Against Hope: An Electoral Story

Michael Onsando
15 August ,2017

A man in Kisumu is wailing. He will have to be my proxy as it’s easier to write about someone else’s tears. He is not wailing because Raila Odinga lost this election. That is what a cynical, narrow view of Kenyan politics would say. He is crying because, along with all the other Kenyans who watched the proceedings of the Supreme Court, he saw compelling evidence that the elections lacked credibility.

Gukira writes this in 2013. I find it difficult to think about now without thinking of 2013, without thinking of 2007, without thinking of 2002, without thinking of 1997 ad infinitum. Transitional periods are difficult. In the time of changing and shifting we find it within ourselves to put life aside and focus our energy on the nation in ways we normally wouldn’t. We ask each other incessantly “did you vote?” “who are you voting for?” We discuss policies, histories, motivations and legacies. We fixate on this idea of power and what it means. More dangerously, we allow ourselves to hope.

Hope is a dangerous thing.

To hope is to plan. To rely on certain outcomes when considering the future. In many ways, when our hope is dashed we see our future being taken away from us. We mourn the loss of this future that could have been because we wanted it to be. The present loses its lustre, for it doesn’t look like what we had planned for it to look like – and when this happens we must ask ourselves why? What changed? Why did we hope, and what dashed our hopes? It is in this questioning that it becomes impossible to disentangle this election from all other transitions before it.

But what do dashed hopes mean in the age of accept and move on? How do we collect the pieces?

In Kibera the police bang down doors and shoot people in the streets. In Kisumu protestors are killed. In the news there is silence.

Gathara reminds us on twitter about the relation between the state and the media. How the media can be used as a tool for repression, to conceal what needs to be seen in order to create – contstructing an alternative reality. How KBC would talk of peace while police clashed with protestors. Then again how do we hold this in the same light as accusations that the media largely propagated the violence through irresponsible reporting in the 2007/2008 elections? What’s the line between truth and responsibility. Rather, what’s the balance between the responsibilities to truth, to peace, to justice?

Alexis Teyie writes:

When is critique acceptable, and when is it ‘incitement’? Why is state machinery being deployed selectively across this country? Is there a difference between containing violence and perpetuating it? Poleni, academicking. Ntaacha basi.

 Let me tell you what I know about violence. I know small violences: walking into Nakumatt to buy sugar, unga, rice and soap, and leaving with soap and unga only; listening quietly when the people in the matatu start arguing over ‘hao watu’; paying school fees in nine installments; chai bila sukari! I also know moderate violences, but let me tell you about strong violences. One, Chris Msando.

Ai nimeshindwa.

Nami pia, nimeshindwa.

Again, we find ourselves insisting that property can’t have more value than a human life. Again, we find ourselves questioning the electoral process. Again, we ask ourselves what peace can mean. I turn to Muste:

We cannot have peace if we are only concerned with peace. War is not an accident. It is the logical outcome of a certain way of life. If we want to attack war, we have to attack that way of life.

But all this strikes a highly theoretical chord. How do we find peace when the environment has not been laid for it? How do you ask someone whose door was kicked in by the police at night to maintain peace? What is there to maintain? How do we even begin to think about the importance of keeping the state moving when, with every step, the state destroys us? Are we to work towards our own destruction?(a brief lesson in counter intuition)

There are few things that can be said about this election that weren’t said about previous elections. There are few things that have happened in this election that didn’t happen in previous elections. Yet we still allow ourselves to hope. We still watch the news repeatedly telling ourselves to believe. That everything is okay, that everything will be okay. People around the world call with concern – is are you well, are your people well?

We are well, we insist. Nothing to see here, we insist. Kenya, we say, is progressing. We remind ourselves that it could be much worse. That we could have outright eruptions across the country. That many nations have fallen into civil wars for a lot less. So we grapple this space between tension and relief. Between hoping for better, understanding there’s worse and wondering what to call here – what to call now.

And still there is death. There was death before the election and there was death after. Disposable bodies stay disposable. I’m left wondering whether transition will always mean loss of life and how to hold this truth amidst the chaos and the incentives. I wonder about the man who was wailing in 2013 – where is he now? Is he wailing? Did he still believe in the possibility of change or did the court results destroy his faith? Did he vote? Does he feel safe enough to wail again? Or is he suppressing himself for fear of being caught out?

Whither do we grieve?




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