Kenyatta’s Election Victory and the Rotten Face in Steven Spielberg’s Movie

Patrick Gathara
Patrick Gathara, graduate of Moi University, blogger, sports ethusiasist, lives in Nairobi



At high school we watched the screening of Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist. In the movie a family lives in a house erected on a graveyard without knowing it. This did not go down well with the spirits of the dead, who made their displeasure known by slowly torturing the family to madness.

In one of the scenes, a man stares in horror at the bathroom mirror. Fingers tear at the decomposing face in the mirror that obviously belongs to the man. Till the face gives way and falls down into the sink. Needless to say I have never looked at bathroom mirrors in quite the same way again. Very often I turn away from mirrors.

Last week, it was Kenya’s turn to look into the mirror. Elections provide opportunities for national self appraisal. They offer a country the chance to take a long and hard look at itself, assess it achievements, and reorient its priorities. However this time Kenya just like me chose to turn away from the mirror. Obviously afraid of what it might see there

Fear can make people do strange things.

As a country we had normalized the abnormal. We made it seem perfectly normal to have two politicians who are indicted by  the International Criminal Court (ICC), and who charges of war crimes, to be on the ballot, vying for the highest office in the land.

At the first Presidential debate, moderator Linus Kaikai was more concerned with how if elected President; Uhuru Kenyatta would govern and at the same time attend his trial at the Haig as a war crime suspect. Seemingly the moderator had no concern about whether Kenyatta should be running at all.

Any suggestion of consequences for Kenyatta’s and William Ruto’s candidature had been roundly rebuffed with accusations of neo-colonialism, interference and racism. People, who had spent their adult lives fighting for justice and human rights in Kenya, were vilified as stooges for the imperialistic West. Because they suggested that the duo should first clear their names before running for the highest office in the land.

As elections approached Kenyans were assailed with unceasing calls for peace and appeals to a nationalism we knew were elusive. We voted and celebrated our patience and patriotism. We brandished our ink stained fingers as medals for enduring the long queues.

We heaved a collective sigh of relief when it was all over. We wore our devotion to Kenya on our sleeves and on our Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Even while the evidence of our parochial and tribal voting patterns that fulfilled Mutahi Ngunyi’s prophecy of tyranny of numbers stared us in the face.

By now, a pact had developed between the media and the public. Kenya would have a peaceful and credible poll no matter what. The narrative was propagated by a few privileged voices and they countenanced no challenge.

The media soothed our passions with 24-hour run of entertainment extravaganza masquerading as election coverage. We laughed the uncomfortable laughter; we pleaded and prayed that politicians would not awaken the monster we recognized in each other. Let sleeping ogres lie, was the national motto.

Meanwhile those who could stock up on canned food and fill up the fridges did so and stayed away from the streets. Food prices quadrupled but we clung to the belief that all would be well if we kept our end of the bargain and didn’t ask uncomfortable questions.

When nearly all the measures the Election Commission deployed to ensure transparency during the election failed and came unstuck, this was not allowed to intrude into our reverie.

Instead the media continued its extravaganza and we applauded them for it. Uncomfortable moments were deleted out. Foreign correspondents who dared to question our commitment to peace were publicly humiliated and their integrity questioned. I played my part in this. When the New York Times dared to suggest that if Raila Odinga contested the outcome, many fear it could lead to the kind of violence that erupted in 2007.

It didn’t take long for the reactions to come. Foreign press haven’t given up on the possibility of violence, I tweeted. Others promptly joined in. some suggested that the New York Times man was stuck in 2007.

However, if we were to be honest, it is us who were stuck in the narratives born of the last five years. It was not, contrary to a later piece by the same New York Times, a renewed self confidence that drove us.

Quite the opposite; it was fear and a realization that we were not as mature as we claimed to be. We saw that underneath our veneer of civility lay an unspeakable horror just waiting to break out and devour our children. We were afraid to look into the mirror lest we see our own rotting face.

It is said that truth is the first casualty of war. In this case the war was internal, hidden from all prying eyes. Who cares about the veracity of the poll result? So what if not all votes were counted? We had peace. Disconnect brain, don't ask questions, and don’t criticize. Just nod quietly.

Yet we should care. Our terror and the frantic attempts to mask it were a terrible indictment. As another tweet put it: reveals how hollow the transformation wrought by the new constitution is. Instead of being a moment for national introspection, the election had become something to be endured.

The Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission were expected to provide a quick fix to help us get through the night.  It was never meant to deal with the deeper malady of fear, violence and mistrust which we have spent five years trying to paper over with our constitutions and coalitions and codes of conduct.

The fact is we do not believe a word in those documents. The narratives are inscribed on paper but not in our hearts. And this is why we do not care whether election springing from these document is a credible exercise.

What maturity is this that trembles at the first sign of disagreement or challenge? What peace lives in the perpetual shadow of a self annihilating violence?

Cowards die many times before their deaths and we have been granted a new lease of life. However, if we carry on as we have done over the last five years, if we continue to lack the courage to exhume the bodies under the house and clean out the foundations of our nationhood, we shouldn’t be surprised if in 2017 we are still terrified by the monsters under the house.