Kavata has spent her life suffocated by political machinations. When her husband decides to go into politics, the shadows of family conspiracies and political intrigues bedevil her home. Being a daughter of a corrupt politician, she can hardly imagine what will happen if her husband Ngugi, who has the support of his father and the rest of their extended family, will turn the family into.
This overweighing burden of a family falling apart is too much to bear. And so, Kavata resolves to escape and seek refuge in another country. Then as anticipated, violence breaks out and every family member is on their own and a nation is torn apart. By the time family members get back together after post-election violence, they have to wade through a landscape of nationwide confusion, desperation and heart-rending loss as they seek to heal their scars.
Released last month, Wanjiru Koinange’s book Havoc of Choice mirrors the 2007 post-election violence (PEV), drawing a parallel on the current political situation in which a growing wave of intolerance is building. How can Kenya avoid falling into the same political pitfalls by rewinding the mistakes of the past? It was these questions and concerns that caused the Havoc of Choice author Wanjiru to go back in time and analyse what really happened during the PEV period.
“I read every published work I could get and watched every YouTube video and every news item I could find. After about eight months of reading and watching, my eyes were peeled to the collective grief and trauma that the PEV caused, especially when this trauma is fueled by reckless choices,” she says of the inspiration to address this trauma.
Wanjiru worked on this book for over eight years. “I had enrolled at the University of Cape Town’s Creative Writing MA programme in 2012, and every time I would mention that I was Kenyan, I would be met with questions and concerns on how we (Kenyans) were doing (with regard to the post-election violence (PEV)),” she says of the queries that made her feel like an outsider talking about her country.
The story, told in the context of a singular household – The Kavata’s home – through the eyes of the third party, journeys through the happenings of the campaign period, through the post-election violence of 2017 and the healing thereafter. When Kavata leaves for the supermarket amid an ongoing party in her house, she has no intentions of going back. She is making good her promise to Ngugi, her husband, to leave if he, like her corrupt father, involves himself in politics.
But she is not about to leave without ensuring her children are taken care of. To this end, she enlists the help of a few friends, relatives and even her employees to ensure her exit is discrete. She, however, does not count on the fact that she is leaving the country at its most delicate time – election period – and therefore her departure would elicit all manner of reactions.
This layered work of fiction has lots of stories to tell. For one, it tells you how the people in Kavata’s household experience and react to the post-election violence. It brings to the forefront how corruption affects different classes and how we react in the face of crisis. “I was living my best life and barely inconvenienced by the PEV, but that’s not the case for so many other Kenyans,” she says when asked if she can identify with the story from a personal experience.
“My first draft sounded very South African because those are the people I was listening to when all this was happening. It was later that I changed the voices to sound more Kenyan after I realised that we speak different and have different mannerisms,” she says. “I wouldn’t want the tribal and class narrative to divide Kenyans as we approach the 2022 elections. That is part of what the novel is trying to preach; the dangers of political intolerance as mostly fueled by politicians,” Wanjiru concludes.