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State must now document truth in our country’s history

By | August 15th 2010

Wafula Buke

One of the gains that easily fall through the cracks after ushering in a progressive dispensation, are the many experiences that define the journey to the new era.

Least noted are those of ordinary people, who from their humble life stations, threw in a piece of charcoal to fuel the engine of change. History tells us these are the strings that hold a nation together.

Prominent American political speeches demonstrate the enriching flavour of their thematically diverse and dynamic history.

The Kenyan experience in public communication from the podium is a sad story. Reformist history is anathema. Just about all public fora are dominated by perpetrators or people who kept quiet when the nation needed their voices. The atmosphere for conversation imposes a compliance code that relegates history, however, anecdotal to the subconscious for the occasion to register a ‘success’.

Public speaking in Kenya can be defined as a "safe game" where the cautious win rewards. The shackles of the past, the firm lid on our liberating information banks and the hidden grease that would spice our mental processing systems render public speaking or communication an exercise in involuntary editing. Yet there is no known thread for weaving a nation together other than facing experiences of the past.

Faced with a nationalistic crisis, leaders throughout history have relied on data that emphasises the shared past and destiny. Kenya’s wealth in this regard remains a victim of suppression at least, and distortion at best. Where it has been documented, the Government is yet to avail the seal of recognition and approval for official dissemination.

Reading the tumultuous history of Kenya, which climaxed in the 2007 post-election violence, one is reminded of the Greek god, Icarus who ignored his father’s advice against flying too close to the sun and had his feathers dissolved. Needless to say, he fell and died.

Nothing spoke to me more loudly than the experience I went through during the 2007 post-election violence in Bungoma. As soon as the election results were announced, violence broke out targeting the Kikuyu. Business premises and shops were burnt. Tagged as an ‘ODM’ operative, I decided to go and rescue the family of Njoroge Kimani. But his compound was unfamiliar, as his house had been burnt. I decided to take leadership of the protest campaign and have all the disgruntled elements report to me.

As expected the next day, young men came to my house with petrol pointing out the houses they were going to burn that night.

"You will have to wait until I speak to Raila Odinga," I lied. I was merely buying time to conceptualise a dissuading message. After a feigned telephone conversation, I told them he had advised that we stop it.

I searched our history for a response and in the context I needed to defend the Kikuyu. I narrated a story I heard from Kabando wa Kabando during our activist days.

"During the 1992 General Election, a Kikuyu woman aged about 85, pleaded with her grandchildren to take her to the polling station to vote. Upon arrival, she told the polling officers that she wanted to vote for Masinde Muliro, a Bukusu, the late founder of Ford. Upon being told that the man was long dead, she cried.

"You mean the boy who defended JM Kariuki is not standing for president? Then I am not voting." She was carried back to her bed where she later died. The person whose house you want us to burn is her grandson. What do we do?" After reflective moments, I told them the community being killed died in thousands fighting for independence. We poured the petrol the boys had in my vehicle to quell the violence. In this story, I witnessed the curative power of history, which Truth Justice and Reconciliation Committee (TJRC) can and must deliver to the Kenyan people as they ably did in Mt Elgon.

The new Constitution gives the TJRC and, those of us who have suffered the injustice of an oppressive system, to sign up and ensure that the truth of our history is documented.

The writer is the chair of the National Network of Victims and Survivors

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