Receive this festive season’s greetings from Emanyulia. The village remains largely green, despite the obvious beating from the sun. We ushered in Christmas quietly. I suspect New Year is not going to be much different. There is an overwhelming sense of ennui, and even silent presentiment. An element of repressed anger, born out of feelings of betrayal and frustration, seems to have replaced our usual happy-go-lucky spirit during Christmas, around here.
We are ending the year on a note of anxiety, courtesy of the electoral experience of the ending year. The air is pregnant with expectancy. I don’t know expectancy of what. The people are simply waiting for something big to happen. Yet, they don’t seem to know what this big thing is, or could be. But, apparently, the languor is not restricted to Emanyulia. A friend called me from Nairobi, only this morning, to ask me what is going to happen in Kenya. “I don’t know,” I said, “Ask Samuel Beckett.”
Beckett was an Irish playwright, novelist and poet. This avant-garde artist wrote the play titled Waiting for Godot, the most significant English language play of the 20th century, according to the British Royal National Theatre. He gave us two individuals, Vladimir and Estragon, who were forever waiting for someone whom they didn’t know and who never arrived. Emanyulia is waiting for Godot, and the whole of Kenya with them. Like Vladimir and Estragon, we are not quite sure who Godot is. Nor do we know if he will ever arrive. Regardless, we are waiting.
We have been talking about the treatment that Water and Irrigation Cabinet Secretary, Eugene Wamalwa, received when he invited himself to a feast in the neighbourhood of Emanyulia. Mr Wamalwa made a sudden appearance at a jamboree in Mbale, in Vihiga County. Instead of the gathering receiving him like the government notable that he is, they bayed for his blood and sent him away unceremoniously. Things don’t get more awkward than this – for visitors and hosts alike.
Yet such are the times. Our people say that the fellow who responds to an urgent natural call in the bush will soon forget that he ever squatted here. Yet the slow walker who steps in the mess that is left in the bush will remember it forever. Wamalwa has forgotten about recent squats. The people of Mbale have not. Accordingly, Wamalwa sees nothing wrong in materialising uninvited at a festival in Mbale. It is business as usual, he imagines. The elections are gone. People have gone back to the regular ebb and flow of life. You can come to Mbale and preach the virtues of your party and government, if you are in government. The camp that squatted in the electoral bush has forgotten. But the camp that stepped in the messy stuff in the bush is not about to forget.
The vibes from Mbale and here in Emanyulia suggest that we cannot possibly wish away our recent history. We shouldn’t expect the country to roll on, just because some people want it that way. We had a local brew party the other day. I heard ordinary unsophisticated villagers asking questions about the country’s destiny. “They are telling us to move on,” said an elderly village woman, “But why are they not telling us where they want us to move on to? Move on to where?”
Have gone astray
Expectant eyes looked at me, waiting for an interjection. But I didn’t have any, for I am just as lost in the widening gyre. You see, it is our tradition here that we don’t sweep things under the rug. When people feel aggrieved, it is our collective business to find out why. We then make amends, as may be necessary. The culture of “accept,” or “forget and move on” is alien to our ways. That is why we are still waiting for Godot. We see people like Wamalwa as kinsmen who have gone astray. They may not just amble gingerly into a clan celebration and expect to be warmly received. When they serve in government, we understand that it is for themselves and those who appointed them. They don’t represent us, or speak for us.
Our elders are saying that the outside world needs to try to understand us. Every leader from our community is today classified with either Jubilee or with the National Super Alliance, relative to this year’s elections. These associations are fully loaded with both positive and negative values. The loading defines our moral community. The recent killings by the Kenya Police are very much a part of the loading in our villages. The villagers are placing these deaths squarely at the state’s doorstep.
Now, if you belong to the state fraternity, the villagers consider you to be an outsider to their moral community. You are a veritable outlaw, despite being a son or daughter of the community. You cannot, accordingly, just suddenly materialise at a village dinner, wash your hands and join the party. That is not how we do things here. We need to talk about what happened. We need reconciliation, forgiveness and even ritual cleansing before we can eat together again.
The sense of unhappiness, ennui and foreboding in Emanyulia and beyond needs urgent attention. It cannot be appeased with sweeteners of impromptu VVIP visits and sugar-coated tongues. Nor can it be ignored. If ignored, then prepare for more Mbale style happenings. Kenya has bifurcated into numerous moral communities. Does it need, perhaps, to begin seeking a return to a single moral community? Only a daring confrontation of what ails us could possibly begin taking us in that direction. Blame games, name-calling, innuendo and big man politics could only widen the chasms that divide us, while heightening the sense of embitterment. Meanwhile, Emanyulia is routinely wishing you a Happy New Year.
- The writer is a Strategic Public Communications Adviser. [email protected]