Report & Essay
THE MULTIPLICATION OF VOTES
ALISON OJANY OWUOR
Another sleepless night since December 30, 2007. The horrifying, horrible denouement of Kenya’s national elections. Woken by blurred figures howling in colourful dreams of unrest. The rain and thunder of remembered speeches pounds my thumping heart.
It is three a.m. A ginger tom cat jumps on my bed, strutting with feral grace, oozes calm. He sits on my chest and purrs. I hold him tight. I imagine the rhythmic sound of his breathing will bring peace… Animals sense fear, some, like these try to appease it.
Soon I can breathe.
My mobile phone has been quiet. It is a cheap one, the sort given away for soapy promotions. I like it; it belongs to a resilient family of identical ones. No text message. A disturbing sort of absence in a night like this. But then a sister rushes into the room. Hiccuping. She has an SMS. It says the Pentagon members, the opposition, have all been arrested; that the police are on the prowl for those who have escaped.
There will be retribution. Death’s extended pronouncement on my country, Kenya. The unexpected expected. There is a point when disbelief gives way to surrealism. In the morning an SMS purportedly taken from the NSIS had been circulating. Sounded ridiculous, as if it should be for a dilapidated Ex-Russian republic where the presidents rename the days of the week after their children and boil their enemies. But so far the absurd script had been adhered to: declare victory for the incumbent, ring the announcement hall with paramilitary men, evict the media representatives and international observers, take control of the national broadcaster, swear in the declared president, arrest opposition leaders, and declare a state of emergency.
The cat purrs. I sob.
This is my country.
Daybreak. Three hours later. News. That last SMS was a rumour. It has been refuted. Small shift in spirit, a feeling like relief. Almost. Peculiar unease. These chants of tribalism, ethnic hatred, the incantation of division that is incoherent. Genocidal accusations are already criss-crossing the land. Dante’s hell on a three month tourism visa to Kenya.
But for the past five years few spoke about psychological holocausts when 90% of the civil service was deliberately packed with people of a shared language, or when transcontinental road arteries became murram tracks because they passed through provinces that had nothing to do with the ethnicity of the Government of the day, beyond being inhabited by to-be-useful-later-voters.
Sins of the fathers.
Must we inherit their pathologies too? Carry out their dead wars? They have lived, their bellies round, chins resting on thick necks, sitting back-left in large petrol guzzlers on their way to board private planes. In our hands they have left their slimy feuds. Fight, they whisper. Here are machetes, grenades and special guns. This is how to behead your friend. It is for the good of the whole. And then they fly away.
The reverence of opportunism couched in the convenient tag of ‘tribal hatred’. Convenient because it means that one set of people can imagine themselves under siege and therefore responsible for upholding despotism, justifying veniality and supporting geriatrics dancing on the mass graves of atavism with crude pomp and circumstance.
And that annoying little man who is sadly, again, official spokesman of facetious excuses made of whiny-voiced conceit. He is not young. Someone should tell him that one day he will die.
In 2007, many of us had come of age, many of us voted for the first time. Waited on long, winding, peaceful lines, a little bemused when we folded our ballot papers. What does all this mean? We had witnessed the 2002 event. Saw what hope could do, what change promised, were impatient to be a part of this grandness.
This is the election in which the youth who have come of age will have the greatest say. It was predicted. We cast our vote, experimenting with another imagination capable of accommodating the huge dreams in our hearts especially the ones that confirm our unitary identity, Kenya for Kenyans.
We rejoiced when we noticed the toppling of the entrenched gang.
Is this what it means?
God has been invoked a great deal in and for this election: Evangelists praying, priests tossing incense, imams chanting, a laibon invoking, the ECK chairman- a man I used to revere, casting Satan out.
Lessons in exorcism.
But after the final count, the miraculous multiplication of votes.
The ominous, diffused adversary roams shopping for integrity, dignity and moral sensibility roams only in individual souls. This night we tallied our dead: Over 300. The official figures. Tomorrow night children and women will be burned to death in a church. Blood on the streets. Choice is not an option when the miracle is for sale.
Kenyans, pray a lot. They also melt quickly before fire and call for peace. But they skid before the idea of justice, avoiding it because it has a way of ensuring that the dead are exhumed. They would much prefer others, ‘the next generation’ inherit their forty year old ghosts. The same generation they tell “You are the future of Kenya.’
What they have not told us is that we may be dead before that future comes.
Sins of the father.
This afternoon when my phone beeps I receive an SMS message in praise of the man who was sworn in as president. Proof of anointing. It also contains vile words for the opposition’s leader. What do they call him, that beast from the west? I guess by default that includes me. We share three languages, he and I.
“Thank you all for voting me in.” How to violate a new generation with words. The economist. He used to be my hero, used to make me proud of being Kenyan. That was before he made me understand that under his plan, because of the nature of my last name, I am an ethnic statistic susceptible to violence, unworthy of making decisions about the destiny of my country and therefore unqualified for employment reserved for his special 90%. And because I am invisible to him, there is no realm where a simple dialogue with my small hopes for Kenya can take place.
SMS to a Kenyan God: Isn’t it in Dante’s Inferno where there is a vile hell reserved for those who steal the dreams of children?
I can hope. Can’t I?
Alison Ojany Owuor is a young published poet who has presented her work in different public forums. She got her voters card and also graduated from college late last year. She is looking for three things: meaningful work, Kenyans who are of the ethnic group Kenyan, and hopeful imaginings in red, green, white and black.