I touched down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport last night after a smooth flight courtesy of the Dutch carrier KLM. My dear sister Pat, brother-in law Victor and their little lad Hawi, (my 2 year old nephew who was born whilst I was away) were at the airport to pick me up along with my sister June’s daughter, my niece Jessica who was so very different when I left here 5 years ago.
5 vivid, vibrant years have passed since I was in Kenya last. It feels like such a lifetime ago, more so now in light of all the many changes I’ve seen in the country I grew up in. I return to Kenya so very different to who and what I was when I left, richer in experience and in insight on the world, starved however of a certain few luxuries that only Kenya can offer.
Kenya seems to be undergoing a period of significant political change, a process that’s unfolding even as I sit here writing this. The television screens by the waiting lines at airport last night flickered constantly with reel upon reel detailing the findings of The International Criminal Court’s findings pertaining to the naming of six high profile Kenyan figures in connection with responsibility for the politically connected killings and bloodshed that took place in the controversial 2007 general elections that left over 1000 dead and forced over half a million people to flee their homes. Internationally, the declarations of the ICC led by prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo have been hailed as constructive to the future of Kenya with Barack Obama, whose late father was Kenyan voicing his support for the findings. Locally, however, The Ocampo findings have not been embraced with such high zest. President Mwai Kibaki remains committed to setting up a local tribunal to investigate the election violence, a move which critics say is nothing more than a tactic to clear many of the guilty parties responsible for the bloodshed of their role in it. The ICC findings in the words of prosecutor Ocampo identified the “most responsible” culprits yet there are many others that Kenya could choose to implicate too. The Ocampo six as some have come to call the accused, have been summoned by The Hague to defend themselves against the charges leveled at them and failure to do so will result in arrest warrants being issued. All of this essentially implies that the positions of many of the political elite in this country are at present under the unprecedented threat of them being liable for their actions whilst in office, a long overdue development that could benefit the ordinary Kenyan. Notwithstanding, the trial is far from complete and many questions remain as of yet, unanswered. The possibility of the political elite stepping in to protect or shield the Ocampo six from prosecution should certainly not be ruled out, in a nation whose past is littered with heinous cover-ups on the part of corrupt and in many cases criminal politicians. All the same, the apportioning of blame for the 2007 massacres is a welcome step towards a brighter and better future and if nothing else, serves as an external mechanism of pressure that ought to lead to greater transparency and more accountability from the ruling echelons, an elite that has failed to serve the needs of its people and sought to better its own since the nation gained independence.
Politically then it is safe to say that Kenya has changed rather substantially since I’ve been away and looks set to continue down the path of change and progress. There have also been significant infrastructural changes to the architectural landscape I once knew. I can’t help but marvel at the countless examples of construction sites all over Nairobi at the moment, or the many buildings that have sprung up since my departure. Lining the highway from the airport for instance are a series of stylish, modern buildings that glisten with the verve and swerve of a city that’s headed down the right track. Progress seems to have been in made with respect to public works too; where once there were little more than potholed tracks that one was forced to navigate precariously through, there are now numerous examples of well paved roads that are a pleasure to drive on.
And whilst some things change, others stay the same and may always do so. Driving habits in Kenya remain as controversial as they have always been. The influx of cars, a shocking number of which bear the latest registration numbers continues to put pressure on the ability of the road network to cope with them, exacerbating traffic jam related challenges that have existed for quite some time. Dysfunctional traffic lights and a chronic lack of pedestrian crossings (or respect for the pedestrian crossings that do exist of the part of motorists) remain as of yet, unsolved issues in the capital city. This was exemplified most candidly to me on the way from the airport last night, as a maasai streaked across the highway ahead of us in a flash of red under the car headlights. Such-like incidents (none of which have involved more maasais however) since last night have been a feature of driving in Nairobi that I’ve had to get used to again.
On the whole though, it’s great to be back in Nairoberry, where the temperate sunshine is beating determinedly down, a sunshine whose radiance and charm I’ve missed for the longest time. I remain observant and inquisitive about all the many developments (or lack of them) eager if not anxious about the prospect of the rest of my days here.