I was watching my Twitter timeline intently on Monday evening.
Reports that a bomb had gone off in the CBD at the OCL bus stage and that there may have been deaths, definitely ‘tens of injuries’.
It wasn’t shock or fear that immediately overwhelmed me; moreso confusion and malaise. My first question was obviously “Does this have anything to do with the ongoing efforts in Somalia?” If so, this was a clear escalation and warranting of some concern. If not, it meant yet another problem – threat, perhaps – had befallen our country.
The second question was “Are we as Kenyans ready yet?”
It has been repeated to infinite ends, that the most powerful weapon terrorists use is fear. The byproducts of which will affect our perceptions and lead to bad judgment and biased presumptions. In a country with such a polarized people who are already divided and segregated along class, tribal and cultural lines, moments of heightened tension could have devastating effects (such as the Post-Election Violence of 2007). And while Al-Shabaab are primarily of Somali origin, it may be prudent to not immediately alienate them all. Nor to take that judgment further and target all Muslims.
On my way home later that evening, I boarded a bus and nothing was being discussed aside from the bombing near; tension was thick, fear was opaque. Even the bus driver was in a hurry. Before the last passenger had even finished boarding, he jetted off. The bus screeched to a stop at each stage and bolted to a start, almost as though we were running away from something. We got to Hurlingham, a neighborhood with a very high Somali-Kenyan population. An elderly Somali gentleman saw the bus pull up and decided he tried to board. He was almost on the second step when the driver stopped the bus and the conductor immediately rushed to push him out of the bus. What followed was an onslaught of insults and threats. He was not allowed onto the bus. As we drove off, I noticed a little child behind him trying to help him up.
I felt as confused and disheartened as the child.
Anyone on the bus who questioned the conductor’s actions was asked to get off. Which I did soon enough. The walk home was long and so I stopped at a kiosk near my house where I saw a few of my neighbors congregated, talking. The shopkeeper, also of Somali origin, was scared that he would be forced to shut down and that his family would not have means to feed his family. He was more worried his older son wouldn’t even make it home. I didn’t have the heart to tell him what had just happened.
Another lady there, a Kikuyu lady with a Tanzanian husband, wailed that because her children had curly hair they’d be confused for Al-Shabaab. Her husband had already began planning their relocation out of Kenya. Logic being, with the war now and the elections in less than a year, there was little to no hope for sustained peace. She had already gambled her faith in the country before, in 2007. It cost her a son’s life and her daughter’s virginity. Now they had the choice to leave and she was taking it.
I couldn’t even disagree with her. Oh how quickly we divide and hate each other. Oh how quickly we realize the enemy is out of our reach and redirect that angst to somebody within a punch’s reach or a stone’s throw. Indeed, there is an enemy and we are under threat and we do need to be extremely vigilant but aggression will only fuel this war on the poor.
Yes, I said ‘War on the Poor’. I’m not talking about Al-Shabaab militants; they’ll have their day with the military and with God. I’m talking about you and I. You and I are the ones that could board a bus laced with explosives or catch a stray round from a policeman’s AK. You and I are the ones who could lose a brother in the army or a grandmother at a shopping mall. The President won’t be burying a son, nor dodging debris from a grenade attack. That evening, he was bunkered somewhere safely. Today as rocket launcher attacks happen in parts of Kenya, he’s in Australia for a conference that’s evidently more important than what’s happening in his country. What’s happening to his people. What’s happening to us.
Police made their presence felt the day after the second and third attack but had vanished by the fourth. Are they tending to something more urgent than protecting us from an ongoing threat? I saw about 4 of them literally sleeping with their boots off and their feet up in the middle of a roundabout the same day I heard that a car filled with explosives was found in Mandera. Are they even trying to give us the illusion of safety anymore?
Am I directing my anger at the situation towards the police and the government unjustly?
1. We must remain united, peaceful and vigilant. We are all under attack from a common enemy and should look out for each other. As my mother said, “Police are not bulletproof, they just happen to have bullets. As far as spotting a threat and warning people off, we have those powers too. They are called ‘observation’ and ‘voice’.”
2. We should trust that our troops are doing all they can and support them fully, in thought, prayer and action.
3. We may not have a say now, but we do next year and your vote is your voice.
Let’s not let all our many worries and queries, opinions and views, fears and judgments detract us from remaining a united front.
A friend asked me the other day, how will this war end?
I told her “With peace.”
Are we as Kenyans ready to be united in peace?