ignorance and feed off fear”.
Politicians (though some have not helped themselves with their careless statements) have been caricatured into monsters and messiahs depending on the side of the political divide to which one belongs.
With such fear-mongering and incitement (some blatant and some subtle), this is the time Kenyans should read the novel Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah, a former Sierra Leonean boy-soldier and writer of the heart-wrenching war memoir, A Long Way Gone. Radiance of Tomorrow is the kind of book a father reads, looks at his innocent young sons and daughters as they play in the house, and then he puts the book aside, clasps his hands in prayer (even if he is not religious) for the safety of his children. It knocks one right in the gut.
Though fictitious, the narrative of Radiance of Tomorrow is brutal, compelling and believable.
Like the biblical story of Naomi, the novel starts with the nostalgic return of Mama Kadie, a bitter woman, to her home. The setting is deceptively calm; the small village of Imperi, under a deep blue sky in the rural grasslands of Sierra Leone, paints a picture of peace, tenderness, and grace at odds with the reality of the chaos of the moment.
Mama Kadie returns to Imperi after seven years of living in refugee camps. She meets another villager, Pa Moiwa, who is also returning home. They come back to a land strewn with human bones as the village had been a scene of a massacre during the civil war years earlier.
WAR IS NEVER GOOD
In happier times, “The excited voices of children… didn’t need any respite. They came intermittently into town from the river, where they swam and played games, chasing after one another, their school uniforms strewn on the grasses at the river bank”.
Not any more. These children’s dreams were cut short when the war broke out. Imperi became a desolate land. Mama Kadie cried bitterly for her land. Or maybe for the children whose voices she could never hear again, or perhaps for children yet unborn, the inheritor of their misery.
“…the scent made her weep, starting slowly at first, with sobs that then became a cry of the past. A cry, almost a song, to mourn what has been lost while its memory refuses to depart, and a cry to celebrate what has been left, however little, to infuse it with residues of old knowledge. She swayed to her own melody and the echo of her voice first filled her, making her body tremble, and then filled the forest. She lamented for miles, pulling shrubs that her strength allowed and tossing them aside on the path”.
The novelist is gracious enough to paint the redemption and reconstruction of Imperi as more villagers return and try to build their lives.
War is never good; we are all left worse off in the end. Some things that happen in war can never be reversed. We still have our beautiful country; we should not wait until we start weeping for it like Mama Kadie did for hers when it is too late.
We have challenges, yes. We’re aggrieved, yes. The “other” side doesn’t understand, yes. But let us all sober up, otherwise our children and their children’s children will not forgive us if we destroy their country, their heritage.
Let the ruling elite and the Opposition come off their pedestals. Kenya is ours; if it burns, we burn. As Chinua Achebe would say, let the eagle perch, and let the hawk perch, and if one tells the other no, may his wing break.