Did you hear of the recent race in Venice where the leading pack of athletes, among them favourites from Kenya, who raced like crazy only to realise that they were running in the wrong direction? That’s my visualization of this whole saga that is the fable Kenyan democracy. Only that we have upped our game and instead of running, we as a country are racing in Formula 1 cars, without head gear and no technical checkup stops.
A few days ago, I had a discussion with some colleagues about the events before and after the 26th October, 2017. A you would expect of a political debate, heat could be felt all around us. My worry though was the continued and normalised use of the phrase, ‘these people’, when referring to a particular portion of the political divide by some of my colleagues. Not that it was a new phrase, but in recent times it has enveloped our mouths like lip-gloss. When you are angry, it is very hard to hide what you truly think of someone. You become honest. And that is the kind of honesty that has pervaded our street corners in the past few months; conversations are no longer happening in hushed whispers in the neighbourhood, and typed in bold on alternative media spaces such as blogs, Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.
The first time a senior politician negatively profiled a journalist, saying ‘your name betrays you’, the kind of reaction from Kenyans in all spheres would have made you believe that we were saints above such kind of archaic ethnic categorization. The mainstream media cried out loud, albeit for one of their own. Politicians in their usual dishonest parlance condemned former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka for those utterances. What they did not say then, which they are trying hard to say now but using sugarcoated language, is that the former Vice President was speaking what has been frothing in the minds of Kenyans for a very long time. Social media has now made it easier for people to say what they honestly feel about each other, in situations where they would otherwise pretend to be tolerant. The lid on ethnically polarizing conversations can no longer be held in place as the pots of hateful gruel we have stirred for so long boils vigorously.
Take a look at the conversations happening on social media, whether in public or private groups, or on the walls and handles of ‘thought leaders’. The conversations have no age or gender limitation. Neither are they fettered by professions nor someone’s standing in the society. They have sucked in the Kenyan, from the highest office in the land to the beggar on the street. Yes, the beggar. I have been a victim of hate comments from someone who trades with a bowl to solicits coins on the street from hardworking Kenyans.
I watched in dismay several video clips, I will mention two. In one there was a woman who was being assaulted by a group of men carrying crude weapons, and were it not for the sanity of one saviour that woman would have been killed. Another was of a man being beaten senselessly and dragged along the tarmac. Word has it that the man died. Their main mistake was being from the wrong tribe, thus the wrong political divide. These events happened in broad daylight in the presence of police officers.
The guts of such profiling only emanate from the sanctioning at the top of the hierarchy. Both in word and deed. Top leaders have called each other names. Some have been in custody because of such profiling, but unfortunately it has descended into our gens d’armes, some of whom clearly are driven by indecent conscience. That the President went ahead and praised the police force for ‘upholding the highest degree of professionalism’ during the past events was unfortunate. It doesn’t need a forensics expert to analyse the very many videos which prove otherwise, and have been shared in alternative media platforms among millions of Kenyans.
The mainstream media, for whatever reason, deem it unwise to tell the whole story even though their presence is conspicuous during the tragic events. And it is evident the police no longer care whether such brutal and inhumane actions carried out against anyone, including women and children, are captured on camera. It is a worrying trend. Journalists have been allowed to capture the most uncouth behaviour, including the police stoning cars when they run out of teargas, whipping women out of their places of refuge, and shooting live bullets into crowds leading to deaths of many. Why are they no longer worried of the cameras?
Therefore, the notion of uniting a country at this stage is farfetched, when all these sectors are no longer held together by a broken thread but are in tatters. When police deny apparent deaths; when condolence messages from the ‘symbol of unity’ are directed to only a particular side of the political divide. We have sparked the fireball and released it downhill; when it hits the base, no one will be able to contain the explosion.