We have the most hallucination-inducing leaders-they are surpassingly bad at everything, or extremely good, depending on your point of view.Kibaki, in effect, has said: … Look. We Kikuyus endured twenty-four years of that Kalenjin man’s rule, and were regularly rigged out. We knew it, and so did you. We, unlike our violent Luo lesser-citizens or our wanna-be Kalenjin friends, did not engage in wanton acts of destruction for this reason. We bore our Moi-years burden in silence and with decorum, like everybody else in this country, we even managed to keep our heads above water, more or less. We had saved and secreted away enough, although diminished, shillings to begin to build again-and we have been working hard.You must admit that the street lights in Nairobi work now, and remember the new beauty of the roundabouts. Don’t you like flowers? And on this point: please tell your guys to stop burning our flower farms in the Rift Valley: there is going to be a rose crisis in Europe if you don’t watch out. It isn’t as if the new supermarkets and shops only sell things to Kikuyus: we’re all winning, here, guys! We were about to do global IPOs, bwana! We waited for our turn to come, and in 2002, it did (okay, it came for us again, but who’s counting?). We now do not understand what all this unmannerly screaming and shouting and wielding of pangas and matchboxes and gallons of petrol is all about, as we expect you to understand that you must stand in line. It isn’t your turn yet.Yes, we rigged: so what? So did you-we were just better at it, as you well know, as you admitted privately at the golf club. We won that rigging game, fair and square. So, shut up and get on with preparing for the next campaign in five years-we’ll have wrapped up our most important business by then, or at least convinced you to follow our plan instead of yours. We’ll buy you out, as always-what’s all this fuss about? You are welcome to have another factory or two, if that is the problem; if this will make you shut up.
Kibaki has said this, or words certainly to that effect, at the recent meeting of African Union heads recently. He was speaking to his peers-other rulers and regulators of Africans of a bewildering variety of tongues and tendencies, and yet, he was confident that they would understand his meaning. He knew that they knew how to read between his lines of “law and order,” of “institutional redress”: he was basically saying to his fellow African Excellencies, with a nudge and a wink, that the real problem in Kenya has come about because those idiot Luos don’t know how to take a fall, and the Kalenjin have always had dreams of grandeur; they think they’re in a movie for white people, or something. Someone, one of his Excellent Brothers, might even guffaw, at his subtleties. They understood his meaning clear and well.
In the meantime, Raila Odinga is failing every test of greatness that has walked up to him and practically slapped him in the face, this last month: he has been looking at the good of his country each day and deciding against it. He has decided that the chance of the presidency means more to him than the chance to be truly great, to be an outstanding African instead of just another quarrelsome Kenyan, petty and power-blinded. They’ll still write about him in the history books fifty years from now, and he doesn’t care what the reasons are, what stories we will be telling our children about him. His party may have planned mass human rights violations; they may indeed have been a touch over-enthusiastic, but his injured innocence knows no bounds. Kibaki’s Presidential Cronies would understand Raila’s point of view, too-they practice its tenets daily.
They are all one of a kind.
Despite our differences across this continent, the overwhelming commonality between us Africans is the astoundingly debased and degrading quality of our leaders. That, despite all that our own senses and our own intellects have assured us is true, this past month, Kibaki was able to say the things that he did, in the place that he did, with the intentions and nuances that he deployed, without the heavens sundering open in scorn, without thunderbolts striking us all, is proof of our sadly decayed expectations of our leaders, across the board.
Why do we not have a Martin Luther King? Has our Fanon been delayed in a bar? It can happen, what with the Nairobi traffic and all. Is Malcom X having some nyama choma at his local estate joint, and can’t be bothered to attend to our little problem? What house does our Aung San Suu Kyi live in? A Mandela of our own would probably be too much to hope for, but we can dream…..
It is remarkable that there is so much unanimity between intellectuals, artists, activists and people of goodwill that the violence is deplorable; that a new vision of Kenya needs to emerge; that communities are looking to our newly-elected (or not) leaders-most recently minus two, of course- in this time of peril to guide us out of this maze; that it is time for a new national conversation about our identities and the uses to which we put them; that whoever is able to do this will live as a hero in the annals of Kenyan history;-so where is this person? Where is this person who will, now, this moment, mount that podium and give Kenyans a credible reason to stop this violence and to find new ways of expressing our fears and our frustrations? Who will explain us to each other, who will clarify our options about our neighbours and our living patterns, our prospects of employment and our hopes, our challenges of salvaging and rebuilding our battered selves, who will exhort and extort us to remember that it is our neighbour and friend who is our usual source of that emergency cup of sugar, our neighbour to whom we look when our child is sick and needs transport to the hospital, our neighbour with whom we have exchanged those I-hate-matatu stories even as we board another one together. Or complained about the politicians -we do that well together, we Kenyans.
Who will convince us that this untidy, resentful, sullen, bleeding, wounded, bewildered, defensive, psychotic , irrational, betraying, dangerous place we call home, this our Kenya, has any point left to it at all?
I am still waiting. I am getting pissed off at the delay.
Of course, when she turns up, we’ll probably shoot her dead. Viva Kenya
Wambui Mwangi, a Professor of History at the University of Toronto, is a member of the Concerned Kenyan Writers Initiative. “TRANSLATED FROM KIBAKIZUNG”. Post published in Kwani.