Editorial
Report & Essay
Kibera Noir

Report & Essay

Kibera Noir
Arno Kopecky

 Kibera Noir, another of our election dispatches, tells the story of what happened in Kibera on the night of December 30, 2007, after Mwai Kibaki was sworn in at State House. The following excerpt takes up the story moments after the writer and his photographer companion, Chris Ojow, emerged from the flames.

Having stumbled our way out the back of Kibera, we finished the night in what felt like the last and best bar on the planet. Whispers Pub was a shabby and intimate place, buried somewhere in Langata; a neon green woman in a miniskirt was painted on the wall behind Ojow, who like me sat at the bar. The only table in the room had six people seated around it – the eight of us filled the place up.

“Do you have any cigarettes?” was the first question they asked when we poked our heads in.
“There are absolutely no cigarettes anywhere in Langata.”

Ojow distributed the last three in his pack.

“God bless you. Where have you come from?”

We told them about our evening.

“Damn,” said a middle aged man in a leather coat. “What are you drinking?” His name, he added, was Roy.

“Can we see your pictures?” asked another.

“You know,” said Roy after we’d finished our show and tell, “what you’re looking at in this bar is a mixed group of Kenyans. I’m Kamba, those two are Luos, that one’s a Kalenjin, and Mary over there is Kikuyu.”

“Nobody knows about the bartender,” said the Kalenjin.

“My point is, we all voted differently, but here we all are having a drink and talking about it.”

“What do you think,” said Mary, who turned out not to have voted along tribal lines. “Twenty minutes after Kivuitu announce the victor, Kibaki was being sworn in at Statehouse –”

“And everyone was already seated!”

“Except Kivuitu. He was reading from a prepared speech – “

“He probably wrote it last week.”

I told them I thought it looked pretty bad, though not quite so bad as Kibera.

“Those guys are really trying to squeeze water out of a rock,” Mary said. She meant the PNU.

“They’re not trying,” exclaimed Ojow, “they’ve squeezed.”

“I hate to see this place turn into Somalia,” she went on.

“We won’t go that way,” Roy assured her. “The burning will go on for the next one, two days, and then the battle will go to parliament.”

“Kenya is bigger than anybody,” said one of the Luos. “I like Raila but I beg him to wait another five years.”

“But Raila genuinely thinks he won,” said the other.

“He won,” said Ojow. “he doesn’t think.”

“Exactly. So why should he wait another five years?”

“Let me tell you,” said Roy. “Raila has won fairly, and he has had the carpet swept out from under his feet. But he is fighting the government, which has the police, it has the GSU, it has the ECK, it has anyone you can name on its side. There is no way he can win that fight.”

“But Kibaki’s team is not very tight,” said the Kalenjin. “They let rumors fly. We are hearing about their plans hours before they happen, and when the time comes, they are full of cracks.”

It was getting late – past midnight. The bartender, who hadn’t said a word the whole time, finally spoke up to tell us all to get out. As we collected ourselves to step back into the night, Roy tossed me a coin.

“See the name written on it? Toroitich,” he said. Then he pulled out his voter’s card to show me that he had the same last name.

“My uncle is Daniel arap Moi,” he said, “but don’t worry. I never liked the guy.”

Arno Kopecky is a Canadian travel writer and journalist. He lives in Nairobi, where he is an editor with Kwani?.

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