Let’s get one thing straight. Whatever happens on or after August 8, Kenya will not have peace.
Regardless of whether either it is President Uhuru Kenyatta or his main rival, Raila Odinga, who is declared the winner of the presidential election; whether the election is stolen or is free, fair and credible; whether people stay in the streets or go out to protest the result; the country will not know peace. We will not have peace because we have not earned it, because we do not deserve it.
“Peace is not simply about the absence of violence. It is defined by the presence of fundamental liberties and the prevalence of economic opportunities. We will not settle for a perfunctory peace that is disrupted every five years by an election cycle.” So declared Uhuru in his inaugural address four years ago following yet another divisive election. Yet, as the all-pervasive fear shrouding us today reveals, we did settle for “a perfunctory peace”, which is no peace at all.
We have done none of the hard work required for peace. We have not secured the fundamental liberties or economic opportunities that he spoke of. We have rather been only too willing to trade those freedoms in for an elusive safety from terrorists. We have been only too content to celebrate economic growth that does not produce jobs or create wealth except for a very few at the very top.
We have refused to demand accountability for the many times our military and civilian security bosses have failed Kenyans in places such as Westgate, Mpeketoni, Garissa, Mandera, El Adde, Kulbiyow and, most recently, Pandanguo.
More importantly, we have failed to do that which the President was careful not to mention: deal with the ghosts of our past. Over the last four years, we have been content to let the sleeping ogres lie.
The report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission has been allowed to gather dust in Parliament, the interrogation of the last 100 years of Kenyan history it was meant to spark, smothered. We have been afraid to clean our wounds, to take the bitter medicine, instead allowing them to fester and the infection to spread.
So today we will pray for peace but peace will not come. We will feverishly pray for healing for our diseased body politic, but healing will not come. The best we can hope for is “the absence of violence” and the extension of the fragile ceasefire.
Therefore, the current debate over whether we should prefer peace to the injustice of a sham election is somewhat misplaced - peace is not on the table. This is not to say the election is inconsequential. For many ordinary Kenyans, disputed elections imperil an already imperiled existence.
Kenya is an incredibly violent place at the best of times. Wananchi have to endure the violence of poverty; of hunger; of state incompetence and oppression and murder and disappearing; of terrorism. The added violence elections bring exponentially increases their hardships and suffering while only slightly inconveniencing those in whose names the fighting is done. So, yes, let’ demand a credible election. But we shouldn’t delude ourselves that this will preserve peace.
There is no peace to preserve. There is not even “absence of violence” for most. Let’s not talk about peace unless we really mean it. Not unless we are serious about addressing, not just the potential injustice of a rigged poll, but all the injustices of the past whose bitter and painful consequences Kenyans are forced to live with every day.
Let’s not talk about peace unless we are ready to confront the injustice of inequality, of poverty, of hunger, of dependence on handouts, of the deprivation of rights, of the institutionalising of ignorance through the public education system.
No, my friends. Let’s not talk of peace. Let’s say what we really mean. We want calm. We want life to go on pretty much as it has over the last four years and over the half-century before that. And that is not peace.
This election cannot bring peace. Only our commitment to working hard every day, election or no, to confront and undo injustice, and to demand accountability, can. And there is precious little evidence of that.
So don’t tell me about peace. There is no peace. There will be no peace.