Her husband was not at home, so she ran with her three children to a nearby police station, where people were taking refuge. The next day, the police went to her home, where they found her's husband's remains. "His arms and legs were chopped off and they'd gutted him," Pauline said, looking directly at me, her face still. "They'd gouged out his eyes with pangas." Pauline and her children lived in a tent at the police station for close to a year after that.
Another woman, Esther, had a mirror-image account. When Kibaki's win was announced, she and her son went outside to celebrate with their neighbors in Gitathuru, a majority-Kikuyu stretch in Mathare. Her son had worked for the campaign of a local man running for parliament on Kibaki's ticket. That night, a gang of Luos came into Gitathuru. They'd cut eye-slits into plastic sacks and put them over their heads so they couldn't be identified. They held sticks and spears fashioned from the homes they'd dismantled in their rampage. They demanded to see her son. When he appeared, they began beating him. He told her to run. Her son later died from his injuries. Esther couldn't return to her home for months, and when she did she found squatters in it.
You would think 2007 would have spoiled these people on Kenyan politics. Amazingly, it hasn't. Almost everyone I spoke with in Mathare who suffered through the last election is looking forward to voting in this one. They believe their candidates will change their lives and the life of the country. "Because he loves peace, and he hates tribalism," answered one woman when I asked why she planned to vote for Odinga, who this time around is running against Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy prime minister (and a Kikuyu). Esther, who will vote for Kenyatta, said almost exactly the same thing of him. Only one man I spoke with, whose house was burned down after the election, expressed skepticism. He'll vote, he said, but it won't make a difference who's in office. He uttered a saying in his native Luo tongue: "Throw water on dry crap, and it starts smelling again."
* * *
With the election less than a week away, a lot of water is being thrown on a lot of dry crap. It's estimated that by March 4, Odinga and Kenyatta will have spent at least $100 million each on their campaigns, including $110,000 per day on helicopters, in which the candidates traverse the country, going from rally to rally. Before making speeches, they hand out cash to voters by the handful. Kenya has no campaign finance restrictions, or at least none that are enforced -- the candidates can and do take money from whoever is willing to give it, here and abroad -- and the lucre trickles down to every county and ward.
Like the rest of Nairobi's slums (where roughly two million people, or half the city's population, live) Mathare is lousy with vote-buying. Impromptu gatherings for candidates are held, it seems, by the hour, where the unemployed line up to collect handouts. Every free surface is papered, every roadway shadowed by campaign posters, banners, and placards with presumptuous slogans. From her perch on a giant billboard on Juja Road, which borders Mathare, the Pentecostal preacher Margaret Wanjiru, running for Nairobi senator, assures onlookers: "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice." (When Wanjiru ran for parliament here five years ago -- after a life of witchcraft, and before she was born again, as she tearfully reminded crowds -- a man claiming to be the father of her child emerged; she suggested to her followers that they kill him.) On Mau Mau Road, an unpaved thoroughfare that cuts through Mathare, a billboard advertising a trio of beaming aspirants from The National Alliance, Kenyatta's party, proclaims "...it is decided!" as though there were no need to bother to vote. And perhaps there isn't. Two of the candidates on the billboard, Ferdinand Waititu, who is running for Nairobi governor, and Mike Sonko, running for senator against Wanjiru, have been brought up on criminal charges. (The third is a self-styled anti-corruption crusader).
The best campaign art belongs to Sonko. A former street kid, he's wildly popular in areas like Mathare, where he typifies up-from-the-bottom success. He's mastered late-period African-American populist aesthetics. A calendar I have hanging in the living room shows Sonko reading to children while wearing a matching green New York Yankees cap and t-shirt, shades, and gold necklaces. Also pictured on the calendar are stacks of cash and a white stretch Hummer. "The Darling of the Youth," it reads. His poster for Nairobi's upscale neighborhoods shows a more professional Sonko, in white and black pinstripe suit and sequined trilby hat, next to the phrase "Man of the People." And for poorer areas he has a poster series that shows him in an array of day-glow suits with matching knock-off Ray-Ban Wayfarers, the American flag reflected in the lenses. In 2011, the Kenyan security minister identified Sonko (real name: Gideon Mbuvi) as one of the country's biggest drug-traffickers, the same year the Obama administration froze the assets of Harun "Boss" Mwau, who is likely to win a Senate seat next week in Makueni, in eastern Kenya, after determining that he is one of the biggest drug-traffickers in Africa. Running for the National Assembly in Nairobi, meanwhile, is Kamlesh Pattni, repeatedly tried and jailed for defrauding Kenya of hundreds of millions of dollars (in his defense, he claims to have done so with the help of the government), before becoming a televangelist. Then, of course, there is Uhuru Kenyatta, who is indicted by the ICC. Not that these allegations bother their fans. There are Kenyans voting for Kenyatta precisely because of the indictment. And when Sonko, whom Kenyatta deploys at rallies like an American presidential candidate would a rock star, was detained by police last year, hundreds of supporters gathered to demand his release. They chanted "Sonko ni mwizi wetu!" ("Sonko is our thief!"). He is leading Wanjiru by double digits in polls.