Kenyans in Kibera lock themselves behind a gate with a Keep Peace sign as others burn tyres to protest in support of Kenyan opposition leader and presidential candidate, Raila Odinga. Picture: AP Photo/Brian Inganga
Trust the askari. My only joy, driving around Nairobi on election day, was in being able to whiz along Ngong Road at 8am without any traffic worries. 

It was a day of contradictions, August 8, across my African landscape. Rwanda was behind me, since their elections on August 4 had been as uneventful and as predictable as night following day. My own country was anxiously poised on the precipice of the no-confidence vote, as members of Parliament got ready to cast their secret votes.

Social media was abuzz with speculation and abuse.

Luo versus Kikuyu, pro-Zuma in a heckling match with their antagonists, the fans of Paul Kagame in glee pitted against the sceptics. Even more crucial to our collective humanity, South African women were still subjected to the same old violence even on the eve of Women’s Day.

Still for me, due to my ardent preference to shape my African storyboard by travelling to the coal face, it was time to trust a stranger and go into the largest urban slum in Africa - Kibera - about 6km outside of Nairobi city centre.

So big is this stronghold of Raila Odinga, one of the two main contenders for the presidency, that it has a subsection known as Soweto East. It is not a pleasant sight, but I needed to see it because that is where Odinga was reportedly going to vote.

My guide and my taxi driver exchanged glances that said: this mzee has a death wish!

Reports had been rife the day before that body bags were sent into hotspots across the 47 counties of Kenya, in anticipation of the violence that would erupt as soon as the elections were announced. In 2007, over 1000 people died in post-election violence when the losing contender, Odinga, alleged fraud.

By crying foul, he detonated a series of attacks in such places like Mombasa, Eldoret, parts of Nairobi like Kibera, Kisumu - where the body bags were reported to have been dispatched this time around, and Nakuru.

Kibera, in Nairobi, reeked with edginess when I got there. Merely driving towards the dusty filthy polling station elicited stares from the locals.

It is horrific what strolling into a slum with shiny shoes and a cleanly pressed shirt can do on a day like this.

"This would give you a great shot; where is your camera?", advised my guide.

My discretion overruled that, and it proved a wise move.

"Let us ask the askari", she recommended, at the sight of a man approaching us, demanding to know if we were recognised observers.

Being a South African, the word "askari" stirs up feelings of apprehension and conjures up images of Eugene de Kock and his men killing ANC guerrillas, before incinerating their bodies while enjoying a braai. But, here in Nairobi, the word simply means a police officer or soldier.

My pounding heart was not as reassured, though.

I was in deep in a violence-prone settlement in Kenya, on election day, and the only protector I could count on carried the innocuous title of "askari".

The officer warned me not to go anywhere near the voters in about 13 snaking queues, because he would not want me to "start anything that he would not be able to handle".

A white British journalist urged me to not chicken out, because "the law is clear; you may go anywhere but inside the polling booths, even if you are not accredited".

The law, in Kibera, when this askari says "no"?

"This mzungu is going to get you killed," my people cautioned. I took heed and proceeded to four other less volatile stations.

By the time Uhuru Kenyatta emerged victorious, and four people were dead because Odinga claimed the electoral system had been hacked to favour Kenyatta, I was safely in neighbouring Tanzania. 

My short time in Kibera reminded me how tenuous peace and security are in Africa - even as we try to make democracy work for all. To date, I am crossing my fingers that 2007 will not repeat itself.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business; a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs, and a weekly columnist for African Independent - Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent