A stray thought: at some point in our past, foreign planes bombed freedom fighters. Or, more accurately, they bombed the forests that sheltered freedom fighters.
For the moment, let us hold in abeyance the metonymic slide that would read Uhuru Park as the bodies of the dead and injured, the people in Uhuru Park rather than the park itself.
What does bombing Uhuru Park mean?
In asking this question, I hope to foreground how spaces acquire meaning through our interactions with them, and to see Uhuru Park as an assemblage of desires and dreams, an archive of pleasures and pains, a promise of collectivity and unity, a performative space of contestation and contradiction.
As, that is, a space for making Kenyan-ness in all its diversity.
From this perspective, the bombs attacked the process of making Kenyan diversity. They bombed the space within which such diversity flourishes.
Uhuru Park is one of the truly few spaces in Nairobi, if not Kenya, that allows for a promiscuous mix of classes, ethnicities, religions, genders, sexualities, and age groups.
Sheltering the unemployed, the underemployed, and the secure middle classes; gathering the introspective and the gregarious; permitting clandestine meetings and sanctioned courtships; providing all of us with shared stories of going there, being there, leaving there, Uhuru Park embodies an optimism we continue to maintain in our togetherness. It affirms that we desire to belong with each other.
For me, Uhuru Park represents stories I have heard and stories I have lived. My parents took my siblings to row on the little boats available for hire. I attended Christian crusades and concerts there. On days when I have desired solitude in public, I have sat there, one among many others who chew on pieces of grass and contemplate life.
Uhuru Park is woven into my Kenyan dna, a part of my Kenyan fabric—without it, a part of me unravels. Without it, a part of all of us unravels.
Whether one reads Uhuru as independence or liberation, we have a public park that represents, in its free spaces, its availability, its congeniality, the promises of freedom that continue to guide our interactions with each other and our interventions in the world. We have a public space that affirms the dreams of freedom can be realized in our quotidian lives.
This promise was bombed.
We should not be sad or angry based on our “yes” and “no” positions.
We should be angry because the shared ground that symbolizes the realization of past struggles and the promise of future victories was desecrated.
We should be angry because someone dared to suggest that our spaces of gathering and contestation do not matter, that petty divides count for more than what we collectively share and treasure.
We should be angry because someone tried to destroy the ground that has witnessed our dreams, our ambitions, our visions, our failures, our disappointments, our tears, our joys.
We should be angry because someone decided that the necessary, contested, negotiated process of making Kenyan-ness is less important than scoring a very cheap political point.
And we should grieve.
We should grieve that we have so devalued the spaces we share collectively, we have so desecrated the sacred lands that shelter our fragile yet resilient Kenyan-ness that we count further desecration as nothing.
We should grieve that the space that embodies the hopes and aspirations of our nation can be so casually, so easily destroyed.
We should grieve that our memories are now punctuated by a bomb: henceforth, we will talk about Uhuru Park before the bombing and after the bombing. Because it has changed forever.
And so have we.
Our memories now bear with them the faint, lingering scent of fear and panic, of blood and sweat, of bomb-tinged destruction. And our retrospective memories will always be haunted by the thought: “at least I was not there on the day the bombs exploded.”
We have yet to realize what we have lost. And in not realizing it, we have yet to acknowledge its now blood-soaked value.