Tuesday, September 23, 2008



One day Kenyans will know the truth about 2007 Election

The Standard
Nairobi, Kenya
September 23, 2008

By Dennis Onyango

I was waiting for a train at a station in Berlin when I read the news that the commission investigating the 2007 General Election had concluded that it was impossible to know the winner.

I sat there, at the cold station, asking myself questions. Kenya is a modern nation, which boasts as one of the intellectual powerhouses in Africa, with a huge population of young, educated people waiting for a chance to serve their country.

Is that the same nation that spends billions of shillings on elections, goes to the polls with all modern equipment like desktop computers, laptops, mobile and satellite phones, and then comes out without results?

As if that is not bad enough, everyone, from the ECK to the intelligence, security and civil service officials, the people who run the political system, say they too don’t know the results.

They are as ignorant as the citizens, but they earn the salaries all the same.

Where else has that happened? Even in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe was intelligent enough to accept that his opponent at the polls, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the first round, but not by the required margin. So Mugabe created a second round, and then made it impossible for the opponent to participate in it.

At the station, I board the train to what used to be Leipzig in East Germany or the German Democratic Republic. I have always been convinced that what happened with our polls was the work of the State, or a faction of the State. So I am glad I’m going to Leipzig, because I am a keen student of things to do with use and misuse of State power.

In Leipzig, I am going to watch a permanent exhibition going on at what used to be the headquarters of the East German Ministry of State Security.

I am talking about the dreaded Stasi, which was the omnipresent East German police and intelligence agency, whose terror is the subject of awe to date, decades after it fell.

When Stasi reigned, wives spied on their husbands and husbands on wives. Letters disappeared in post offices, students’ compositions disappeared from classrooms as teachers submitted such work to the police, if the student sounded too radical or Western in his or her thinking. Of course, people were murdered and people disappeared.

But all that time, it was impossible to find one person who would admit that he or she spied on others for the Stasi.

Spying was always something that went on in society, committed by nobody in particular.

When the Berlin Wall fell

Inside the exhibition at the former Stasi headquarters, people have been showing up to put the pieces together, look into the files that were left behind and literally apply scotch tape on pieces of shredded paper to reconstruct what somebody tried to destroy when the Berlin Wall fell.

The similarities with the Kenyan election fiasco struck me. It dawned on me that the human spirit and the human desire to know the truth, assign responsibility and blame always triumphs. It may take 10 years, 100, or more. But in the end, human beings always get to the bottom of the matter.

Somewhere within the civil service, the intelligence, the security agencies and the presidency, there is always somebody who knows the truth of what happened. It does not matter whether you are dealing with the GDR or with the Kenyan elections.

Whenever systems go haywire, somewhere within, there is somebody who gave the wrong orders or who obeyed orders he should not have. Such people always hide under the power of the State, anonymity, the hope that people will forget or the arrogance of "what can they do? We are in power".

Happy feeling

As I leave the Stasi police headquarters, I get the happy feeling that the truth always comes out in the end.

In the end, those who looked so protected, so clever and so invincible, turn out to have been mere mortals.

Some of the once powerful Stasi men are now taxi drivers, having been exposed for the torturers they were. That exposure came not from their admission, but from the people’s relentless search for the truth.

Some of those once powerful Stasi officers, once discovered, have been stripped of the pension they were to live on for the rest of their lives.

A number of them have to live with the guilt once responsibility was traced back to them, many more still live with the fear of being discovered and the shame of knowing that records have revealed they drilled cameras into bedrooms of their friends with whom they had regular lunches.

The truth always comes out and one day, Kenyans, too, will know the truth — not just about the 2007 polls, but also about the other painful experiences the nation has gone through and which have been swept under the carpet.

Somewhere within the system, there is somebody who gave the orders and another who obeyed.