Book Review

Havoc of Choice: the pain of 2007 post-election violence

havoc jacket
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Summary

  • The Havoc of Choice by Wanjiru Koinange is an important book about Kenya’s post-election violence. 
  • It’s a novel, meaning it can be seen as pure fiction.
  • But those acquainted with Kenyan history know that she paints gruesome and ugly pictures as she reflects on the early days right after the election of 2007 that are tragically true.

The Havoc of Choice by Wanjiru Koinange is an important book about Kenya’s post-election violence. 

It’s a novel, meaning it can be seen as pure fiction. But those acquainted with Kenyan history know that she paints gruesome and ugly pictures as she reflects on the early days right after the election of 2007 that are tragically true.

But by starting from the premise of the book being fiction, Wanjiru is able to say many things that were too horrible to believe at the time, but were true according to eye-witness accounts of the period.

I want us to examine the book using what I am calling the 6C’s, namely the characters, then the context, the issues of class and culture, another key issue, corruption, and finally, the crisis or conflict now defined as Post-election violence.

First the central Characters are the Mwangi’s and the Muli’s families. There’s Kavata Muli who married Ngugi Mwangi who runs for a political office, previously occupied by Kavata’s father, MP Muli. 

The children of Kavata and Ngugi are Wanja, a university student and Amani, an 8-year-old who’s the apple of everybody’s eye. Ngugi has a sister Wairimu married to Zack. 

And the Mwangi’s have a driver, Thuo married to Cheptoo and a cook Schola. 

There are lots of other characters we encounter in the book, like Tom who Wanja works with at a political party office which Wanjiru is careful not to name, but we know it must be ODM. 

There is also Jane whose job is the fixer, the one who buys votes for MP Muli but she failed to do her job well in the case of Ngugi who loses the election. 

2. The CONTEXT of the story: Set in the days before the 2007 General Election, when Ngugi, having remained jobless for several years, agrees with his father-in-law to run for Member of Parliament for Machakos county. 

Kavata has a low estimation of her father since he’s widely known to be a corrupt wheeler dealer. So when Ngugi agrees to team up with her dad, she goes nuts. 

She abhors corruption and threatens Ngugi: she will leave him if he runs for office. He takes up the challenge, so she feels compelled to go.

Her departure is a key moment in the novel. Things fall apart with her flight. Her driver Thuo gets jailed, her children are left to their own devices, and Ngugi is alone when he loses the election. 

Then the election results are announced and the country explodes.

3. CLASS AND CULTURE: Two critical issues in the novel. Especially culture, which Wanjiru handles delicately. Ethnicity was a critical issue in post-election violence. 

But even before the violence, Ngugi being a Kikuyu could (in reality) never have won in Ukambani. 

And in Machakos especially as he didn’t speak Kikamba. He could only win if (as expected) his father-in-law pulled so many strings. 

Then there is lots of mention of ethnicity during PEV, one group destroying homes, churches, and businesses of the winning group’s people as revenge for what they claimed to be rigging of the election. 

And on a personal level, Kavata as a Kamba marries a Kikuyu while Thuo, a kikuyu is married to Cheptoo, a Kalenjin and those differences take on a life-and-death importance during PEV.

Class is best seen by contrasting the Muli’s and Mwangi’s lifestyle with that of their poor workers, Thuo and Schola. 

The privileged and under-privileged, and it’s among the under-privileged in Kibera that the chaos began.

4. CORRUPTION is a core issue in the novel because as we said, Kavata’s departure sets off a whole series of problems, including the death of her little boy. 

But she felt justified in leaving Ngugi since he was following in the footsteps of the most corrupt man she knew close up. And that is her dad.

This novel gives us a good look at how one dimension of corruption among Kenya’s political elites works. Muli has been practicing it for years, assisted by Jane who pays people to vote. 

The PEV itself is triggered by the claims of a corrupted election. It is what precipitates the ‘havoc of choice’ which is a term that is an excellent metaphor for Kenya’s style of democracy.

5. The CRISIS or CONFLICT. The tensions had been building up in the weeks and years before 2007. But the party and ethnicity that lost had felt assured that their candidate would win in 2007. 

But since he did not apparently, the ‘losers’ revenge took terrible forms of violence which are graphically depicted in the novel. One feels the immediacy and the emotional volativity of some Kenyans’ violent reaction as seen through the eyes of people like Cheptoo and Thuo. It is their grounded eye-witness accounts that gives us a feeling that their observations are true to life.

I personally felt I had never read a better or more intimate account of the post-election violence than what Wanjiru presents in the novel.

Can we open this up for discussion?