, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 21 – Gideon Gitau; ” Omosh kuja hapa (come here)…(prolonged laughter followed by a hearty handshake), where did you go? I still have your stuff.
Omosh (Omondi); You see, I went to Isiolo and when I returned, I found Kenya (Nairobi) was no longer the same. In fact, I had to use an alternative route to get to Mradi (a section of the Mathare slum) since this place was impassable.
But why do we fight over people (politicians) who usually meet in five stars hotel while we suffer? We need to be smart.
Gideon Gitau: It is sad but that is life. We should only pray to God that He may give us the wisdom to know we are equal before his eyes.
It is a conversation I eavesdrop on as two friends from Mathare meet for the first time since the August 8 General Election, whose outcome was disputed, challenged in court and consequently annulled.
Mathare is largely cosmopolitan with residents mostly drawn from the Kikuyu and Luo communities but that is never an issue until during the electioneering period when politicians often let lose leading to their supporters clashing.
Ironically, the lead presidential candidates, President Uhuru Kenyatta (Jubilee) and National Super Alliance leader Raila Odinga are from the same communities just like Gitau – a shoe vendor and his all-time customer Omosh, whose real name is George Omondi.
Violence erupted in the area after President Kenyatta was declared the winner of the August poll ahead of Odinga, who cited malpractices that he alleged denied him victory.
– Face of resilience –
Gitau is speaking under the shade of his umbrella since his stall was burnt down during protests but says he holds no grudge.
“It is all about bad politics and a few elements who don’t want stability,” he points out, adding that “Mathare is a peaceful place without politicians. It all comes to our minds that you are Kikuyu, Luo, Kisii or Kamba during campaigns and after the election.”
“It is the sad reality that we have lived with for years but unfortunately, property and lives are lost every time such a thing happens. But we are determined to turn the tides.”
“Do you think I can take a rungu and hit him (Omondi) because of politics?” he rhetorically asks and proceeds; “Never! He is the person who can help me while I am in need.”
Along the entire stretch of road, business is booming and people are interacting freely.
Most of the stalls had been destroyed during the violence but that has not held them back from doing business.
A picture of resilience and determination to shake off a dull past that they hope will not return but even with that, they remain cautious.
Across the road, Evans Kithito is laying some bags on the ground since just like Gitau, his market stall was destroyed.
“It is normal during campaigns. I will only construct a new one after the election,” he says, posing as if in some deep thoughts.
When he proceeds, Kithito wonders “why do elections drive a sharp division among people who have coexisted peacefully for long?”
Kithito and the rest of business people closed for two weeks and suffered a significant financial dent.
A majority have families and being the breadwinners of their families, such incidents threaten their daily bread.
A few kilometres from Kithito some three ladies can be seen having a hearty discussion while sewing.
Lilian Anyango, one of the ladies says life is now calm but laments that business is yet to pick.
“We are living together as it was before the campaigns. Fighting is bad since we usually pay the price,” he
– Ready for elections but –
Having undergone a slow business period, they are worried that if politicians don’t tone down their rhetoric, there will be a repeat of what happened during and after the repeat election now slated for October 26.
“Let the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission put its house in order, carry out a credible election for our lives to get back to normal. We do not want to get back where we were a few weeks ago. Business is even yet to pick,” Anyango asserts.
And if the polls are above board, she says, ” Kenyans should accept the one who will be declared the winner. Both President Uhuru and Raila are Kenyans and our leaders. We want to go back to the ballot and decide.”
Such are sentiments made by Gitau and his friend Omondi.
“Kenya is bigger than both Uhuru and Odinga…whoever will win shall become our leader,” Gitau, a father of two said.
His message to the two political contenders is, “please put the interests of our country first…whoever will be elected will be our leader. Both of you (Kenyatta and Raila) are leaders.”
“It is the ballot that shall decide who will be our leader and not violence. Kenyans should shun violence,” another resident, Shadrack Nzioka says before proceeding to push his handcart, towards a potential client.
More than 10 people died during this year’s post-election violence in Nairobi mostly within informal settlements.
Kenya is yet to recover from the wounds of 2007-2008 post-election violence that claimed over 1,000 lives and left about 600,000 others internally displaced.
While they are the majority voters, the dagger of political violence is usually hard on slum dwellers.