Gaborone — Florence Radull-Goroba took leave from her hectic schedule at Mmegi to visit friends and relatives in her home country, Kenya during the festive season. She was looking forward to a rewarding rest and to exercise her constitutional right to vote in the general elections. But what awaited her and the rest of the Kenyan population was not what she bargained for. She narrates her shocking Kenyan experience.
As I proceeded to Bondo town, 60km west of Kisumu City and home of ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga, I was apprehensive, but optimistic about the Kenyan general elections. Africa has never been big on democracy or transparent elections but the 2002 polls in Kenya set a precedent. Hence, we were confident the 2007 elections would pass muster.
Wednesday 26 December - Boxing Day
There is a sense of excitement in the air caused by elections the next day. All the presidential opinion polls conducted in the build up to the election, Odinga leading President Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity (PNU). ODM Kenya's Kalonzo Musyoka was trailing at a distance.
Thursday 27 December - Voting Day
We wake up bright and early in order to exercise our constitutional right. It is the biggest voter turnout countrywide and Kenyans are excited at having another chance to choose their leaders.The first reports out of Nairobi are not encouraging for the opposition. Odinga's name and those of several voters from his Luo community are omitted from the register in his Langata constituency in Nairobi. Is it possible that the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) could have made a genuine mistake in omitting all names beginning with A, O and R. (Almost 99 percent of all Luos names begin with A, O and R). By evening, as voting ends, counting begins and early results show Odinga in the lead by a considerable margin. Everything is peaceful despite the previous day's rumoured attempt by PNU to deliver busloads of already marked presidential ballot papers to certain constituencies in Odinga's stronghold of Nyanza Province, which resulted in the death of three Administration Policemen (AP).Vote counting continues, though the pace of the results' announcement seems to be getting slower. People begin to get impatient and tension builds up. I make a quick trip to Kisumu to do some last minute shopping. Since Kibaki declared the day a public holiday, the CBD resembles a ghost town but the city's open-air market is teeming with shoppers. It is obvious that people from Kibaki's Kikuyu community are nervous about Odinga's early lead.
The Kisumu bus station is alive with Kikuyu's who are mainly from Central Province trying to get out of the city. Kisumu is a cosmopolitan city but despite this fact, it is only the Kikuyu who are fleeing.As I make the 40-minute journey back to Bondo, there are many people out on the road, waiting for what we can only speculate. I arrive home to find scores of Kikuyus resident in Bondo heading out. As night falls, Odinga is still in the lead by over 900,000 votes and a sense of victory engulfs his hometown.
Saturday 29 December
Still no final results, but the margin between Odinga and Kibaki has miraculously closed to less than 50,000. It is surprising as the number of Kibaki's MPs have hardly increased but his presidential votes have risen greatly.
Tension has reached fever pitch as early risers begin to speculate on the cause of the delay in announcing the remaining constituency results.
And then at around 9am everything explodes. Violence erupt in Kisumu, Nakuru in the Rift Valley and Mombasa in Coast Province.We hear reports that Kikuyu businesses in these centre and other towns, including Kakamega in Western Province, Eldoret, Kericho and Narok in the Rift Valley and Kisii in Nyanza are targets of looting and arson. Besides Central and Eastern Provinces, the rest of the country seems to have turned against the Kikuyus.
Kenya begins to burn- literally!
The ECK chairman, Samuel Kivuitu fuels the fire when he announces that he does not know what is keeping the remaining returning officers from bringing in their results. "Are you cooking the results," he asks rhetorically, a statement he later denies he ever made. We receive a call from a friend in Uganda, who says BBC has announced that the opposition are claiming victory. Results tallied by the ODM National Monitoring and Tallying System and released at a press conference earlier in the day indicate that Odinga has won with 4,215,437 against Kibaki's 3,748,261, with Musyoka garnering 630,849.
However, the ECK has not released the official results.
Sunday 30 December
The day begins with no official results though PNU rubbishes ODM's claim of victory.Finally after more delays, the ECK releases the results declaring Kibaki the winner with 4,584,721 votes to Odinga's 4,352,993.The violence intensifies after the announcement and before you can say "President Mwai Kibaki" he has already been sworn in for his second term. Immediately after Kibaki's swearing in and an attempt to calm the nation, Internal Security Minister John Michuki issues a ban on all live TV and radio broadcasts.
For us in Bondo, who have not had newspapers delivered since Boxing Day, this is almost too much to bear. Our only source of TV news coverage now comes via BBC, CNN or Al-Jazeera. Others listen to BBC radio.The only other source of news is the cellphone but it is becoming increasingly difficult to buy airtime as the shops have been closed since Christmas eve.
The few that dare open have no airtime.As usual, rumours spread and the situation is not made any better by the media ban. Alarmist cellphone messages begin to circulate that the army is positioning itself strategically in the six provinces that voted for the opposition and anyone found walking about will be shot on sight. Other messages urge us to stock up food and other consumables as movement will be restricted and curfews imposed.
Since Bondo is an ODM stronghold, there has not been that much violence, but as soon as Kibaki is sworn in, all hell broke loose.
First, there is a mass exodus of humanity to the home of Odinga's late father and Kenya's first vice-president Oginga Odinga. People are wailing as if death has occurred and imploring the late Odinga to get up and see what is happening to his son. Most of the 'mourners' are dressed in the traditional mourning gear and tears are flowing uncontrollably.As the mourning crowds return from the Odinga home, they bring down telephone poles, block the roads with electricity poles, which they set alight with tyres.
The town is soon engulfed in thick black smoke and the roads become impassable. The few Kikuyu businesses in the town are set alight.In the running battles between the police and the demonstrators, tear gas and gunshots fill the air. With tear gas burning my eyes and irritating my skin, I attempt to take pictures but my camera is snatched and crushed. I am only let off because they know me.I witness two people who were allegedly shot by the police being carried to the hospital - so much for rubber bullets!
Monday 31 December
We hold our annual thanksgiving family gathering, even though it does not seem as if there is much to be thankful for.Every so often a cellphone rings. Our relatives in Nairobi and Nakuru are being kicked out of their houses by their Kikuyu landlords. They say they have been beaten and robbed.Reports out of Kibera - the country's biggest slum - are that after the attacks on Kikuyu's by Luos the day before, members of the dreaded Mungiki sect (a Kikuyu based traditional religious group known for its violent nature) descended on the slum at night and began systematic revenge. A cousin of my mother calls from Kibera and tells us first hand about the situation in the slum. He sounds frightened as he narrates about the fighting, looting and the presence of the notorious General Service Unit (GSU), who he says are shooting indiscriminately with live bullets. That is the last we hear from him. The next day we get a report that he was beaten and burned to death soon after he made that call.His sister reports that she is not able to go and collect or even attend to his body as GSU officers have sealed off the City Mortuary, where most of the dead in Nairobi were taken.In Bondo, it is getting increasingly difficult to move around. Besides the fact that every single road leading to anywhere is blocked with stones, burning poles and manned by intoxicated young individuals, who will only let you through for a fee, there is no fuel. The hooligans at the roadblocks insist that they will not harm anyone as "we are all ODM", but their agenda is to paralyse normal activities so that Kibaki can be aware of their anger and disappointment.
Tuesday 1 January
Happy New Year? I certainly do not think so. We wake up bright and early hoping to hear that the violence has ceased. The first order of business is to tune to the BBC to find out what is happening, as the local stations are still not giving up to date reports. Our family has now moved almost permanently to our rural home, five kilometres from Bondo as chaos increase in the town. Unfortunately we still have to go into town for food and other supplies. The few shops that have dared to open are running short of supplies and there is no bread or milk. Surprisingly, there is one bar open with a limited variety of drinks but the prices have doubled. Public transport out of Kisumu has ceased since Sunday and domestic flights out of Nairobi to Kisumu or Eldoret have been suspended.
The passengers who arrived by plane from Nairobi on Sunday spent the night at Kisumu Airport as it was impossible to enter the city, and the planes cannot get fuel hence the suspension of flights. Mind you,
I am booked to fly out of Kisumu the next morning.We seek advice from the police, who insist we should not risk going to Kisumu, as the road is blocked.Later on, we hear a shocking announcement from the ECK chairman, Kivuitu, who now says he does not know whether Kibaki won the elections. Kivuitu claims that he was under pressure from some PNU leaders to announce the results. What!! Then out of Eldoret - a Kalenjin stronghold - comes even more horrific news. More than 30 people from the Kikuyu community - most of them women and children - who had sought shelter in a church after their homes were attacked were locked in and burned to death. Is nothing sacred anymore!Then the reports of more death and destruction start coming in thick and fast. Over 50 people dead in Kisumu - most of them allegedly shot by police as "they went on the rampage". About 10 people are burned in a housing estate in Mombasa, 10 more dead in Kisii, scores dead in Kericho, Kakamega, Narok, Bungoma - and then I stop counting.In the midst of all this mayhem Kibaki throws a New Year's party at State House Mombasa. What exactly is he celebrating?
Wednesday 2 January
Most people are supposed to report back to work but everything starts slowly. People are apprehensive about what lies ahead.
The radios are back broadcasting but in Nairobi the police are still not allowing anybody into the CBD. The government spokesman is contacted by one of the radio stations and he speaks to the Police Commissioner and the roadblocks are removed. The brave return to work.
Thursday 3 January
We wake up to find a huge contingent of police, GSU and APs in Bondo town. No-one is allowed into the town centre and anyone found loitering is immediately beaten and chased away. It turns into a ghost town.
ODM had called for a mass rally in Nairobi's Uhuru Park but the Police Commissioner cancels it. Numerous protestors are turned back as they try to attend the rally and it fails to take off.In Eldoret, the water supply has been cut off by lawless gangs, uncollected bodies lie about, some without heads, and others half-eaten by dogs. The town is deserted and there is no-one to collect the bodies.
Friday 4 January
The police, GSU and APs who appeared in Bondo the previous day have miraculously disappeared.Normalcy is slowly returning and it is time to count our losses, alongside our dead.
Saturday 5 January
We finally receive fuel from Kisumu, which is brought under police escort. Things seem to be returning to normal, as bread and airtime can be found in the shops once again.
Sunday 6 January
Some of my relatives manage to drive back to Nairobi today in a convoy of six cars. After they arrive, they tell of the harrowing experience of paying their way through 'roadblocks' but at least they made it alive.
Monday 7 January
We leave Bondo at 4.30am - before the hooligans who man the roadblocks are up - and make it to Kisumu Airport two hours later after dodging burning obstacles and removing stones along the way.As we wait in the lounge ready to board, something strange strikes me. Not one single Kenyan - in a room of about 100 people - is speaking in vernacular. Everyone speaks either English or Swahili, no-one wants their origins to be known.It almost makes me weep!