Today Kenya has woken up a burdened country, heaving with the weight of fear, anxious that depending on how the day unfolds, there will be Kenya as we knew it before Wednesday 19 July 2023, and there will be Kenya as we may know it after Wednesday 19 July 2023. No matter what happens or doesn’t happen today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, we hope that there will still be a Kenya, recognizable and livable, because where else do we have?
For the last 60 years, Kenyan politicians have played Russian Roulette with the country and its future, taking turns pulling the trigger and hoping the bullet doesn’t come through and blow up the country’s brains, literally and figuratively. The trigger-pulling has come in the form of political assassination of opponents; detention without trial of dissidents; the entrenchment of a de jure one party state and general shrinking of the democratic space; an attempted coup or two; the establishment of secret police death squads and extrajudicial killings of hundreds of youths; politically instigated tribal clashes and ethnic cleansing; the complete emasculation of either Parliament or the Judiciary or both; mind-boggling grand corruption and state capture; and election theft and the concomitant post-election violence. The list is long and growing.
Yet somehow, Kenya and Kenyans have survived these and other aggressions and abuses, albeit with scars and trauma. In the end, it is never the trigger-pulling politicians or their high profile opponents who suffer irreparable damage (save for cases of political assassinations, detention without trial, torture and such). The utmost brunt from the deeds and misdeeds of these men (it’s always been men) who are either attempting to seize or cling to state power are the ordinary folk, masses maimed and displaced during politically-instigated clashes; the urban poor who stay jobless due to a struggling economy precipitated by grand corruption and anti-people policies; and the hundreds of sick and dying Kenyans who either can’t access or afford quality health care for the earlier-mentioned reasons. As with their causes, the list of Kenya’s problems is long and growing, and now we’re reaching breaking point.
After playing Russian Roulette for 60 years, it is now apparent that any further fiddling with the trigger may just result in the inevitable, the bullet popping out and blowing Kenya’s brains out.
Ten months ago, William Ruto inherited a hemorrhaging economy, a disillusioned populace and a politically divided (into two halves) country – how we got here and his role in it if at all (having been deputy president for ten years) is subject for other conversations. But before the new President could say turn around, the Raila Odinga-led opposition had already lit fires under his feet, challenging the President’s legitimacy and poking holes in almost all his policy proposals, the latest and most contentious being the Finance Bill 2023. With each protest called by Odinga to either demand for electoral justice or the reduction of the cost of living (and everything in between), Ruto has gotten more agitated, Odinga more emboldened.
And now, today has been set as the day for the beginning of the end for Ruto, or the end of the end for Odinga going by both Ruto’s and Odinga’s and their acolyte’s pronouncements.
Our message to those in positions of leadership, with William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza and Raila Odinga’s Azimio La Umoja One Kenya being the two main protagonists, is that a country can burn, just like a piece of paper, and that the conditions for such an inferno already exist.
In our case, the conditions for the fire go as far back as 60 years ago, when trees were felled and the ecosystem poisoned, resulting in the environment turning hostile – the grass drying up over time and so on. Today, the terrain looks bare, the grass dry – we can blame history and those who led before now. However, the fact that present-day politicians are tossing gasoline around and dangling matches only makes a bad situation worse, playing Russian Roulette one more time and hoping the bullet doesn’t come out and scatter Kenya’s brains.
As Ruto and Odinga promise to face-off starting today through Friday with the resumption of protests, we seek to appeal to a cluster of leaders (and an advisor) in both Kenya Kwanza and Azimio La Umoja One Kenya, that as the top-three leaders in the respective coalitions in the last general election, the prospect as to whether Kenya burns or not lies in their hands.
And so today, we appeal to William Ruto, Rigathi Gachagua, Musalia Mudavadi and their advisor David Ndii, and to Raila Odinga, Martha Karua and Kalonzo Musyoka. If they aren’t aware of how dry the grass has gotten over the last 60 years, and if they aren’t aware of how hostile the environment has gotten over the last ten months due to their acts of omission and commission, then let them not say they weren’t told.
Whatever happens on/from today will be a direct product of their leadership or lack thereof, with the lives and livelihoods of over 55 million Kenyan souls dangling precariously in their hands as they play Russian Roulette.