Kivuitu letterAn Open Letter to Samuel Kivuitu, Chair of
the Electoral Commission of Kenya
We've never met. It's unlikely we ever
will. But, like every other Kenyan, I will remember you for the rest of my
life. The nausea I feel at the mention of your name may recede. The
bitterness and grief will not.
You had a mandate, Mr. Kivuitu. To deliver
a free, fair and transparent election to the people of Kenya. You and your
commission had 5 years to prepare. You had a tremendous pool of resources,
skills, technical support, to draw on, including the experience and advice
of your peers in the field - leaders and experts in governance, human
rights, electoral process and constitutional law. You had the trust of 37
We believed it was going to happen. On
December 27th, a record 65% of registered Kenyan voters rose as early as
4am to vote. Stood in lines for up to 10 hours, in the sun, without food,
drink, toilet facilities. As the results came in, we cheered when minister
after powerful minister lost their parliamentary seats. When the voters of
Rift Valley categorically rejected the three sons of Daniel Arap Moi, the
despot who looted Kenya for 24 years. The country spoke through the
ballot, en masse, against the mindblowing greed, corruption, human rights
abuses, callous dismissal of Kenya's poor, that have characterised the
Kibaki wasn't going to go. When it became clear that you were announcing
vote tallies that differed from those counted and confirmed in the
constituencies, there was a sudden power blackout at the Kenyatta
International Conference Centre, where the returns were being announced.
Hundreds of GSU (General Service Unit) paramilitaries suddenly marched in.
Ejected all media except the government mouthpiece Kenya Broadcasting
Fifteen minutes later, we watched,
dumbfounded, as you declared Kibaki the winner. 30 minutes later, we
watched in sickened disbelief and outrage, as you handed the announcement
to Kibaki on the lawns of State House. Where the Chief Justice, strangely
enough, had already arrived. Was waiting, fully robed, to hurriedly swear
You betrayed us. Perhaps we'll never know
when, or why, you made that decision. One rumor claims you were threatened
with the execution of your entire family if you did not name Kibaki as
presidential victor. When I heard it, I hoped it was true. Because at
least then I could understand why you chose instead to plunge our country
into civil war.
I don't believe that rumor any more. Not
since you appeared on TV, looking tormented, sounding confused,
contradicting yourself. Saying, among other things, that you did not
resign because you "did not want the country to call me a coward", but you
"cannot state with certainty that Kibaki won the election". Following that
with the baffling statement "there are those around him [Kibaki] who
should never have been born." The camera operator had a sense of irony -
the camera shifted several times to the scroll on your wall that read:
"Help Me, Jesus."
As the Kenya Chapter of the International
Commission of Jurists rescinds the Jurist of the Year award they bestowed
on you, as the Law Society of Kenya strikes you from their Roll of Honour
and disbars you, I wonder what goes through your mind these days.
Do you think of the 300,000 Kenyans
displaced from their homes, their lives? Of the thousands still trapped in
police stations, churches, any refuge they can find, across the country?
Without food, water, toilets, blankets? Of fields ready for harvest, razed
to the ground? Of granaries filled with rotting grain, because no one can
get to them? Of the Nairobi slum residents of Kibera, Mathare, Huruma,
Dandora, ringed by GSU and police, denied exit, or access to medical
treatment and emergency relief, for the crime of being poor in
you haven't made it to Jamhuri Park yet. But I'm sure you saw the news
pictures of poor Americans, packed like battery chickens into their
stadiums, when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. Imagine that here in
Nairobi, Mr. Kivuitu. 75,000 Kenyans, crammed into a giant makeshift
refugee camp. Our own Hurricane Kivuitu-Kibaki, driven by fire, rather
than floods. By organized militia rather than crumbling levees. But the
same root cause - the deep, colossal contempt of a tiny ruling class for
the rest of humanity. Over 60% of our internal refugees are children. The
human collateral damage of your decision.
And now, imagine grief, Mr. Kivuitu. Grief
so fierce, so deep, it shreds the muscle fibres of your heart. Violation
so terrible, it grinds down the very organs of your body, forces the
remnants through your kidneys, for you to piss out in red water. Multiply
that feeling by every Kenyan who has watched a loved one slashed to death
in the past week. Every parent whose child lies, killed by police bullets,
in the mortuaries of Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret. Everyone who has run
sobbing from a burning home or church, hearing the screams of those left
behind. Every woman, girl, gang-raped.
Do you sleep well these days, Mr. Kivuitu?
I don't. I have nightmares. I wake with my heart pounding, slow tears
trickling from the corners of my eyes, random phrases running through my
head:Remember how we felt in
It's all gone.
(Muthoni Wanyeki, Executive Director of
Kenya Human Rights Commission, on the night of December 30th, 2007, after
Kibaki was illegally sworn in as president). There is a crime here that goes beyond
recrimination. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolise.
Steinbeck, American writer, on the betrayal of internally displaced
Americans, in The Grapes of Wrath)Haki iwe ngao na mlinzi....kila siku tuwe
("Justice be our shield and
defender....every day filled with thanksgiving" Lines from Kenya's
I soothe myself back to patchy sleep with
my mantra in these days, as our country burns and disintegrates around
Courage comes from
comes from cultivating the habit.
Courage comes from
cultivating the habit of refusing.
Courage comes from
cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one's
San Suu Kyi, Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner).
I wake with a sense of unbearable
sadness. Please let it not be true.....
Meanwhile, the man you named President
cowers in the State House, surrounded by a cabal of rapacious power
brokers, and a bevy of sycophantic unseated Ministers and MPs, who jostle
for position and succession. Who fuel the fires by any means they can, to
keep themselves important, powerful, necessary. The smoke continues to
rise from the torched swathes of Rift Valley, the gutted city of Kisumu,
the slums of Nairobi and Mombasa. The Red Cross warns of an imminent
cholera epidemic in Nyanza and Western Kenya, deprived for days now of
electricity and water. Containers pile up at the Port of Mombasa, as
ships, unable to unload cargo, leave still loaded. Uganda, Rwanda,
Burundi, Southern Sudan, the DRC, all dependent on Kenyan transit for fuel
and vital supplies, grind to a halt.
A repressive regime rolls out its panoply
of oppression against legitimate dissent. Who knew our police force had so
many sleek, muscled, excellently-trained horses, to mow down protestors?
Who guessed that in a city of perennial water shortages, we had
high-powered water cannons to terrorize Kenyans off the streets?
I am among the most fortunate of the
fortunate. Not only am I still whole, alive, healthy, mobile; not only do
I have food, shelter, transport, the safety of those I love; I have the
gift of work. I have the privilege to be in the company of the most
brilliant, principled, brave, resilient Kenyans of my generation. To
contribute whatever I can as we organize, analyse, strategize, mobilize,
draw on everything we know and can do, to save our country. I marvel at
the sheer collective volume of trained intelligence, of skill, expertise,
experience, in our meetings. At the ability to rise above personal tragedy
- families still hostage in war zones, friends killed, homes overflowing
with displaced relatives - to focus on the larger picture and envisage a
I listen to lawyers, social scientists,
economists, youth activists, humanitarians; experts on conflict, human
rights, governance, disaster relief; to Kenyans across every sector and
ethnicity, and I think:Is this
what we have trained all our lives for? To confront this epic catastrophe,
caused by a group of old men who have already sucked everything they
possibly can out of Kenya, yet will cling until they die to their absolute
You know these people too, Mr. Kivuitu. The
principled, brave, resilient, brilliant Kenyans. The idealists who took
seriously the words we sang as schoolchildren, about building the nation.
Some of them worked closely with you, right through the election. Some
called you friend. You don't even have the excuse that Kibaki, or his
henchmen, might offer - that of inhabiting a world so removed from ours
that they cannot fathom the reality of ordinary Kenyans. You know of the
decades of struggle, bloodshed, faith and suffering that went into
creating this fragile beautiful thing we called the "democratic space in
Kenya." So you can imagine the ways in which we engage with the
unimaginable. We coin new similes:lie low like a 16A
(the electoral tally form returned by each
constituency, many of which were altered or missing in the final
We joke about the Kivuitu effect
- which turns
internationalists, pan-Africanists, fervent advocates for the dissolution
of borders, into nationalists who cry at the first verse of the national
Mungu nguvu yetu
Ilete baraka kwetu
iwe ngao na mlinzi
Natukae na undugu
Raha tupate na ustawi.
O God of all creation
this our land and nation
Justice be our shield and
May we dwell in unity
Plenty be found within our borders.
Rarely do we allow ourselves pauses, to
absorb the enormity of our country shattered, in 7 days. We cry, I think,
in private. At least I do. In public, we mourn through irony, persistent
humor, and action. Through the exercise of patience, stamina, fortitude,
generosity, that humble me to witness. Through the fierce relentless focus
of our best energies towards challenges of stomach-churning
We tell the stories that aren't making it
into the press. The retired general in Rift Valley sheltering 200
displaced families on his farm. The Muslim Medical Professionals offering
free treatment to anyone injured in political protest. We challenge, over
and over again, with increasing weariness, the international media
coverage that presents this as "tribal warfare", "ethnic conflict", for an
audience that visualises Africa through Hollywood: Hotel Rwanda, The Last
King of Scotland, Blood Diamond.
I wish you'd thought of those people, when
you made the choice to betray them. I wish you'd drawn on their courage,
their integrity, their clarity, when your own failed you. I wish you'd had
the imagination to enter into the lives, the dreams, of 37 million
as you've probably guessed by now, Mr. Kivuitu, this isn't really a letter
to you at all. This is an attempt to put words to what cannot be expressed
in words. To mourn what is too immense to mourn. A clumsy groping for
something beyond the word 'heartbreak'. A futile attempt to communicate
what can only be lived, moment by moment. This is a howl of anguish and
rage. This is a love letter to a nation. This is a long low keening for my