Tuesday, February 19, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Maputo, Mozambique

As I travelled to Maputo this week, a young but chatty woman sat next to me on the Johannesburg Maputo segment. She was Basana, her business name as well. Very soon I realized she was Mozambican, widely travelled, had lived in Tanzania for two years a decade ago and could speak perfect English, Kiswahili, Portuguese, French, Zulu and her local language.

Typical of such extroverts, she quickly asked me where I was from since I was definitely not Mozambican yet I was heading for Maputo. I obliged that I was Kenyan. The mention of Kenya sent her reeling with laughter and musingly added if I was on a mission to Maputo to ask for food aid! I had little option except to go along with her in this bizarre encounter. I said yes, I was on a begging mission since my country was at war; which was exactly what she wanted to hear.

The next line of question was a shocker even to me! Out of the blues she asked if I was a Kikuyu and why we Kikuyus love power so much that even if we lose elections, we must rule by force after stealing votes. Again I obliged I was a Kikuyu and added that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with being Kikuyu. Then she quickly recalled that a few years ago, a group of Kikuyu gangsters had travelled to Mozambique through Tanzania robbing banks on the way. However, when they tried doing that in Maputo, they were quickly rounded up and repatriated to Tanzania where they were wanted for similar offences. According to her, when fellow Kikuyu gangsters organized a rescue mission from Tanzanian jails, they were all shot dead!

Basana, like Musima, another Mozambican, has been following the Kenyan political fiasco on a daily basis. These people have seen it all on TV, on the internet and in their local newspapers. There is nothing we know they haven’t known already. They saw the vote counts tallied on TV screens from polling stations for the first two days of counting. They saw all the gory violence and destruction on their screens. They have seen thousands of displaced people in refugee camps lining up for relief food! They cannot believe this is happening to Kenya, a country they have loved and envied in the past for its tranquillity and stable lifestyle. They know Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki by name. They also know their tribes, regions and the parties the two politicians belong to. Another thing; no amount of talking can convince any one of them that Raila lost the elections; not even another delegate from Sao Tome I met on this mission.

When the Kenyan community living in Maputo got wind that I was in town, a number of them turned at my hotel to hear the real story from an eye witness point of view. They brought their friends from neighbouring countries in Southern Africa who were just as concerned. What pleased me was the fact that Kenyans in my host country never felt the kind of polarization we go through at home. They didn’t really care who their president should be. All they yearned for was a free and fair election with a genuine winner. The Kikuyus I met were particularly bitter; implying that their community leaders were setting them apart from the rest of Kenyans; something they thought was dangerous for the future stability of Kenya.

Incidentally the presence of Chissano, Masire, Kaunda and Mkapa in Kenya triggered another debate. They wondered aloud why the East African Community leaders had not taken the trouble to negotiate a settlement, leaving it to the SADDC elder statesmen to grope for a solution!

This observation kind of took me aback. It had not occurred to me that all the four leaders actually belonged to the Southern African Economic Block.

Suddenly there was some censorship of the aloofness of the five member states of the EAC in the conflict with the accusation that none of them had taken a stand either for or against the new regime, except for Museveni, who had not only recognized President Kibaki’s new regime but was also rumoured to have sent his soldiers of fortune to Western Kenya to reinforce President Kibaki’s troops. They were quick to note that Ugandan soldiers were fighting in Mogadishu, had in the past invaded DRC, in border conflicts with Rwandan soldiers and often in the recent past made cross border incursions into Kenyan territory.