So as weird as this might sound I dreamt about that story, not in the way I will describe it but roughly. The clearest part of my dream was of a tanker in the middle of Kenyatta Avenue, right at that intersection of Koinange Street, it’s long cold snout pointing towards GPO. The whole street was deserted, not a single soul in sight, a breeze blew loose leaflets down the vacant streets.
There were stones on the roads and all sorts of debris; shoes, spent teargas canisters, handbags, lipgloss rolled towards drainages, an open notebook facing down, a teddy bear, mobile phones that had been trampled on, broken spectacles, a child’s lone black shoe, motorbikes felled on their sides, napping in this ensued melee, hats, a novel by Clancy and plastic water bottles. There were cars parked in their spots with windscreen caved in, some with doors swung open as if waiting for an important person to walk out of a building. Nobody came. Nobody will come. The buildings were hollow with emptiness, broken windows, naked mannequins, their clothes stolen from their unresisting stiff plastic limbs. When I looked up, over the skyline towards Eastlands area, black smoke bellowed into the sky. If you listened keenly you could hear a faint scream, like the sound of a strange bird. A chopper whirred away in the horizon.
The air was rent with burnt rubber and fear and desolation. KICC, now a mockery of development, stood out for once, hunched in this emptiness. Our Parliament – the theater of comedy – sat silent for once. A few military guys leaned on their cars smoking cigarettes and laughing at a joke.
The entrance of Intercon Hotel was bare of that tall elegant doorman who stands there in uniform, he would not be bowing to anyone. If you walked into the foyer you’d be met by broken glass and a bunch of lone suitcases that would never connect with their owners. Down the street, a half drunk bottle of Yamazaki sat on the counter of The Exchange Bar at The Stanley. At Nation Center, the military stood guard with guns. Traffic lights blinked amber.
Tom Mboya street was a ghost town – a transistor radio played Kameme loudly from an empty shop. River road; dead. Museum Hill overpass, dead. Our National Museum, dead…ironically. If you stood at the roundabout at Kenyatta Avenue and Uhuru Highway and looked east, you could see all the way to the hump of hill leading to Nakumatt Mega. Not a car in sight. Not a human. Uhuru Gardens across echoed with the the carcass of democracy and free speech.
Only cops, military officers, stray dogs and cats, and ghosts of a dead nation walked the city. At night bands of hoodlums prowled in alleys, ducking into empty shops to steal shoes. Nairobi as we know it was dead. Nairobi in ruins. A city that had turned into an oxymoron. The Mau Mau and our founding fathers turned in their graves.
Elsewhere, in the outskirts of the city we fled. Luos, Kisiis, Luhyas, fled towards Nyanza. Kikuyus fled walked towards Central. Kalenjins left for the Rift Valley. We only carried things that we really needed; family, clothes, food, water and lots of prayers. While we previously drove cars now we were all on foot, every last one of us and we all gravitated towards what we knew, home, shags, dala, gicagi. We also carried fear and uncertainty. We were weighted by the unknown, by terror.
We left everything we owned in our homes. Our microwaves would never warm any meal again. In Runda the electric fences still hummed with current, fencing off empty homes. Abandoned dogs, pedigrees that cost 250K a paw, barked incessantly from hunger and lonesomeness. Luxury cars lay parked in compounds. We left all our money in our accounts, now useless. M-Pesa had gone down a week ago, right before power went out in most parts of the city. Everybody was mteja. M-banking was a dodo. Fuel a rumour. We all ran away from the stench of death in the city, a city now framed by smoke.
When we passed by dead bodies lying by the roadside, we covered the eyes of our crying and terrified children.You had already paid school fees for your child next term? Oh he/she won’t be needing that. No bells would ring. There would be no snackboxes to pack. There was no single bus leaving the city. No water in taps. The expatriates had all fled, there will be nobody on Sankara’s rooftop bar chugging bottles of Krug Grand Cuvee using their “hardship” allowance. No planes took off in JKIA, our national liner, KQ, sitting on tarmac with no pride left in its belly. Military vehicles swarmed the airport with military guys drinking alcohol from duty free shops. Nobody was going to land into JKIA to go look at the wild animals in the Mara. In fact, the Mara was so deathly silent, that wild animals started coming out of the park to look for humans to stare at. The trains stopped moving. The young brilliant guys who had started excellent hopeful startups had watched them all go south. The Kenya Shilling had become paper, a prophesy of Luo Dollar and Octopizzo’s song “Bank Otuch” coming to pass; pesa surely, is otas!
The radio only played the national anthem, over and over again, a sound that we would associate with desperation.
All this happened because all the tribal shit that we casually played with online had now come to pass. Luos had turned against Kikuyus, Kikuyus had turned against Luos, Kalenjins had turned against Kikuyus, Kikuyus had turned against Kalenjins, Kalenjins had turned against Luos, Kambas had sat on the fence, Merus had fought for Kikuyus, Luhyas had fought for Luos. Then when we had gotten tired of fighting and hacking each other because of our last names. When the city had sunk into desperation and suffering, it had become about class, and the poor had come for the few rich who hadn’t left town; climbing over their walls, raping their wives and daughters, breaking into their safes with machetes on their necks and fleeing into the waiting lawless darkness.
Nairobi’s hope had died. Then there was nothing left.
The only thing that continued working was fear and hopelessness.
Kenya was done.
We made headlines on all the major networks. CNN kicked us while we were down on our knees; a hotbed of a mess. Wazungus shook their heads and muttered, “Kenya? I couldn’t have seen this coming. Africa is indeed cursed.” Talking heads compared us to Rwanda, then Burundi, then Central African Republic. It was open season; comment was free. We had become savages. Donald Trump, now the president, sent peacekeepers down; big burly men in dark shades standing legs apart at roadblocks while tyres burnt cinematically in the background. The French dropped us relief food. Even Somali, broken as she is, stewed in a broth of war, looked over our fences with puzzlement. The UN stayed in meetings, deliberating, looking up the word “genocide” on Urban Dictionary first before they acted.
We had all lost.
All of us.
We were done.
We had become refugees.
We crossed through our borders with our children. Thousands and thousands of us, mostly the middle-class because the wealthy and the ruling class had left as soon as the fire started burning. Now they were in Milan and in Switzerland and in London eating caviar and swirling merlot and cognacs, an eye on a burning country they once professed to love.
We crossed the borders clutching our children’s trembling hands. Children we named Liam and Tamms and Amani and Zenani and Hawi, a generation of modern post-internet children, free and alive to all the possibilities that escaped us, children who were to save us from tribalism but whom we now had failed terribly.
Tanzanians welcomed us, yes, but would end up treating us like the poor cousins who had come a-visiting. Ugandans opened their borders to us. Museveni, who we constantly mocked on social media, mocked and taunted and made memes of, now said graciously, “Let them in, let those Kenyans in but check their pockets, nobody should come here with hashtags! Not on our soil!” Yoweri had become our father.
And we shuffled into Uganda in our old shoes and battered faces and weary souls and we were given a section, a large tract of land where all these humanitarian bodies perched on us, like vultures on a dying animal. They pitched huge tents for us and we lived like goats in a pen, taking a shit in the bushes, showering from sufurias, queuing for food like slaves. Refugees. Even our shadows were miserable.
We had become a disgrace to ourselves, a spectacle to the region. We had stripped ourselves of all dignity and had become beggars. No hashtag would save us. In fact, our neighbours would create a hashtag;
*#SomeoneSaveThoseKenyans* on our account. Imagine that, a hashtag by Ugandans and Tanzanians and Somalis, these people whom we felt were inferior to us; we mocked that they couldn’t even spell yet they were now saving us. Oh how the tide turns. Kenya, the oasis of peace in the region, was no more. Kenyans On Twitter had become a rubble of collapsed hubris. Regret cuddled with us in our wintry refugee tents.
Used to instant showers, warm beds, and all these things we currently take for granted, now we craved a place to just put our heads to sleep, a peaceful place where nobody could kick in the door and drag us into the darkness because we had the wrong name. In the sprawling refugee camps, grown men silently wept in darkness. It rained in Uganda. Daily.
Chaps from Amnesty International would show up like they always do, and talk to defeated men, place fatherly hands on their shoulders as the clouds above rolled in with more rain. It would rain and rain and rain and we would huddle under the tarpaulin and listen to news from home, aching to go back and do normal things: buy bananas at Zuchini, go to T-mall and do an M-pesa transaction, sit in evening traffic along Uhuru Highway listening to a drive show, have a meeting at Java Yaya over a granola with strawberries and honey, run at Karura, buy a Jambo Jet ticket online, like a picture on Instagram, you know, simple everyday things. But we wouldn’t be going home anytime soon. Nobody knew when. Kagame would meet Uhuru, Yoweri would meet Kagame. Magufuli would meet Raila. Uhuru would meet Raila.
As refugees we would sit all day and all night, sit in miserable clusters, wondering how it had all gone to the shitters, but knowing very well how it had come to this. Our children, now with their tattered clothes, would stare at us with empty looks and only find fear in our eyes. And all this shit started because we thought we were immune to war, we thought we would not be broken by tribe, it was all fun and games hating on Facebook right up until the crows came home to roost.
Now we had tanks in the streets
**Think twice before you Share any article on tribalism: Think Peace, Think Kenya.
By Steve Biko