At the precipice of the 2007 General Election, right before the winds of hatred and mindless pursuit of tribal hegemony hurled us over the cliff; I got a call from a friend. A female friend. We weren’t in a relationship but the thought had been marinating within us. We were flirting along that line that divides friendship and relationship. Tossing back and forth between friendship and relationship. Like a metronome. The politics of the day was, as always, divided along tribal lines and when I’d meet this friend we’d have friendly but sometimes almost toxic political banter. We represented different tribal persuasions as it were. I was Luo. She was Kikuyu.
It’s time for baba to get this thing, I’d say. He’s suffered enough for his country.
Aiiii..The prince of poverty. You guys are so blind. Look how poor Kibera is. And Kisumu? He’s just a war monger.
She’d hurl the singed response back like a fireball.
On it would go. But we’d make merry and kiss enjoy our date. Little did we know that the seeds we were sowing in our hearts, in the air and the country were feeding off this. And were now sprouting menacingly above the surface.
Fast forward to Election Day and the country was invariably painted orange and blue depending on which section of the country it was. Less than a day into the ballots being cast and as initial tallying results started trickling in, the country inched closer to that infamous precipice. The weeds of hatred and war started to sprout all over choking out reason and love. That was when I got the phone call from my on and off friend.
Hey. Do you see what you’re people are doing?
Eh? Which people?
Si you’re relatives. I hear they’re killing and raping people.
I looked around the room to the relatives in sight. The chief had blacked out on the couch, snoring up a storm. Mom had the papers in her hand. Her eyes were closed. My brothers and cousins were outside telling jokes and laughing up the night.
Well, unless they’re doing it in their sleep I don’t know. I replied. You could smell the sarcasm.
Then I heard the gun shots. A cacophony of pop sounds ripping up the distant darkness. You see, we lived not far from Kibera (or is it now Kibra?) and so we were not far from one of the sites of the fracas that had begun to ensue. Soon a Breaking News banner was strewn across the television screen and news of violence erupting across the nation started streaming through.
That’s when I, and probably most of the country, realised the dark depths to which our ethnic alliances had sunk. When brother and friend turned enemy and foe. When neighbour turned stranger. Where the spilling of beer and happiness was replaced by the spilling of blood and animosity. Lives were lost and homes broken. Damage beyond the physical. A most unfortunate time that I hope never replays itself.
It’s now many years later. The country has moved on (and accepted. Hopefully), and so have I.
As fate would have it, yet another Kikuyu captured this Luo man’s heart. So much so, I decided to adorn her finger with expensive jewellery in an act of betrothal. That’s Luo for we got engaged.
In my family, this wasn’t the first inter-cultural marriage. In her’s it was.
To say that the process leading up to the wedding was smooth would be dishonest of me. It wasn’t. There were cultural misunderstandings, suspicions on both sides, anger and sometimes mindless posturing.
They’re the ones who want the girl. Let them figure out what to do. Her relatives would intimate.
The chief and his cohorts would tell me, My friend, there are many girls from the lake side we can choose from if this one is too much trouble.
But the heart wants what the heart wants they say. Or something like that. And so, the son of those rocky hills in Seme and the daughter of those drearily cold fields of Kinangop came together in holy matrimony. Everyone danced and laughed at the wedding. The struggles of earlier months buried under cake and cliché Kayamba Africa wedding jingles.
And now here’s another election cycle. Ten years from that eventful one. When voting lines were along tribal affiliations. Nothing much has changed. I am asked strange questions still. In 2017. Just imagine. Allow me to use that Kenyan colloquialism.
So now how will you vote in your house? Please don’t let us down.
Or people who wonder if I discuss politics with my wife. Or others who think I’m undercover to destroy the so called ‘tyranny of numbers’. Tupatie kura ata kama mama atakuwa Jubilee.
And when I tell them I just may vote for an independent because there’s no difference between the front runners I’m deemed to be lost and wasting my vote. That as the man of the house I should make sure my household votes the right way. My heart sinks at these times, realising that we have progressed in time but our minds not so much.
I have realised something though. Most people speak from their own reality. I know rice and spaghetti are snacks. Because that’s how I was raised. That ugali is the definition of having had a meal. I can however open my mind to other realities and experience a wholesome life. Those black beans, njahi, aren’t half bad for example. Or that you can have objective political discussions like I do with my father in law even; candidly over a glass of whisky. Not caring that our ethnic backgrounds put us into a pre-determined box.
Yes, I feel privileged to enjoy different world views, different foods and different culture. The world needs more of that. This country needs more of that. Our differences make the whole so much more meaningful. This is why I think we should more than just tick a box at the polls. We are one after all. And after that box is ticked, we shall remain one.