Promises

On September 4, 2010, Nigerian match-maker Pastor Chris Ojigbani promised crowds of single women that they would find suitors within 24 hours. The “spirit” had told Pastor Ojigbani that each woman would have at least four suitors. On August 27, 2010, President Kibaki promulgated the new Draft Constitution, a document that promised to uphold the rights of Kenyans and to comply with the international treaties that Kenya had ratified.

On first blush, these two events appear to be so dissimilar than only the absence of logic would juxtapose them. What does finding suitors have to do with promulgating constitutions? One is a private event, the other a public one.

Yet, this divide between the private and the public merits scrutiny. The abrogation of the Constitution on the very day it was promulgated speaks to the invasion of private considerations into the realm of the public. As Wambui Mwangi has written, the sovereign will of the people was superseded by what are, arguably, private considerations. The will of government officials who acted in their own interests.

And while, as Mwangi argues, the reasons of state adduced seem to remove this action from the realm of the private, the secretive way in which Bashir was ushered into and left Kenya, the confusion over who invited him, the silence and secrecy over decisions of state, suggest that an economy of privacy took precedence over the public demands of the people.

The arrest of human rights activists engaged in public dissent, their removal from public view, further emphasizes the invasion of private considerations into public events. A divide was breached in egregious ways.

But there is more to be said beyond how the public and private intersect and interrupt each other in Kenya.

At stake is the nature of the promise.

Promises shape futures. They shape the futures we are able to dream, the ones we are able to invent, and the ones that we are able to inhabit. They sustain us against abrasive presents and eroded pasts. They lubricate our entries into futures that have yet to unfold. They assure us that the future will unfold. Against the lacks of today, they promise plenitude, or at least the potential of plenitude. Promises sustain our abilities to act in the world. To live in the world. To believe that it is worth inhabiting.

Broken promises defer futures. They do more than simply disappoint. They destroy our abilities to trust in the world as a structure we can inhabit. They poison our relationships and muddle our interactions. They make us paranoid and fearful, turn ambition into killing aggression. Suspend a belief in ethics and fair play.

Break a promise to a child, and you might never have that child’s trust again.

Kenyan politicians make and break promises all the time. Election cycles are about promises. New roads. New schools. New opportunities. Pre- and post-election periods are suffused with the slow-acting poison of broken promises. The dream-destroying, hope-eroding denuding of futures.

That Kenyans continue to dream is nothing short of a miracle.

When the government chose to abrogate the Constitution it acted like Pastor Ojigbani. Prior to the promulgation, it had promised that we could anticipate better futures, that we counted, that the future would be our suitor, that rights would blossom in unforeseen ways. And we waited. And dreamed. Our hearts a-flutter. We composed songs, wrote poems, invited the world to share our joys. Because this time, this time it was for real. Dreams were about to be realized.

The promise is not gone. The dreams are not dead. Futures have yet to unfold.

But the promise has been deferred. We have been told to wait another day. And now the hope that came so easily, almost effortlessly, has started to struggle. Every day we have to fight a little more to continue to believe in it. Every day, we have to struggle a little harder to maintain the joy that we believed was our right.

Tomorrows are unfolding. Suns rise and set. And we continue to wait for our faith to be restored in promises that have been made. Promises still to be fulfilled. Promises that we the people will finally have a say. Promises that the power plays of petty politicians will no longer take precedence over our needs.

Promises that we will have futures, not simply the inevitability of tomorrows.