Kibera resident at a peace forum
“We have a deal.” These were the words that signaled peace - words Kenyans had waited so long to hear; they were uttered by the former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.
That was back in 2008, after President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga agreed to share power, bringing an end to a month-long stalemate.
It was a deal that brought an end to the violence that saw Kenyans who had hitherto lived as brothers and sisters turned on each other, burned each other to death and raze each other’s homes. Hundreds maimed and killed, over 200,000 displaced.
Then the grand coalition gave birth to a new constitution, a constitution that was supposed to seal the loopholes that had led to the violence.
Commissions were set up to reconcile the country and also to address the past injustices that fuelled some of the hatred and animosity.
There was a galore of peace initiatives, from the government, but also from the private sector and non-governmental organizations; billions of shillings invested to ensure that peace prevailed.
Photos of injured Kenyans, on display during Serious Request, December 2012
“We have to cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s just to ensure Kenya does not sink once more into darkness,” said Edgar Ogutu a peace campaigner in Nairobi.
It is now five years later. The tenth parliament was closed on January 14th, with members of parliament officially asked by the Speaker to preface their titles with “former”.
Armed with posters, cheap t-shirts and caps, politicians hit the campaign trail Kenyan style, the start to what has been the most expensive election season in our history.
The politicians hit the road running, and public venues were busy with one political gathering after the next.
Kenyan streets were painted red, orange, green and more, and few public walls were spared. So many posters that each morning, city council workers armed with brushes and buckets of water would leave city hall to do battle. An exercise in futility; new posters replaced the old ones before the workers even ended their shift.
Politicians, meanwhile, flocked to media houses to get their message out as far, wide and often as possible. Tech-savvy and not-so-tech-savvy politicians suddenly had Twitter handles.
March 4th at the crack of dawn, Kenyans arose to exercise their right to vote, and long queues formed all over the country.
Votes, cast, polls closed, we’re back to reality. No more free t-shirts and no more free rides to political gatherings.
Serious Request, 2012
How do we uphold the peace that has prevailed since the signing of the peace accord by President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga? Ghetto Radio presenter Daniel Githinji a.k.a Mbusii says that particular ball is now in the politicians’ court.
“They guided their supporters on which way to vote, and in the same way they should advise them on how to behave after the results have been announced,” says Mbusii.
It might not be so simple, as politicians have already started trading accusations, with Prime Minister Raila’s Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) accusing Jubilee Coalition of hacking into the system of the electoral body to alter the results, and vice versa.
CORD even called on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to stop the manual tallying of votes, citing integrity issues.
Ghetto Radio’s General Manager Julius Owino a.k.a Maji, however, says it’s the media that calls the shots about peace.
“It is what we say and what we run that is going to make this country remain peaceful or burn.” He said.
The media played a huge role to play in the 2007/08 post-election violence, says Maji, which is why a journalist is among those indicted at the International Criminal Court.
As the politicians busy themselves with accusations, it is Kenyans who are calling on the leaders to keep calm. Peace, it appears, is down to mwananchi, the common man.
“In these elections, if you are burning anything, burn movies, if you are cutting anything, cut a cake, if you are throwing anything, throw a bash,” says a peace-loving Kenyan. It’s words like these, traded between regular people, that are keeping Kenyans hopeful.