These electioneering times are emotional spells. A word or two might cause alarm, might lead to mayhem, and may lead to death. Over what, really? Just because of a vote. Yes, one vote. For it is exactly one vote that each registered voter in Kenya has, and what she or he will cast.
Yet, that vote can be the cause of a life-and-death dispute, first between individuals, which can easily degenerate into a battle between houses, homes, villages, communities to become a national disaster. But why would what is a once-off contest every five years cause suffering for and among Kenyans? Isn’t there a better way to do politics whilst retaining sanity?
Elections are generally about emotions. They are about exaggeration. Politicians lie with a straight face. They seek to provoke raw emotions among their supposed supporters in order to get ahead of their opponents. Their language can be incendiary.
It can paint the opponent in horrible colours. It can present the other as undesirable even when people have lived peacefully together since time immemorial. Politicians can at times behave as if only power and resources matter in life. It can be very difficult to undo the damage that politicians can cause. This is a story that most Kenyans are familiar with. The language, pain, violence, suffering, deaths and general destruction of 2007 are too recent to have been forgotten.
Thus, it is important that whatever political party or individual one follows, she or he should learn to weigh their words before uttering them. For words have a way of taking on a life of their own once they leave the speaker’s mouth. Words can be translated into action in a moment. They can mutate into war cries. They can change into stones, rungus, pangas or bullets.
A single word can claim thousands of human lives. In Rwanda a mere few words claimed millions of lives. In East Africa today, the lives of millions of people are suspended in refugee and internally displaced people’s camps because politicians are haggling over words such as nation, nation-state, region, tribe, religion etc. In some instances, the political battles are expressed in and through music, one of the easiest ways to marshal and manage emotions.
But it is not as if ordinary citizens cannot defy the incitement from politicians. Choosing peace over war should be a natural enough option. That choice, though, cannot be collective. It has to be by an individual first.
This is why the song by Kenya ni Yangu by Ketebul Records comes at the right time. This is an anthem of peace. It is an urging to Kenyans to choose their country, communities, hamlets, homes, houses, neighbours, companions, friends, families, strangers, over divisive politics. This is a didactic song with the singular intention to remind Kenyans that given ethnocentrism, corruption, destruction, propaganda, hate on one side and peace, love, unity, prosperity on the other, the choice is quite clear.
For far too long Kenyans have relied on members of the civil society to run campaigns against political propaganda intended to divide Kenyans along class, economic, religious, political, regional or ethnic differences. Politicians are adept at playing divisive games and escaping sanction from the law. For instance, whereas the law is clear that hate mongering and incitement to violence are crimes, politicians always find a way of worming themselves out of such situations. But they would have left destruction and suffering behind them. Poor Kenyans would be the ones to rebuild their damaged lives, and hope that there would be no other cycle of violence and devastation soon.
There is a way in which national elections in Kenya are moments of excitement but also times of great fear. Elections revive memories of troubled pasts. They reawaken ghosts of times gone by when what seemed idle threats have led to displacement, violence and even deaths. It is during the electioneering time when some Kenyans will be reminded of their ancestry, clan, wealth, poverty, faith or cultural difference.
These distinctions could then be marshalled to undermine, oppress or displace some individuals or groups. It is this kind of behaviour or situation that Kenya ni Yangu condemns. This song advises that just as Kenya is mine – from whatever position one makes such a claim – Kenya is also yours – Kenya is ours. In other words, one Kenyan can only count herself in communion with other Kenyans.
Therefore, Kenya ni Yangu is an anthem of solidarity for all Kenyans in these tense times, when emotions tend to overshadow rationality, when Kenyans tend to talk at rather than to each other, when individuals tend to quickly forget what is shared and focus on difference, when Kenya – however imagined – becomes a lesser identity compared to whatever other ‘local’ identities millions of ‘Kenyans’ prefer at this time.
Whether rich or poor, Tugen or Digo, woman or man, youth or middle aged, mama mboga or CEO, mwananchi or mwenyenchi, politician or voter, once the voting is done, the ballots are counted, the winner is declared, the electioneering is over, we will revert to the collective that is Kenya(n). Elections come and go, Kenya remains, as the cliché goes. Life will go on. Those who urge violence and destruction of others’ lives and those they hurt will have to find a way of coexisting till the next elections. In the end, Kenya ni Yangu is asking Kenyans why they can’t break the senseless cycle of self-destruction every five years.
As Kenya ni Yangu urges, don’t burn your country down just because of one vote and some politician who will only return to your village, neighbourhood or town in 5 years’ time when it is time to harvest your votes and resources. Next time you meet someone from the ‘opposing’ group/political party at a campaign rally, the market, in a matatu, in the neighbourhood, in the streets, wherever, whenever, whatever time, maybe just repeat the words, Kenya ni Yangu, Kenya ni Yako.
Kenya ni Yangu, is produced by Tabu Osusa and Fiston Lusambo. It features Winyo, Mc Sharon, Fundi Frank, and Mandela on vocals; Lambert Ngoma on rhythm guitar; Claude Mushi on bass guitar; George Achieng plays orutu/percussions; with Ewan Bleach playing the saxophone; the drum programming is by Shunkyz.
It was recorded and mixed at Ketebul Music Studios by Shunkyz and Will Eye Beat. Additional recording was done at Ambasa Studios, Dar es Salam. It was mastered by Vincent Othieno. This record was a project funded by the German Embassy in Nairobi.
The writer teaches literature and performing arts at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]