I Divorce You because of the President

Date: January 1, 1970
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On the last day of the year 2008, we sat previewing a wedding video I had made for my fiancée’s brother, Martin, who was leaving with his bride Sally for South Africa a few days later. Like bad movie editors, we constantly switched from footage of elegant Maasai dancers from the bride’s family and Gikuyu dancers from the grooms family, to television news of paramilitary police in their jungle fatigues keeping rowdy crowds from the Electoral Commissioners of Kenya announcing the election results.

The opposition’s huge lead narrowed and flipped in favour of the incumbent. Suddenly, commotion: brutal force as the Electoral Commission Chairperson was shielded out of the hall. Then he popped up at the Kenya Broadcasting Company, and announced Mwai Kibaki the winner of the presidential elections. Even faster, the president was sworn in.
Cell phones went crazy, everyone calling each other and asking if what we were seeing was true. Then a call: a Luo neighbour had sent his Gikuyu wife packing, ostensibly because the Gikuyus had stolen the presidency from Raila Odinga, a Luo.  Then we began to hear the news of mass killings and burning of properties against rival tribes.
The next day I rushed to the supermarket to stock up on food and airtime for my phone. Gunshots and smoke from the neighbouring Kibera slums numbed my stomach. In this forced eviction and ethnic cleansing, where would I go? Hadn’t people like me, mothered by a Taita from Coastal Kenya and fathered by a Luhya from Western Kenya, been Kenya’s pride?
I needed to call mom and ask if she is safe in Western Kenya. It took me two hours of queuing, only to get to the till to find out I could not call my mum. There was no credit. My heart sunk.
In Kisumu, spouses were kicking their Gikuyu loves out. In retaliation, Gikuyus in Central province started hitting back at wives and husbands of the “enemy” tribe. Marriages and relationships are breaking, and with them, the myth of national unity.
In June last year, I accompanied my friend Machogu in his wedding negotiations. His wife is from a different community. “We hear you guys love beating your wives, please treat our daughter well in our community we aren’t known to beat women” “Ha ha! We hear your people steal money please never send her to steal from our son!”
We had laughed it off saying it is only the old people and that they were just joking. Now, our age mates are the ones unleashing their youthful energies in disemboweling and chopping of heads of the rival tribes. Were we naïve to the reality of the hatred in the rest of our country?
The Happy New Year calls from friends are strange this year. “I don’t even know what I saw in Mercy. It is over from today. She can go marry Kibaki.” “John is horrible. If his tribe performs the way he does in bed, no wonder they lost!” Oh? Were we just engaging in intellectual necking when in college we dated across tribes, while in reality when the tribal war drums throb, we dance to the rhythms?
Munene calls. We try to laugh as we muse over the sad situation in our country. “My friend, imagine if you had gotten married to that Kale chic you used to date in college. Now you’d be dodging arrows in Eldoret as your in-laws chase you down the valleys!” The laughter screeches to an uneasy silence. Such jokes are now walking straight out of people’s lips and hacking people to death.
As we talk, my cousin’s wife calls from her rural home where she had gone to spend Christmas with her family. “Is it safe to come back to Nairobi?” She asks. “Yes it is,” I tell her. “Well, here things have gotten tense; people are kicking out all foreigners to revenge what has been done to our tribesmen!”
I sigh. In Taita, some excited youths hounded a particular tribe to the football stadium and told them to “go back to their ancestral land.” My cousin’s wife, if she had been up country, would have been among those – especially now that the husband is far away in Darfur, a soldier keeping peace there!
I go back to bid Sally and Martin goodbye. In South Africa, there are no Gikuyus and Maasai to harass their marriage. Maybe there, they shall build a generation of children like me who can proudly say they are truly Kenyan.
Here it is now a matter of walking in groups where you find solace in speaking the same mother tongue, knowing you can fight off attacks from gangs of the other tribes. However, for some of us, true Kenyans, where do we run? 
Simiyu Barasa is a Kenyan filmmaker and writer. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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