Karibu Democracy


The African earth is crimson, the color of debt, of rust

And people queue for days and miles, covered in the dust.


Auntie with a grandkid, sarong-ed to one hip,

Sister with an infant, sucking on the tit,

Noisy boys hide threats behind a smile and some schtick,

Mzee staring, standing noble, held up with his stick.

Patient in the sun, laughing in the rain.

Waiting to be counted.

Half of them in vain.


All your rights come down to this––

one tick, one X, a smudge of ink

You cannot wipe it off, I think. 

No one sees you when you vote

No one tells you how to stroke

The ballot, it is yours alone

Yet equal to each other;

You slip it folded through the slot, 

Together with your brothers.


Inside the austere plastic box 

The papers burst out through the tops.

Votes pile like sand in dunes 

Slosh and wash about in waves,

Glaciate like flakes of drifted snow:

The peoples’ will compressed into a single choice 

Distilled from a million strokes of genius.


While officers, factotums, rush about

Beset by fuss and bother, cries and shouts;

And white men with their cameras,

Talking, capture all the lies and doubts;

Observers telling one another how they’ll stop a rout.


Free and fair is what they want to see,

So free and fair it will be said to be:

Free of any risk to those who choose to stay;

Fairly obvious they will, despite the peoples’ say.

For winners have to keep away

When losers have the force to stay;

The people can but hope and pray, 

And scream and shout,

Then maybe later, fight it out.


Despair and anger displace trust

To stain a deeper shade of rust

The betrayed and bloodied crimson dust.


About this: Karibu is Swahili for “welcome” and “farewell”. I wrote this during the violent aftermath of the 2007 Kenya elections. 

 © Philip Knight 2018