Millions of Kenyans queued for hours to participate in one of the most historic general elections. I was one of them. And it sure felt good to stoically bear with the sun and sometimes slow pace of the proceedings, not to mention the usual bunch of moronic Kenyans keen on jumping the queues. And finally come face to face with the IEBC officials. A lot of folk experienced many emotions during that period just before they were called in to vote….would their names be present in the voters roll?….would they vote? There were a few hairy moments for a few…a dear friend freaked out when her name wasn’t where it was supposed to be….my poor sister did not vote. And not for lack of trying either. She did fall twice in a ditch though in her quest….another dear friend summed my sister’s woes as democratic determination. So this thing called democracy. What exactly is it? From where i am standing, I am of the opinion that it is one big 6 piece tragic comedy. Played out 47 times. At a cost of a paltry 25 billion shillings. Every 5 years.
Recently I was on a road trip to Kisumu, via Eldoret and back to Nairobi via Bomet and Narok. I quickly dubbed Eldoret, “Vitzville” on account of the proliferation of the Vitz car model which appears to be immensely popular taxis. The Vitzes were especially special for the adornment of garish lights on them and painted motifs which would be more appropriate on faster more powerful and brutish car models like Mustangs or Ferraris. What also left an impression on me about Vitzville was how hopelessly disorganized everything else appeared to be and of course the ubiquitous motorcycle bodabodas with their reflective yellow jackets and ill road manners. The petrol pump attendants could do with a few lessons on customer care and friendliness. There also seemed to be a lot of desperation for a shilling from a lot of people I encountered in that brief visit. Lets just say I felt a peculiar relief when I left town.
Kisumu was a stark contrast to Vitzville, with clean streets and a general calmness which was sorely missing in Vitzville. However, the number of yellow-reflective-jacket clad youths on bicycles and motorcycles seemed to have doubled since the last time I was in town. So did the number of nightclubs. A man walked up to me and introduced himself as the waiter who served us 6 months ago at a nice downtown vegetarian restaurant, and could I buy him a cup of porridge? What about your wife and children, I inquired after the initial shock wore off. Actually, I have left my phone with someone as security in exchange for 50 bob which they used for their breakfast, he responded with a pained expression on his face, completely beaten and devoid of dignity. My task today, he continued, is to make or beg for some money which will enable me to reclaim my phone and hopefully go home with something for my family. I have culinary skills and a lot of experience as a waiter, he continued, as if justifying something. I felt as only one feels when confronted with the reality of other people’s lives. And lack of choices.
In Chabera, a small dusty town tucked neatly between Kisumu and Kisii, famous for pineapples and tea, I stopped to ask for directions to Litein. A flock of girls and women bearing pineapples, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, avocados, yams, green bananas and groundnuts descended upon me and completely surrounded the car and for the next few minutes, i could neither get out of the car or say anything through the din and commotion. I had to buy something from everyone. Such was the ferocity of the competition. Then everyone pointed out the right direction. The ubiquitous yellow-reflective-jacketed young men on motorbikes and bicycles paid me scant attention, from a distance.
In Bomet, I overheard a couple of young men hawking cheap Chinese padlocks, steering wheel covers, belts and handkerchiefs conversing in Luo. We are the the ones who will deliver the requisite numbers for Jakom ( the affectionate term for Raila) in this area, they crowed gallantly when i inquired what they were doing in a place so far from home.
I stopped for lunch in Suswa, a few hops from Narok and an even shorter hop to Nairobi. From atop the balcony of the bar where I was having a warm Tusker in hiding, I saw a pretty young girl fetching water from a water kiosk and delicately balance the jerrican on her equally delicate neck. For some strange reason, I though her neck would snap under the weight of the unseemly jerrican. She made a record 3 or 4 agonizing trips under the merciless sun and dust. What is the mood on the ground, I ask the young man who finally brings me my roast meat. Jubilee or CORD? It’s a bit of both, he says nonchalantly. Ruto and Uhuru were here yesterday, he offers. Quite a spectacle. Over 10,000 people here. Did anyone mention the water problem you guys obviously have here, I ask. He shrugs his shoulders. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they dont, he intones. Its not hard to get piped water here. Nairage Enkare (river) is just a few kilometers away. So, who will you vote for, I press him. Don’t know. Depends on the popular party. I guess. He intones back. I give up. I am ready to go back to Nairobi. And vote.
Back to my question. What is this thing democracy? Is it a bunch of most of the people I have described above lining up for hours on end to cast their vote, spoiling most of them in the process and retreating back to their mundane existence, having been subjected to roadshows where rowdy youth atop rickety vans with hideous speakers blaring bad tribal music and someone with a microphone calling out a candidates name repeatedly, extolling their virtues whilst exhorting them to vote for them in the name of peddling policies aka “campaigning”? What do people elect other than parties, personalities and tribe?
My outrage goes out to this animal called democracy, who takes so much from us, deludes us and gives us nothing back. Who will save Kenya from democracy? Better yet, who will save democracy in Kenya?