The World Turned Upside Down

I am writing this mid-day on New Year’s Eve – the strangest and most anxious New Year’s Eve I’ve ever spent. I am hearing gunshots in nearby Kawangware and, of course, wondering what will happen in Uhuru Park in an hour or so, and asking whether any of the many dire sms rumours I have been receiving are true.

Early this morning I drove out to get money from an ATM. After five kilometres I had seen only one other car. Very few people were on the streets. It was too quiet, too eerie. Nairobi had become like a ghost town.

Yesterday, we drove back from the Coast – setting out from Bamburi very early to make sure that we arrived back before Kivuitu announced the Election results – knowing already that, whatever he said, there was going to be trouble.

If I were to choose one word to sum up this family holiday time, it would be ‘reversals’. Because there have been so many shifts of opinions and feelings – and so many things have proved different from what they at first seemed.

Like, for example, the place where we were staying. We had booked it as a ‘villa on the beach front’. That’s how the brochure described it. Now what image does that description conjure up for you? Yes, direct access to the sands and a view out to sea… Well, it was a row of four such ‘villas’, tightly wedged between and overlooked by two hotel blocks – with a noisy bar area blocking any view to the beach. The attractive photograph in the brochure was the result of a clever piece of cropping.

Anyway, we spent much more time watching the TV coverage of the Election and its aftermath than doing the usual Coast holiday things – like swimming in the hotel pool (which was too green and murky to be risked), snorkelling near the reef, or fending off the beach boys.

(By the way can I risk a jokey interlude?… A few weeks ago a consultant from the EU came to do an audit of a project they were funding. On one of the days a number of ministry officials failed to turn up for a meeting in Embu. When he asked why, he was told: ‘Well, when the erections come men can’t think of anything else’. The consultant looked very shocked – until someone explained the common confusion between ‘l’s and ‘r’s in these parts.)

But to get back to much more serious matters….

On the way back to Nairobi on Sunday we called in the Small World Country Club at Lukenya to get an update on happenings before driving into the city. It was around 1 pm. Usually, the place would have been full with family parties enjoying nyama choma and entertainments. But all the garden tables were empty and there was just one lonely man sitting at the bar.

When we got going again, for once the traffic was thin along the Mombasa Road; there was not a single golfer playing the Railway course; even the Yaya Centre was deserted.

Safely home, we turned on the TV: to see the incredible scenes of the final ECK briefing at the KICC, which could be called farcical if they were not so threatening – the shouting down of the Chairman, the hi-jacking of the meeting and the entry of the GSU. Last night there was the mayhem in Kibera, in Kisumu, in Mombasa – and in many other places across the country.

So, another and much more significant reversal: the Election that had started out so peacefully and well had turned to bitter recriminations and killings.

Just now, someone has rung to say that he is getting his wife and child out on tonight’s plane and that there are seats available if we want them for our sons. He was talking about the ethnic violence that had happened in the Ivory Coast.

‘But this is Kenya,’ I said. ‘And Kenyans are not going to let that happen here.’

And my older son was adamant that he didn’t want to take the chance of leaving early for his university in the UK.

When you are reading this you will know whether we made the right decision.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation


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