As the dust settles on last week’s hotly contested Kenyan general elections, we must take time to reflect on the legacy we will bequeath our youth.
Future generations will remember this period when deadly protests followed the Opposition cries of foul over the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta for a second and final term, as stipulated in the Kenyan Constitution.
Last Saturday, I woke up to the heartbreaking news of the killing of 10-year-old Moraa Nyarangi in Nairobi County.
Media reports said Moraa was playing with other children on a balcony on the second floor of her parents’ house when she was struck by a stray bullet. As she lay lifeless with a gunshot wound to the chest, residents could not hide their anger at the anonymous shooter responsible for the loss of one so young and innocent.
Then came news of six-month-old Samantha Pendo, allegedly clubbed by an overzealous anti-riot police officer in Kisumu city’s Nyalenda slum following violent protests in the opposition stronghold. As of this writing, Baby Samantha was comatose at the Aga Khan Hospital’s intensive care unit for days before she died. Her parents said the infant was hit on the head by police officers who stormed their house after they declined to let them in for fear of being beaten up.
How did we get here?
This is my first time out of the country during an election and it has been disheartening watching waves of hate roll from thousands of miles away.
Before the election, I was in denial. Going by the fatalistic headlines about the election in my country, I believed that international media outlets were hoping to see our country burn. Their headlines included phrases like “deadly unrest” or “protests erupt,” with media houses predicting chaos even before poll results were announced.
I shared my worries with my American colleagues here in St. Louis who were concerned about me and my beloved country. Now, the fog has partially cleared and it’s time to take stock of the election at the tail-end of nine months of a furious, and sometimes-acrimonious campaign pitting the leading protagonist political blocs, Jubilee Party and National Super Alliance.
I posit that our troubles have nothing to do with the reports aired by international media but have everything to do with us adult Kenyans.
As a journalist, last week I felt like a helpless spectator of an unfolding high-stakes game.
This game was played out dangerously on social media, which was, and remains, awash with hateful comments as Kenyans continue to spar along tribal lines and political affiliation. Genuine and counterfeit pictures of corpses, “fake news,” and diverse opinions are competing for attention in the largely unregulated cyberspace.
The chaotic battleground that is social media is nothing like I’ve witnesses before. Kenyans shamefully spew ethnic barbs and venom at whoever they feel is opposed to their views. Toxic exchanges on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on the state of affairs in the country bear the hallmarks of a country spread-eagled on the altar of tribal identity. I refer to social media because that is what connects those living abroad more intimately to their countries of origin.
This begs the question: Is this the legacy we want to leave behind for our children?
What will our children say when they look back at how we carried on in the crucial moment that was supposed to be a routine elections process in exercise of our fundamental rights under the supreme law? Have we allowed politics and selfish interest to strip us of our humanity and dignity that children do not matter anymore?
Even as the politicians move on in their cushy lifestyles, the child casualties will forever remain a poignant reminder at the “collateral damage” and forgotten victims of power struggles.
The lives of these two young ones are representative of the millions of other children across Kenya who suffer enslavement, sexual abuse, child labour, hunger and deprivation of basic needs. Silent as they may appear, children are watching us build a foundation for them on quicksand, building a national house divided against itself.
We need to look beyond the politics and our own interests and make a better future for the young ones. Elections come and go but Kenya will remain.
I couldn’t agree more with former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan that “there is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children…There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace.”
I quote Annan because he led global efforts to bring sanity to Kenyans who so differed in the last election in 2007 and 2013 that the country imploded and exploded into mindless violence.
Let us remember the world is watching.
Kenya, we can do better.