Five Lessons For America From Kenya’s 2007 Graphic Post-Election Violence

Photo by Pawel Janiak on Unsplash

From Christopher Columbus’ famous landing to the ongoing Antifa riots, American history is written in violence and blood. I never acknowledged this reality until the recent social unrest. Before that, I had enshrined America as my benevolent childhood hero incapable of injustice and violence.

Growing up in rural Kenya, I romanticized perfect, progressive America, an innovative country brimming with solutions to its problems and enough to spare for my country. To my colonized mind, nothing bad ever happened in America. I believed that America could not fix Kenya’s problems without first attending to its own.

The BLM protests and Antifa riots of 2020 showed me that American aid and diplomacy had grossly misrepresented the reality on the ground.

Witnessing America’s social unrest has led to the realization that human beings are not dissimilar, and only good governance keeps our destructive tendencies in check. I am in shock regardless, as few could have anticipated that civil unrest of the current magnitude could befall America.

Not so in my country. Kenya, the economic hub of East Africa, is said to enjoy considerable political stability. This stability is unfortunately punctuated by bouts of horrific political chaos, the 2007/2008 post-election violence being by far the worst of Kenya’s political conflicts.

Since 1992’s Multi-Party democracy, Kenyans approach election times apprehensively. Politics are deeply tribal, partisan, and divisive. In Kenya, tribal identity and stereotypes breed distrust that may dictate one’s choice of political representation or even a marriage partner.

In keeping with African traditional religion, however, leaders are messengers of the gods and are to be obeyed without question.

African spiritism conditioned adherents to fearfully obey our diviners and medicine men, to attract the spirits’ benevolence and ward off their wrath. This was transferred to obeying church and political leaders without question so that if your Member of Parliament urged you to vote for a presidential candidate from a rival tribe, you would burry the distrust and vote gleefully.

Conditioned obedience to the political elite might explain the difficulty in shifting Kenya’s cycle of tribal politics even among the young and educated. Since we relinquished personal political common-sense in favor of tribal and party loyalty — and at the directive of political leaders — many Kenyans are yet to embrace the value of independent choice in the election of our governments.
What about America? Is theirs a conditioned political allegiance to political parties and their policies?

American aid and diplomacy painted a picture of a civilized America devoid of violence and other unthinkable acts only reserved for the barbaric. Whereas civility and sophistication were presented as antidotes to any inclination towards violence and public unrest, the last six months tell a different tale.

To my colonized mind, a chaotic America is beyond belief. I catch myself thinking: This is the great, unbeatable, all-powerful, benevolent America. Do the civilized get chaotic, too?

American social unrest proves that people need to be governed. Fairly, justly, transparently. Period.

Without sound governance, we’re all a chaotic bunch, in possession of insurmountable yet unacknowledged potential for havoc and harm that can swiftly dissolve the façades of civility, reverting even the most progressive of societies into barbarism.

The world — Americans included — is waiting with bated breath for democracy to survive, right the long-standing racial wrongs, and restore justice and order. But some who bear the scars of white supremacy anticipate the worst. Expecting that violence will soon override the country, some fearful Americans are arming themselves to guarantee their safety beyond the 3rd of November.

Is America fully aware of what is at stake, as citizens ruminate on multiple ugly scenarios, ready to deploy violence after the elections if called upon?

Perhaps America became too complacent with peace to fully appreciate the gravity of its total absence. I hope post-election violence is not their chance to find out.

In the fateful event that it is, here are five lessons from Kenya’s 2007/2008 bloody post-election violence to contemplate while you prepare the battleground of America.

Photo by K Worthington on Unsplash

1. You might die fighting for a politician’s ego, and if you live, you might wonder why you fought

If Kenya’s post-election violence was a fight for tribal supremacy, what would America’s be? Political ideologies? America? Freedom? Democracy? Trump? Biden? White supremacy? Antifa? Racial equalities? Or would it simply be an avenue to vent unspent anger and frustration left simmering for too long?

It isn’t clear why America would spiral into post-election violence next month. Before it happens, it might be good for Americans to establish what they’ll be fighting for if they hit the streets.

Unlike the race protests, the main political figures at the heart of post-election violence will watch from high windows while civilians yell, harm, and loot in their names. They won’t show up on the streets. They’ll wait for you to tear at each other long enough to cool down, then swagger off to their cozy offices while you reflect on the mayhem you just endured, or witnessed, and why.

It’s important to be chaos savvy so that if you take a bullet, choke on teargas, or get trampled on in a stampede, you know why.

Having a mantra for your presence on the streets may also shield you against mass euphoria, ever-present during public unrest such as post-election violence when reasoning is scarce and anything could be justifiable as lawful and good.

2. Continuous social unrest increases poverty and insecurity

Kenya’s post-election violence created a humanitarian crisis, slowed economic growth, and increased insecurity.

Economic affluence may have bolstered America’s long-enduring political stability, but things are changing. The world will emerge from Coronavirus if at all, poorer and much more unsafe because insecurity often clings to poverty.

As unemployment rises, household wealth dwindles and frustrations mount, violence may become the norm and not the exception at which we marvel. America is at the risk of impoverishing itself further if it embraces political violence, undoing itself through political power-play, only to reap insecurity and poverty-related violence.

I never, ever, thought that possible of innovative America.

3. You are capable of much more violence than you allow yourself to believe

If you take to the streets, please tuck that under your chin.

I grew up attributing America’s peace and sustained democracy to whiteness–people who solved problems through dialogue and frowned upon violence.

In diplomacy, America presented its best angle that sufficiently detracts from its weaknesses. I bought it.

I grew up without a TV, and my idea of America was the pure, blissful kind delivered through food aid, grants, and music. Consequently, I was unaware of the racial disparities in America. Besides, my token knowledge regarding the history of the Civil Rights Movement suggested that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had fixed everything.

American Food aid fed us during times of drought and, at the onset of the HIV/Aids scourge, delivered life-saving IRVs and nutritional health education through President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). How could our young minds consider such kind, generous people capable of gross acts of violence? That would be ungrateful.

With our bellies full of American corn and reduced viral loads in the victims of HIV/AIDS, we forgot the atrocities of colonialism and embraced the saintly heroism of whiteness presented by American aid and diplomacy.

The recent BLM protests and Antifa riots exposed a different side of America I had never imagined. This new side made me wonder about the aspects of power and public image that drove America to solve Africa’s problems while ignoring bigger ones of their making in its African American population.

The village girl within me is shocked at the duplicity of white America in traversing seas to feed, heal, educate, and promote the economic development of Africa while impoverishing the Africans on their shores in the same areas of education, health, and livelihoods.

Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful. American food aid was all we’d live on for weeks at a time. But considering endemic racism, America as the saintly hero of my growing up years is fast fading into the shadows, which is deeply disappointing.

Although coming to terms with white violence in the form of American anti-Black racism came with discomfort, it aided the decolonization of my mind. I wrote about my immense grief on discovering the prevalence of American anti-Black racism and racial disparities here.

The process of regaining a balanced critique of whiteness has led me to confront the myriad of ways that display white violence. From the lynching of witches in Europe, the public executions of the French Aristocracy during the French revolution, the severing of workers’ hands in King Leopold’s Congo Free State, the massacre of Polynesian Banda Islanders by the ‘quiet’ Dutch over clove trees, the multi-continental atrocities of slavery, and the ongoing race tensions in the US, a part of my brain once colonized by the ideals of whiteness is finally woke.

This realization shattered the golden calf of whiteness I had placed on a pedestal all my life into a thousand pieces. My benevolent America is not devoid of violence, after all.

For a reality check, an estimated 8.5 million guns were sold to Americans between March and July 2020, a near 100% jump in gun possession compared to the same time the previous year. July is said to have topped the sale records with an estimated 2 million firearms sold. That’s more than 66,000 weapons of violence sold per day in my once peaceful, ‘violence-free’ America.

Such a large number of weapons floating about in a country already tense along racial and political lines while approaching a contentious election is hardly good news for peace.

Either side of the American political divide hopes this election will enact leaders who will solve problems they’re passionate about. While party loyalty is not new to America, the volatile political climate in the lead up to this year’s Presidential election will likely produce deep ideological disappointments in some.

With the country already on tenterhooks, post-election tensions could easily escalate to violence when election outcomes fail to deliver the expected ‘savior’. From looting, teargas, and burning establishments, Americans have engaged in the basics of violence during civil unrest. What will come next?

Depending on your political bend, staring into a presidential term of ‘Bidenism’ or ‘Trumpism’ will mean the ‘wrong’ president was elected. This death of an ideal can push you into despair, prompting you to resort to violence. Connect with the full extent of your destructive capacity under prime conditions. This way, you can check yourself accordingly if ever you found yourself trapped in a moment of anger.

Through USAID, the benevolence of the American government painted a picture of a perfect America devoid of racial inequalities and violence. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons | Public domain

4. Don’t loot voodoo-protected TV sets, lest news start broadcasting from deep within your belly

The least harmful aspect of Kenya’s post-election violence was probably the looting of goods, devoid as it were of harm to people, buildings, and the environment. It was also awash with mystery and drama. At the port city of Mombasa, some looters voluntarily returned stolen goods after inexplicable phenomena affected their bodies.

Citing witchcraft from shop owners, some reported TV-like voices sounding from their bellies. Others reported visitations by ‘ghosts’, while others claimed to have lost their ability to answer calls of nature, leading to clogged digestive tracts and exploding bladders. These and other ailments supposedly resolved soon after the stolen goods were returned.

While such may not be reported in America, what we can glean from these is that every action undertaken in the name of post-election violence could have far-reaching consequences on your humanity, your physical and mental health, and the lives of others, including your family members.

Your actions can create a ripple of negative intergenerational outcomes for individuals, families, businesses, and even the environment.

Only you can choose what to do with your intellect and energy: perpetuate life or unleash death.

5. Take to the streets only if your presence there will heal America

After burning homes and establishments, murdering, and severing body parts of rival tribespeople, the assassins in Kenya’s post-election violence hang their heads and trekked back to their ancestral lands. Some of them later confessed to feeling disconnected from their actions and a deep shock at what they had done.

Euphoria and anticipation of violence have been building up in America for months. Some might take to the streets to satisfy that euphoria, even when the election outcome is peace-worthy.

Perhaps you can ask yourself: what will my taking to the streets accomplish? How does my presence or absence in the streets affect the direction of my country? How will I keep myself and others safe on the streets?

I’m not advocating cowardice or apathy, but sound judgment and common sense in a world going mad.

In conclusion

As America heads to the polls, it might help to consider that, had someone predicted the shocking atrocities of Kenya’s 2007/2008 post-election violence, few would have believed them. Similarly, had someone predicted America’s current social unrest, few would have believed them.

Most Americans understand that in a democracy, civilians are as much a part of guaranteeing peace in their country as is the presence of sound political leadership. But, will they remember it when it matters the most?

Thirteen years after Kenya, America’s post-election destiny hangs in balance.

I hope you’ll not sink into post-election chaos, my benevolent America. On the off chance that you do, I will stare at my screen in grief and disbelief, mourning the death of my golden calf and the wasted years of my adoration and devotion.

First published on October 30 @Nini Mappo/Medium

5 thoughts on “Five Lessons For America From Kenya’s 2007 Graphic Post-Election Violence

  1. jomariebearth says:

    Wow my Dear Nini! Wow! You really hit home. Both of our homes!
    PBS tv has been airing a documentary by Rick Steves called…
    Facism in Europe
    He has been trying to educate America thru public television using Europe as an example of how delicate and fragile democracy is. He called out WW2 and how it toppled the world.
    What’s important is that he used European history so that “everyone” would watch and listen. If you know what I mean by “everyone”. He and his scholars in the documentary emphasize,
    those who don’t learn from the past are destined to repeat it.
    Democracy is fragile. It takes only one president in the USA to exceed a second term for him to be deemed a dictator.
    I’m so happy for you that you really know the aid you received was more than a humanitarian plan. I was another colonial ploy. I’m glad you received the benefits, God knows. But we screamed while you did, because so many of us needed here. The needy here always feel that charity should start at home. No one here, can receive HIV/AIDs meds like you guys can.
    The violence that you have seen as of late has given you a rude awakening. My mother also cannot understand why things are so bad now. I always laugh at her and remind her that she was born when the stock market crashed. She was a toddler at the height of the Great Depression. She was a teen ager during WW2. She fought for desegregation and the right to vote. Her house was devalued and property redlined. She had to protect her sons from dying in the streets. Lots of airplane hijackings. Always, always, always at war. The World Trade Center came down. We had the riots of the 60s,70s, 80s, 90s and now 2020. So these times are difficult? No, it’s always been a violencefest in our beloved USA.
    I told my friend that I want to practice at the firing range, basically because it’s just legal,
    Los Angeles style fun. He told me to save my ammunition. There is a shortage right now.
    And you might need it. I just shook my head, oh damn, that’s where we are?
    I really appreciate, embrace, and respect your entire point of view and all points made. You are a profound writer. And it’s always a pleasure, a journey and a joy reading your work Nini.
    I think this piece you wrote should be aired on PBS television. It can make a difference, TODAY!
    Luv & Hugz…JoMarie

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nini Mappo says:

      Hello JoMarie. Your comment has added great value to what I already knew, and it feels surreal to read this first person account of what things are like in the US, and what living through through the hope and despair is like. Thank you for enriching my perspective with yours, and for valuing my piece so much. I would love for the PBS to air it, but I really don’t know how to go about that yet. I hope that you keep safe my friend, and indeed all America as the dawn of what we’ve waited for descends on the world shortly. I hope it goeth well 🙂
      Sending love and hugs back.


  2. jomariebearth says:

    Hi Nini…You never disappoint. Seems like we find each other everywhere!
    We are patiently awaiting the results of this presidential election. The voter turnout is beyond any election prior in the history of the USA. Some people have been going off the rails in desperation to demonstrate their need for 4 more years of the present administration. Attempts to sabotage counting of the ballots are coming from the top down. Voter suppression reared its ugly head, especially in the deep southern states. Right wing yahoos created caravans to harass the left wing on the roads. Voters were being watched with intimidation from the right wing by instruction from our current president. This is our system, our rights and our freedom flawed in action. We wait. We wonder. We shall see. To be determined.
    Hugz Nini…JoMarie


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