Towards Freedom

Michael Onsando
24 October ,2017

You know that

you carry their history.

But you also know

you don’t carry their scars.

And that, you hope,

will make all the difference.


On Thursday the 26th of October – according to the Kenya Gazette – there will be a fresh presidential election. A lot has been said about this election which makes it difficult to say anything more. The prolonged nature of negotiations has shown us sides of people that we always knew existed but had never seen this openly. This is not going to be about whether or not we should have an election or about whether or not you should vote or who you should vote for – there’s little that can be said along these lines. ead, I’m going to try and look at something about history – and this piece I write particularly for the youth of the country. To begin, Gukira writes:

“‘This is Kenya’  is a hold: stuck firmly in an ongoing present, it does not know how to retrieve the freedom dreams of the independence era and or how to look beyond current repression to imagine something that might be called freedom. This inability to look to past freedom dreams and to imagine a future freedom demands and produces inevitability.”

It’s impossible to begin to imagine the impact that the repression of Moi’s regime had on the country. Some things are simple enough to point out – increased militarization, corruption, distrust along ethnic lines and the like. It’s a bit harder to imagine the psychological impact of all these things. How do you quantify what it means to be afraid to speak of the government in your own home? How do you talk about what it does to you? How do you quantify the impact of distrust – of not getting a job because of your ethnicity?   What does that do to one’s way of thinking? When this fear of the other is crytallized, internalized and rationalized into a way of thinking and passed down as a form of protection?

Even further how did their fear come up against being brought up by a generation that was betrayed by their freedom dreams?

Is it even possible to imagine freedom in these circumstances?

Perhaps this is why many youth feel disconnected from the political process – it seems to really just follow the story of two people and their struggle for power. Two people who seem to mean more to the previous generations than they did to us. One, trying to figure out how to fix the betrayal committed by his family  to the country while maintaining his privilege and another trying to instill the legacy his father died trying to impact on his country. Driven to desperation these two camps continue to slug at each other. The camp with the resource, as always, continues to be the most ruthless.

The stakes in this battle are high. A country lies on the line looking for direction, for understanding. And the information, worse than being insufficient is too much. Between the constant back and forth at the IEBC, the insults and smear campaigns, fake news and community the truth seems more and more like a place we will never reach. Like wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years (does Canaan exist?).

If there is any place we are to place hope then, perhaps it is in the fact that there is an entire generation that bears some distance from the horrors of the Moi regime. A generation whose primary memory of this repressive period is maziwa ya nyayo and “Harammmmbeee!” A generation where many people express a sentiment of “missing moi,” something that can only be possible if you have no real experience of living under his leadership. This sentiment triggers fear (which triggers unlistening). Rather than engage in what exists for an individual to ‘miss moi’ we fight, we call them stupid, we disengage and we silence. None of these tactics work to impact understanding nor gain it.

An entire generation with different ideas of what freedom could possible look like. Unhardened by cynicism. That has seen both the fall of Moi in 2002 and a supreme court overturn an election result. Given, this same generation has seen the ethnic violence in 07/08, has seen kasarani concentration camp, killings of Msando, Saitoti and Jacob Juma. A generation that saw the internet bring an unprecedented level of open democracy in the country (whether it is an ideal level is a whole other debate of course).

“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.”

  • Frantz Fanon

This different environment might breed a different form of affect. Not necessarily a fully positive hope is here blow the trumpets one – but perhaps a less cynical one. One that has the ability to see a positive outcomes in the future. One that can imagine freedom beyond the haze that we currently find ourselves in. I’d argue that the first step in imagining this future begins by selective unlistening.

We must resist the ideas that come bearing this scar. The ideas that come bearing the mark of fear, the mark of stagnation, the mark of othering. We must resist proactively treating the people around us different based on advice on othering that was born of different circumstances. We must begin to imagine a country beyond the past of kings and kingmakers. We must remind ourselves, repeatedly, that long after either of these people are gone – we will be here. We must begin to actively think about what country we want to be in and fight for it. Fight for it in all the spaces we occupy, we must begin to engage with the politic not with inherited insights, but with our own. To perceive the world around us for ourselves and draw our own insights. We must see the Matiba (re: 1992) in our midst, as opposed to the dichotomies set out for ourselves. We must validate our own narrative and our own experiences of the country and of the places we would like the country to be.

On Thursday 26th October there will be a fresh presidential election. I’m not here to tell you who (or even whether) to vote. Instead I’m here to ask that you make your decision selfishly. Make your decision towards the Kenya you would like to see. Towards the Kenya you imagine as possible. Towards the Kenya that works for you. Historically Kenyans unite to vote against something. I remember yote yawezekana, I remember trying to get rid of Kibaki in 2007. My challenge is that this time we find a way to vote towards something. Towards a better life; towards a better Kenya and, hopefully, towards freedom.

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