Report & Essay

Stanley Gazemba

 The following excerpt is taken from one of several elections pieces commissioned last year by Kwani?. Our writers tracked politicians throughout Kenya before, during and after the December poll; their stories will be printed in full in Kwani? 05, due out in August.

The Kakamega town of my student days at Kakamega High was a slow, even sleepy town. Save for the bus stage area that was always bustling, a stranger would easily pass by the one-storey shops without knowing what business went on inside, the boarded-up goldsmith’s shops at strategic street corners a reminder of the town’s almost forgotten mining past. The occasional excitement would come from a visiting mobile disco at the town hall Fridays, where we would turn up in pleated MC Hammer-type trousers, our hair curled using washing detergent and a dash of lab peroxide, ready to play hide and seek with the school authorities who always infiltrated the boogies. The only mobs I remember seeing in town were when the Green Commandos, Kakamega High’s soccer team, won the national football trophy.
Although it wasn’t half as razed as the pitiable sights I had seen along the way, it was a different Kakamega that I went back to on February 24. The disputed presidential election results had changed everything. Although a measure of calm had returned to the town following the violence that engulfed it, the burnt scars were still evident. I saw the burnt ruins of a shoe shop opposite the Tharau building close to the KFA depot together with the ruins of what were once used-clothes stalls behind the main bus terminus. In Lurambi I saw the burnt ruins of a petrol station opposite newly-opened Masinde Muliro University, in front of it the rusting shell of a matatu. On the opposite side of the road adjacent to the campus were the ruins of a block of hostels in which students of the university had been staying. I was informed that there were more burnt houses in Maraba Estate that had housed mostly business people of the Kikuyu community.
Hesbon Liyenzero of Afro Plus Studio off Cannon Awori Street was among the people I spoke to seeking to establish what happened. According to him, the campaign period was peaceful, with the majority of the town residents, who were ODM supporters, going about the campaign activities calmly. According to him, the PNU campaigns in the town were lackluster, hardly drawing attention, same to the other parties fronting presidential aspirants. According to him, although a local trader by the name Tharau attempted to persuade the residents by slaughtering a bull and inviting them to a feast in exchange for their backing him for the Lurambi seat on the PNU ticket against incumbent Dr. Newton Kulundu, he didn’t succeed. This was the same for Cyrus Jirongo’s KADDU party, which failed to stir excitement.
It was between the 28th and 29th December that the tension started, following the protracted vote tally at the presidential level.
“I was seated in my shop on the 29th when I saw people suddenly running up and down. I didn’t know what it was all about. The chaos started at Maraba Estate, where most of the Kikuyu businessmen live. I am told the mobs had burnt two matatus christened ‘Sifa kwa Yesu’. I didn’t wait to establish what was going on. I immediately closed the shop and ran home,” said Liyenzero.
From Maraba the chaos spread to town, where the mobs started looting shops. They set ablaze a wholesale and retail shop called Lifa Shop near the KFA depot, another near the bus terminus named Kid’s Camp, together with others in the subsequent chaotic days.
According to Liyenzero there was a massive exodus of Kikuyu families from Maraba Estate on 30th December. There were truckloads of housing goods headed to the police station, where the business people would camp until the situation calmed down. The few businesses that remained open like Julike Petrol Station and Mama Watoto Supermarket were under police guard, with shoppers queuing up to buy.

Stanley Gazemba was born in Vihiga, Western Kenya, in 1974; he is the author of The Stone Hills of Maragoli, winner of the 2003 Jomo Kenyatta Literary Prize, and numerous short works of fiction.

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