Sunday, June 23, 2013

Kenya: Is The Dream Over? Wake Up And Smell The Fear.

Lately, questions have started to be asked about the conduct and outcome of the election. And the more information leaks out, the more the questions keep coming. For me, the first significant crack in the official facade came at the end of May. Buried deep in an otherwise unremarkable story about the IEBC's proposal to change the way public funding for political parties would be calculated, is a startling admission by an unnamed Commissioner: "We are having sleepless nights reconciling the presidential results and those of the other positions. Over a million votes must be reconciled with the others."

If the Commission is indeed burning the midnight oil to "reconcile" the fact that one million voters seemed to have discarded 5 of the 6 ballots they were given without anyone noticing, and then only cast a vote for the presidential election, then that would raise more serious doubts over the integrity of Uhuru Kenyatta's victory. More than three months after the election, the IEBC is yet to release the full election results and every day, this delay further erodes the already shaky public confidence in the electoral process. A recent opinion poll by Infotrak found that nearly half of all of Kenyans had their doubts which pretty much reflects the divided nation. Even Western governments that were eager to ignore concerns over the veracity of the results and in a rush to  embrace the new administration, seem to be backing off a little. "Uncertainty following Kenya’s elections" was last week given as one of the two reasons US President Barrack Obama's is ducking Kenya (the other is obvious).

You would think that all this would be enough to shake the Kenyan media and society out of its post-election slumber. You might expect outraged protests, ala Brazil and Turkey. Of course you'd be wrong. As a society, we seem resolutely determined, in what has become the prevailing mantra, to "accept and move on." Although a vocal and increasingly strident and shrill minority continues to man the online barricades and trade insults, much of the society has indeed moved on. But what is it that we have moved on to and what have we accepted?

Every time I hear the phrase, it seems to mark the end of a dream. Today the election seems like a world away. Instead of a celebration of nationhood, it has become something else to forget, another nail in Kenya's coffin. As the simmering resentment of those on the losing side is swept under the carpet of indifference and resignation and the winners attempt to drown their doubts in a histrionic cacophony of  shallow optimism and empty chest-thumping, one can't help feeling that questioning the poll is flogging a dead horse. 

Time to wake up and smell the fear, I suppose. There is a real reluctance to go back and explore what happened. A real terror of peering behind the curtain of official truth, of what that might reveal, of what it might provoke. In this atmosphere, thick with our terror of each other and of our common past, "accept and move on" is a comfort blanket that smothers the spark of outrage while soothing the afflicted conscience. In its embrace, we are suffocating the idea of Kenya, of a nation of rights, responsibility and opportunity for all; where life, hope and choices are not defined by one's surname.

Even when we rail against the brazen greed of MPigs or the alleged racism of ArtCafe, the anger sometimes seems contrived. We wish we could feel as genuinely Boniface Mwangi seems to, and in the throes of an imagined outrage, we may even swear to attend the next Occupy Parliament demo. Deep inside, I think, we recognize that something has changed. Something fundamental. A sense that Kenya and Kenyans cannot long endure in this fearful place where we have exchanged the truth for the lie, where we hide things in plain sight.

That realization is, I think, Kenya gasping for breath, for life. Yet we want to move on and forget. Every morning it is a little easier to ignore the cries of a dying nation, to accept that the pursuit of justice is an inherently dangerous thing. As every day inflicts upon us new outrages, pretty soon, what should be outrageous becomes normal. And we learn to ignore or silently endure the humiliations. The national spirit shrivels even further.

Where we once looked to freedom and rights, understood ourselves to be exceptional in our part of the globe, were proud of our fractious and loud media and civil society, today we celebrate silence and lies and tyranny and manipulation. Where we once we saw ourselves as a beacon for the region, we have become a place to hide, where questions are not answered but themselves queried. No longer an island of peace, we are today content to swim in a sea of chaos, corruption and injustice.

The other day I got to thinking that perhaps we've given up on doing better because we believe we've already tried it and it didn't turn out so well. In 2002, we elected the activists. We tried the good guys. We gave them their shot and they gave us tyranny and assassinations, and corruption and Anglo-Leasing and the Arturs. Perhaps this is why we now do not care for civil society. And why we've turned the country over to the bad guys, the corrupt, the wicked, the indictees and the drug dealers. They surely could do no worse!

But the election has given us an important insights into our own part in abetting this poverty of values among the governing elite. The brutal, kleptocratic leadership can afford to ignore us because they are aware that deep down we are afraid that we are just like them. That we are just as murderous. It is this awareness that we fear but it is also, paradoxically, the truth that will set us free. For only by accepting responsibility for the past, can we own our future. By learning to believe in our own agency and to stop hiding behind the tribe or leader.

I don't want to accept and move on, to forget what the election revealed. I don't want to turn from it or paper it over or minimize it. I want to face it. Remembering and acting upon that remembrance is the only salvation for Kenya.


Felix said...

Gathara: Thanks for refusing to "move on"..we need to remain with the issues that the media and other opinion shapers have swept under the carpet-IDPs, electoral malpractices, judicial mischief, the ethnic divisions left unhealed by PEV and now the 'move on' sneers..I wrote a similar brief (though slightly incoherent) piece on my blog on the same issue: may be few left still asking the difficult questions but they have to be asked otherwise we continue tottering at the brink

Unknown said...

A useful but 'lonely' voice!!! What really happened in Kenya that only a few seems to comprehend??? Kudos Gathara for standing to be counted!!!

Anonymous said...

US firm ranks Kenya as 'failed state'

mmnjug said...

And the President is out there globe-trotting and issuing edicts on security.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, I think that it has to get really bad....there has to be a very deep real sense of loss rather than an anticipated one, for people to be willing to face the truth. Look at Rwanda and further a field, Germany. These two countries face their past with a zeal like never before....but only because it got really bad! On the other hand, in America, they seem to have the accept and move on attitude towards slavery and sadly generations later, it isn't going away. I think this might be where we are headed, and if the two guys in charge do indeed manage economic prosperity, then we will continue to 'move on'. Austria is another good example of 'moving on'!

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