I was alive during the Post-Election Violence of 20027-2008. I remember the horror, the helplessness and the fear. I am afraid again today, because I remember.
Imagine going from your home to your workplace across town. On normal days, you have to contend with the hustle and bustle of other people going to work, Matatus hooting for customers and stopping wherever they find a passenger and traffic jams that span kilometres. You quietly curse at the traffic policeman who stops traffic in your lane just as you reach the front of the line.
Now imagine going that route, but all that hustle and bustle is absent. You are on the highway, alone. No other car in sight. No pedestrians are on the side of the road, no matatus – the city is deadly quiet. You are alone in the world – or so it seems. At some point, as you pass the city centre, you have policemen in full combat gear lurking in the shadows of trees next to Landcruisers.
That was me in January 2008, traveling from South C to the Communication Authority of Kenya offices on Waiyaki way where we had an office. As a government officer, I wasn’t allowed to stay home any longer and I was to go into the office. Even there, I was alone until Paul Kukubo, our CEO joined me. The news on the radio and on TV was horrific. People were being pulled out of their matatus and hacked to death on live TV because their IDs showed the wrong tribe.
My friend Doc drove his car with almost no brakes from Kisumu to Nairobi, having to burst through a mob in Naivasha, arriving in the city by an absolute miracle. I can’t remember the story exactly well, but it was harrowing. At Kangemi, he left his car at a mechanic’s and took public means to Donholm, where he lived. His Kikuyu landlord asked him to pack his things and go immediately. He could not carry his things in those circumstances, so he put them on sale. The “garage sale” netted him two thousand shillings – for a six-by-six bed, couches, cooker and many other household things.
“They are coming this way from Naivasha,” said Fred Gumo, then an exuberant MP, who lived nearby and who had ambled over to our office as he took a walk. “It is going to be bad.”
I remember the fear. I remember the helplessness. Where do I run to? Towards the coast? Towards Namanga and the safety of Tanzania? And then what?
Now, I look at things happening in Kenya and dread that fear. I listen to the politicians talking with bravado, and I wonder what or who they are prepared to sacrifice. What is acceptable loss?