Yesterday I had to walk home from work – no, that is not why I am writing this.I have actually walked home from work before. Mostly because I was broke and did not have 20 bob for that ride on a tuk tuk to Mowlem. At times it’s because I wanted to enjoy the evening breeze hit my face as I think about my life (when I was little my teacher would tell us to ‘go to the corner and think about your life’ whenever we did something wrong).
Yesterday I was neither broke nor in the mood to think about my life. I had actually left the office in Milimani driving home but found the roads impassable and decided to park my car at the office and walk.
I use Nairobi road to get to get home. What I saw when I got to Mega City made my stomach churn. Young men aged between 17 and 35 were in charge of the roads. They had barricaded sections of Nairobi road and were harassing and extorting motorists.
There were about six of these “toll stations” between Mega City roundabout and Wells Petrol Station. At each barricade you had to part with between Ksh. 100 and Ksh. 200. Paying this money did not even guarantee your safe passage – if one of the guys took the money and ran away with it you will have to dig into your pockets and pay again so that the rest can share.
Here were goons operating in broad daylight. To them everyone who drives a car on the road was somehow responsible for IEBC commissioners’ stay in office and they had to pay for it – who am I lying to?
This was not about the IEBC. This was theft in broad daylight. This was extortion. This was criminal. These goons deserved to be shot.
When the police police shot peaceful demonstrators in Kisumu, we all came out and condemned the excessive use of force on unarmed civilians. When citizens decide to arm themselves, block roads after 6 PM and harass motorists we keep quiet about it.
I have seen very few people condemning the incidents of thuggery on Facebook yesterday. Like it somehow was these people’s fault that they were driving from work when the rest of Kisumu people were demonstrating.
I saw a vehicle hit with stones on this road because the driver did not have money to pay.
I saw a woman who was driving alone in the car harassed near Nyamasaria. She had to turn back. I am not sure where to but I felt sorry for her. She probably had kids waiting for her to get home. A husband worried sick about her whereabouts but because we did not talk to our brothers she had to go through this.
Of course all of these youths on the roads are unemployed. Somehow it’s this lady’s fault that she has a job she is driving from while they don’t. This lady was probably coming from Nyando Sub-County Hospital in Ahero. She might have been a nurse. As much as other people got the day off she could have had to be at work to attend to those bullet wounds protesters get from the police. This is probably a middle class resident of the city who sympathizes with “the cause.”
These are the same middle-class we have time and again chastised for not doing enough to fight for our civic rights. If that woman sympathized with the victims of police brutality before, would you think that she would again?
I wouldn’t. At some point while making my “long walk” to safety, I wished the police would come and shoot this madness away but none was in sight. Maybe they failed on their duty as well.
In Nairobi they had peaceful demonstrations. Police were basking at the police station. The protesters policed themselves. They checked on each other. Nobody looted. Nobody barricaded roads. Those who attempted were dealt with.
My point – peaceful protests are possible.
You see, Kisumu belongs to us. It does not belong to the people who own supermarkets or shopping malls. When we destroy this town, when we annoy other residents by harassing them on the roads we do it to ourselves.
When Ukwala was burnt down after 2007, I did not see a local investor come to take up their place. We waited for years until they came back and set up shop.
I saw someone comment on Facebook saying that the “destroyed property are nothing compared to the lost lives.” I wondered if the destroyed property belonged to the police or Uhuru Kenyatta or the IEBC.
Since when did we rectify a wrong by committing another wrong?
Some of these people destroying our city are not even from Kisumu. They came here from the villages to seek employment and now feel that they can say that it is right for other people to destroy this city that we have built with our own blood and sweat. We have to be bold enough to tell them that they can’t do it here.
This city has to thrive and create more jobs for people from the villages of Siaya, Busia, Vihiga and other surrounding counties. It has to take it’s position as the hub of the East African Community – something that won’t happen with this kind of volatility.
I call myself a true son of Kisumu. I was born here. My father was born here and his father was born here too. I know a lot of people like me who did just not move here because they needed to find jobs. Some of those people are Indians, Kikuyus, Kisiis, Kalenjins and I can go on and on. This city is equally theirs.
So when someone throws stones and destroys part of Tumaini or Naivas supermarket just because they feel that those are not local businesses then I will need someone to define local.
My neighbor is Luo and so is his wife. The wife works at Tumaini supermarket and so when I saw an aspiring MCA say that the supermarkets do not employ locals and so they deserve to be “casualties of war” then I wonder who is a local to him or maybe challenge him to show me one local who has put up a supermarket in Kisumu?
Almost everybody agrees that we need electoral reforms in country. I am yet to meet a single person in Kisumu who does not support mass action against the IEBC but when we lose sight of the goal and get distracted by hooligans who do not respect other people’s properties and rights then we ultimately lose on the collective support that this process has gotten from Kisumu residents.
It’s time we talked to each other and accept that mistakes happened. Never again should we allow our people to destroy property and harass innocent members of the public in pretext of demonstrating for electoral reforms.
Where I come from they say “kudni achiel ema towo ring’o (it takes a single worm to spoil a piece of meat). We must get rid of the worm from our midst if we are to enjoy this meat that is electoral reforms and public support.
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