I vividly remember the post-election violence of 2007/2008 like it happened yesterday. The memories are etched in my mind like a gum stuck on a wooden surface. I had invested my emotions and energies towards the process.
In college, I was a firebrand proponent for the orange democratic movement (ODM). I distributed T-shirts. I openly debated pro-ODM policies. I was a die-hard supporter. I even volunteered to distribute cash for those who wanted to travel up the country. My support was not tribal. I didn’t think less of the other party. I had simply been hooked to the message and the vision of the ODM party. I believed that they were going to be the magic bullet that was going to cure the gross inequality in this country.
Just before the elections, we had travelled up country with my family. On our way back to Nairobi, I saw the devastation that had been caused by a political contest. The entire journey was depressing. I saw the displaced sea of humanity that had congregated to seek shelter in open spaces from Kericho to Limuru. They were hungry, desolate, and desperate and they looked like zombies. Children had flies fighting for their noses but they were too weak to fight them off, so they let the annoying creatures feed freely. Their mothers were heartbroken. The pain of not being able to provide for their families was simply hard to swallow. Some had lost their fortunes. Others had been raped. Many of them were nursing injuries from machetes, bows, and arrows among other assorted weapons that were used against them. So they sat down in deep thought. Fathers were hopeless and you could see that life had handed them a raw deal. They had been the strongest pillars of their homes. Their voices mattered. But here, they were all equalised by the brutality of ugly politics. They had been served the bitter cup of defeat so their faces were downcast.
I saw burnt properties. I saw blocked roads. I saw pain and confusion. The air was thick with the thirst of the grim reaper who wanted more. He wasn’t satisfied with the numerous lives he had claimed. Like pawns in a game of chess, we were being played.
When I landed in Nairobi, the first greeting that I was given in Kariobangi South by people I had called friends hurt me. They shoved it down my throat that ‘we’ had lost. And no Jaruo would ever rule this country. We entered our rented house in Kariobangi South albeit with fear. Yes, we needed to fear. Because of just a day before we came, we were told that leaflets had been circulated. Luos needed to leave Kariobangi light industries. If we didn’t move, the dreaded Mungiki sect would circumcise all of them then they would cut off their heads and throw in Nairobi River. The massacre in Naivasha had just happened. The scenes of people being chased and killed like stray dogs were still fresh in our minds.
I felt a cold fear run through my spine. The house that had acted like a safe sanctuary was now filled with fear. Paranoia was written on its walls. The seats were cold. The bedroom was lonely. The kitchen was deserted because no one had an appetite. We couldn’t sleep. My brother had a 2-year-old baby. The ‘enemy’ surrounded us. We had to flee.
The following night after we had arrived, there were chaos and shouting at night. The chanting was very simple, “Anyang Nyongo must go.” That was a term that had been coined to represent the Luo community.
Some of the men who were shouting were my close friends. We had done the business of collecting garbage together. We used to drink soup together. We were friends. We went to church together. Our families knew each other well. We never bothered about our tribes or where we come from. We were simply friends. But now, because of politics, we became enemies.
The next day, we decided to leave that place. We weren’t going to risk our heads being chopped off because of politics. From a two bedroomed house, my family moved to a dingy one room in Umoja. The privacy was taken away. The toilet was tucked a mile away. It was a rainy season and I had a running stomach. I have never seen longer nights like those.
My brother had to share one room with us. We actually slept on one mattress. The three grown brothers who were used to their own beds and rooms were now arranged together on a mattress like a heap of bodies in city mortuary. You couldn’t fart. You couldn’t turn. You couldn’t do anything. You had to sleep in one position till morning. If you turned, you found yourself on the cold floor. That’s when it hit us that the things we had been taking for granted were really precious. The freedom to shower, sleep in peace, walk around proudly etc. were all stripped away from us.
One day I decided to visit a friend who was working at Masaba hospital (Now Nairobi women’s hospital). What began as a random trip turned into a nightmare. I saw naked young men holding on to their breath dearly being carried to the hospital. They had bullet wounds on their bodies. They were victims of the police shooting in the Kibera demonstrations. When I saw them, I felt a tsunami of rage rising in my heart. I had never seen a victim of bullets in my entire life. How could the police be so brutal like this? These were young men who only had rocks. Surely, a rubber bullet would have dealt with them thoroughly. Yet they were shot. Some in the head, some in the abdomen, some in their backs while some in their legs. The scene was gory. The smell of death was present. Coupled with all the negative news that I had watched, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I decided to head to the Nation media group and the Standard media to report what I had witnessed at the Masaba hospital. I wanted justice for the young boys who were shot. I wanted their stories to be told. I just didn’t know if they were going to be told anyway because of the partisanship that had gripped our stations.
That’s the day that I decided to grab a pen and paper. I had not been journaling before. But that day, I had to pen down my frustrations. I had to release the simmering tension that was locked in my chest. I started to write. I went on and on. Putting down my feelings and emotions. I decided to be as brutal as I could. Every time I opened that book and picked a paper, I felt like I was in a safe space. I could say whatever I wanted to say. My writings were bitter, filled with rage and full of pain. I poured them all out on the pages of that book. It was therapeutic.
Writing saved me from the brink of madness. Writing pulled me back from a brink of Mathari Hospital tenancy. The pages of my book that was gracious enough to accept my words without criticising them saved me from myself. Journaling saved me from joining a militia. It saved me from heading to the streets to vent my anger. Writing saved me from hate. Writing saved my life.
Looking back when I was younger, I always wanted to be a writer. Because I knew that the power of the pen was stronger than any adversity. The floods of Kano would bow to the power of a pen. The change was going to come through the power of the pen.
Some of the formative years of my life were spent in Kano plains. Many who have heard about the place know that it is synonymous with floods and “serikali saidia” wailing. Yes, that is correct. Because some days we would sleep on a mat on the floor but we would wake up near lake Victoria having been carried at night by the floods. We would plant crops only for the floods to graciously wash them away. We would swim our way to school as we tried to balance the books and uniforms on our head.
Some parts of my formative years were also spent in Dandora near the dump site. We used to live in Dandora phase one but then one day, we moved closer to the dumpsite in a place called Canaan. What an irony? Instead of it being a land flowing with milk and honey, it was a land billowing smoke from the dump site as the marabou stork would come and release their waste on our balcony, which was their sanctuary. We couldn’t open the windows. Marabou Stork constantly terrorised our souls. The filth from the dump site suffocated our lungs. But we endured. Like the statue of liberty, we held our fist up against the destructive elements that were being emitted in our neighbourhood.
Though the power of the pen has always saved me from the destructive environments that I’ve been raised in, there is just one last frontier that needs to be saved. Ezekiel Mutua must go.
While many people who are employed in the creative industry battle demons ranging from meagre finances, writer’s block, opposition from family members, suicidal thoughts, lonely days etc., one old man with a teenager’s thirst for attention wants to add salt to injury.
Ezekiel Mutua wants to drive hot blades of censorship into the heart of an already wounded industry. He is the insensitive type who would insult your father and then abuse your mother also. He is a bully who would take your only toy then crush it as he looks at you straight in the face. He is a tyrant roaming around trying to pass legislations that are meant to stifle the creative industry.
Growing up around pain and injustice. Growing up around oppression and seeing the uncontrolled power of tyrants, growing up and seeing my brother die because of a preventable illness sparked something in me. Growing up and seeing hunger, devastation from the floods, intoxication from the dump site convinced me that evil only succeeds where good men do nothing.
But we must rise up. A tyrant anywhere is a tyrant everywhere. Over and above petitioning the Government to reject his bill, Ezekiel Mutua must pack his bags and go to whatever desert he came from. His myopic worldview is not consistent with the Kenya we live in right now. His dogmatic religious beliefs should be confined to the walls of his house. He is annoying. He is shallow. He is petty. He has a fragile teenage ego. And he must fall. Not today, not tomorrow but his downfall should have occurred a long time ago. Ezekiel Mutua must go.
Because a fly that fails to listen, usually follows the corpse to the grave!!
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