Report & Essay

A Letter From Samuel Kivuitu
Shailja Patel

 Kenyan poet extraordinaire, Shailja Patel, has elicited a response to a letter she slipped to ECK comissioner, Samuel Kivuitu, during a talk he gave in Nairobi on May 14. In her own words…:

At the beginning of this year, I wrote an Open Letter to Samuel Kivuitu, Chair of the Electoral Commission of Kenya. It was picked up by a number of sources, online and off, within and outside Kenya, and widely distributed, forwarded, and republished.

On May 14th, Samuel Kivuitu spoke, for the first time since “The Crisis”, at a forum on Post-Election Violence in Nairobi. I arrived early at the venue, and slipped a paper copy of my Open Letter under the blotter where he was going to sit. I’d abridged and updated the letter to reflect our current Kenyan reality. It ends with a plea:

It’s not too late, Mr. Kivuitu. To recover your own humanity. To open your eyes to the suffering and longing of this nation. To admit that something went terribly wrong. If you could only rise to the desperate need of this turning point in Kenya’s history, you could redeem yourself with the simplest of words:

“I’m sorry.”

Those words might be the most revolutionary ever spoken on this continent. They might open the floodgates for every leader, every public servant, to acknowledge their own deep fear, grief, and remorse. To admit fallibility. To take responsibility.

We are still waiting, Mr. Kivuitu, for you to speak.

During the forum, I watched Mr. Kivuitu bluster, blame, deny all culpability for the stolen election that took Kenya to the brink of civil war. In the plenary, I stood up, heart pounding, and said:

Mr Kivuitu, the whole country, from IDPs (internally displaced persons) in camps to affluent residents of Karen and Mountain View, are waiting for the tiniest expression of remorse, regret, from the Electoral Commission of Kenya. As a human being, a Kenyan, can you find it in your heart to offer just three words: “We are sorry,” to the people of Kenya?

He couldn’t.

Five days later, this arrived in my inbox. It is posted here, and for public distribution, with Mr. Kivuitu’s permission.

Dear Madam,

I thank you for your letter dated 14 May 2008 and the concerns you expressed

The Holy Bible has taught me to leave judgment of others to God the
Almighty. I do not know if you are the Almighty God or not but you did not
seem to be Him when I saw you on 14 May 2008.

You are all the same entitled to your views. I however humbly deny any wrong
doing. The laws require that I declare the winner of the presidential
elections once the Commission determines the candidate who scored highest,
and led 25% of votes cast in his/her favour in 5 provinces. That is all I
did. And there was no other candidate or his/her agent seeking me to hold on
and re tally – no. After announcing the results a fellow appeared before me
and requested me to hand over to him the president’s certificate. I told him
that that is only done to the winner personally and directly.

The fellow then informed me that Hon. Kibaki was awaiting to be sworn as the
President and the Chief Justice was present, duly robed, for the assignment.
He requested me to take the certificate there. I had no business retaining
the certificate. It was not mine. The law says it be given at the place the
President is to be sworn. I obeyed the law and took it there. Commissioners
do not count votes.

Commissioners do not tally counted results. They simply verify these. They
do this through the Commissioners’ senior officers whose competence and
integrity you seem to recognize. Commissioners announce the results as
presented to them by these officers. Or what else do you suggest they should
have done?

My conscience is absolutely clear. I know how dangerous it is to delay
announcing the results. There are several interests in the results and all
are equally important. I was hurt in 2002 for not announcing results which I
had not yet received. I am not a seer, like you seem to be, to be sure that
there would have not been deaths if I postponed the announcement of the

With my humblest view I do not share the view that people killed others, or
destroyed the properties belonging to others, on account of my announcement
of the winner. I believe that irrespective of whoever of the two top
candidates won, there was going to be violence. That environment was created
by the politicians themselves. You seem however to worship them as deities.
Secondly, I respectfully believe the killers, who had been already charged
with rhetoric, reasoned thus – why did Kibaki or Kalonzo get these votes in
our areas? They looked round and saw Kikuyus, Kambas and other “madoadoas”
(as they had been told to call them). They reasoned these where the ones
who voted thus and they must eliminate them.

Even in poor Coast, suspected “wrong” voters were ordered to pronounce
certain words. Once they did not do so like the locals, they were violently
evicted and robbed of their properties and raped. Thus the genesis of the
tragedy is in our dirty politics and negative ethnicity. It is bad luck we
have kind people like you who are too naïve to realize the depth of our
malaise. No wonder facile and dishonest assignments that Hassan Omar
(1)advanced thrilled some of you. This confirms Kenya is in for hard time
for a long while to come.

Have a nice day Ms. Patel.

S. M. Kivuitu

(1) Hassan Omar Hassan, Commissioner of the Kenya National Commission for
Human Rights, condemned Kivuitu and the Electoral Commission of Kenya as
delinquent in their duties, at the May 14th forum on Post-Election Violence.

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