The Burning Land by Peter E. Njoroge
Kenya is our country and as a country we have gone through the struggles that characterize any emerging democracy. Colonized by the British, we struggled violently in order to achieve self governance and call our selves independent. Yet after all that time has passed, we need to reflect and ask ourselves, “Are we truly liberated or are we living in a mirage created by a small political elite bent on perpetual dominance of the larger mass through disillusionment?” The answer to that can be found in many literal discourses by great authors like Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Yet several decades later Kenyans are still fighting for the rewards that they fought for during the struggle for independence.
This same phenomenon is not just a preserve of our nation but a reflection of the conditions all over Africa as a whole. This was clearly illustrated by the Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, in his book “A man of the people” whereby people are still waiting for a share of the national cake. My book will seek to capture, through a mixture of facts and literal fiction, the struggle that still continues as the people fight to earn their genuine freedom. In addition, this book will also show that sometimes the people may not really know who the enemy is as they are products of great political manipulation and brain washing.
And as a culmination of greed, disillusionment and greatly entrenched tribalism, our county burned. While many may try to pin this catastrophe on a disputed election, nothing can justify the blatant disregard for human rights and gruesome murder and the persons involved must be brought to justice. I understand that from the onset, this task will not be easy. All I ask is your patience, guidance and understanding and I hope that when this book is done, it will be a book that this country can be proud of. And I will consider it a success if it can remind the people that burning their brethren will cause nothing but poverty for all involved.
Most people would consider me a nobody and perhaps their perception would be close to the truth. Yet this thinking can only be considered true in this country, where a person’s worth is usually measured in terms of money and wealth. Some of you might argue that leaders are considered to be people of status and hence they too have achieved greatness. But those that indulge in such logic would not blame me for calling them blind, for which person in Kenya doesn’t know that it takes money to become a leader? For so long, the youth have labored to drive growth while the rewards just fatten the pockets of the older generation who continue to exploit the young to further their agendas.
For too long, the youth of this country continue to swallow verbal garbage as our grand fathers continue to brainwash us that we are leaders of tomorrow. Something has to give, a revolution is brewing and I don’t think anyone will be able to stop it. Our affable Prime Minister once said that even an army cannot stand in the way of an idea whose time has come. My question to the prime mister is, “Will you aid this idea whose time has come or will you put your self interest first and stand in its way?” But it doesn’t matter. With your aid or not, it will come to pass and the first sign was the election of Mbuvi, popularly known as Sonko, as the new Makadara MP. It must have been a shock to the political elite when the younger man, running on a smaller party, thrashed the political big wigs and showed that the youth are determined to take over.
These are just some of the many thoughts passing through my brain randomly as I read my paper on this Hague issue. To tell the truth, I don’t think much will come from this entire hullabaloo and it might be better to just drop the whole thing all together and seek reconciliation. But how do you ask people who lost so much in the night Kenya burnt, when human lives were reduced to less than the dignity accorded dogs? No, something has to give and the wheels of justice can only be turned fully by a revolution establishing a new and better order.
I am in a building, it’s so dark. I can feel the rush of fear course through my blood, cold and chilling. I can feel the presence of other people yet in the darkness, i cannot see them. I have never felt fear like this, so encompassing like a big hand tightening round your neck. There is another presence and i fear that it is not human. it has a dark aura around it, a lethal certainty as if it grows where humans wither with fear. It comes closer as if to examine the victims trapped in this dark abode, and a small cold sweat breaks out even though no heat exists here.
I recognize it for what it is the shadow of death. The reaper of life, extinguisher of light. I am no longer afraid of him for it is not in his power to take my life from him. No, that privilege belongs to the human demons camped outside plotting our painful death. i know this because I can hear them shout to us, taunting us with war cries and shouts of cannibalistic glee. They boast of how they will roast us alive, vividly intoxication with the prospect of mass murder. I smell the odor of gasoline and I know, that the end has come. “I am not ready lord, oh please not so soon.” A young voice pierces through the darkness and gloom. The cry of one whose dreams are about to be cut short, never to see the fruits of one’s investment into life.
I close my eyes as the building catches fire and i make a silent prayer unto God. I feel the fingers of the flames take hold of my clothes, burning bright with the fury of hell. I feel the heat scorch my skin and i scream in pain as the fire becomes one with my skin. I wake up suddenly roused by the sounds of someone screaming. It takes me sometimes to realize that the scream came from my lips, and i can still feel the fear that still lingers deep in my being. But i take solace that I have had the dream so many times in the recent past it has become a large part of my sleeping and waking up. Soon I will go back to bed and the nightmares will continue unabated, a living hell that I must face every night.
In another part of the capital another group is meeting under the cover of darkness. A clandestine rendezvous the kind that only Ludlum could weave and only master plotters could emulate. Big cars swiftly entering the open gate, left open today to facilitate the quick entrance into the vast leafy compound. Residents of this country have been known to get curious at the sight of big cars and a congestion of such cars at the gate would have attracted unwanted curiosity. These people had a lot to loose and hence they anonymity in these meetings was not only vital but compulsory.
Another peculiar thing with these nightly visitors today was the fact that their vehicles had only a single occupant and their drivers were not allowed to accompany them tonight. The driven today had turned chauffeur a testament perhaps of the solemn mission that they meet to plot. What necessitated such drastic action was the fact that all their drivers are security men issued by them by the government they serve and hence they could not trust them with such an important secret. They are all men a fact that they seem to hold as a sign of the general weakness on the part of their female counterparts.
They know they are real men whose authority can only be questioned at the demise of such minor mortals with such audacities. They are eight of them and only one of them is not a politician. Yet at his presence they shrink as if their authority paling in his commanding presence. He towers over them as he welcomes them into his home, a prince of both light and darkness. They fear him these mighty men, terrified in his aura of power. But they had to come all of them for a time nears when doing nothing might mean certain doom and its only a primal terror at what lies ahead that prevents them from turning back and fleeing back to their waiting vehicles.
They all know each other and hence introductions are never necessary, comrades in a fight against a common enemy. Some of them are here not by choice but to further the agenda of their host, knowing fully well that refusing to will be met with swift and brutal retribution. They are mere pawns in a larger a game, one I’m not sure they fully understand. but as scared as they are of the possible repercussions of their involvement in this plot, the alternative is more bleak and terrifying and hence they obey their master.
In an effort to make them relax a bit, their host pours them each a strong drink of whiskey. They’ll need it, these guardians of society; keepers of the opportunities this country has for its people. But even such a simple act is full of disdain for while attempting to show them humanity; he does not consult them of what they wish to take. And its not that he is lacking in other brands for his cellar is full of all forms of soft and strong drinks. No, it is just a subtle reminder that they must cooperate: willingly or otherwise.
As the meeting of these Kenyan titans continues solemnly in the dining room of their great host, another Kenyan is languishing in a typical Kenyan prison. This man, named by his old parents Waititu when he was born 35 years ago is completely unaware of this meeting. Perhaps had he been aware of it, the only emotion that would elicit is pity for these men. Unlike them, his complete anonymity is a shield against those who would want to haul him to court to account for all the violence he has committed in his past.
He learned earlier on that greatness in the public sphere will do you good so long as you are on the right side of the law. For those who have had to step out of the confines of the law in order to acquire greatness, justice always catches up with them. People like brother Patni, he of the Goldenberg fame bears testament to this adage. Once hailed as a great man, a billionaire in a land where majority leave below poverty line.
But our people have a saying, “he who climbs up a ladder must ultimately come down.” it comes as no surprise that some have cleverly interjected that those going up should treat the people they pass well since these are the same people they will find on their inevitable way down. So Brother Patni, formerly Kamlesh patni had risen up by defrauding the state of billions of shilling through what came to be known as the gold hoax. Now since when did Kenya have gold supplies totaling to billions of shillings? These people must really take Kenyans to be fools in order to pull out something of this nature.
Going back to our jailbird, he was undaunted by the prospect of spending a few days in jail. In fact, it would have amused his keepers to learn that he had long a go learnt to view it as his adopted home. He had been in and out of jail that he practically spent more time in one than he spent in his three homes. Waititu had a special occupation, special because there are not many people who had the stomach to do what he did for a living. He did not necessarily take pride in what he did; he simply looked at it as a job that needed doing when his superiors deemed it fit to. Commander Waititu formerly Waititu James was and still is a Mungiki executioner; a hit squad leader.
He was presently in jail because the powers that be had deemed it necessary to order a sweep of Mungiki operatives. As usual, the police always knew where to get him and he never, not once, attempted to evade their capture. There was a simple philosophy to this, at least according to him. Leaders have a tendency to do all they can to evade capture so by doing the opposite, the authorities always assume him to be no one of importance. Another strategy that he used to enhance his anonymous status is to indulge in activities usually reserved for lesser operatives including collecting money at various stages.
Sometimes when he’s sitting in his favorite corner resting his back on the prison wall, he would wonder about the relatives of the people he had killed. But even he wasn’t as conceited or in human as to really use the term killed. he better than anyone knew it for what it was, butchering. He closed his eyes tight as he remembered the anguished cry of the matatu driver in Kinoo as the serrated saw cut through his neck slowly, with malice and abandon. He could still feel the warm blood from the dying man as it rolled down his arms continuing its sad journey to quench the dry soil beneath. He still feels the aura of death as the life departs from the tortured body, free to return to whence it had come.
“Waititu” someone shouts his name and shatters his journey into the past. A uniformed policeman stands on the door and summons him using one finger as if he was too inconsequential for him to waste too much effort on. He doesn’t mind, such small acts leave him beaming with satisfaction knowing well that his cover is unlikely to be blown. He steps beyond the door and finds his brother standing there, always with the same look on his face. A look of pained tolerance, as if questioning the sheer audacity of fate to give him such a brother. But blood is thicker than water, and it was safer for his blood brother to come for him rather than one of his oath brothers. A one thousand note was quickly exchanged and by the look on the policemen’s face, it was clear that it will end up at the bar man’s counter.
In a small village in Kapsabet, deep into the Rift valley province stands a humble hut. Humble because though recently erected, the medium used to construct the house was mud; a sign perhaps of the simple nature of the occupant. The hut did not stand alone for the compound had other similar huts loitered all over the compound. This family was one of the oldest families in the village and it was well known for its ability to sire great warriors for generations past. The old man, known to many as kiprop was always telling any who would listen stories of how great his family has always been.
In fact, it was only yesterday that he entertained some local missionaries with tales of blood long spilt when Morans had invaded their land in the hope of acquiring new grazing grass. Needless to say, the old man shocked the poor missionaries with his unrepentant nature and his longing for youth so as to go back into battle. But this story is not about kiprop, though it would be interesting to go back to the past and really validate his claims about his family’s prowess. Our focus is on his grandson, Kip short for Kipruto named after the great old man himself.
There was a time Kip loved to sit by his grandfather’s feet and listen to the tales slowly recounted by his aged mentor. He used to close his eyes and imagine himself as a great warrior, brandishing a spear with bows and arrow as he faced his enemies. He would feel the exhilaration as his arrows pierced the hearts of the enemies, scream as his spear tore into the flesh of his foes. The fantasy always appeared to be so real, perhaps too powerful as to shape his own sense of reality. In trying to relive his glory days, the old man unwittingly fashioned the will of a young boy to long for nothing else but the chance to spill blood of his fellow country men.
But now the young man labors in the land of his father, working hard as he plants the maize seeds trying hard to beat the inevitable storm. But perhaps what he fears most is not the rain that threatens to come down with the fury of heaven, but rather the storm that rages deep in his soul: a storm that refuses to fade. Memories continue to plague his consciousness, pursuing him into the black of night in nightmares that leave him haunted and scared.
He remembers the words of his pastor, the good old reverend down at his local church. “God forgives those who come to him in repentance, and takes away our heavy burdens when we seek him.” But he does not think that he is worthy of such love, nor does he believe in his heart that anyone or even God can forgive him. He has been talking often with the reverend, seeking perhaps reassurance that absolution is possible. But most times, he only wishes that God can be merciful enough to take away his life; to give him eternal rest from his personal hell.
But without the courage to take his own life, he must learn to live again. He does not know how yet but he feels that a way might be cleared for him. That amidst confusion, clarity might be born again and that he might be given another chance to redeem himself. He wonders about the rest of them, whether they suffer as he does. And at times, he perceives that perhaps he is a weak warrior, a shame to his community and brethren. But he always dismisses that thought for he knows, murdering innocent people cannot constitute greatness.
Back in the capital, the president sits in his office at State house. He is tired of it all, and wishes that he’d followed his better judgment and stepped down after his first term. His limbs feel so tired and the task of lifting his pen to sign the new bill felt like a herculean task to the tired politician. He was tired of the way politics seemed to be dominating every aspect of his beloved nation, detesting the powerlessness he felt in his failure to stop or influence the situation. Sometimes like today, he smiles at the fallacy attached to the power of his office. Many in the country lament at the imperial superiority of the presidency, but the incumbent knows better. For such monumental powers can only be used only in taking up a dictatorial stance, a feat that is unlikely in his democratic style of leadership.
The president decides that the bill can wait since there is still too much controversy on this particular piece of legislation. He is astonished that parliament can pass a bill seeking to reintroduce price controls, a move he feels might erode the gains he has worked so hard to achieve. As an economist his view on the issue is contrary to those of the lawmakers, and pressure has been mounting from the business community to veto the bill. He singles out a call received the previous day from his long time friend urging him to discard that legislation and term it undemocratic and retrogressive. He knows that that particular call originated not from the will of his close confidant, but from powerful figures in the corporate sector, local and foreign.
His Excellency Duncan Njenga felt that the responsibilities vested upon him would be better wielded by a younger and dynamic man. But he laments that this choice was not his to make and hence his present position as the most powerful Kenyan. He remembers fondly the elation he felt before the 2007 election as he prepared to vacate this high office and settle for a more relaxed life, playing golf and touring the world. But the powers that be had willed that such an action might cause a real threat to their interests and had willed that the president must seek another term. This despite an earlier memorandum to hand over the reigns of power after serving one term. He had hated that feeling of helplessness, an instinctive desire to fight against such blatant manipulation. But these were his friends, hypocritical or not, and loosing them meant loosing all that he held dear. So the president finds solace in the proverb “A guest is a river” and knows that the time for freedom is near.
He wonders about the anxiety being experienced in his circles, people worried about what the uncertain future hold for them. He has been a good politician and business man, avoiding dubious dealings and he knows his future is secure. Other times he allows his mind to contemplate the issue of his succession, evaluating who is best suited to continue with his policies. But most importantly, he recognizes the need for unity and is strategizing on how his succession can inspire unity in a divided nation.
He switches the TV on to watch the news driven by curiosity to get some more news on one of the politician who has decided to go to The Hague on his own accord. The news anchor is speculating on the outcome of that visit with some political analyst speculating that the politician wants to cut a deal with the ICC prosecutor. He is not stupid and knows that the prosecutor would not mind giving the politician an immunity deal in exchange for evidence implicating bigger politicians. He smiles as he reflects on the term given to such politicians “bigger fish”, referring to himself and his counterpart the prime minister. But he is not worried; he had no direct role on the sad affairs following the disputed election results.
He would have preferred a local mechanism to deal with this sordid affair, but the legislator had thwarted all his efforts to establish a local tribunal. He lamented the fact that the learned lawmakers had decided to make Kenya an international media circus by choosing a legal process that is likely to drag on for many years. But it was no longer his call, and all he was now was a spectator like the rest of the country. He was looking forward for a round of golf tomorrow with his friends and he couldn’t wait for the night to pass quickly. His doctor was complaining that he needed to increase his exercises and to humor him, he had decided to increase the frequency in playing golf. He figured that this was enough exercise and should wad off the possibilities of a heart attack, at least temporarily. For now, he heads to bed and hopes that all will turn out well for him and his allies.