cc. 2008 began for Kenyans with the murder of Kenya’s democracy. It ended with the son of a Kenyan migrant winning the US presidential race. In editing this special issue of Pambazuka News, ‘Kenya – one year on’, our guest editor, Shailja Patel says the the questions that arise apply to both these historic events.
How do we create genuine political, social and economic transformation, rather than just settling for symbolic change?
How do we bring critical thinking and evidence-based analysis to hope and vision?
How do we address the truth of mass crimes against entire populations, while remaining open to visionary possibility?
Three pervasive myths still circulate about the Kenya Crisis.
First, that it is over. In May 2008, the host of NTV’s breakfast show asked me, ‘Shouldn’t we just get over it and move on?’ On 27 December, the one-year anniversary of the stolen election, the presenter of the BBC’s The World Today programme struggled with irritation when I kept harking back to the civil coup. ‘Hasn’t the country moved on?’, he demanded pointedly.
The answers lie in Ndung’u Wainaina’s exposure of the fundamental flaws of the of displaced Kenyan women and girls. We cannot move on because the post-election violence simply ripped the lid off deep historical chasms and inequities that have never been truly laid out for resolution.
The second myth is the idea that ‘It is impossible to know who really won the 2007 election.’ Therefore, revert to myth one – get over it and move on. I am frequently challenged on my use of the term ‘civil coup’. Anyone who accepts the deeply compromised Kriegler Report at face value must read the articles to understand how Kenyans have still not received the truth they deserve about the election.
The third myth has practically spawned its own genre: the stories of ‘what saved Kenya’. My favourite among these so far was recounted to me, in all earnestness, by a Ugandan lawyer: ‘It was Museveni who told Raila and Kibaki: Guys, you need to sort this out. Remember how he arrived in Kenya with that briefcase under his arm? The mediation agreement was inside.’
The lessons of how Kenya was pulled back from the brink of anarchy are vital for the rest of the continent. They highlight the unsung importance of skilled civil society professionals doing their jobs and doing them excellently. Of communities standing up for their rights, against poverty and marginalisation. Of pan-African progressive networks. Of building movements and alliances. Building institutions, infrastructure, and coalitions. So that in the moment when somebody needs to speak, the channels exist, and open, for them to be heard.
On 3 January 2008, as bloodshed escalated across Kenya, all three daily newspapers agreed to run the same banner headline: ‘Save our beloved country’. In the year since, Kenyans have moved from that supplicant pose to one of palpable, vocal outrage at the repeated betrayals of the political class. It is an outrage that has taken to the streets and will not be silenced.
Where do we seek visionary possibility in this moment, when it seems that the ruling class will sell the very soil from under our feet? I find it in the heroes of Kenya’s peoples’ movement. In Shailja Patel is an award-winning Kenyan poet, writer, and political activist.
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