Sometimes, I talk politics. Depending on your take on the subject, this might be a big deal. But politics, even to the apolitical, is always a big deal. Politics is a big deal enough to determine what sound you wake up to; it could be your alarm clock or the sound of guns. Our former president, Daniel Arap Moi, had a maxim; Siasa mbaya maisha mbaya! If you never believed anything he said, please believe those four words. Moi would know. The IDPs would know. Those who died in post-election violence know. And I want to believe that we Kenyans, in all our naivety, know this. Still, my interest in politics doesn’t go beyond this because Kenyan politics are designed to break the hearts of those who believe that some good can come out of politics. So I choose to watch the circus, because it is that if nothing else, from a distance. However look at the news and you’ll see that it is the same everywhere else. Only the degree of madness varies. But there’s been a story that has momentarily captured the hearts of humanity the world over; a story that has set wheels of ‘democracy’ in motion; the story of Mohammed Bouazizi.
Here he is; Mohamed Bouazizi, a man, just a man, a 26-year-old unemployed man trying to make something of his life by hawking fruits because what kind of man would he be if he didn’t try? And then here he is, a man on our TV screens, a dead man; the victim of bad politics. Here he is; a struggling fruit vendor without a licence and then here he is; dejected and crestfallen. His wares confiscated by a police force used by the regime not to serve and protect the citizenry but rather to protect the regime from the people. Here he is; a man, a man whose spirit has been broken. A man mad at a system out to get him. Out to keep him on his knees. And then here he is, a man soaked with petroleum, holding a matchbox, a man about to light a fire that will spread far and wide; a fire that will cause heads to roll. Here he is, a man with a cart, a man with a university degree and a cart, a man trying to sell vegetables in a nowhere town and then here he is, the thorn in Ben Ali’s side, Mubarak’s headache, a man causing despots to have many sleepless nights.
He wasn’t trying to a billion dollar empire or start a series of revolutions, he was seeking to better his life, to make lemonade from the lemons life had given him. It wasn’t too much to ask right? He should have been allowed to sell the fruits right? They should have let him make his lemonade right? He should have able to go back home feeling that he had done something that day right?
How can you not empathize with Bouazizi? How can you not imagine his frustrations? The injustice occasioned to him? The mountain he was up against? How can you not see the bitterness that he harboured at a regime that wouldn’t allow a graduate to vend fruits and vegetables on a cart?
Granted, burning himself was on the extreme end but what was he going to do? Call them names? Get on his knees and beg them? Ask Allah to strike them with lightning? Show them the middle finger? I imagine that these were Police with darkened souls, so used to breaking down grown men till they cried like little babies. Bouazizi wouldn’t give them that. He refused to let their faces lighten up at the sight of another citizen on his knees begging for their mercy. He refused to let the system win.
Bouazizi went and set himself on fire in protest. And now the despots of the Arab world cry, ‘Oh Bouazizi, What have you done?’
But the question they should be asking is,’What have we done?’