By John-Allan Namu
We stood shoulder to shoulder with one another, thousands of us. We swayed this way and that, many parts of one thing, as each branch on a tree would. At the top of our lungs, we sang “Yote yawezekana…bila Moi!” (everything is possible without Moi). The afternoon breeze was stiffened with a damp, strong smell of sweat, but none of us wrinkled our noses because we had sweated together for this moment. We forgave those who stumbled onto our feet as they sought standing room. Jokes about how the outgoing regime stole from us were responded to with carefree laughter, because we knew that we had made it, that was all behind us now. When the moment came for President Kibaki to be sworn in, we all screamed at the top of our lungs and embraced each other. Every word was of that oath of office was being written in our hearts as a promise to us. We would be defended, respected, protected. The future was ours, and no ogre from our past would ever haunt us again. I was 19 years old, in the awnings of my adulthood, and I had never felt more Kenyan than on that day.
As I write this, we are just about to enter the 20th year since that historic day, when Mwai Kibaki’s presidency became something that we could see and touch. It was something that we guardedly hoped for lest a system used to destroy these beautiful, fragile things, and finally it had come to pass.
I’m being driven to another assignment, on Mombasa road, along the Mlolongo-Rironi express way. A friend from another country described it as the perfect analogy for what Nairobi is today; a place built for the rich that only tolerated everyone else.
In a way, he was right. Nairobi can be the best city to live in, and the worst place, depending on where in the city you lay your head. However, I see the expressway as an expression of another very Kenyan oxymoron. The expressway is a marvel and a monstrosity all at once.