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February 20, 2019

Clash of ballot and bullets

It came to pass, as doomsayers had predicted in their pre-poll sermons on a peaceful election. Peace is in greater danger because of this insidious cocktail — greed for power, impunity, corruption and ethnicity. These are symptoms of a sick country.

The power clique is hellbent on repeating the mistakes of a decade ago. The police are playing along, further lowering their esteem in the eyes of impressionable, indeed many, Kenyans.

My 13-year-old daughter is among Kenyans for whom the bullet follows the ballot with 100 per cent certainty. Three times over, with such an experience, they do not understand why so much money, time, and resources should be wasted on a General Election when the results are predetermined.

At age four in 2008, she saw police brutality during post-election violence. Through a window of a house on Riara Road, she was a witness to gunshots as police tried to scuttle protesters on Ngong Road.

At the blast of bullets or explosion of teargas canisters, she would blink and then complain of irritation. There was copious spillover of teargas.

The police were trying to push opposition supporters back into Kibera slum. It was not easy for a child to understand why policemen were killing instead of arresting people.

But the climax came in early January of 2008, when the opposition gathered for a requiem mass in the rugby field near the Jamhuri Telkom office. The police were blasting teargas canisters to scuttle mourners. Some cans hit coffins carrying the bodies of slain opposition supporters.

Brutally breaking up opposition demonstrations was bad enough. But breaking up a requiem mass was the nadir of police brutality. The experience has clouded the impressionable minds of children of my daughter’s generation.

When my daughter was nine in 2013, she saw police officers, dressed like giant millipedes, surround Bomas of Kenya, the national tallying centre of that year’s election.

Again, they could not understand the link between the ballot and the bullet. These images of police in full combat gear disrupted their usual television programmes. That, was bad enough.

In 2013, the presidential election petition replaced calls for the mass action of 2008, but the images of police in riot gear crowding around the Kenyatta International Convention Centre passed the message: There is a routine link between the ballot and the bullet.

On their 13th year, my daughter and children her age are still asking the same questions they have asked three times over: Why do we involve the police in such suspicious numbers to ‘manage’ elections alongside the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission? Shall these children, who will be age 18 in 2022, vote for anyone?

The apocalyptic clamour for a ‘peaceful election’ has culminated in tears and blood for people who chose the ballot over the bullet. Some of the victims are children, one shot on the balcony of a Mathare flat on Saturday.

The meaning of the clamour for a ‘peaceful election’ was always in the subtext. The peace-mongers knew of a conspiracy that has since graduated into a clash between the ballot and the bullet.

The massive deployment of state security agents a week to the election was beyond normal preparedness to secure the ballot. But none of the preachers of peace explained the threat. Or why the threat could not be stopped before the ballot.

The Kenya National Human Rights Commission reports 24 post-election police killings. The police officially report nine people have been killed. NASA claimed by Sunday 100 people had been killed. Earlier, acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i reported police had killed two people, who “were trying to break into a hardware [shop]”.

NASA, the police, KNCHR and Matiang’i agree 35 people may have been killed in post-election protests. The toll could be higher or lower, depending on the reporter.

Police brutality was not expected under a Constitution that guarantees citizens the right to demonstrate. We aren’t there yet, but let us say this: In a civilised society, suspected criminals are more useful in handcuffs rather than police gunny bags.

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