Kenya has three official languages: English, Kiswahili and silence.
- Yvonne Owuor, Dust.
Some may know the third 'official language' as ‘accept and move on’, others as, ‘build your treasures in heaven (not this wretched earth)’, others still as ‘let’s get back to work’, or, yaliyopita si ndwele, tugange ya leo na yajayo as the Swahili proverb goes.
This third official language is also the breeding ground for some seemingly rational, yet downright unfortunate projections and reflections like ‘we need a benevolent dictator’, or ‘democracy, perhaps, is not for us (Africans)’, and even ‘the wakoloni should have stuck around longer; at least we’d have development’.
These assertions emerge as solutions to unresolved, and even new, conflicts.
Silence is nefarious and is easily mastered along one’s journey of political awakening. Beneath it are ugly skeletons of injustices past, ready to jump out, whose whispers come out in fissures and preludes.
Silence continues to try and claim the present, but is even ambitious enough to try and capture the future.
Each generation in this country has learnt, and unlearnt silence in various ways, especially political silence.
The elections of August 8 and October 26, 2017, depending on how you perceive them, were attempts at reinforcing silence.
Only, the cumulative pushback against silence could perhaps be a key reason we are now in uncharted waters, where the script from which silence would have us read and perform does not readily apply. Will silence win this time round?
GOVERNOR OF OUR SPEECH
Freedom, fairness and credibility were demanded of this election, the biggest challenges yet to the silence in our political and electoral cycles.
Silence has been encountering a disruption this past couple of months. The stakes are high, and silence could very easily carry the day.
Digital media is a site for challenging silence which has given me hope during these times.
Criticism of its glorious ungovernability, in my view, has been about trying to enforce silence as governor of our speech and thoughts, of our histories and ideas for the future.
Many will say that social media (read Twitter, and by extension, Kenyans on Twitter or #KoT) has been a force for more harm than good during this election period, and will examples of how and justifications of why.
From a wider perspective though, it is, in its own imperfect way, a critical battleground against silence, submission and capitulation to an unjust status quo.
When silence tried to suppress the fact of violence meted out on people of this country for expressing their discontent with the electoral outcome, KoT resisted, and continue to resist. Peace mongering, put differently, has not stuck.
Not only that, but the demand for answers, accountability and ultimately, justice is alive. The very act of speaking up, speaking out, speaking continuously, albeit virtually, is a push back against silence and all the interests that promote it.
Despite the many distractions with which we are bombarded, #KoT have their eye on the prize. One only need look at how institutions, and their role in perpetuating silence, is consistently brought up.
Some are ever-ready with dismissals; it is a virtual space, therefore not ‘real’. ‘Those people will never come out to the streets’. ‘Those are the middle class, reacting from a space of comfort’.
Yet, when the history of this time is written, these digital spaces will most certainly feature, if silence doesn’t have its way with revisionism, because the struggle and resistance against silence is on.
\It is not homogeneous, nor without detractors and distractors. It is not representative, nor entirely accommodating to all and sundry. But it is one of the most critical ways that I have seen Kenyans, particularly the youth of this time, practice how to unlearn silence.
Of course, there are rotten apples in the sack, working as agents of a silence whose reinforcement they don’t understand, or from whose ramifications they think they are exempt.
Whether the few or the many, the Kenyans on Twitter who refuse silence and its overbearing hand, who call it out, who speak truth to power, so much so that even power can hardly ignore the space, are the mashujaa of today.
To every Kenyan who has leveraged that space to contextualise what silence would numb us to, I say more power to you. The future is a little better because of you.
Together, we are fighting back how we know best, with the tools at our disposal. Speaking up is a start. Overcoming that hurdle within oneself that silence has erected over time should never be underestimated.
The fight is anywhere near over. Free, fair and credible is only one aspect and there are many, perhaps too many, battles to wage to achieve the Kenya we want. Most, however, start in our hearts and minds.
May we not give in when it seems all too much to bear. May we not forget. May we not embolden the language of silence.