In the past week, three things have happened that made me stop and ask myself whether terrorism had finally won. I need to state very clearly that the term here is terrorism — not al Shabaab. We used to wonder what the phrase “domestic or international terrorism” meant. Now we know. Terrorism can be external like in the case of al Shabaab or al Qaeda or local like in the case of Mungiki in the past or whoever was hauling grenades at our matatus, churches and in Gikomba. This much I do understand about outfits like al Qaeda and al Shabaab — they go for maximum impact and they take ownership of their attacks. It’s important for their resume. Someone will have to tell me who is carrying out the other unclaimed attacks.
Let me go back to my acute observations from last week. Firstly, I was unable to pay for a small investment because my salary didn’t quite add up. The reason is I haven’t had any external gigs in probably around three months. Most of my external work is paid through my salary, taxed at source and remitted to me. No one needs KRA drama. Yes, my constant travel has made it a little tricky for me to take bookings, but I am usually home between modules in school for about two months. I haven’t had any gigs for about two to three months.
The second thing that made me uncomfortable was the fact that last week I ate a meal in my car. I did a few errands in the middle of the day, went to the Sarit Centre, dropped by the Posta there and renewed my driving license, picked up my passport from DHL and while at it ordered a salad from Java. I can’t allow my blood sugar to fall below a certain level so I actually have a beep to remind me to eat. I forget to eat sometimes. Having done all my little bits, I then sat in my car, got out my phone — returned a few text messages and e-mails and ate my salad while sitting in the car. In the parking lot. Yes, you read that right — I ate in my car.
Then the slap in the face happened on Saturday, May 24. It was a beautiful day. The sun was out, not too hot, beautiful and oh so lovely. Nduku and I decided off to the Junction we go. The promise for good behavior for her and my nephew was a treat at KFC and a big bowl of yoghurt from Planet Yoghurt. Getting into the mall was slow as expected — the search must happen (however I was deeply offended by the comments by one of the KK guards and I have told their management as much). What really surprised me when I finally got past the barrier was how little actual traffic there was in the mall. We literally had our pick of parking slots and the mall itself was virtually empty. My heart sank. I then proceeded to Nakumatt to get on with our shopping and was heart-broken to see how empty it was. At the check-out counter (I didn’t have to line-up) I asked the teller how long this had been going on for and he smiled and told me “leo ni afadhali”. We put the groceries in the car and proceeded to KFC where once again I barely had to line-up and wait. Of course I asked the lady serving me how long this had been going on — she smiled and like the Nakumatt guy said “this is a good day”. Note it was almost 1pm and there were only five people in line. She told me Monday through to Wednesday are empty — she has tears in her eyes on the way home.
Being me I progressed to have the same conversation with the staff at Planet Yoghurt, at Vivo at Mr Price and even at Art Café. By the time we finally got back into the car and headed out, I was heart-broken, I tweeted my pain. Al Kags and a few people understood immediately.
Here’s my concern: have we allowed fear to rule our minds and hearts? Have we any idea what staying away from business establishments means? When the waitress or waiter doesn’t get a tip because we didn’t bother to have a meal there, heck forget the tip, when we don’t spend in that establishment whether it be Java or a nyama choma joint somewhere, we jeopardise her livelihood. The same goes for everyone in the chain and ecosystem of life that connects us all. From the person who supplies milk, to the person who brings potatoes for fries, to the lady who makes a living selling fresh produce, to the company somewhere that supplies toothpicks. This goes for the area sales manager who won’t meet their coca-cola targets this quarter, or the person who supplies chicken or beans or even table napkins. In the ecosystem that is our collective economic well-being. We are not allowed to opt out of life.
We are so interconnected it's pure financial suicide to think we can stay away from the very establishments that breathe life into our lives.
I don’t have the answers — that’s why I’m starting the conversation, hoping that as we understand how we are attached at the hip, we can start finding solutions to the real terrorism. I believe the real goal of whoever is behind the attacks isn’t to kill or injure a few people; it’s to kill our spirit, our resolve, our economy and our way of life.
In September 2013 our way of life came under attack at Westgate and for some reason this has continued. Sometimes fuelled by outside sources and in most cases internal. These acts are intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. We must not allow this to happen.
Allow me to borrow from George W Bush’s speech in the aftermath of 9/11: “A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.”
If I can paraphrase the same for Kenya, allow me to say this: We have been targeted because we are the brightest beacon for opportunity in Eastern Africa — fact. Stop being ignorant and asking why Uganda is not being attacked yet their forces are in Somalia as well. With all due respect to our neighbours — who cares. You hit Kenya you have hit all of East Africa. When we went to the elections last year, East Africa went on its knees to pray. We matter. Deal with it. The question is, do we even get it, or will we continue to point fingers at each other without offering any solutions or playing our small part in ensuring security for ourselves and for all.
I turn to the bible whenever I feel I need something to hold onto. One of my favourite lines is from Isaiah 54:17 — no weapon formed against you will prosper. No weapon. The bible and our God does not say that our prayers will stop any weapons from being formed, however we do know and I personally can bear witness that no weapon formed against me or us will prosper. Another line we must learn to read, hear and understand is Psalm 23:4. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me. Nothing will stop the shadow of death from falling, but we will walk through that valley and fear no evil because we serve a mighty God who walks with us.
The terrorist — local and foreign — is after our very way of life, not just a few lives. Stand up and defend our way of life. Uhuru Kenyatta for all his bravado can’t do this alone. Terrorism demands that we stand together. #WeAreOne must mean something, it can’t just be a hashtag — Prove it. Show it. Live it.