It has been thirty years since nuclear energy was first discovered in Kenya. I was twenty-five then, back to the country from Harvard University, revamped by the Kenyans’ success in Hollywood and White House to reigning the world tracks in Beijing and Boston, generally a dreamer and overly ambitious to join the ruling elite. All that education from America could be channelled towards lighting a part of ‘the dark continent’ that I felt needed someone like me, after all Kenya’s new constitution told me it was my right to.
I visited neighbourhoods I thought had my vote, made speeches and intermingled, but when I watched myself on TV in the evening prime news everything about me screamed political cynicism and scepticism embellished by my American dreams. When I said that I was defying the tradition of broken promises, I thought I was convincing. When I cried while delivering my unofficial manifesto because I had received a text message that I had not clinched the party’s presidential candidate ticket, the whole world called me the crying president.
Twenty-five years passed while everybody called me The President, El Presidente, on Facebook, Twitter, and political activists’ blogs that kept the government on toes more than the Opposition. Then I ran again. I knew that it was mine this time. My choice of political friends was OK, my reputation preceded me in the civil society, and world powers were sure Kenya was ready for a woman president. After the campaigns, during which I laboured to convince women, any mobile phone owner accessed his or her M-Kura account and voted for me even in the most remote parts where cellular network was available by climbing a tree. When I cried this time round it was to wash from my eyes the dust of running.
My years in office have taken their toll on me, a function of post-menopausal stress and the restlessness of the office. When you are the president you want to be kept abreast of what’s happening in your country, from an epidemic ravaging a village to a threat on your country’s territorial integrity. For the first time in my political career, I envy the voters. The prestige is nothing compared to the meaner tasks of the job: the opposition calling me names and blaming me for the woes facing the country, the international community pressuring me to sleep with them and sell them a piece of my country every waking day, the long hours in endless phone conversations with White House and London, Moscow and China, and all the bills I have to sign to keep together a country that’s being torn apart from every corner by avaricious political friends-turned-fiends feels like a raw deal.
“You are an iron lady,” the First Gentleman tells me.
“Really?” I answer back pinching his bulging muscles.
“I know the girl I fell in love with,” he tells me. That makes me blush.
“The President you fell in love with,” I tell him.
“You are endowed with unconventional wisdom,” he continues undeterred. “Your presidency has a spectrum of issues like any other, but you are above those. You have a Revenue Commissioner for taxes, even if the Catholic Church now forgives those who abort and gays have a home you know your forte. Matters security are dealt with by the security chiefs, activists and the media have a whole playing ground for themselves, and the Opposition wonder how much concrete you’ve used to thicken your skin. But you, you have a different warfront. That’s why you are going to make it.”
However, the worst that could happen to me as the President of this Republic has. I’m not sure I can take all the blame levelled against me. I’m not the one who convinced Kenyans that nuclear energy was what they needed to shape the country around Vision2050 that was to see Kenya as a middle income economy fashioned by my predecessor. The lambaste is too much. There are limits even for the strong. I spend more time in closed-door meetings, trying to find a solution. My obligations as the President are slowly eating me out, like cancer. I no longer appreciate seasons of the sun. I hate how the seasons’ exertions on me lurk behind in cahoots to attack me in some way. Sometimes I regret the cockeyed idea that made me run for president.
Mostly, though, I just travel.
Sometimes I wish Harambee One crashes and I never come back; too much shuttling for my country. I want to convince the African Union that it is time African countries mapped their course without letting first world imperialism get to us. I want the United Nations to ban exploitation of nuclear energy and get the United States of America to veto it. I want my country helped by the international community to ameliorate the mistakes of our actions. Decisions I did not make but I have to take responsibility for. But it doesn’t matter that I think I’m doing it for my country and the people who voted for me. It seems I am a lone ranger in this. Most of the international community are too busy with their own issues to pay much attention to a president crying wolf for her incinerating country. They speak instead of what needs to be done so such accidents don’t happen in future without necessarily doing away with nuclear energy exploitation. The US is worried more of China’s nuclear plants that are cropping up all over Africa like mushrooms in the guise of infrastructural development. Britain is still angry that my predecessors failed to renew her training agreement in Kenya. Moscow says I have to give them a defence contract to supply me with fighter jets so that they can help me with my problem the way they did with Chernobyl. Japan says Fukushima Daiichi made them put up foolproof ways of dealing with the problem if the same were to happen again.
Nothing is forthcoming from my gallivanting in search of help for my slowly dying country. If anything, what strikes me is just how the world’s view of World Order is, and how much of what the world believes seems to aggrandize war and nuclear weapons. Most countries think that any country planning to rise against another should know that the other country has stockpiled enough nuclear weapons, so do the math. They want peace, but peace won by threats.
I told them that deterrence is not the way to go about it. But without exploiting and developing technologies that will eventually destroy us is the way to go. More often than not, world leaders would nod in agreement but ask would that be achieved, who would be the first to destroy their nuclear plants, who would lead the way, who would blink first. And by the time I was back on my flight back to my people, my country that wanted me to show the way, to offer solutions, I knew once again just why I had made a mistake to get into politics.
Seven is what they rated it. Seven days was how long it took the emergency workers and volunteers to contain it. Seven is the number of reactors that exploded. That was last year when the greatest blow to my presidency and the worst happened in the history of nuclear disasters – the explosion at one of our nuclear power plants in Nairobi. The radiation it spewed was unprecedented. It surpassed the Chernobyl disaster. It was during a test procedure of our mistakes. The steam explosions and fire spread to the neighbouring slums incinerating everything it came across. Over a million people died from the initial explosion. Another seven million were exposed to radiation, and who knows how many more? The tragedy robbed my country of its beloved: men and women who suffered most from the mistakes of our actions, actions of past governments. Others gave up their lives, their future, to save this country – firemen, Red Cross workers, volunteers, disaster managers, our gallant Kenya Defence Forces personnel and those who came to build the first shield to entomb the reactor. We lost those dear and close to us in that tragic accident, but the pains it caused will live with us for generations to come. A trail of cancers, and genealogies were forever altered – inoperable tumours, mental retardation, genetic configurations, and other effects of radiation.
It is time I took control of my country. Time I showed the people I am the President they believed in four years ago, the President they ought to have for the next five years. I have decided on a permanent solution. I know it won’t erase what has already happened, but it is a step towards healing this country. How many of my voters do I have to watch die before I realize that without them I am not The President?
Like the United States in the United Nations, I’m going to veto this. The Cabinet Secretaries will have to lick my stilettos, and kiss my tailored-suit-clad ass. For this, I am going to show I am The President, the Commander-in-Chief of this republic’s gallant soldiers who rained fire on terrorists in those days I was calling for their withdrawal from Somalia: I am going to shut down all the nuclear plants in the country.
But my TOP SECRET plan was leaked. I don’t know how because it is well documented and filed somewhere in my once feminist mind. Perhaps I talked aloud during a nap and my Chief of Staff heard me. Or maybe I should be careful of what I wish for. Perhaps the State House is full of clairvoyant and CIA telepathic sleeper agents. Perhaps a bug was installed on my left side of the brain when I was undergoing brain surgery while I was a Harvard student. Ever since, the calls have increased. The UN, the US, the UK, China, Russia. They all want to help. Now? I wonder. Apparently, they have ways to help deal with the situation without necessarily shutting down all the plants. Seriously? It is my people, my country that is on fire. I am losing voters.
The White House wishes me goodnight and wakes me up with a kiss like an obsessed lover. Every day they have a different card to play. Threats of sanctions and God knows what else if I do not change my stand on shutting down all the nuclear plants in the country. Hell, come what may, I am going to. It is my turf.
An hour after this, my decoy motorcade will glide along Mombasa Road to the site of the plant that exploded. It is the first memorial of the tragedy, just after commemorating the 73rd Jamhuri (Independence) Day. Today I am taking the first step. Seven steel domes will seal for good the seven reactors that exploded. The sarcophagi will be forever a memorial for the lives lost last year, but all other nuclear plants all over the country will be shut down, starting with the single reactor that remained after the catastrophe.
On most days, I leave the State House through the tunnel to Moi Air Base. A convoy of heavily armed armoured military vehicles carry me from the basement office where the secret door is located, through the underground tunnel. The convoy emerges at the MAB’s Presidential Lounge where I find Harambee One, or Army One, the helicopter that gives me rides when making rounds in the country, waiting. I meet the Chief of Defence Forces with his other chiefs from the army, the air force, and the navy; a line-up of senior government officials, and further towards the Presidential Runway, maintenance crew, and the occasional entourage waiting for me. It never changes. That’s how I’m going to leave today.
It is a day of smiles and thanks, of pats on the back and pageantry—that’s how I think it is going to be both to the whole country and Kenya’s visitors from all over the world. But if all of the world is on its best behaviour today, collectively joining us to show that we can really do without nuclear plants, there remains a certain static in the air, an awareness that the mood would not last. After the public relations charade and world leaders have gone home. After the smile-for-the-camera flashes. After the let’s-join-hands-for-the-world and darkness has folded itself round the country like the wings of a heron, what would linger over the country is the fact that the country is now an orphan; and it would be more politically united than at any time since before independence.
Image: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr (modified)