Memories of Kenya’s Post-Election Violence

by Stephen Biko

I was 13 years old when the Post Election Violence happened in Kenya. I had just sat for my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education( a national Examination in Kenya) and like the rest of my 400, 000 or so counterparts, we eagerly awaited the results that will ultimately seal our fate.

But, not salient to our small minds was the ongoing election. The elections that would determine whether Mwai Kibaki would lead Kenya for another five years or it was time for a change of guard and bring in Raila Odinga.

Though I was not really interested in the election, I could feel the tension rising in the air every time the results were delayed. I could see the anxiety on Samuel Kivuitu’s eyes each time he came on screen to give us the latest tally. I could sense the anticipation in my father’s up and down movements in the sitting room and even before Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner, I knew that this would be a Christmas I will never forget.

I was in Kisumu at the time, a predominantly Raila Odinga stronghold and the rowdy youths waited with baited breaths and tires and kerosene and huge boulders, eagerly waiting for the Electoral Commissioner to declare Kibaki as president. As soon as it was done, they took to the streets, chanting, burning, looting, beating and killing those they deemed not to be “of their blood.”

The police arrived at the scene and tried to disperse the crowd, firing what at first were rubber bullets. That was the first time I felt real fear. My father in the sitting room, in desperation told us to lie down. His experience as a peace builder in places like South Sudan had taught him that stray bullets kill more people than they are given credit for. And so we all lunged to the floor. My father the only one brave enough to periodically stand up to see what was happening. My mother gasping for breath shielding my smallest brother who was about four years at the time and my other brother, 9 years at the time looked at me in fear, his eyes filled with a sense of disillusionment. I felt real fear.

I thought that it would go on for a day or two and it will all be over, but my prayer never came to fruition. I went to bed in utter anxiety every night and prayed to God that peace would find a way in the morning…but I would still wake up to the sounds of gunshots. My greatest fear for me was at the time, the girl that I used to like…maybe even loved, was almost burnt to death. The story behind it is that she was the daughter of the man who was vying against “Raila Odinga’s preferred candidate” to be the Member of Parliament in our area.

They were our neighbors at the time, and rowdy youths arrived at the place with tires and jerrycans of petrol and stones, their pallets yearning for the blood of he who might have betrayed them. I remember watching from our sitting room window, not being able to do anything, wishing against all wish that no one was going to touch the girl I loved. The relief I felt when the police arrived and dispersed the crowd cannot be put into words.

But I was scarred for life. My small mind, still young in its teenage years had seen more than it had bargained for. Lifeless bodies scattered our streets. I saw a man being killed by a police officer who in essence ought to have been shooting upwards and not shooting at the crowd, I saw numerous news articles on TV showing the massive looting, killing, revenge attacks going on in our country. Most of the reports containing sugar coated figures of the people who had died, probably a feeble attempt to cool down the inflamed passions running across the country. A country that had been the symbol of peace and stability in our region. I was heartbroken.

Eventually I passed my Kenya Certificate of Primary Examinations with 399/500 marks but i could not go to my school of choice because roads had been barricaded and the line between your friend and the person who might chop off your head without hesitation was blurred. My dad had to risk his life to go and look for another school for me to attend.

But I swore to myself that as I grow older, and hopefully wiser, I will not hold ethnocentric views, I will not care what tribe you come from, I will not care whether you are tall or short, whether you are black or white, whether you are Luo or Kikuyu, if you treat me good, I will treat you better.

The hopelessness I saw in my brothers’ eye, the strength my mother mustered in the face of adversity, the courage displayed by my father are the things that kept me going and even though they are elements to be admired, I really pray I do not have to see it again. and that is the main reason that as a 20 year old, I strive to promote peace in what I do, in what I say, in what I blog, in what I tweet, in what I eat, drink, sleep….in my everyday life.

A friend advised me that in order to ease the trauma of all that I saw, felt and heard that day, I should put my words in a poem….and so I did.

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