A I C E P S
N O I T L EDI
KENYA FARAFINA is the Bambara word for Africa. Our goal is to Tell Our Own Stories by showcasing the best in contemporary African ideas. Submissions are welcome by email, in Microsoft Word format only, to firstname.lastname@example.org. We prefer short stories, exposĂŠs, interviews, reviews, cartoons and photographs. Submissions should be original and topical. Letters to the editor should be sent to email@example.com. To subscribe please use our website www.farafinamagazine.com or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. An SMS can also be sent to the number: +234 803 403 8974. Subscription (12 issues) including postage and packaging is N6,000.00 (within Nigeria) or $79.99 (all other countries). Visit www.farafinamagazine.com for the best of contemporary African ideas, online. The views expressed by contributors are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Farafina magazine. Farafina is a registered trademark of Kachifo Limited, and published under copyright ÂŠ2008 by Kachifo Limited, 8th floor, SIO Towers, 25 Boyle Street, Onikan, Lagos. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is strictly prohibited.
CONTENTS 10 14 16 18 21 23 24 26 28 30
NO LAUGHING MATTER
THE MULTIPLICATION OF VOTES
Alison Ojany Owuor
THE ROTTEN MILK OF OUR POLITICS
MARBLES AND BALLOT BOXES
THIS IS CLASS WAR, NOT ETHNIC CLEANSING
WHEN THE NAKUMATTS CLOSE
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
HOW KENYA EXPLODED IN MY HEART
GRUESOME FESTIVAL: WHY MOBS LAUGH AS THEY KILL
32 33 36 38 41 45
KENYAN OPPOSITION'S GREATEST CHALLENGE
A RUDE AWAKENING
UNSETTLED: HITTING WITHOUT TOUCHING
THE ROAD FROM NYERI TO NANYUKI
WHAT IS HIS NAME, THE CHILD WHOSE DEATH YOU SPOKE ABOUT, KIRAITHE?
47 48 49 52 54 57
RISE UP, CITIZENS
FINE. JUST FINE
LET KENYANS TAKE THE LEAD
age of the aturated cover -s ia ed m n e be the While there has little notice has been paid to , a y ainst the conflict in Ken civil society ag n a ny e K of n o i at justice and intense mobilis pport of peace, su n i d an ce n le vio those who are tives. Amongst a i t i in on i t ia l i tion are the reconc e Kenyan situa th e lv o s re o t wani Trust, working riters (CKW), K W n ya en K ed olours, all of Concern ya and AfricanC in using en K n io at er n e StoryMoja, G ions engaged ions/organisat ut it st in social e ar ch whi as a vehicle for ts r a e th d an ining literature ion in Kenya. Jo t ia l i nc co re d d are the mobilisation an aforementione efforts with the and PeaceNet r Peace (CCP) fo s n e z i it C d e s that go beyond Concern d organization e s ba ad o br o enyan society. Kenya, tw ng change in K ti a e cr in s rt a using the e Kenyan to support thes rs e ad re s it es fforts. Farafina invit sters in their e brothers and si
58 60 64
All the essays in this issue were compiled before the Kofi Annan-brokered peace accord that reconciled the two political parties in Kenya.
IN THE GARDEN OF OUR WORDS: WRITING KENYA
s a young girl growing up in Nairobi, I resented having to read Ngugi wa Thiong'o in school. I did not mind reading the books; I minded having to read the books: a distinction all readers will understand. Nationalism and principle are all very well, I thought, but it is a tad wearisome to have to keep contemplating the evil capitalist wabenzi and the endearingly outmatched but heroic Kenyan peasant, constantly, page after dutiful page. These were characters who collectively formed a throng in wa Thiong'o's books â€“ he wrote them by their multitudes. Crowds of them, beautifully presented in one guise or another, spouting suitably impenetrable (because it was literature) yet clearly understandable (because it was propaganda) parables at each other, littering the pages with their sly but worthy demonstrations of the evils of class inequality and the faults in Kenya's post-colonial complacency . Did these characters never stop to smell the flowers, or even step on them? Petals of blood were all very well, but what about the real ones used for romance and
guilt-abatement, the ones which lovers lay on? Had these characters no time in their lives for frivolous thoughts, satisfying sex, preferences in hair oil, or even stains in their underwear? Were they all so unremittingly dedicated to ponderous issues that even their noon-day dreaming had social significance? It is many years later now, in 2008, and all over this country the bloodstainhanded, machete-wielding, matchboxsporting fruits of the seeds that the evil wabenzi (who loll self-importantly about in the pages of wa Thiong'o's books) have been sowing all these years have finally ripened and are falling to the ground. As they fall, they make loud crackling noises, like the sound of dry twigs burning, or a small child's doll on fire. When they hit the soggy earth beneath them, they burst open and release more of their seeds, which immediately send out new greenly eager shoots and gnarled grasping roots clawing for purchase. They are feeding on blood, these plants. We are having quite a season of harvest, here in Kenya, and we can expect more bumper crops in the future as a result
of our relentless gardening: our carefully composed tending, and richly composted tilling, of hatred, ignorance, poverty and fear. I have been a student most of my life: a school of any description is my natural environment. I know all about learning, I thought; I've been engaged in it, one way or another, for over thirty years. On Thursday the 3rd of January 2008, at exactly 17:17 hours, according to my Toronto-speaking computer clock, my real education finally started. Binyavanga Wainaina wrote to some people what was really quite a confused and chaotic email message, full of imperative demands for pieces for publications based in Europe and in Nairobi, with urgent deadlines and bewildering protocols. There were calls for bios and strictures and timetables for what could go on blogs and what could not: it was as if a forest of strangely aggressive but wordy trees had suddenly sprung up around me. This was the first email I received from the Concerned Kenyan Writers collective, and I will treasure it for the rest of my life. Binyavanga Wainana asked us to write, and
I didn't even know half of who â€œusâ€? was. I still do not; I have never met most of these people, or spoken to them, still. Binyavanga exhorted us to watch our word count, get our bylines straight, lengthen and then shorten the scope of our texts, mind our grammar (were we not in possession of manuals on style?) And then he, quite without irony, asked us to...'say what was in our hearts.' That is a quote. It seemed to him that we should say what was in our hearts when our hearts were on fire, when our hearts were bubbling and burning with grief and with desolation: he thought that we should nevertheless sit down at our desks and offer our weeping souls to an uncaring muse as a sacrifice, as a bribe to allow our thoughts to take form. So we did. We dragged our pens through the ink of our country's undoing, and wrote, pausing to cry, to feed children, to wander around our homes in a daze, and to listen for police bullets outside, or for the sounds of machetes being sharpened; and then we sat down again to peer into the red mists of our grief and anger and to note down their monstrous forms and their laughing demons. We looked at what our eyes did not want to see nor our minds wish to comprehend, so that we could identify the flavour of its threat and the texture of its destruction; we held the taste of dead babies in our mouths, so that we could describe them, with love. Kenyan writers did what it is they had been born to do, plundering their own personal losses and looting their families' lives for languages, for images, for characters and for conversations; writing through fury and sadness and madness and fear. Blog posts, editorials, poems, opinion pieces, SMS texts, sub-heads, and even fiction: if a thing exists in short textual form, the Concerned Kenyan Writers have probably produced one of whatever it is by now. The other writers probably thought that they were writing for their country, they probably thought that their words were intended for 'out there'. They did not realise that all their outpouring was teaching me, that I was inhaling it in greedy life-giving gulps and grabs; that I looked at my computer screen every morning before I looked out of the window, because I liked the view better on-
screen. I have a wonderful garden here in Nairobi, yet, it is still unable to compete. These fellow Kenyan writers have been feeding me, sustaining me, shaming and humbling me and making me laugh out loud for over a month now: for forty-four days and some change. Every day, a new lesson, a new reason for respect. Every day, a new insight, a new human connection made. Every day, a sentence of such beauty that it stops me in my tracks; perfectly formed clauses, words which shimmer and dance, metaphors that glitter from within. I have been learning, every day, since the 3rd of January, 2008, that Kenya has produced writers whose voices, in their cacophony, their chorus, and their defiant contradictions, have swelled to a symphony of resistance. From Muthoni Garland's unwavering sense of character and moral authority to Simiyu Barasa's bracing wit, from Stephen Partington's acerbic yet strangely tender poems to Yvonne Owuor's soaring prose, from Andia Kisia's trenchant intelligence to Jackie Lebo's practical sensitivity and Shalini Gidoomal's beautifully calibrated sense of both language and justice: over 30 Kenyan writers have produced almost one hundred pieces of excellent, technically masterful, emotionally breathtaking work. After Daudi Were finished gathering us into a google group and sorting out all our computer problems, he then wrote one of the best pieces himself. Some of this work is featured in this issue of Farafina. These Kenyan writers have given, freely, to the world as well as to Kenya, another sort of bounty, another sort of harvest, another sort of lush and flowering gift, grown in Kenyan soil. These writers, also, are the fruits of Kenya's fortyfive years of becoming, of our sowing and weeding, of our tending and our shaping and our care. In these fields, though, we reap while rejoicing: we pluck and we pick with gladness and with thanksgiving. There are many kinds of gardens in Kenya now, many kinds of planting and pruning, many plants with beautiful seeds, and with strange and wondrous blooms. The pen is mightier than the sword, but a computer is much better. We write, so that the Kenyan soul may live.
S E U S S I BACK of FARAFINA MAGAZINE
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Petina Gappah is a Zimbabwean writer who lives in Geneva, Switzerland, where she works as a lawyer. Her short fiction has been published in several literary journals and anthologies. She is currently writing her first novel.
Dayo Forster has lived abroad since she left The Gambia for university at eighteen. Home is currently Nairobi. Her first novel is Reading the Ceiling.
All the essays and fiction pieces that appear in this issue of Farafina were received courtesy of Concerned Kenyan Writers, a coalition of Kenyan writers writing for peace and sanity in their country.
Andrew Njoroge is a photographer and art collector who lives in Nairobi and Amsterdam. He has been a photo-journalist and war correspondent for various media houses in Europe and Africa and is the director of AfricanColours. He is an photographic advisor for the GenerationKenya project.
Jerry Riley has over 30 years experience in photography. His work has appeared in Inuit Art Quarterly, Walrus, New York Times, and Photo District News, amongst others. He is the Creative Director for GenerationKenya.
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor lives in Kenya. She is a traveller, occasional corporate camel and has finally renewed her love affair with the entire African space after gallivanting into and squatting in foreign spaces for the past fifteen years.
Andia Kisia is a writer and a playwright.
Wambui Mwangi is a scholar and a writer. She lives in Toronto and in Nairobi, teaches at the University of Toronto, and blogs occasionally on ‘Diary of a Mad Kenyan Woman’. She is the Director of GenerationKenya.
Jackie Lebo is a writer and photographer based in Nairobi, Kenya. Her work has appeared in Kwani? and the Prague Marathon Art Book. She is currently working on a book on the Kenyan running phenomenon.
Marika Sherwood is the author of several books, including After Abolition: Britain and the Slave Trade Since 1807 and Britain, the Slave Trade and Slavery from 1562 to the 1880s. A new book, The Life and Times of Henry Sylvester Williams, is due out this year.
Peter Chepkong’a is a writer and photojournalist from Kenya with a keen interest and experience in creative nonfiction, poetry, photography and sports journalism.
Muthoni Garland is the author of the novella, Tracking the Scent of My Mother, published by Storymoja. She is based in Nairobi.
Gado is a Tanzania-born cartoonist who is resident in Nairobi, Kenya. His work is collected in two books, Democrazy! and The End of an Error and the Beginning of a New One.
Shalini Gidoomal is a Kenya-born journalist and writer. She has worked for a variety of UK national newspapers and magazines including the Independent, GQ and FHM. She is an Editorial Coordinator for GenerationKenya.
Doreen Baingana is the author of Tropical Fish: Stories out of Entebbe, which won a Commonwealth Prize in 2006. She considers Kenya one of her literary homes.
David Coltart is a shadow Justice Minister and Member of Parliament for Bulawayo South, Republic of Zimbabwe.
Tolu Ogunlesi is the author of a collection of poetry and a member of the editorial board of African Perspective. In 2007 he won a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg poetry prize. He lives in Lagos.
Muhonjia Khaminwa is a writer whose work has appeared in Transition, Journal of African Travel Writing, Abafazi and Kwani? She survived Hurricane Katrina and currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Keguro Macharia is completing his Ph.D. in the United States. He writes nonfiction prose, and has recently been published in Wasafiri. Simiyu Barasa is a film maker and writer.
Binyavanga Wainaina is the Founder Editor of Kwani?, a Kenyan literary magazine.
Judy Kibinge is a filmmaker, writer and artist. She lives in Nairobi. Also featuring the work of Chris Ganda, Stephen Derwent Partington, Ayo Bole, Betty Muragori, Rasna Warah, Vivek Mehta,
Martin Kimani has previously been a Teaching Fellow at the Joint Services Command and Staff College in Shrivenham, UK and an associate of the Conflict Security and Development Group of King’s College of the University of London, where he is a doctoral candidate.
Shailja Patel, Kalundi Serumaga, Alison Ojany Owuor and Robert Njuguna. Cover Photograph By Jerry Riley Cover Design By Akeem M. Ibrahim
Dear Farafina: I am inclined towards magazines that deal with finance, investment and topics of commercial value. But I like Farafina magazine. The topics that you cover, which are well researched and topical, are of intrinsic value to our society, Africa and the world at large. Well done. Elemi Bassey Nigeria Dear Farafina: Thank you for your smart and funny portrayal of the sugar mummy phenomena in your magazine. It clearly shows the level to which our moral values have sunk. When I read the “Sugar Mummy Needed” advert in the blog section of the magazine [From the Blogs, Issue 12, December 2007], I found it amusing at first. However, it is depressing to realise that men, for easy compensation, now indulge in this show of shame. This is a clear case of prostitution. Shame has indeed become a luxury. Kudos to Farafina [and Molara Wood] for highlighting this issue. John Nwabudike Australia Dear Farafina: I attended a lot of readings and participated in literary activities while I was in Abuja. When I moved from Abuja to Lagos with my family recently, I found it hard to locate good bookstores in the horde and chaos of this cosmopolitan city. When I finally discovered one that I was happy with, I stumbled on Farafina magazine and it was a delight. I have a few issues with the use of graphics in the magazine, and the wordiness of some of the writing, but on the whole Farafina magazine is a different and refreshing publication. So that's something good about Lagos! Oghogo Osagede Nigeria
Dear Farafina: I got a copy of the 13th edition of Farafina magazine. Although Chimamanda Adichie [guest editor for the issue] insists she wanted ‘to create a messy montage of sorts, inspired by those Nigerian Sunday newspapers in which the answers of ordinary people to a question, often a ridiculous question, are printed on a two page spread’, there were just too many essays, which got repetitive (and thus tiresome considering the theme, ‘America’ — of course everybody’s gonna write about the land of plenty that still manages to dash the tallest dreams) after a while. In spite of this, the issue does come together. Teju Cole’s conversation with a cab driver in New York is my favourite piece in the issue. Karen King’s piece falls flat but there are enough of other interesting bits and pieces to make up for it... like Ogaga Ifowodo’s ‘In Shock Jock Country’. Biodun Jeyifo goes on and on... a whole essay to say America is the best place for African academics? I would have been more interested to read little anecdotes about him ‘toasting’ some Hispanic chick in between lectures.... I mean, do you really go to America and spend all your time ‘blowing’ grammar? The design [of the magazine] is simplistic (though I'm still attracted to the title design for Ndidi Nwuneli’s ‘A Common Burden’...cool!), but it works for readers who just want to get on with it and can’t handle complex visual gymnastics. The content is robust with about 30 contributors; Gado’s cartoons were witty and mature and the magazine could have done with a few more interludes like his to break the monotony of all those ‘centrespread’ essays. Perhaps Ms. Adichie should have asked the contributors to tell unusual stories about their experiences in America; if she had, instead of asking for ‘essays’, it might have turned out a more lurid exposé and less of a predictable scrapbook. But then, that's exactly what she wanted... ain’t it? Farafina's formula for engaging independent editors on set themes for different editions seems to be settling down handsomely... Ayo Arigbabu Via email Dear Farafina: Where have you been? I just started reading the latest issue [Farafina 13, guest edited by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie], and though I have only read about five of the essays so far, they have helped bring me closer to myself. We as human beings need to “know thyself” really well. Love you, love your culture, love Nigeria, love Africa. Thanks Farafina! Babajide Mustapha Via Facebook
Letters to the editor should be sent by email with the writer’s full name and address to email@example.com. All other queries should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The magazine reserves the right to edit submissions, which may be published or otherwise used in any medium. All submissions become the property of Farafina.
Republic of Kenya/Jamhuri y Kenya SUDAN
ETHIOPIA Lake Turkana
Marsabit GR EA TR IFT
VA LL EY
Eldoret Mount Meru Kenya Kisumu Nakuru HIGHLANDS
NAIROBI SE RE NG
ET IP LA IN
Capital: Nairobi Population: 30,339,770 Location: Eastern Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean, between Somalia and Tanzania Tribes: Kikuyu 22%, Luhya 14%, Luo 13%, Kalenjin 12%, Kamba 11%, Kisii 6%, Meru 6%, other African 15%, non-African (Asian, European, and Arab) 1%
Languages: English (official), Kiswahili (official), numerous indigenous languages Religions: Protestant 45%, Roman Catholic 33%, Muslim 10%, indigenous beliefs 10%, other 2%
By Betty Muragori
I I am well versed in the idiom of tribe, Having acquired the script long ago, from my family, friends, schools, From my whole existence as a Kenyan really. And I speak it with fluent authority. There may be times when I look different, Special even, as if the language of tribe were beyond my understanding. After all, I can cite my marriage, my children, my friends, But that is a false impression, I am like everyone else. II This uncomfortable truth led me on a journey. I wanted to know, What is this thing called tribe, really? That has us all by the neck? What does it look like? How does it feel? How do people live with it? Laughing one moment with their tribal protagonist, And the next, looking at each other across a wide abyss, A yawning space, unbridgeable by the smiles of former friends, Now bereft of all good intentions? III I wonder, If tribe were a taste, A sound, A feeling, A thing alive, How would it be? My experience of tribe is all sharp acid on the tongue, Clanging metallic noises, A rising tide of ill will, A watchful expectation of ugly tribe rearing its head, Reaching out to grab a cake, for itself, To eat, quickly, greedily! Tribe is grating loudly in my ears, It must be heard! It has me believing it is natural, inevitable like the heavens. IV Tribe makes me act secretly, I hide myself in full public view. I read the newspapers, Watch behind the news, Scan the streets, Count the members of the church council, On and on. I tally the number of times my tribe emerges. When the appearance is favourable, I smile. V In my mind, I add up all mounting disadvantage, To store in my prized bag of tribal grievance, I am so expert at computation, I am no longer conscious of what I do. You see, I am victim, Innocent, But for the tribal designs of others. VI The truth is revealed in broiling ethnic conclave, Here, secrets of the heart are safe, I bring my hush-hush bliss to the fore, To bemoan with relish my miserly pickings, Condemn with glee the crumbs I feed on, While others hog the national cake.
By Judy Kibinge
nce upon a time, three university pals in their early twenties formed a comedic trio at the height of President Daniel arap Moi's dictatorial reign. Moi ruled supreme, to the extent that to imagine his demise was declared a crime punishable by death. Political enemies disappeared, or were arrested in the middle of the night and taken to torture chambers. No one voiced their real feelings in public. You never knew who might be listening. Phones were bugged and conspicuous informants sat in on university lectures, trying to blend in. Even after the first democratic elections in 1997, Moi still ruled over a cowed nation. It is therefore remarkable that it was against this backdrop of fear that Redykyulass was formed. Watching these three campus kids – Walter Mongare, John Kiarie aka KJ and Tony Njuguna – staging skits that publicly ridiculed the dictator and his sycophantic government, was a new form of freedom in itself. A scary kind of comedy: a real-life David giving a real-life Goliath a raspberry. Their rib-splitting act, operating under the name of Redykyulass, may have had audiences doubled up in tears of laughter, but behind the laughter grew reverence: cutting-edge as their humor was, these boys were either brave or suicidal. Their best-loved skit depicted President Daniel arap Moi, a rather stern, conservative old man (played by Walter) arriving through the cheering audience (transformed into exultant crowds at a typically African political rally) carried shoulder-high by
sweating aides. The 74-year-old 'president' would then break into a lewd, hip-thrusting dance routine joined by an unlikely dance partner – his aide-de-camp. The routine floored the crowd every time. This wasn't just fresh; it was political satire at its funniest, most fearless and most ridiculous. The fame of Redykyulass spread through the land like wildfire. Bars would come to a standstill after the news when their show came on, parodying the news we had just watched. And as we laughed, increasingly less fearfully, their comedy became more sophisticated and satirical. His Excellency, the President Daniel arap Moi, philosophizing and contemplating life by a lake; playing a piano during one of his dance trysts; displaying his love for the greatest defender in his cabinet, Kamotho (they would be shown running in slow motion towards each other, president and sycophant, and singing: “The greatest love of all is happening to me…”). Redykyulass had unwittingly shown that the Emperor had no clothes and in a powerful way contributed to the psyche of a nation hungry for change. But, come democracy, what was Redykyulass to do next? 2002 found Kenya struggling with transition. Mwai Kibaki had ridden to power on the shoulders of an alliance of oppositionists, the Rainbow Alliance coalition. Kenya, which had stood united by the euphoria of throwing out Old Man Moi, had later fallen apart, and with that fracturing of goodwill all semblance of trust flew out the window. Over the first five-year term, the
No Laughing Matter
ESSAY I Judi Kibinge
country's economy had grown stronger, but in a way that was beneficial only to Kenya's growing middle class. As costs for basic commodities rose, the poor felt more disenfranchised. In government, corruption and grand theft became more insidious, and leaders more selfish. MPs continually passed bills to award themselves greater increments and were soon the highest paid Members of Parliament on the continent. Traffic soon clogged Nairobi's center as extra capital was converted into cars. Shopping malls expanded triumphantly. As stomachs across the nation either protruded or rumbled with hunger, the divide between the rich and poor grew wider. And the hiss of “they only” began to rise from the dust. “They” are the problem, growled the discontented youth, as they realized that voting Moi out did not mean that his cronies had left the building. Indeed, Kibaki himself had once been Moi's Minister of Finance and John Michuki, his closest cabinet aide, had been part of the colonial government. Poor and struggling Kenyans realized that changing the government had not been a leap onto new ground, that the incumbent president's rallying cry of kazi iendelee (let work continue) was mocked by the opposition cry of kazi ianze (let work begin). The members of Redykyulass (still youthful, with the youngest member, KJ, at just 27 years of age) were by now all highly politicized beings who recognized that although the youth were the country's outstanding majority, disillusionment in their own power had left them too lackluster to give politics serious thought. Like many apathetic youth around the world, their futures looked bleak to them. However, riding the crest of a wave on entertainment that appealed to the youth, Redykyulass recognized that with liberalization and democratization also came a new authority for the entertainment industry. Walter, who had once played Moi, now had an alter ego named Nyambane, who was co-host of the country's most popular breakfast show and arguably Kenya's best loved comedian. Besides that, he managed the trio's musical band. Tony was now an advertising professional who churned out successful advertising campaigns for the country's largest advertising agency. KJ, a cartoonist, was also perfecting his political stance as a much sought-after MC for numerous company functions. On top of these individual achievements, the trio was booked solid as Redykyulass on any given week in the year. Their weekly show “Red Korner” was one of the highest-rated TV shows in
the land. Their comedy remained bold and irreverent, and as always there were no sacred cows. The new president's highlystrung, controversial first lady, played by KJ, was a favorite, and they famously recreated her night-time storming of the Nation newspapers, where she slapped a reporter and screamed at the cameras for hours, waving the offending newspaper article. The article had been headlined by the Nation's rival paper, The Standard, something the First Lady failed to understand. Soon after, the trio's manager received a call from the serving Minister of Security, Chris Murungaro, asking them to lay off. They didn't. Their popularity soared. And, in the midst of their backbreaking schedule and steady appeal, they came up with an ambitious plan to transform Kenya's political landscape. In the early 80s there were no Kenyan youth icons. A youth survey done for the advertising agency McCann Erickson in 1994 revealed that the only youth icons were Jesus Christ, mum, and occasionally, internationally celebrated Africans like Nelson Mandela and Kenya's most famous runner, Kipchpoge Keino. Back then, local artists were despised by the youth who considered them Old School. But by the late 1990s, thanks mainly to the liberalization of the airwaves and the birth of Kenyan hip hop, the power of the Kenyan Celebrity was stealthily growing. Redykyulass had indeed grasped an important insight: that the only thing that seemed to truly move and motivate the youth was music. On the radio, songs of revolution and disenfranchisement blared. Sisi wa maghetto…they of the ghetto were speaking out loud to a growing constituency. Music was an escape from despair, from joblessness, and it was serving to unite them and their fans into a hip hop nation unrecognized by an aged, dismissive authority. In the midst of this and the run-off to the 2007 elections, Redkyulass, in conjunction with the IED (Institute of Education & Democracy) and Tru Blak Entertainment's Kevin Ombajo, kicked off a campaign to get the youth to vote. Their rallying slogan was: Vijana Tugutuke, ni masaa yetu. Youth, arise, it's our time. First, they had to convince the celebrities to join their cause. Their argument was persuasive. If (they reasoned with the artists) a younger government was in place, then youth issues like music piracy, joblessness and support for the arts would be prioritized. It was a compelling strategy. The artists listened and jumped on board, and the countrywide concerts began. The mechanics were simple. Come to the concert grounds with a form of ID, get a voter's card on the spot, and once in, be entertained by a dazzling array of music and TV stars all telling them that their voter's cards were the first step in the journey to reclaim control of their lives. They needed to choose their leaders wisely based on their youth agendas. Artist after artist reinforced the message that they needed to vote. For over a year Redykyulass, in collaboration the ECK and the Institute for Education and Democracy, systematically toured the country, staging concerts. Moving trucks of stage equipment, technical crew and artists was no mean feat, but Big Kev and his extremely young team, many in their early twenties, made it look easy. So organized were they that many sections of the media refused to believe that they were not receiving massive financial backing from the Old Guard. As a result, little news of the concerts trickled into the mainstream press. Despite that, crowds in farflung areas, who previously could not have dreamed of seeing their
No Laughing Matter
ESSAY I Judi Kibinge
heroes and heroines up close, read the leaflets, and listened to the vans with loudspeakers that circled their markets and towns reading out a dazzling list of performers. The youth heard, and turned up in tens of thousands for the concerts. In Meru, a field of fans sung along to Amani and her girls; Mighty King Kong, Kenya's best known artiste, swung his crippled legs this way and that – a meter above the ground – as he hopped to the music on his long poles; the group Kinyana, muscle-bound and furious in tight white T-shirts, making all the girls scream, pounded out their hardcore ghetto lyrics that lambasted the government; Jua Kali with his seductively raspy voice rapped about the frustrations of being a youth; and Mike Rua, Kenya's most famous guitar player, had audiences cracking up with his cheeky lyrics. In Isiolo, the imams, furious that music was being played so close to prayer time, encouraged youth to stone the performers. But on they pressed…Nakuru, Lamu, Kisumu…everywhere, the response and
the crowd. The jeers forced them to dance. Finally, powerful men dancing to the tune of the young. The last performance of this nationwide voter's registration drive was a mammoth concert attended by over 100,000 people, and it was held at Uhuru Park in the center of Nairobi. Samuel Kivuitu, the eccentric and often outrageously rude white-haired chairman of the electoral commission, famous for his irreverently rude statements, referred to as Kivuituisms, was there, and he climbed the stage to announce to the crowd that for the first time in the history of Kenya, over 50% of all registered voters were under 35 years of age. He asked them never again to claim that they had no real power. It was now in their hands. The government, panicking, began a garbled series of campaign messages targeted at the 18 – 30 year olds. Stanley Githunguri, a Kikuyu man of over seventy years, erected a huge billboard in his Kiambaa constituency and on it, in a see-through attempt to engage with his younger
Redykyulass had indeed grasped an important insight: that the only thing that seemed to truly move and motivate the youth was music. On the radio, songs of revolution and disenfranchisement blared. Sisi wa maghetto… attendance was overwhelming. And, with every town and every concert, Redykyulass and Big Kevv pounded their message out: Vijana, Gutuka! Youth Arise! Your time has come! Vote! Everywhere they visited, Tony told this story to a wide-eyed, wideeared youth: “I'm here cos I'm confused. I was told I’m a future leader of tomorrow. I studied, was given school fees. And told again that I was the future leader, one with strength. I went on and studied more…got to university. And there, they told me I am a bright future leader of tomorrow. I went on – I married, got a wife. Then had a child. I was still told I am a bright young future leader of…? They said I was the future leader of tomorrow. Should we accept this story or leave it? Shall we abandon this story? (Crowd roars) “What we are saying is…Leaders are youth!” (Crowd roars louder) “More fire!” The campaign gained momentum and the voter's registration count swelled for months after each concert. In Nakuru, 30,000 attended the concert, and voter registrations clocked an all-time high months after. Here and elsewhere, the electoral commission attributed the surges in registration directly to the concerts. It is not surprising that the boys from Redykyulass and their partners were soon receiving offers running into small fortunes to allow partisan MPs and politicians to jump on their bandwagon, or rather up onto their traveling stage. Somehow, they held firm. They had one rule for any politician, no matter how big or influential, who tried to get onto the stage to address the thousands of sought-after youth votes gathered around the stage: “If you get on this stage, you don't talk. We're tired of your talk. You dance”. The official leader of the opposition and the government spokesman found that to be true when they attempted to address
constituency, changed his name to the hip, street version of Stanley, Stano. Kamlesh Patni, the Hindu fraudster turned Christian pastor, best known for masterminding the biggest economic swindle in the history of Kenya in 1992, had thrown himself into the race with yet another huge billboard, displaying the youngish phrase: “Mimi ni moja wenu”. I'm one of you. But the youth weren't having any of it. They had been listening to a different tune, a danceable tune, even! The government of old men trying to talk young must have sounded strangled to their ears. By the week of elections, 70% of all registered voters were the youth, reflecting the true demographics of Kenya for the very first time. To fully understand what a revolution this was, it is important to know that in the 2002 general election, of a total of 17 million eligible voters, only 11.2 million registered. And of those, only 6 million voted. Of this 6 million, just 7% were the youth. A predictable race against a government that had transformed Kenya's dull economy into a bright and hopeful one was now suddenly too close to call. And the country was highly charged. All polls had predicted a very close race, but Raila, choice of a previously disenfranchised youth population, was always in the lead. The trio of comedians was no longer a laughing matter. To separate their comedy from their political messages, they stopped all comedy and began to preach a message of awakening. No longer were Redykyulass to be seen jesting or satirizing politics. They had become the force behind a much-underestimated wind of change, setting the scene for the greatest paradigm shift ever experienced in Kenya's political scene since independence in 1963. KJ, one of the trio, declared a stand to run against an older but much respected matriarch, Beth Mugo, in a hotly contested Nairobi seat. His election race typified what was happening around the country. Younger, politically inexperienced citizens were running
No Laughing Matter
ESSAY I Judi Kibinge
against older, more established, richer ones. And looking like they could win. On December 30, 2007, the election results were announced. KJ was not amongst the winners. But he and all youth like him had created a change in perception. Getting my hair braided in a Luoowned hairdressing salon, I witnessed the excitement as his lead increased over Beth's. Hesitant in English, the young Luo braiders, in rapid-fire Sheng, told me how excited they were that he, a nonLuo, was, for that brief moment, ahead in the polls. His ethnicity did not come into question. “You know,” they said, “when KJ gets in, he will be the youngest Member of Parliament.” But, all at once the excitement died, as Mwai Kibaki was declared winner. The Establishment had won, amidst cries of foul play and allegations from local and international observers. The country began to burn. By all accounts, most instigators of the post-election violence were youth. Furious and feeling swindled, they transformed from the hopeful leaders of today they were certain they were going to be, into a mass ripe for revolt. Churches burnt. Women and children were massacred in a cyclone of violence that was not so much a statement of ethnic hatred but more a revolt against betrayal that quickly morphed into ethnic hatred. The Kikuyu, the ethnic group which Kibaki is from, paid the heaviest price, shouldering much of the backlash from every corner of the country. The civilian revolt against betrayal left virtually all of Kenya smoking and scarred. The chaos that was visited on Nairobi and the country at large found many things going on. It found Raila, the fiery ODM opposition leader with countrywide youth support, and Mwai Kibaki, the hastily sworn-in President of Kenya, unable to sit at a table and put the fire out. It found Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, smoldering; its shops, restaurants and roadside vegetable stalls charred, lifetimes of friendship bludgeoned, neighbors turned to eternal foes. It found thousands of citizens of Kenya starving, in makeshift refugee camps of the kind we have become accustomed to on news footage taken in neighboring conflictstricken countries. But in a suburb of Nairobi, off Ngong road, at the Tru Blak Entertainment offices, it also found the boys from Redykyulass and their partner Big Kevv acting as a pivot point for a group of young entertainers, activists, journalists, news anchors, television hosts and more. Barely had they taken a breather from the pre-election frenzy before spinning around to respond to the outburst of violence that had turned thousands of Kenyans into refugees. Reactivating the Jaza Lorry (Fill the Truck) campaign created by themselves in 2005 to cope with the famine in Kenya was, they ruled, the quickest way they could respond. (Jaza Lorry, back then, succeeded in feeding 4000 people for an entire month, easing somewhat the humanitarian crisis in Northern Kenya.) Just a few days after the violence erupted, the compound off Ngong road was already filling with bags of food and clothing for the thousands of internally displaced people: people who
just a few days before had spent hours queuing to vote, but now were spending hours each day queuing for food aid. And the humanitarian actions of this group of young Kenyans went largely unnoticed by Kenya and the world. They were working on faith and a zero budget. Without funding, this brave initiative could have at anytime ground to a halt, but that demoralizing thought did not deter their efforts. Artists streamed in on foot, by public transport, in borrowed cars, to contribute the one thing they each had to give: their talent. But the cameras were all trained on the Serena Hotel, where peace talks were taking place underneath the whirr of electric air conditioners. Sometime during the early days of the violence, while sitting in a room in the Tru Blak compound that was packed with Kenyan celebrities brainstorming on how to find a way to feed the hungry and settle the displaced, a German TV crew cornered a broody Big Kevv and asked for his final word. What he said, in short, was this: “In a two-year civic education plan we told the youth that their vote would make a difference. What do we tell them now? This election has been the biggest blow to democratic elections, ever.” Glancing across the room to where the members of Redykyulass were busy organizing the dispatch of humanitarian aid to the refugee camps, he paused, as if in thought. Then he stared full into the cameras, and said: “But the struggle continues.”
By Alison Ojany Owuor
nother sleepless night since December 30th, 2007. The horrifying denouement of Kenyaâ€™s national elections. Woken by blurred figures howling in colourful dreams of unrest. The rain and thunder of remembered speeches pounds my thumping
heart. It is three a.m. A ginger tomcat jumps on my bed, strutting with feral grace. He sits on my chest and purrs. He oozes calm. I hold him tight; I imagine the rhythmic sound of his breathing will bring peace. Animals sense fear; some, like these, try to appease it. Soon I can breathe. My mobile phone has been quiet. It is a cheap one, the sort given away for promotions. I like it; it belongs to a family of resilient phones. No text message. A disturbing sort of absence in a night like this. But then a sister rushes into the room. Hiccupping. She has received an SMS. It says the Pentagon members, the opposition have all been arrested, that the police are on the prowl for those who have escaped. Nausea. There will be retribution. Deathâ€™s extended pronouncement on my country, Kenya. The unexpected expected. There is a point when disbelief gives way to surreality of acceptance. In the morning, an SMS purportedly taken from the NSIS had been circulating. Its message sounds ridiculous, as if it should be for a dilapidated ex-Soviet republic where the presidents rename the days of the week after their children and boil
The Multiplication of Votes
ESSAY I Alison Ojany Owuor
their enemies. But, so far, the absurd script had been adhered to: declare victory for the incumbent; ring the announcement hall with paramilitary men; evict the media houses and international observers; take control of the national broadcaster; swear in declared president; arrest opposition; declare state of emergency. The cat purrs. I sob. This is my country. Daybreak. Three hours later. News. That last SMS was a rumour. It has been refuted. Small shift in spirit, a feeling like relief. Almost. Peculiar unease. These chants of ethnic hatred, the incantation of division that is incoherent. Genocidal accusations are already crisscrossing the land. Dante’s hell on a three-month tourism visa to Kenya. But for the past five years, few spoke when they saw the civil service begin to be dominated by GEMA people, or when transcontinental road arteries became murram tracks because they passed through provinces that had nothing to do with the ethnicity of the government of the day, beyond being inhabited by to-beuseful-later voters. Sins of the fathers. Must we inherit their pathologies too? Carry out their dead wars? They have lived, their bellies rotund, chins resting on thick necks, sitting back-left in large petrol guzzlers on their way to board private planes. In our hands they have left their slimy feuds. Fight, they whisper. Here are machetes, grenades and guns. This is how to behead your friend. It is for the good of the whole. And then they fly away. The reverence of opportunism couched in the convenient tag of ‘ethnic hatred’. Convenient because it means that one set of people can imagine themselves under siege and therefore be responsible for upholding despotism, justifying veniality and supporting geriatrics dancing on the mass graves of atavism with crude pomp and circumstance. And then, there is that annoying little man who is sadly, again, official spokesman of facetious excuses made of whiny-voiced conceit. In 2007, many of us had come of age, many of us voted for the first time. Waited on long, winding, peaceful lines, a little bemused when we folded our ballot papers. What does all this mean? We had witnessed the 2002 event. Saw what hope could do, what change promised. And we were impatient to be a part of this grandness. 2007. This is the election in which the youth who have come of age will have the greatest say. It was predicted. We cast our vote, experimenting with a hope capable of accommodating the huge dreams in our hearts, especially the ones that confirm our unitary identity, Kenya for Kenyans. We rejoiced when we noticed the toppling of the entrenched gang. Is this what it means? God-blessed Kenya. God has been invoked a great deal in and for this election: evangelists praying, priests tossing incense, imams chanting, laibon invoking, the ECK chairman (a man I used to revere) casting Satan out. Lessons in exorcism.
But after the final counting, the miraculous multiplication of votes. The ominous, diffused adversary roams, shopping for integrity, dignity; and moral sensibility roams only in individual souls. This night we tallied our dead: over 300. The official figures. Tomorrow night, children and women will be burned to death in a church. Blood on the streets. Choice is not an option when the miracle is for sale. Kenyans pray a lot. They also melt before the fire of conflict, and call for peace. But they skid before the idea of justice, avoiding it because it has a way of ensuring that the dead are exhumed. They would much prefer others, ‘the next generation’, inherit their fortyyear-old ghosts. The same generation they tell: ‘You are the future of Kenya.’ What they have not told us is that we may be dead before that future comes. Sins of the father. This afternoon when my phone beeps I receive an SMS message in praise of the man who was sworn in as president. Proof of anointing. It also contains vile words for the opposition leader. What do they call him, that beast from the west? I guess by default that includes me. We share three languages, he and I. Barren speeches. “Thank you all for voting me in.” How to violate a new generation with words. The economist. He used to be my hero, used to make me proud of being Kenyan. That was before he made me understand that under his plan, because of the nature of my last name, I am an ethnic statistic susceptible to violence, unworthy of making decisions about the destiny of my country and therefore unqualified for employment reserved for his special 90%. And because I am invisible to him, there is no realm where a simple dialogue with my small hopes for Kenya can take place. SMS to a Kenyan God: Isn’t it in Dante’s inferno where there is a vile hell reserved for those who steal the dreams of children? I can hope. Can’t I?
By Chris Ganda
n December 27, 2007, citizen-voters camped outside polling stations with gleaming eyes, set faces and a determination to choose. The euphoria was tangible; a feeling that one's choice meant something for the greater good of the country. That one could choose how one's country could be governed, its dreams managed, its hopes accounted for. News of the world blaring out of TV speakers. We are the three minute sound bites that niftily side-step the socio-cultural complexities that are the backdrop for the rage, squashed into mythological boxes: traditional African atavism perpetuated by two petty African tribal warlords. The foreign news merchants are almost forgiven. How else can strangers make sense of the seething howls overcoming this country? January 11, 2008.
ESSAY I Chris Ganda
Most citizen-voters want to be shaken awake from bad dreams in a long, sad sleep. Sorrow at the farce that the wonder of choice was turned into; revulsion at the terror of reaction, the tentative caution with which we now approach one another. Fear of the absence of melodies that made the music of this land, made it home; fear that it will never return. Fear that matatu men will never play their rude music again or toot horns that have been geared to sound like the bleating of goats. An exceedingly tolerant people are disintegrating. Some have entered into pacts with a resident evil, tearing off its shackles, grabbing pangas and hacking neighbours to small pieces. It is what happens when hope dies. Will the nation survive its lunacy? Probably. It has gone through other seasons of insanity and at the last moment stepped away from the final fall. Will it find its naïve faith in itself again? Doubtful. Something of the national spirit died on December 30, 2007. The decline might have started with the sound of the Electoral Commission of Kenya's chairman bleating at asides and bon mots, at chaotic press conferences where, even then, we sensed that something terrible was unfolding out of our reach. The sound of Samuel Kivuitu's words was the sound of the pedestal on which we had placed him, crumbling. There was a point when the citizen-voters might have exonerated Kivuiti. It is not that we do not understand that he had been sent unpatriotic vipers as commissioners to work with. It is not that we do not know that from the start he had been set up to fail. It is certainly not the fact that we were unable to decipher his coded distress signals. It is not that when he crumbled, he crumbled spectacularly: we recognized the fact that he was human. That happens. It is simply this: he did not have faith in us, the citizen-voters of Kenya. He lost faith is us before we lost faith in him. He disbelieved our “NO” even when James Orengo shouted it out. He did not hear the part of the “NO” that was meant for him. He forgot to see our eyes on him. What if he had told us with his usual bluntness on December 28 that the hounds of hell were baying at his heels? Does he really believe we would not have acted? We cannot excuse him for forgetting that in those few days in December he was the symbol of the soul of the nation; or for shrugging off the nation's edifices, which included our dreams that were leaning so heavily on him. Maybe this bad dream is our fault. We should have known better than to make a man our country, even if it was just for a few hours. We should have remembered that the death of heroes is fatal to a nation's being – a wound in its fantastical dreams about itself from which, to recover, it must hunt for a transcendent yearning. That is possible only after the grief, the mourning for the national dead. He has taught us not to believe in another human being, ever again, for salvation. By his words, he has shown us how rapidly a vibrant nation can deteriorate. That act of robbery of which he partook was a profound shattering of the tenuous chord that bound this nation. New ghosts are born. That confirmation of contempt in a voice that slurs, “Thank
you for voting for me”, in a national ceremony attended by immediate relatives and close friends and performed for the media. Memo to Government: It was then that the heart of this nation broke. Droves of zealous conciliators, like specialist surgeons, have emerged from the woodwork with myriad techniques on how to restore the dying land. Noble gestures. Resuscitation is an act of charity. However, the patient must have the will to live. But like badly poisoned lungs, positions are hardening; two protagonists shadow-box with the fate of millions. Some bewildered citizens meet to anatomise and make meaning out of the situation; others, having waited for any one of the two men to display the wisdom to shout No! to the creep of the country towards the brink, have embraced cynicism, and gone to Eastleigh to figure out the price difference between an AK-47 and an Uzi. Frantic messages arrive. Besieged citizens calling: Help! We are starving, being killed, homeless, lost. We are lost. We do not recognise this place that we now find ourselves. Help. Messages also pop up on our cell phones: Today (yesterday's said) the mob from the mountain met and have delivered a directive to its special militia to hunt, hound and murder the middle and upper classes of the people from the lake. No, we do not recognise this place in which we now find ourselves. Some citizen-voters are saying it is 1969 again. Or 1975. Or 1991. Memo to Government: There is a point when the perpetually disenfranchised will break, will march with bloodlust on their souls. There is a point in time when restless ghosts must move. What do you intend to do about it? January 11, 2008. Not even a conversation among men is given room. Is there no room in this country for more than two men? The country spirals towards uncertainty. A few citizen-voters build small islands of refuge: feeding, bandaging, clothing and thinking. But the government dons a defiant face like a white-painted Noh mask, extending its limbs in stylized movements to music that sounds like that of caterwauling felines. Memo to Government: After the external fires have raged and gone, how will you douse the inner flames smouldering in our national hearts? Memo to Government: Do you give a damn?
Peace is costly but it is well worth its price. Kenyan Proverb
By Simiyu Barasa
Mao,” I remember asking my mom two years ago, and though I was hitting twenty-five, I couldn’t stop calling her the child’s equivalent of mommy in KiTaita, her ethnic tongue. “Mao, when we used to live in Zimmerman, there was a day you came and took me and Rozi (my sister) out of our double-decker bed and stacked it with UHT milk and packets of Unga maize flour as if it was a shelf. And for three weeks we never got out of the house.” Mom stopped cooking the chicken. Dad was already out, trying to assert his presence in the area where he had bought land and built his retirement home. He was somewhere out there using my name as a boxing glove with which to give head blows to his new neighbours. “My son…he has come for Christmas holidays from Nairobi. He is er…er…a writer.” That part he hated; he thought writing was my excuse for being lazy. “He was in parliament,” he would say, puffing himself up, “but went to writing for TV.” Mom. She told me the day I remembered was in 1982. There had been an attempted coup. They had to turn our bedroom into a store since no one could go out unless they were “waving their National Identity Cards, both hands raised in the air, feet dancing around the corpses littering the tarmac, and soldiers pointing guns at everyone ready to shoot.” I paused, looked into her teary eyes as she recounted the terror, shocked that for twenty-three years all I had visualized were the yellow and green-striped, brick-like packets of ultra-heat treated milk (whose slogan said The Long Lasting Milk) which denied me of the pleasure of sleeping on the lower bunk of the double-deck since my younger sister, the toughest since childhood, always wrestled me from the top bunker every time I tried to displace her.
In that moment, I remembered 1994. Multiparty politics was truly being watered with human blood in Kenya. I was then a pimple-infested teenager living in Kiambu, where my mother was a teacher and my father managed a Dairy Cooperative Society. One morning, my friend knocked on my door and asked that I follow him to Kirigiti Stadium. On getting there, we saw a scene straight out of Somalia: people were camped on the grounds with little igloos made of black polythene bags as their homes. They had been brought to the stadium in the night, victims of ethnic clashes in the Rift Valley. “They followed us to the Molo church where we had sought refuge, forced us into government lorries, and told us ‘Go back to Gikuyuland.’ The lorries dropped us here last night and zoomed off,” the victims told us. They were paying for the sins of being Gikuyu. They were lucky. Hundreds of them were being slaughtered in the Rift Valley as if someone, somewhere, was intent on opening a canned factory of human flesh. We were apprehensive. Would the Gikuyu revenge by kicking out all non-Gikuyus from Central Province? For the first time, I realized that my mom was a Taita from the Coast, and my dad a Luhya from Western Province. And we were living in Gikuyuland. Where would we run? That day, dad brought home many yellow and green-stripped, tetra-packed UHT milk, and we joined the long queues of sympathizers donating foodstuffs to the poor refugees. Two days later, someone in government thought the refugees were living too lavishly. In the dead of the night, we heard screams and gunshots from the stadium. The next morning, the refugees had vanished just as they had arrived, in the back of government trucks. So this is now. It is 2008, January. I am on a queue at Uchumi
supermarket, in Nairobi. It will take me at least two hours before I get into the supermarket — every Kenyan is shopping. Everyone is buying UHT milk. Those brick-like packets containing ultra-heat treated milk that lasts forever. Our once stable nation has again erupted: the Gikuyus are being slaughtered in the Rift Valley for sharing the same mother tongue as President Kibaki, who is accused of having ‘stolen’ the election and wrongfully declaring himself president. On the coast, we hear it doesn’t matter if you are Gikuyu or not; if you are not a member of the local ethnic group, you are dead. In the town of Eldoret, they followed those not of the Kalenjin ethnicity who had sought refuge in a church and burnt them alive — thanks to Hotel Rwanda and 100 Days and all the genocidial films that Kenyans watched and had commented on how silly it was of the Rwandese to kill people due to the “colour” of their vocal chords. Little did we know some Kenyans were being educated on terror tactics. Out here at Uchumi supermarket, everyone is pushing trolleys laden with UHT milk and flour to their cars — who knows how long this madness will last. I remember, again, that my mother, a Taita, at present lives in Bungoma, Luhyaland, with my Luhya dad. In Kisumu, news has come that the Luos are going from house to house slaying Gikuyus. If your wife is Gikuyu, it doesn’t matter that she is married to a Luo, you. They are raping and killing, tax free, Gikuyu wives married to Luos. What about my mom? Will the terror spread to her too? I take out my cell phone and punch in her numbers. Of course I know that I can’t make a call; my last airtime units ended three days ago, and for the past three days there has been no top-up
airtime for cell phones. Still, I hope against hope that a miracle will happen and my call will go through. As I stand clutching my useless phone, a young boy squeezes out of the heavily guarded supermarket door with his father. He is carrying packets of UHT milk. His dad is pushing a trolley full of milk and flour. “Dad, the TV says that we need to recount the presidential votes,” he says. “Yes, that is the cause of this chaos,” the father replies, loading up the boot of his car, which is next to me. “Is it not just adding?” asks the son. “Yes, it is adding.” “You mean adults can’t count? Teacher John should teach them how to do simple additions!” I look at the child, and see myself in him. For him, it doesn’t make sense why a whole country has to go shopping for UHT milk simply because adults can’t add presidential votes correctly. Maybe when he grows to be a little wiser, like I am now, he will still wonder how a whole country can go to war, a whole 180 lives get wasted (and mark you, official government statistics are always deceptively low when it comes to such deaths), a whole 250,000 Gikuyus made homeless, many Luos dead, and a once peaceful Kenya now beating Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, and the war in Iraq, to become the number one news item on all international news channels. Just because two grown-up men, each certified by the doctors and the elections board as being of sound mind to contest and, God willing, become presidents, can’t agree on simple arithmetic signs called + and =. I look at the UHT packets and await my turn on the queue to enter the supermarket and buy mine.
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Marbles and Ballot Boxes By Dayo Forster
come from a quaint little country where, because illiteracy rates are high, we vote with marbles. The candidates' faces are plastered on the sides of the ballot boxes, and a special tube, a mini marble run really, winds its way in, allowing each marble to drop in with a solid ‘thunk’ as it joins the nest of others within. This marble trick means our spoilt vote rates are exceedingly low. But I guess it also means that vote-rigging with marbles is a lot easier than trying to do so with sheets of paper. Yet that did not stop the 'They' we refer to in Kenyan politics from doing exactly that – playing around with people's carefully ticked ballot papers, churning the precious one paper-one vote-one citizen-one tick into a backdrop for unverifiable election results. There are several ways to take over a country without a fair ballot box. Before last year, I'd only been personally exposed to one method – a terrifying coup d'état during which my father sat tense in our living room; all of us forced to stay home and save on water for drinking, for washing
family friend was too bolshie at the bridge and was shot dead. As these tales came in, we understood that political unrest could mean death. In the end, we, the country, the citizens, were rescued. Friendly neighbourly interests brought in their soldiers, quashed the coup, and for a while left some wellbuilt and surprisingly good-looking soldiers to keep the peace. Soldiers who, on their days off, clustered around our favourite hotel pool, ogled us and started tam-tams of romantic hope in our teenage chests. That was in 1989. And a different country. This is 2008. And a different kind of coup. We now know the extent to which power is loved by those who are powerful. We now understand the extent of the betrayal they are willing to subject us to. We now know that votes, marble or paper, can count for nothing. The precedent in The Gambia made it easier for the next coup to succeed, bloodlessly. Yet the machinations of manoeuvring oneself into power is easy compared with the trouble of governing afterwards. It's the
We now know the extent to which power is loved by those who are powerful. and for cooking. He sat with his revolver settled on the stool beside him. To match our national defining adjective, we had a few quaint pieces of furniture in our house at the time. The stools in the living room were shaped in one of the four card suits, clubs or diamonds, all carefully etched out of thick plywood, and topped with a faux marble Formica top – black with traces of grey. All of my childhood, I could choose what shape to put my diluted orange squash on and I would set drinks for visitors on one of the assorted set in our living room. But with that gun, my father sat, face tense, radio on. And told us, 'they'd have to kill me first', even as the gun lay on the stool made by the prisoners in the prison he ran. My mother's way of dealing with the tension was to busy herself cooking down the contents of our fridge, and resurrecting stored meals from our deep freezer. It's funny how hungry you get when you have nothing to do. Us children were busy being ravenous; we scavenged for fruit in the garden. Green mangoes stoned down from our tree to munch on with salt and pepper. A local variety of plum – Salone plum – plucked before they were full enough, that we would keep nestled in the rice bin so that they would eventually ripen into yellow alongside more stubborn avocadoes, which persisted for long in hard green shells, even as we eagerly awaited their softening into a purple-skinned softness. That first coup did not succeed, but precedent had been set. We now understood what bazookas were – not some vague Russian invention, but things that thumped the ground with sonic waves, and swept muffled booms across great distances. We heard of bodies piled in open trunks. A
pesky people who won't understand that they are now ruled under different skies: the ones who won't stay down and be governed with batons, bullets and jail threats; the ones who keep writing, and gnawing and bothering; the ones who the president of my native country indicates must be dealt with and, if necessary, buried six feet under. Now, in my adopted country, Kenya, other pesky people are demanding their rights. This time I am the mother hen, checking on how much water is in the tank, how much frozen milk is coating itself in frost, deciding on what food is easiest to cook and uses the least number of ingredients and requires the least amount of water to clean up afterwards. This time, I am the one who's explaining to my children why they can't go to school just yet, why we grownups are always muttering about something or the other, why we sound angry, disillusioned and sad. In Kenya, other kinds of precedents have been set. And the memories of those successes lay the foundation for what is possible. The Kenya in 2002 that got used to choosing a new president and going out into the streets to celebrate victory. The ballot boxes in 2006 that rejected a badly written constitution. That is the precedent that reminds us that though the voice of each of us, alone, singly, counts for little, it's the collective, the pressure of many, that can declare that we have tasted a new way of choosing our leaders that we want to hang on to. The taste that has laid a wondrous, powerful precedent. Which, in order to keep our souls hopeful, we must follow.
By Vivek Mehta
This is a tribute to the "Man In Black T-Shirt" His name we may or may not know But that's how he was referred to by the KTN Television network The date was Wednesday 16th January 2008 I spent an hour sitting alone last night replaying the KTN clip in my mind Did you see it? The Man in Black was dancing in Nyanza, Kenya – was it in Kisumu? He was Dancing and also Protesting with his friends He was exercising one of his basic Human Rights – The Right to Free Speech and Assembly He had no stone to hurl and no panga in his hand to hurt He was just Dancing and Protesting He was not looting either Just Dancing and Protesting Then came the grand finale He was running away... he was not fighting He was not dancing or protesting either The Man in Green was only a few feet away Two rapid shots from an automatic rifle and the dance was over... The Man in Black lay on the floor together with his friend He tried to get up one more time – he was only dancing! But the shot had done its job As he tumbled down yet again the brute in Green had to kick him Probably to kick the Man in Black's last breath out That was the sudden end to the Dance Farewell Man in Black – a friend I never got to meet A friend who gave up his life for Kenyans' freedom As I sat I realized that The Man in Black was probably a 'poor man' No riches and no bank account either to his name All I can offer his Soul are my Prayers for His Soul's Peaceful Journey And May My Prayers and those of Many Others enrich your Soul And May that Enrichment of your Soul be our reward and thanks for your Sacrifice May that Enrichment Power your Journey And your Soul be Blessed with Riches not seen I take Solace in that the Nature of the Soul is WEAPONS CUT IT NOT, FIRE BURNS IT NOT, WATER WETS IT NOT, WIND DRIES IT NOT After this thought propped up in my Being Yet another Powerful thought Burst through This was the one that surprised me, my friend May the World of Justice Notice this Brutal Crime against Humanity In the Meantime May Peace and Justice Prevail in Kenya When will we see sense in this beautiful Land and Country called Kenya?
This Is A Class War, Not Ethnic Cleansing By Rasna Warah
the country’s 35 million people control 42% of the nation’s wealth, leaving nearly half of the country’s population to subsist below the poverty line. Inequalities within cities such as Nairobi are stark; Nairobi’s ethnically-diverse slums, ranked amongst the biggest and most deprived slums in the world, service some of the wealthiest homes and neighbourhoods in Africa. Inequality tends to manifest itself ethnically and regionally, with some ethnic groups and regions benefiting more from public resources than others. Because the current constitution bestows enormous powers to the executive and because there are no constitutional provisions to ensure equitable distribution of the country’s resources, various presidents have used their powers to accumulate ill-gotten wealth for themselves and their cronies (usually from their own ethnic group), and to allocate disproportionate public resources to projects and regions of their choice (usually to regions where their ethnic base is strongest). Kenya’s struggle is, therefore, more fundamentally linked to equity than to ethnicity, although wealth and poverty have developed distinctly ethnic tones. More than anything else, this election was seen by the poor and the marginalised as the one that would address past injustices and regional inequalities. In essence, the violence that erupted after the elections was a class war – one in which the impoverished masses took up arms against all those they thought represented the interests of the ruling class, in this case, their Kikuyu neighbours, regardless of their political affiliation and despite the fact that their Kikuyu neighbours were as dirt-poor as they were. It is no wonder then that the most impoverished parts of the country witnessed some of the most violent clashes. What was most tragic about the post-election violence was that Kenya’s dispossessed, instead of uniting to demand for justice and equity, turned on each other. But as the country counts its human and economic losses, there are glimmers of hope and solidarity. As one woman who lives in Nairobi’s Kawangware slum, one of the affected areas, told me, “I know that when my child gets sick, I can’t call my MP to take him to hospital. I have to call my Luo or Kikuyu neighbours. In the end, I have to rely on them to save my child.” Therein lies the path to healing and restoration of our wounded polity.
ne of the most irritating things about the violence that rocked Kenya recently, as many middle- and upper-class Nairobians will tell you, was the fact that their maids, guards and nannies did not show up for work. This was not because they were protesting their inhuman working conditions or low salaries; it was because many of their shacks had been gutted in the violence that followed the announcement of the election results and some were actually living as refugees in various government facilities within the city. Others lived in notoriously dangerous slum areas that had been cordoned off by militia or police. Yet, all I heard from my well-to-do friends, relatives and neighbours in the city was how awful it was to do the housework without house help, what with all the children in the house during the holidays, and the piles of clothing that needed washing. Neither they nor I bore the brunt of the violence that rocked all of Nairobi’s slums and some parts of the country last week. We all live in neighbourhoods where killing your neighbours is not only considered bad manners, but bad for business. We don’t look at each other through ethnic eyes, though we do sometimes wonder if the Kikuyu in Flat C11 bought a new Mercedes because he is corrupt, or if the Luo woman in Flat A6 believes in witchcraft. We decried the inhumanity of Nairobi’s wretched slum dwellers, who we concluded were tribalists, who could not see the big picture. Why, we wondered, couldn’t they remove their ethnic blinkers and see how their activities were affecting tourism and the Nairobi Stock Exchange? And why, for God’s sake, were they not reporting for work? Foreign correspondents who transmitted the violence in Nairobi’s slums for all the world to see, were quick to describe what was happening in Kenya as ethnic cleansing. Like my friends, relatives and neighbours, they totally ignored the social, economic and political forces that were plunging Kenya into mayhem. They failed to see that the main reason for the violence and protests around the country was not because one ethnic group wanted to forcibly take over the presidency from another ethnic group, but because Kenyans perceived the elections to be unfair and rigged. More importantly, they failed to realise that the root causes of the violence had more to do with the economic and political reality of Kenya than it had to do with ethnic chauvinism (although, admittedly, all three are linked in the Kenyan context). Kenya is one of the most unequal societies in the world. 10% of
When the Nakumatts Close By Wambui Mwangi
hen the Nakumatts close, you know there is trouble. Yesterday, I was sitting in a Java, sipping some curiously-named drink and doing a melanin-graded assessment of everybody else in the Java. There we all were, in my nice safe middle-class Nairobi, sitting under maroon umbrellas and admiring our own urban chic: black and sinuous (really, she was the most fantastically beautiful woman, she looked like an advertisement for blackness), to creamy white and elegant – this one was wearing more beads than the average Maasai, and I wanted her shoes, badly. It was good to lust for shoes, instead of retribution, instead of dreaming up new circles of Dante’s hell for the people who have cost us our hopes, who are going to keep the gravediggers busy. As an act of charity, hospitals are allowing grieving people to pick up the dead bodies of their loved ones for free. Free death, and free storage of bodies. At Java, I could escape for a moment and just look at all of us: Kenyan, and carefully cosmopolitan. One of my favourite occupations is watching white Kenyans strenuously differentiate themselves from mere tourists. They mostly won’t even look at them. On the other hand, those tables that fail to have at least two different skin colours at them risk seeming provincial, and utterly uncool. The real chic is in mixing your coffees and your skins with varying degrees of milk and whiteness. We Kenyans these days are performing multiculturalism as if we invented it, which in fact we probably did. We’re even into blue glass, these days. We’ve really
got it so good, what with our new fashions and affordable cars and reasonable housing — cybercafés two paces away, at most; this is pretty much the good life we have here, eh? And then the Nakumatt closed. The Nakumatt closed, frustrating our twenty-four hour shopping expectations, because the man sworn in as president, Mwai Kibaki, had declared a demi-cabinet, straight up, no ice on the side, twist of lemon and a bit of salt on the wound; that’ll do nicely, thank you. The calls from Kisumu found their echoes in Kibera; the young men dragged their tear-gassed butts back on to the street, and middle-class Nairobi could not shop. It was really extremely inconvenient. Due to the sudden intervention of politics into my plans, I had to wait until the next day to buy my Pepto-Bismol and a bar of chocolate. I spent the night with a stomach-ache. Meanwhile, my fellow citizens died some more. In Kiambu, those who are burdened with non-Kikuyuness move to the police stations and schools at night, for safety. Small children are learning their ethnic affiliations all of a sudden, in fear and loathing; this is not a lesson they will forget. It is the thing that killed their mother and their father; how will they ever forget? Elsewhere, Kikuyus are dying for “their” president. I feel my fury harden. There are seven presidents in Kenya now. There are four former presidents of African countries (Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana) who have gone to Eldoret to see the results of our meltdown for themselves; there’s one, Kuffour, from Ghana,
When the Nakumatts Close
ESSAY I Wambui Mwangi
who is seeming ambiguously invited and differentially wanted and we’re not even sure whether he is a mediator who can mediate. The first thing he will have to mediate is the mediation issue. Perhaps after that we can go back to shopping at midnight if we feel like it. This, in addition to our less-than-beloved Moi, who in recent years morphed into an elder statesman and an apostle of peace right in front of our astonished eyes. I wonder if he’s gloomy or gleeful as he rasps out an “I told you so” from his skull-looking face. He is already a carving, a relic; he has somehow managed a transmogrification into his own sculpture. A walking myth, unrepentant and unbowed. He makes a better looking piece of art than those gargoyles he had put up all over the place. I wonder about authoritarian art – is there a market for it? We could call it Brutism and sell it and pay for food for our people, perhaps. On television, there is a near-riot for relief food. In Kenya. My heart is breaking. I am a walking splinter of rage. There is also Kibaki, who was swept to power in 2002 in love and acclamation, in triumph, in hope and ululation. We were so naive, in those days, those innocent hopeful days. He’s currently the most famous squatter in the world, having liked his accommodations so much, he just got up and...stayed. I think perhaps he lives on a different planet from the rest of us. Where he lives, he is presiding over a democratic country full of peace-loving and calm people who lined up for hours to vote him in for a second term in an amazing landslide and who are panting with enthusiasm to hear him tell us about his new cabinet, seeing as everything else is so lovely and hunky-dory at the moment. In Kibakistan, hakuna matata. It is obviously a large tourist resort, there, where he is president of shiny happy people holding hands and dancing for wealthy white strangers. In this alternate reality inhabited by our leaders, whose serenity is second to none, we are just about to go on with our business of becoming an African Tiger; all systems go, let the work continue, as you were, assume positions and stations, and go! It sounds nice there, where this man is president of, wherever that is. I do not live there. We cannot possibly be inhabiting the same latitudes and longitudes and breathing the same air. Where I live is full of frightened and traumatised people, and where this man lives is...somewhere else. He is not here. They do not live here, he and his friends; they have not smelled the tyres burning or seen the shell that was Ukwala Supermarket in Kisumu. I bought a pair of pliers in that supermarket on the 24th of December, 2007. I have the pliers still – we used them as a makeshift window-crank for the left-hand passenger-door on our brave little car, Purple Perpetua, who took us safely though every obstacle and rough spot, until we met “The Hate”. It is not true that you need a four-wheel drive vehicle to travel around Kenya; Perpetua got through everything, every crevice and crack and swimming pool-size trench in the road to Western Kenya and Nyanza, so obviously she was all but skipping and trilling as she traversed the skating-smooth ribbons of tarmac that are in the Central Province. Until the country exploded. That stopped Purple Perpetua in her tracks, quite literally: there was no petrol. It stopped us as well, but only to the extent that we were forced to stare at luscious gardens by the poolside for two whole days, whilst grudgingly eating delicious meals. I think we might have been
visiting the place where that man is president of, where he lives with his friends, and where adoring crowds buoy up his every word with gladness and joy. It is surreal now. My memory is not working properly. Two weeks ago feels like another lifetime, and every day is separated from the last by a sense of surprise. The sun is still shining the way it used to – how can it? I cannot remember if it was this hot before elections. Were we all dreaming in 2002? Even last November seems fictional to me, so I cannot really tell whether we were all just high on ourselves in 2002, when we were dreaming and cheering Kibaki on – in those days before the “betrayal.” We might have been momentarily body-snatched by optimistic aliens, because we certainly are not cheering or dreaming now. I hate them all for taking away that dream; I want the aliens back. E.T. call home. Please call home. Those slogans we chanted to and for ourselves back then; we meant them – we’re such a wonderfully sentimental people about ourselves, sometimes. We go around quoting the national anthem to each other these days, as if we’ve all just learned it anew, as if it was written by Shakespeare, as if we are the first to discover its profound wisdom and can’t wait to pass it on. As if the person we are telling it to doesn’t know it already, has never heard it before. We insist on telling it over. It is a prayer and a curse. O God of All Creation, Bless this Our Land and Nation, Justice Be Our Shield and Defender. That line is almost funny, in these times. I met a friend under those maroon umbrellas; someone I hadn’t seen for years. Those cafés are extremely productive for those kinds of meetings; you can plan on meeting unplanned-for people you know at a Nairobi Java. By “people” I do not mean the “watus”; those who actually work in the supermarkets and coffee houses, in the hospitals, office buildings and hotels but have to go back every night to madness and sadness and fear, where poor people in Nairobi live. One doesn’t “meet” those people; one merely overlooks them, until they are absent and then mostly it is because the dust starts to accumulate, and we remember that we have no staff. Those people dying have never seen the inside of the parliament, unless they were there to clean it. Those people dying will not, as Moi once pithily put it, have more ugali in their sufurias (were they alive to dream of eating it) just because “their” man is president. They’ll be as poor as they’ve always been, unless they luck out and get dead, instead. The dead have simpler desires. In any case, we have seven presidents here now, which should cover any presidential eventuality that arises. We’re locked and loaded, presidentially speaking. Unless, of course, one gets picky and wants a Kenyan president who has been democratically elected – that might be a little difficult at the moment. We however have a very nice line in retirees; would madam be interested in one of those, instead? We also have a president-in-waiting, to round out the numbers, and for sophisticated tastes, we have a man who campaigned for the vice-presidency in the most blatant fashion possible, and actually got the job. What’s that, eight and a half? One more and we can make the movie. I feel the need for my Java session; it is a kind of meditation. We are such a nice fantasy, there. My dreams have shrunk to the size of maroon umbrellas. May we dwell in Liberty, Peace and Unity...? I’m doing it myself, now. I’ll be fine as long as the Nakumatts stay open.
Echoes By Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
hree days ago I “exercised my democratic right” and cast my vote. A vote is a voice, a choice to speak. And then it was New Year 2008. Morning Mass at Consolata Church, Westlands: The thing that has invaded the land, this, layered and ineffable grief wafts even through this hallowed acre. Inside, the pale brown pews are half empty, the celebrant’s steps down the aisle are laboured, his head lowered as are those of his yellow-robed acolytes. The chorister inadvertently starts the entrance hymn in D Minor; a note that sets the theme for the world’s best requiems. New Year’s mass in this church usually stresses its concrete seams with chattering congregants, many of whom turn up to hover at a church door only on the first day of a new year. Last year they formed guilty but cheerful gossiping clumps in the car park, interspersed with gleeful Happy New Year! And Shhh! The church chamber echoes emptiness. The few people stand with arms folded. I need a ritual to peel back this New Year for me. I am here, arms folded. My mother, who moves mountains, is here. She says today is a good day to have a wrestling match with the Almighty about the future of her grandchildren in Kenya. I shuffled after her faith into the sanctuary where she suspects, in a season of ugliness, some of God’s emissaries might have received insight about a transcendent path out of a fire-filled impasse. Cadence of this morning's radio message. The global stories about us. Catch phrases: atavistic tribal, ancient ethnic rivalries, primordial hatreds. Slipping into template of low expectations. Another ignominious international radio broadcast about this country — failure is frowned on — in the background a rhythmic chant tinged with angry hopelessness: Haki yetu! Haki yetu! Haki yetu! Ear worm, when a melody of phrase bounces in the head. It should not matter. Shame-sorrow predominates. A side activity in today’s Mass is ‘The Sacrament of Reconciliation.’ Confession is a soul-purging ritual, supposed to sometimes dissipate shame, guilt and sorrow. But to be able to do that, the penitent must speak. If the penitent cannot speak, the Church might offer exorcism. But exorcism, a dangerous talent, is not on offer anywhere today. The celebrant's voice trembles.
Did not hear him say that the national churning will stop. He did, he says God is watching the cracking. That God as parent is not unmoved. We have sneaked into place a father-of-the-nation. An uncharacteristically befuddled chairman of the electoral commission stumbled over a proclamation. The custodian of national law magically found himself in the State House with a Bible even before the chairman had completed his phrases. The microevent was televised; the bad portions of a cabalistic ritual with its associated slitheriness. Nine hundred words, the thank-you-all-forvoting-me-in speech. Behold, the father-of-the-nation. Big hurry. They forgot to hum the national anthem. Kenya erupts. Nine hundred words later, the father-of-the-nation is silent. The Mass stumbles on. The celebrant tries to mumble, ‘Do not be afraid.’ The father-of-the-nation is in place. Amen. Nine hundred words later, planes land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. They are weighed down with the global press corps, circling marabou storks now high on typical ‘Oh Africa’ schadenfreude. Gleam in glare, organic gargoyles, reeking with the lust for rich pickings. The images: A phalanx of armed men, citizens, harrying witnesses out of a gargantuan conference hall. A man lies on his back on the street, arm outstretched, his mouth wide open, tears running down the side of his face. A woman runs; goods on her head, three children on her back. A beautiful young man, earrings in his ear, wields a machete. A woman cries, hand on head. A grandfather sits in an open field, the remnant of a murdered family of twelve. A child in a red T-shirt plays in the sewer, oblivious of the action of adults. Eyes at half-lid, three tall General Service Unit men carry truncheons, dour-faced, waiting for the enraged public to turn up. We have seen these faces and postures in other places. Not in our land, not in our haven and sanctuary. This brand of sickness is
ESSAY I Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
not our method, it happens to other people, not to us. Never to us. This morning, the keening memory of old national sorrows that still lurk as unsolved riddles do: J.M. Kariuki, Pio Gama Pinto, Argwings Kodhek, Tom Mboya, Robert Ouko, Justus Mbai. Ghost lives in the flickering of flames burning down Kenya’s homes, shops, people, dreams. Newspaper headline: A church in which mothers and children had taken refuge in Eldoret was last night burned down by machete-wielding young citizens. Now is the time for a strong voice. If a nation can raze the life of children inside a church then it is teetering. Between the shrieks and rage, silence, not even nine hundred words. Later. A stop-the-madness meeting in a room at the Serena Hotel convened by men and women who have serviced other people’s wars, patched other people’s rent national fabrics with no idea they would one day have to look within. A yellow-veiled woman, her face with determination carved into it, her intense voice repeating, ‘Now. Now we begin.’ She is the chairperson. An imam is among us.
Before he can open his mouth, another woman with wide slanted eyes, and a deep voice, calls out: “O God of all creation, bless this our land and nation, justice be our shield and defender, may we dwell in unity, peace and liberty, plenty be found within our borders…” We know this prayer. Learned it with the ABCs and 123s, hands by our sides, face forward where, often the red-green-whiteblack flag would be fluttering. If there was a school orchestra this prayer would be preceded by three majestic drum rolls. Before that, headmistresses and headmasters would have intoned to assembled students, ‘Let us now stand for our national anthem.’ Second stanza. “Nchi yetu ya Kenya tunayoipenda, tuwe tayari kuilinda.” Grim transcendence pokes through in a simple message: the only way out of this is through. Fire-walking is a requirement of belonging. Fire-walking can hurt. It can kill. It can break stalwart hearts. It causes tears like these that have all our heads low, mucus pouring down our faces. Shame. Yes. Odd guilt. But inside these, the kernel of our homeland is warm, alive and loved.
By Petina Gappah
How Kenya Exploded In My Heart
ESSAY I Petina Gappah
y friend Yvonne once told me that it was only when she lived in my country's capital that she understood which city Nairobi was going to be when it grew up. Harare in the 1990s was funky and groovy and uncluttered and happening. There was a flow of tourist money, there were film festivals and arts festivals; there were Manchurian restaurants and people speaking of all the things they planned. There were more than twenty-four foreign airlines bringing the world to us. Now there are only four. Zimbabwe in the 1990s was a country in which people still dreamed and planned with the reasonable expectation that their dreams would come true, and if they didn't, they could downgrade them to lesser, but still acceptable options. Yvonne's words are always with me when I think about my home city, because when I think about her home city, I see the city that Harare could have been, and in Kenya, the country mine could have been. I once lived in a European city that had so few black people that I was the only encounter most people had with Africa. I was the “Africa” expert, giving little seminars on the genocide in Rwanda and the promises of South Africa's rainbow nation. Throughout that time, I felt like a poser – the one African country that I really knew was Zimbabwe, the rest were as foreign to me as Slovenia or Poland. I still feel I do not know Africa. I never can, but through reading, travel and friendships, I have come to love a number of African countries. More than these, I love Kenya. Kenya means very specific things to me. It means my friends at Kwani?, the hip literary journal which has opened a space in which the most moving and funny and lacerating and edgy writing is exploding out into the world. I cannot separate their kwaniness from their Kenyanness. Kenya means Lamu, a place like no other that I have visited. Kenya means all the amazing people that I have met in my travels there – filmmakers, businesswomen, civil servants, media types, hotel staff – for I have stayed mainly in hotels. I am one of those for whom Kenya will always be a country of the permanent karibu, a county of the friendliest people in the world, an eye-rolling cliché that is nonetheless true. I have conversed with Luo and Kalenjin and Kikuyu and, on one occasion, what I took to be Masai teenagers, but who, according to my Kenyan companions, were Kikuyu dressed as Masai for the tourist dollars. On a beach in Mombasa, I cemented my Kenyan tourist credentials: I received the flattering attentions of a reed-thin “beach boy” with beaded dreadlocks. To add to these associations with the people I have met are all the wonderful things that happened to me in Kenya. The thrill of my first ever public reading as a writer. The young men who asked me if I had ever visited Kibera because the slum I described in my reading sounded like their home. The ground of Kenya shaking beneath my feet as I fell in love on the shores of Crater Lake. Every time that I have been to Nairobi, I have returned with a singing soul. And when I am not there, Kenya follows me. The smiling man I met on the Number 8 bus to the United Nations building in Geneva was a Kenyan, he said. I swelled with pride when Kenya's Ambassador Amina Mohammed became the first African to chair the WTO's General Council, and the first African woman to be interviewed for a spot on the WTO's Appellate Body. Whenever I
met Kenyans in Geneva and other places, I felt a strong tug of kinship. Like Juliet did to the love-struck Romeo in the Dire Straits song, Kenya exploded in my heart. There was an underlying ache. I wish that in Zimbabwe, like Kenya, a rainbow coalition of political parties could unseat a stagnant ruling party and still have a vibrant opposition. I could not help comparing Nairobi's greenness to Harare's drought-dry grasses and trees. My friend Silas once asked me what I thought we would talk about in Zimbabwe if ever we solved our crisis. In Kenya, I found some answers. Kenyans filled the streets of Nairobi at the weekend, their bars were packed with smiling happy people, troubled, it seemed to me, by no graver political issues than the antics of Charity Ngilu. On one weekend that I was in Nairobi, the newspapers were given over to a discussion of the school results. There were league tables, pictures of beaming little girls and boys and agonizing editorials about why some regions were doing badly compared to others. I remember a picture of a woman with a smile that showed the insides of her teeth as she embraced her son. Future Doctor, said the caption. For one used to headlines from Zimbabwean papers about inflation going up to 15000%, and newspapers filled with the president's daily screeds against “detractors and would-be colonisers” and the empty promise that Zimbabwe would never be a colony again, this all seemed achingly normal. Then came December 2007. And suddenly, it was not of Zimbabwe that stern-faced British prime ministers, European Union observers and American presidents were talking, but Kenya. Suddenly, Nairobi was becoming Harare, and Kenya, Zimbabwe.
GRUESOME FESTIVAL: WHY MOBS LAUGH AS THEY KILL
By Martin Kimani
caught in the periodic joining of political rage with the licence to transcend normal social limits. They are unmaking their world. The burning of shops and homes, the destruction of transport infrastructure and government property, and the taking of life, is not chaos as so many of us term it. Rather it is the flipside of order. Their destruction overturns, if only momentarily, the normal order of the Kenyan universe. However, as many of their elders would like to believe, their violent actions do not eject them from Kenyan society. They are an intimate, yet alienated, part of it that has decided for the moment to defy the normal laws and morals of their upbringing. To transgress a boundary, you must first believe in its existence and its importance. Burning chiefs’ houses and destroying infrastructure paradoxically confirms how important these things are to their destroyers. By trying to unmake the hold of the law on themselves, they
atching television news the other day, I was struck by how many of the pictures of the rioting youth showed them apparently in good cheer. There is a lot of anger in the country about the presidential election results, at the lack of economic opportunities and at the violence being meted out by both rioters and the security forces. Yet when the cameras roll, the atmosphere they capture among the perpetrators of violence is one of euphoria and carnival, despite the suffering and destruction that the country has experienced in the past month. The cameras were rolling recently when a group of young men stopped a car, forced out the driver, and stripped the car of whatever could be easily carried away before setting it aflame. They laughed and celebrated, holding their machetes and clubs aloft; a few pranced around the car’s burning hulk. In another scene, a crowd, again mostly of young men, uprooted a section of a railway track. Others chased children from a school and burned down government offices. These young men, especially the ones in spontaneously formed groups as opposed to well-organised ones, are in the grip of a moment of intense fellow feeling. They are experiencing euphoria as they shatter moral and material boundaries. Power, the power to destroy what seemed so unassailable, so permanent, they are increasingly realising, is like a drug that you need in ever greater supply. The burning and the maiming (and especially the increasing instances of rape when combined with the pictures of euphoric expression), combine to suggest that some of the country’s youth are part of a gruesome festival that can potentially engulf ever larger swathes of the country. These bands of young men on television are like young men everywhere in the world and, throughout history, who have been
Gruesome Festival: Why Mobs Laugh As They Kill
ESSAY I Martin Kimani
are confirming its policing of the bounds of a society that they now believe deserves rupturing and remaking. If the high politics practised by elected leaders does not address past injustices and does not heed the anger and alienation of the young, then it will be replaced by the politics of the street. This is a politics of fire that seeks to destroy all in a desperate and rarely successful attempt to justly remake society and re-establish its shattered moral bounds. Why are there so many fires? The obvious answer is that they are being started to send a message to politicians and their supporters about the widespread opposition to the election results—or support in some areas. A more speculative answer is that they are a kind of political pyromania, a fundamental rhythm that dictates the life of euphoric violence; and they will only increase the more the political realm continues to withhold a good reason to return to the status quo. I am saying here that violence and war have their own logic, which is not shared by those who set them in motion. The violence may have its architects or patrons and those who benefit from it in the tit-for-tat of politics, but it owes to none of them its intimate rhythms, its joys and excesses. The mistake is ageold: leaders believing that they can switch the rage of their supporters on and off at will. But if they ever had any control of the situation, then this is power that is growing more distant by the day. The reason such atrocities as we have suffered in Kenya are possible is that the perpetrators believe that they are engaged in just actions. The anger at the election results has morphed into a state of festival: a period when normal laws and habits are suspended. This feeling of living in a world or a time outside society’s normal bounds accounts for the euphoria experienced by the youth around those bonfires and riots. To them, they are quite literally destroying their world in order to save it. If there is a lesson in all this to the political class, it is that if Kenya’s morals and laws excuse injustice for too long, as is the case with our history, then there will come occasions when enough people will feel the need for a radical change. If this happens outside the normal political space, due, for example, to a failed election, then all that is needed is for a spark to allow for a violent reaction. Too often, Kenya’s political analysts and writers insist on believing that politics is a secular affair governed only by material means and ends. Yet even as they believe that about politics, the rest of their lives are suffused with belief in the transcendent. We go to church on Sundays and intersperse our day with prayer. But politics too is a realm of charismatic belief. Politicians understand this intuitively. Thus, they position themselves in the light of a Moses leading their constituents to the Promised Land.
Politics is a realm that strains towards the transcendent, which is to say it periodically makes a dash towards its boundaries and retains the potential to breach them. These young men in the Rift Valley, Central Province and elsewhere, destroying and causing so much suffering, are exploring moral spaces beyond the frontiers that have up to now governed their everyday lives. The longer the political impasse continues, the more the society they left behind will seem less real than the violent and unjust one they are creating. There is still time to douse the fires and stop the deaths. The leaders, whom Kenyan citizens have given the responsibility to police the precincts of this moral community we call the Kenyan nation, have failed more often than they have succeeded. If they do not stand tall for once, or move aside for those who can, then politics will indeed move from the halls of government to the streets. For now, the young men causing so much suffering still believe in the existence and importance of the boundaries they have violated. They believe that violence will lead to a new season that speaks to their aspirations and hopes. They are mistaken. All around Kenya are examples of countries that have fed on the flames and now need decades to recover what they built so laboriously. It is a simple choice for those who are in positions of political and adult responsibility: either move decisively to enthrone just rule in a political and economic system that is broadly believed to be fair, or face the flames that will pulverise Kenya and leave nothing standing but the memory of your failed leadership.
KENYAN OPPOSITION’S GREATEST CHALLENGE By David Coltart
enya’s opposition must challenge disputed election results in the courts if it wants to strengthen democracy, weaken autocracy and defuse violence. Even in Zimbabwe this has shown our citizens and the world that there is still hope for that very foundation of freedom, the rule of law. Our experience applies wherever elections cannot be trusted and wherever the rule of law is shaky. Court proceedings do not have to replace peaceful street action. Martin Luther King said: “Direct action is not a substitute for work in the court and the halls of government … Pleading cases before the courts of the land does not eliminate the necessity for bringing about the mass dramatization of injustice in front of a city hall. Indeed, direct action and legal action complement one another; when skilfully employed, each becomes more effective.” Courts are slow and frustrating in any country and are
the court proceedings, more than any other single factor, were responsible for denying him that. I recognise that the mention of “years” is not encouraging — a very close election in Kenya seems to have been stolen and, understandably, the opposition wants to take office now. We understand that: we in the Movement for Democratic Change should have come into government in June 2000 and are still waiting. But think of the alternatives — we have seen some of them in Kenya this past week. Corrupt regimes do not give way easily, but in Kenya, I do not think that the opposition's struggle will be anything as long as ours has been. Incumbent President Mwai Kibaki does not have land and race as excuses for justifying his fraud as Mugabe had. Because of that, Kibaki will not be given the same amount of slack by African leaders as Mugabe enjoys.
“... direct action and legal action complement one another; when skilfully employed, each becomes more effective.” unlikely to remove the party in power. But cases do have to be filed to demonstrate a commitment to legitimacy. In Zimbabwe, of the 39 parliamentary election challenges after the June 2000 election, not one had been concluded by the end of that term in 2005. The same applied to the 2002 challenge to Robert Mugabe's election — his term ends in March this year and that case is nowhere close to being concluded. Was going to court a pointless exercise? I do not believe so: through the systematic presentation of facts before courts over several years, we were able to show all neutral observers that Zanu PF did not enjoy a mandate from the Zimbabwean people. This has helped create international pressure against the Mugabe regime. The decision to use the courts also underlined our commitment to using non-violent methods and gave us the undisputed moral high ground domestically and internationally. We publicised in great detail and in summary what had been filed in court. We issued press releases. When we obtained judgements, we printed them out in full and posted them on the internet. Where the judiciary subverted the legal process, we exposed the judiciary. We converted all paper records into electronic copies. We persuaded academics to write about the judgements. We used these papers to lobby diplomats, governments and the UN. Mugabe expected to steal the election and then wait for the world to forget about the circumstances. I believe
Kenya’s opposition parties must pursue the non-violent route, in all its facets, because the bad behaviour on both sides, during and since the election, damages the image of Kenya and the whole of Africa; damages hope and damages foreign investment. It perpetuates the notion that Africa is backward, violent and unsafe. While that may have been true of Africa two decades ago, it is not true now. Zimbabwe and Kenya are bad examples, but many African countries are now changing their governments peacefully — in Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, Tanzania and elsewhere in the past decade. Nigeria had badly flawed elections last year but many rigged results have been annulled at federal, state and local levels, while new President Umaru Yar’Adua has faced court to defend himself. In Zimbabwe and Kenya we have a duty to the rest of Africa to show that when democracy is under attack, we will remain true to its fundamental principles. And all democratically elected African leaders have a responsibility to support those who demonstrate that commitment. Only in this way can we show the rest of the world that Africa is a safe place in which to do business. Kenya’s future can now be defined by hard facts filed in court and published the world over or by hundreds of innocents killed countrywide.
A RUDE AW AWAKENING
By Andia Kisia
rowing up in Kenya in the eighties, there were certain things we children took for granted. Kenya, for instance. Unlike our parents who were born into the British Empire and who watched the uncertain birth of the country, and for whom the country was a continuous experiment with the ever-present possibility of failure, a fragile thing that had only just come into being and might very well go out of being – we children knew Kenya as a fait accompli, immense, indestructible, unchangeable, a fact of life. We had been born into it and it was all we knew. For us, it had always been there, and there was no reason to imagine otherwise. But apparently the creators of the Kenya schools' syllabus, along with our teachers, shared our parents' sense of the fragility of it all. Every morning at school assembly we would sing patriotic songs, the songs of new nations, songs that spoke of belonging, of ownership. We sang the national anthem and recited the pledge of loyalty and we were made to repeat the mantra of nation over tribe. We are all Kenyans. Kenya is more important than tribe. There are no Kikuyus or Luhyas or Miji Kenda. Only Kenyans. To my 8-year-old mind, this notion was self-evident, a truism. My friends were from all over the country. It never crossed my mind to seek out members of my ethnic group for company nor did I ever feel any particular affinity for them over others. People fell into two categories only, people I liked and people I did not like. When at home I would hear my parents talking in terms of ethnicity, ascribing certain values and traits wholesale to one group of people (Kikuyus especially, but later Kalenjins as well), I would bristle and more than once lectured them, pompous and shrill. I could not believe that my parents, two people I loved and respected, otherwise intelligent people could be so hobbled by such a retrogressive and manifestly absurd idea. Kenya in the eighties was a highly repressive and oppressive place, a police state and a single party “democracy”. The presidential ballot had only one person on it and your choices such as they were, consisted in putting the perfunctory X by his name or foregoing voting altogether. President Moi, self-appointed father of the nation and the only name on the ballot was, he assured us, limiting our choice for our own good. He was saving us from ourselves, from the dark repository of ethnic chauvinism that dwelt deep, or not so deep inside us. Should he be so remiss as to give us a choice, we would all be terrified by the contents of that Pandora's Box. We would become our neighbours; the basket case of Uganda or Ethiopia or Congo or… Kenya was an island of peace in a stormtossed sea of ruin brought on by ethnicity. The first nominally free election in Kenya's history in 1992 was a resounding eye-opener. The Kikuyu voted in numbers for Kenneth Matiba, whose incoherent and cringe-worthy ramblings in the press cast serious doubt on his sanity. This man whose health, especially his mental health, was highly questionable was propelled to within a hair's breadth of the presidency, thanks solely to the
A Rude Awakening
ESSAY I Andia Kisia
support of his ethnic group. It gave me pause. In Kikuyu constituency, 40,000 constituents voted for the MP on a Ford Kenya ticket. The presidential aspirant on the same ticket, a Luo, Raila Odinga's father, could manage only a few hundred votes. This gave me even more pause. Mr. Moi for his part could barely restrain himself from self-righteous I-told-you-sos. But the years of deliberate detribalisation would not go gentle. I refused to see the country in terms of competing and antagonistic tribes. I was Kenyan. We all were. I felt Kenyan, not Luhya. Our fates were tied to each other, whether we liked it or not. We would prosper as Kenyans or dig our collective grave as disharmonious ethnic units. After all, we had bigger concerns, concerns that cut across any and all lines: corruption, the crumbling economy, education, infrastructure. The unreconstructed tribalists among us were of the old guard, my parents' peers, and they were lost causes anyway. My generation was bigger than this. Now the killings have started again. The Kikuyu, the people most Kenyans love to hate, are being hounded from their homes and killed. My grandfather's shops in my village in Western Kenya, rented out to Kikuyu businessmen, have been looted and gutted. In his analysis of the Rwandan genocide, Mahmood Mamdani talks of a â€œpopular genocideâ€? of mass killing perpetrated by an entire population, of a nation of criminals. Before the 1992 elections in Kenya, two genocides were well under way in the Rift Valley and at the Coast. In both cases, the main targets were Kikuyu, the perpetrators Kalenjin and Miji Kenda. In the Rift Valley and the Coast, a population of criminals was born, much as is happening now. I could not then drive through Eldoret without wondering which of the men walking down the street had blood on his hands. And because I couldn't tell, I hated them all. Even as the elections had sown my distrust of the Kikuyu, the killing made me loathe the Kalenjin. I was terrified at what was happening, of the utter impunity of it all and I was angrier than I have ever been. I was becoming my parents. Now, when they spoke in broad generalities, I held my tongue.
I recently read an article which detailed the vast conspiracy of hatred and murder in Western Kenya, of professionals and peasant farmers and shopkeepers taking up arms and slaughtering their neighbours, of young braves waiting by roadsides for their prey. Unashamed, unrepentant. I am angry again and, again, I am terrified. Talking to my parents over the phone, I can hear the fear in their voices. Years of living together and the constant, even casual, betrayals we have inflicted on each other have made us wary and suspicious. But the sort of feeling that allows people to butcher each other, to kill unarmed women and children, to transform erstwhile friends and neighbours into objects of hatred upon which any horror can be inflicted is something I find hard to grasp. Is it mere opportunism? Or real hatred in all its obscene glory? What are we doing to ourselves that allows such animus to exist in our midst, within such easy reach, so accessible and so close to the surface? I am no longer the unmitigated Kenyan I once was. Now, I can see every straining seam, every rivet and every joint that holds us together. And I no longer take it for granted that they will hold.
I was Kenyan. We all were. I felt Kenyan, not Luhya. Our fates were tied to each other, whether we liked it or not. We would prosper as
or dig our collective grave as disharmonious ethnic units.
By Binyavanga Wainaina
hings are calmer in much of Kenya after a week of national hell. In Kibera, Kangemi, Dandora and all the burning slums, people are trying to get back to work and to find food. The roads in and out of Eldoret are now open although it is there, and in other parts of the Rift Valley, where things remain volatile. A “third force” for peace is gathering around honest brokers like Ambassador Bethwell Kiplagat, a gentle man of great empathy and intellect, trusted by all in Kenya; retired General Opande, known in military circles around the world as a formidable UN peacekeeper; and retired General Sumbeiwo, a man of honour, trusted as a mediator by both sides in the Sudan conflict. At times like this, these three men are the most valuable real estate in Kenya. I attended Mangu High School. It was a school for nerds-maths-geniuses, all of us shabby-dirty, actually. The school gate never closed, and there were snakes and fist-sized spiders everywhere. In the 70s, the Jesuits had moved the school to a larger patch of land, but when the government took over, the building stopped, and for 20 years we occupied a half-built school. But it was and is a special school. The motto was not in Latin like the more pretentious former missionary schools. Our motto was Jishinde ushinde – Your battle is with yourself. It was a libertarian school: teachers left you alone, but the
student ethic was, “You came alone with your suitcase.” Our exam results were often spectacular, especially in the sciences. One year we had 13 out of the 14 A grades in Kenya in advanced biology. Every year, we took a third of the places in the medical school at the University of Nairobi. In 1988, we broke a national record and sent all our candidates to university. Mangu got students from all over Kenya. Schools like this throughout the country produce a pan-Kenyan elite. The two dominant communities at Mangu were Luo and Gikuyu. The school itself was in Gikuyuland. As it has always been in Kenya, there was no animosity in the personal relationships between people from different communities. But there were larger political differences. The Ramogi Students Union, a Luo organisation, was a fierce and emotional human rights-style students organization. It would lobby for the rights of Luo students, and had no problem organising and striking to effect these rights. The leadership was always composed of the most brilliant Luo students. Whenever they “rioted”, as we put it rather dramatically, there was a clarity of high purpose that would whip them all into one body and behind these songs you could hear the national wounds: the death of Tom Mboya; the terrible Kenyatta years where Luo Nyanza was ignored by the government. The detention of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga – Raila's Odinga's father. There were a few Gikuyu district student organisations, but none with any real organising power. The Gikuyu students, libertarian in sensibility and a majority in numbers, had informal leaders – mostly people who showed pragmatism. Kanyenje Gakombe was one: he was a scout, a prefect. He had a great friendship with the headmaster, and made piles of cash selling quarter loaves of bread in the dining hall. He headed no organisation that represented Gikuyu interests, but it was known that he was a man to talk to. He made things work and adjusted his politics accordingly. Kanyenje shared a study with Nonkwe Nyaima Manyanki. They were best friends. Manyanki was a performance poet, a brilliant thinker, and the bravest man in school. He had no tolerance for dishonesty and could face down the entire administration – and our administration was quite dodgy. As a junior, I served them both. Made tea and kept them happy. Manyanki is the most influential person in my own political ethic, and in the idea of truth I was to seek as a writer. I admired his refusal to allow the low standards and petty brutality of our schooling system to be his status quo. At some point, for fear that the Ramogi Students' Union would start to infect the rest of us, all “cultural organisations” were banned. We are all Kenyans, we were told. Behind this was also the fear of a force that could overwhelm with its passion. It could carry you far ahead of yourself, make you towering and triumphant. Maybe, we would speculate, it would take on a slightly negative ethnic flavour, whipped up by passion, and soon we would see the school brawling in the parade, in front of the flag, and our hidden ugliness would be exposed. This being Kenya, it never grew strong enough for us to find out.
THE HEADS OF
PROTESTERS By Stephen Derwent Partington
If only they were right, the Maji Maji, that a bullet fired in anger or incompetence could magic like the Alchemy of old, not from base lead into gold, but into water, to the lifeblood of the world. Each round of gunfire, then, a dash of holy water from the barrel of a hose, a benediction. Every spray of steel, a christening, new life. A hero’s fiction, this, but let's agree: what's Alchemy, but shite? Precision-lathed to fit inside a cartridge, of a calibre to snugly ride the journey from the cold breech to the muzzle down the automatic's Styx, a bullet keeps the laws of nature as it hits: a hole of rather less precision as neat physics meets biology and motors through a chest. A clever image, this – quite witty, metaphysical – but over the heads of desperate protestors, like a soldier's callous bullet, or refined Armani politics.
HITTINGWITHOUTTOUCHING TOUCHING By Kalundi Serumaga
overty is the worst form of violence. At its worst, it is a form of slow genocide. For example, take the fact that the vast majority of the Native Americans “rubbed out” in the American genocide died (and still die) not from settler bullets, but from poor diets, disease, poor-on-poor crime, stress-related illnesses caused by predatory moneylending rates and the like. In short, they are killed by the condition of being poor. Girls are affected the worst, as it exposes them to all sorts of deprivations that lead to temptations and inducements resulting in angry, enervated young women. Even in adulthood, a person raised in poverty often suffers a certain furtive sense of shame and anger that they can never quite shake off. Years of “no” and “not enough” force them to ingest a bitter diet of silent rage, frustrations, thwarted dreams, hurtful choices, and humiliation as their parents age prematurely before their eyes. It is violence at the deepest psychological, spiritual and emotional levels, long before it becomes physical. I know. I’ve been there. In Kenya. If Kibera is indeed the world's biggest slum (I don’t know who measures these things, or how), then it is currently also the biggest single act of violence against African people, carried out over the longest period of time. The recent magic tricks performed by the Electoral Commission of Kenya (how to breed votes and then count them in the dark; how to speak out of both sides of your mouth, and other marvellous wonders) and the subsequent orgy of gratuitous bloodletting, have given rise to expressions of grief, shock and anger from the Kenyan intelligentsia, in a way that leaves me truly mystified. Have they not been paying attention? If money and land meant for the poor can be stolen from them, then why not votes? If it became a four-decade normality for children to grow up sharing in the eating of rotting oranges from garbage skips, why on earth should they not share more direct forms of violence with each other? Having grown up witnessing Kenya's normalising of the grotesquely abnormal, my only surprise was that these acts — from the rigging itself to the subsequent explosion of rape, pillage and murder — took so long to reach this particular nadir. Kenya was and is an atrocity a long time made and a catastrophe a long time coming. “There are no stories in the riots, only the ghosts of stories,” as some wise black British woman said of Brixton and Handsworth, a long time ago. I should declare an interest: though I spent some critical formative years living near both the top and the bottom of Kenyan society, I am not Kenyan. I was a refugee from another atrocity called Uganda, and part of a politically engaged community that
was actively fomenting armed rebellion back home. Since our flight was political, we came to Kenya with a heightened interest in politics generally, and were fascinated by the way in which the Kenyatta and Moi regimes were achieving through “sowing acres of cynicism” (to quote Okot p'Bitek, another Ugandan refugee) what Amin and Obote could only attempt through planting killing fields. Honourable Mwai Kibaki was a particularly interesting study for us. As a graduate of Makerere University, we would wonder if he participated in politics with Ugandan or with Kenyan sensibilities. For me, he answered the question most eloquently when on tour as a “Seriously Big Government Man” of (I think) Kamiti Prison way back in seventies. There had been media talk of increasingly horrific conditions in the prisons, and his visit was supposed to be a factfinding tour. At one point, as Big Man and Entourage walked through the prison complex, a prisoner displayed incredible dignity and courage by stepping out in front of him, and trying to hand him a letter sealed in an envelope. The prison official next to Hon. Kibaki intercepted the convict's outstretched hand, took the envelope and pocketed it. According to the news report, Hon. Kibaki paused, watched the entire incident, and then carried on with his “factfinding”. Now, forget about the botched attempts to write a new constitution; forget about the failure to follow up on the CanaryPatni-Goldenberg song; forget even about the indignity of a swearing-in at twilight (quick question: was that really a Bible he was holding up? It looked suspiciously like a pricey desk diary to me. You never know, given the indecent haste): we, as kids who watched their elders pay a high price for involvement in politics, felt that his was a most pathetic display of craven indifference. In truth, looking back, it was at that moment that Hon. Kibaki for me disqualified himself from being president of anywhere or anything. It's just that nobody realised it, or thought about it hard enough. Tea Without Biscuits Jeffrey had two thumbs on his left hand, but in the end, that was not the most interesting thing about him for me. He drove a little pickup truck for one of the large tea estates in the Limuru area where I went to school, and would often give us a lift back up to our hillside campus after we had been hiking or running in the countryside. He lived in the tea plantation, but not in a house. His home was a large garage next door to a tractor. He lived there with his wife, kids and possibly his mother. During the day they would slide the huge door open and leave it that way, like some gaping wound. As we walked or jogged past, you could see them all
Unsettled: Hitting Without Touching
ESSAY I Kalundi Serumaga
Don’t Hunt What You Can't Kill “Don’t go to town today, they are rounding up Ugandans.” This was regularly heard advice in the Ugandan exile community, as Kenyans pointed us out to their police. A night or two cleaning their police cells or a well-deployed bribe was what was needed to keep you from joining a refugee camp population. On reflection, it made sense for people oppressed by their own police force to be more than happy to point out other, better victims to the same police. “Wakimbizi” have no permanence, no power to come back later and retaliate. They are perfect victims, and probably helped deflect police attention from the native poor. Now, displaced and poor, Kikuyus find themselves the new targets, but without the help of the police. If you kill a cop, ten will come back; if you kill a child of the rich, your fellow poor will be offered reward money to find you. If you kill a fellow poor “non-you”, you have found the perfect victim. How else are the poor, schooled in forty years of systemic violence, expected to communicate except through violence? On whom are they to vent their rage, except another guaranteed to have no power to retaliate with greater force? Those who escaped the poverty also took the internalised violence with them. Having perfected the skills of managerial service provision, the Kenyan middle classes have moved to dominate managerial positions in media, financial services, NGO and hospitality sectors throughout the region, where they have acquired the reputations of being the most cut-throat, ruthless, backstabbing, neurotic and yet efficient of boardroom-wallahs. Herculean C-130 Military Aircraft Dreams The crisis that is Kenya today comes largely as a result of the Kenyan intelligentsia's abject failure to come up with viable alternatives to this mess. Those in power never had answers, and are not interested in looking for them. Like Uganda, the creation of Kenya was an act of theft and murder. Anyone managing it is simply perpetuating those crimes. Those in opposition had a responsibility to come up with something better. But did they? With my two teenage brothers, I wandered the Nairobi streets amid the August
1982 mayhem, walking from Eastleigh through Majengo and then downtown, up to Hurlingham and back, as Kenya Air Force mutineers used their Land Rovers to wrench the metal grilles from shop fronts and then say chukuwa to the waiting looters. There was a lot of shouting of “Power”, but no answers about poverty, certainly not for the half-naked man lying in the street at their feet, his whole body ashen grey from the blood loss occasioned by the open wound in his head. He was nobody's concern. He reminded me of another half-naked dying man I had seen years before as a child in Kampala. He had been attacked by a mob. Or shot. Nobody was saying. Just walking past. He was also lying in the gutter, also bleeding from the head, also twitching as he drew his last breaths. Their ashen greys were a perfect match. Jerry Riley
gathered inside, going about their domestic business as if on a cinema screen. Once, Jeffrey drove us much higher up the hill, where one had a clear view of much of the valley below. He was really talking to my classmate Karim Walji, but I remain grateful to him for the education he gave us. Using large, lonely trees, hillocks and dips in the valley as landmarks, the three-thumbed Kikuyu man, living in a mzungu's garage on his own ancestors’ land, listed for us which families and from which clans lived where before the endless carpet of green tea was violently laid down. “Where did the people all go?” Karim asked him. I don’t think he bothered to answer, and wore a wan smile. As somebody who had been smuggled across a border on the back of a pedal-bike to a new and more “stable” country, I felt strangely disturbed. But I understood that smile, and the inability to say more (our parents seemed stuck in that mode), but I was scared at how normal this dispossession had become. At least, we were fighting those who had evicted us, not living in their garages. But now we were living in Kenya, where the abnormal was normalised.
A couple of years later, against well-meaning advice, we saw the would-be mwakenya rebels hitch their doomed wagons — the notoriously unreliable star that is the National Resistance Movement — leading to many bitter words of anger and disappointment. Following Ochuka’s return flight from Nyerere’s Tanzania that ended in “the rough hand of the noose around his neck”, one would have expected the “revolutionaries” to have learned a few lessons about African presidencies beyond the rhetoric, but no. Instead, wishful thinking and infantile prescriptions prevailed while prisoners wrote unopened letters, and Kikuyus were hoodwinked by Jomo Kenyatta, into being vulnerably gathered far away from the rivers of their ancestors. This is where the recent deaths were foretold. There is a lot more that needs to be heard about why the “revolutionary”, Yoweri Museveni, chooses to congratulate Hon. Kibaki at the expense of the “socialist” Raila Odinga, and why Hon. Odinga seems completely unsurprised by this turn of events. In the 1980s, a good friend of mine (Ugandan, anti-Obote guerilla) found this whole tragedy perfectly summed up in advance, while on a necessary visit to a Nairobi public toilet. There was no toilet paper, he narrated, so somebody before him had used their finger to clean their behind, and then wiped it on the toilet wall. On closer inspection (my friend is insatiably curious, no matter the circumstances), he realised that this person had used their shit to write something on the wall. The word written was “Uhuru”. Yani, the idea, I think. Not the person. But you never know.
By Muhonjia Khaminwa
Here, Malika, I have a good one for you.” We were driving towards Nanyuki. We had been on the road for almost two hours. The land had changed from the green, heavily cultivated hills of Nyeri to flat plains that stretched on for miles. Occasionally, the flatness was broken by a collection of trees. To the east Mount Kenya sat, heavy and solid, far removed from the shimmering mirages that were sometimes visible from my husband’s office in Nairobi. “I know you will like this story. It takes place during the period of the Mau Mau. There were several young men who had left their villages and gone to the forests to fight. Every night they assembled under the thick trees on the slopes of the Abedares, talking amongst themselves, counting their supplies. They counted their ammunition over and over again as if the counting was a ritual that would magically multiply the few bullets they had. They would design their own weapons and plan how to get the parts: scraps of iron piping, nuts and bolts and springs. They would plan on how to scavenge them from the old tractors that were rusting in the backyards of farms across the white highlands. “These young men were turning into trees; their hair grew thick and matted like yours. They let their beards grow too, until you could no longer recognize them when you saw them in the village. Soil filled the cracks in
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their hardened feet and brilliantly coloured butterflies took refuge in their hair. They continued to visit the villages, slipping in and out at night, collecting food and blankets and whatever supplies their families could spare. This was before the
for them to cross the fields in the dark, and they were eager to reach the meeting on time, because, who knew how long it would last before word leaked through to the white men and their askaris that deep in the forests, on the other side of the mountain,
the entire circle. “Then, one of them crouched in the middle of the circle, and took his fire sticks out of the leather bag on his back. He placed one stick on the ground and held the other one vertically over it. He began to rub the
Soil filled the cracks in their hardened feet and brilliantly coloured butterflies took refuge in their hair. villages had been emptied and the families sent to the reserves. You see, Malika, even as on one side of the world the British were saying “never again”, and sentencing armies of Germans to an eternity of guilt, here, under the cover of the Abedare forests, those same British were building the same camps that they had liberated so triumphantly. “One day, several of the men had to go on a long trip. A meeting had been called of all the guerrilla camps in this area. They were to meet on the other side of the mountain. It was said that Dedan Kimaathi would attend that meeting. Kimaathi was constantly travelling the region, talking to the guerrillas, collecting their meeting notes, keeping them up-to-date on the political developments in Nairobi and the other rebellions that were taking root around the country. He even let them know about the other revolutions that were happening in other parts of the world. Kimaathi seemed to understand how important it was to be clear about what it was the men had gone to the forests to do. He made all the camps keep notes of their meetings and their activities, so that one day, when it was all over, and we were free, we could stand before the world and say: see, this was not the reflex of a trapped animal, this was a people organising to drive out the enemy that otherwise would have destroyed them. “In order to get to the place where the meeting was to be held, the group of men had to cross these same fields of grass that we are driving through. As you can see, the land is flat. There are few trees, no ditches or hills, nowhere for the tree-men to hide as they made their way that day across to the other side of the mountain. There had been a rainstorm one night; it made it impossible
the guerrillas were meeting. So, the group of men risked crossing the fields during the day. “Now, Malika, I know you know all about disguises and costumes. These men had disguised themselves perfectly for the thick forests of the Abedares, but here on the savanna, in the middle of the day, with the sun shining brightly in a clear blue sky, they were out in the open for anyone to see. And not all eyes were friendly. “Around noon, as they contemplated finding a place where they could stop and eat, they felt a low rumbling sound beneath their feet, as if far away a mountain was slowly falling, collapsing into the ground. Overhead, they heard the drone of a small aeroplane riding the hot air, high above the savannah. At first, they could not tell where the Land Rovers were coming from, even as they felt the all-seeing eye above boring into the tops of their heads. They began to run around, in ever-widening circles, sometimes stopping to climb on each other’s shoulders, testing the wind, watching for flocks of startled birds, looking for the approaching vehicles. The plane overhead sputtered, the pilot content to glide on the hot air and watch the imminent capture on the ground. “One of the young fighters spotted the Land Rovers. The vehicles were coming from several directions at once. The fighters continued to run, this time in shrinking circles, until they were breathing in each others’ breath, sensing the closeness of each others’ bodies, their muscles tight with anticipation of the confrontation. After some time they stopped running, because the distance between them was so little that each one could communicate with the next one with a look, or a hand gesture, which was passed on from one to another around
vertical stick between his hands, this way, that way, faster, faster, faster. His companions continued to circle him, one eye on the aeroplane overhead, the other on the approaching Land Rovers. He blew at the sparks that flew from the sticks and continued twisting this way, that way. He pushed some dried grass and dried cow dung close to where the sparks were flying out of the wood. A small flame appeared, he cupped it, and blew and blew, all the while singing under his breath the children’s song that tells the shy fire to come out and play. And then the grass and dung began to burn. He grabbed a handful of grass and held it to the smouldering dung and continued to blow. The grass caught fire. He handed the burning grass to one of his companions; he grabbed another handful of grass, and when this was lit, he passed it on to another man; and so on until they all held these clumps of burning grass in their hands. And the circle began to widen as the young men ran faster and faster, further and further, this time towards the approaching Land Rovers. As the young men ran the savannah began to burn. And as the grass caught fire, the man in the middle, the one who made the flames, broke into a song asking forgiveness of the swara, the duiker, the dik dik and the field mouse – and all of the other creatures who lived on this ground. “The fire spread ferociously, and soon a thick dirty cloud of smoke rose from the savannah, and a circle of flames spread outwards faster, faster, faster, and the hare, and the duiker and the dik dik fled the flames, moving first this way, then that way, finding the break in the circle, the flicker as the wind took a breath, through which they could escape. Following the hare, the duiker and the dik dik, the men jumped through those same breaks in the circle of flames
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FICTION I Muhonjia Khaminwa
excitement. I did not know exactly where the story had taken place. Actually, I knew very little about the story I had just told her. Many years ago as a child I had heard the briefest outlines from one of my uncles when we travelled this road. The rest I had created for Malika’s enjoyment. “I don’t know Malika, look, somewhere on this road, somewhere between Nyeri and Nanyuki. What does it matter exactly where?” Malika had finally stopped running and ululating. She was kneeling on the ground, letting the scooped soil pour through her fingers. “You know...if we could just walk around slowly, day after day, we could find this place.” “What are you talking about Malika, why do you keep talking so much nonsense?” “Come on, Nduta. Haven’t you ever been somewhere and just felt in your bones what had happened there?” “What? Like a cemetery?” “No, that is too obvious, with all the headstones and crosses; you would be a monster if you did not feel all that sadness. No, haven’t you ever walked over a field, under a tree, swam in a river, even entered a building, and just known that something horrible happened there or something good, or just something before? That it was not always the way you find it now?” I thought of all the times I had driven through the residential districts of the city. In my head I had seen all the bungalows, hibiscuses, green lawns, servants’ quarters, metal gates and cai-apple fences, all of it dissolve away into fields and fields of grass. But Malika went too far with this, took it too seriously. I watched her as she took out one of the little glass bottles that she always
and, hidden by the thick clouds of grey smoke, they escaped the approaching Land Rovers. The Land Rovers tried to continue with their mission. The drivers rolled up the windows of their cars and tried to keep to the straight course they had been following, to the circle of crouching fighters. But the smoke would not be held back and it found its way into their cars, blinding their eyes and choking their lungs, until they had to stop. They ran out of the cars, keeping their faces close to the ground, stealing the last of the breathable air from the fleeing dik dik and duiker and hare. The sound of the petrol tanks of the vehicles exploding in the heat of the burning savannah drowned out the low rumbling that was the mountain slowly falling, collapsing into the ground. And from his platform up above, the pilot watched his companions stagger into the burnt-out ground in the middle of the circle, where the fire first began.” “Yes, yes, yes, stop the car! Stop the car!” Malika cried out excitedly. “I knew that somewhere behind that middle class properness of yours there had to be some stories, some memories of what happened here.” I pulled the car over to the side of the road. Malika jumped out of the passenger seat and ran around the front of the car. She ran off into the bush, pushing her way through the thorny shrubs that pulled at her clothes. Soon she came to a barbed wire fence where she had to wait until I caught up with her. We held the wires apart for each other and crawled through the fence and Malika ran off again, ululating at the top of her voice. “Nduta, where did this story happen, where was this grass burnt?” I was disconcerted by Malika’s
seemed to have hidden away in the folds of her dress. She filled the bottle with a handful of soil. She closed her eyes and threw her head back and let the sun shine on it. She knelt there like that, with the sun beating on her face for such a long time that I feared she would faint. I turned and walked back to the car and waited at the wire fence for her to return. What did she want from all these stories? So there had been colonization and there had been resistance, so we had fought the colonizers and we had uhuru. But what was that story, as splendid as it might be against the everydayness of life. Malika could afford to wander across the continent collecting glass jars of multicoloured soil, collecting stories and memories and fleeting images of old people who were no longer here. But for me and everyone I knew, we had our lives, and our jobs, and our families and our relatives, all of us, struggling to move this country forward into history. How many of the grabbing hands would be satisfied to capture one of these memories in its grasp? Didn’t Malika see all the desperation around her, didn’t she see the parking boys running through the city, begging for money, food? And when those were not there, a quick puff of petrol fumes. Didn’t she see all the young people whose eyes were already beginning to glaze over as they understood that the wonderful lives they had been growing towards were going to be as difficult and frustrating as their parents’ lives had been? Didn’t she see the slums where more people lived under rusting sheets of “mabati” than those of us who lived in stone houses, those of us who could say we had made it? And even making it, what did it mean in these years. How long, after all, before some soldiers decided to take history into their hands and everything stopped and stagnated like in so many other countries around? What did Malika think any of us could do with visions of grass where homes, schools, supermarkets and hospitals now stood? No, not visions...but little interludes of madness when what was, threatened to dissolve away. After what seemed a very long time, Malika reappeared. We returned to the car and continued to drive to Nanyuki, a thick silence between us. I was not sure why Malika was not talking. I did not know whether or not she had registered my
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impatience, or whether she continued to savour the story I had created for her. “I made up that story.” “What?” “That story, about the freedom fighters defeating the Europeans and their askaris by setting the grass on fire. I made it up.” “All of it?” “Yes,” I lied. I could feel Malika staring at me. She stared for a very long time. “Look, Malika, this is what I learned in school. During the Emergency period, from 1952 until 1957, over eleven thousand of us were killed, but only a handful of whites ever died.” “So that makes the story a lie?” “No, but it means it does not matter. We lost. We made it difficult for them to continue, but we never defeated them in battle. Look, remember the picture I showed you of Dedan Kimaathi? How did you see him? Captured and bound, lying on the ground like an animal. Where is the picture of him freed? It does not exist. It has never existed and it will never exist.” Malika turned to look out from the side window. She kept quiet for a long time. Then she swung her gaze round and addressed me. “Somebody else, a poet, Audre Lorde, said this: ‘Remembering, re-imagining and re-making, storytelling . . . are the light in which we live our lives’. So, my dear Nduta, depending on the colour of the light we see, we live, we dream and we imagine our lives
differently. If you want to see this land only as it is now, bound by a barbed wire fence and, as you have told me, owned by a Lord or an Earl or some other settler who has never left – if that works for you, then keep repeating that story to yourself, the one of the settlers, over and over again.” She let out a long sigh. “Don’t you see...” she said, “you can imagine Kimaathi into his triumph.” We drove in silence until we reached the outskirts of Nanyuki. The empty road had begun to fill with traffic. At each intersection we passed, more and more cars drove onto the road. We did not speak much for the rest of that day. We spent the afternoon at the pilot farm collecting the bulbs for my next crop of tulips. Malika enjoyed herself as always, talking to all the farm workers, trying her Kiswahili on them. She seemed determined to absorb every inch of this country into her being. Malika offered to drive the two-andhalf hours back to the city. I leaned back in the passenger seat as we passed the town limits of Nanyuki. My body ached from running around the farm . . . and Malika seemed absorbed in her thoughts. I imagined her soaking in all the smells and colours and sounds she had experienced today, adding them to the other smells and colours and sounds she had been collecting from all over this land, this Africa, trying to make all of these strings into one story that would explain everything. Everything.
How did you see him? Captured and bound, lying on the ground like an animal. Where is the picture of him freed? It does not exist. It has never existed and it will never exist.
W HAT IS H IS N A M E, THE CHILD WHOSE DEATH Y O U S P O K E A B O U T,
KIRAITHE? By Ayo Bole
here is this cheeky lad on television. He is at the front of a small crowd of men and two women. You notice him because he is in a black t-shirt, he wears a cap and he is pulling at his ears, stretching out his tongue at policemen dressed as if they are an alien invasion force. He laughs, we imagine, because we see his teeth gleam. Teasing and weaving. He has a way about him, a good dancer, we think. A teenager. Hip-hop boy. Kisumu style. Youthful face, energy, defiance, mischief. It radiates. Ngo’ngo. We laugh because he makes the whole crisis seem ridiculous, lightens the mood. Quite a character. What is his name? You see him. He is in that small crowd that mocks the dolled up state keepers-of-law-and-order. Men with bulletproof bibs supported with big guns and fat shields, face-to-face with a mischief-making audience armed with voices, gestures and pebbles. A man’s voice shouts: Piga huyo. Who shouted that? What was his name? A group of three camouflage-gear men. One pulls away. A man in helmet, bib and heavy boots. Admittedly, he looks puny. He floats in his protection gear. Small man with a big gun. He ducks and glides, and leaps over stones and fire. He runs and shoots, runs and shoots. The crowd disperses. The man slides between shacks and abandoned huts. Piga huyo. Someone has been singled out. He points his big gun, this little man in camouflage gear. Good, brave man. Following orders without question. The teenager, the cheeky one in black, stumbles. The man in camouflage aims the gun at him and fires, and fires. The teenager twitches. Then he gets up, pulls off his cap, chest up. The brave man in
camouflage gear, kicks him once, twice, thrice, surveys his surroundings, fires again and fires twice and the teenager at his foot rolls. The boy gets up again, on his face, pain-fury-mischief. Lopsided glide, he favours his left arm, defiance is etched in his nowpouting mouth. Mocks his death, not afraid, not cowed, amused? What is his name? He falls again. The camouflage man fires his big gun. He kicks the boy. He kicks the boy. Brave man, who bounces away with that drag foot pride associated with ghetto superstars. Brave man in camouflage gear, bulletproof bib and AK 47; keeper of law and order; tax payers’ courageous beneficiary. Following orders, doing his job. In the next scene we see the crowd gathered around the boy, who is lying on his back, chest exposed, face turned away. Ameaga. He is dead. Last moment of life scene. Shared with the nation. A gift, a question. Will we each meet death with laughter? Will we be able to rise one more time and give a shape and form to our death, stare at its face in defiance, humour and lop-sided hope? Will our death also be dressed in camouflage gear, disguising its puny being, hiding under cover of the state? Just doing its job? Little policeman with a big gun, today, did you wonder about your own end? Do you understand that like the child you killed, one day you too will die? Or is that not in the contract with the state? Later, statements and opinions flood the viewers’ sets. The police spokesman, his name is Eric Kiraithe. He says the
What is his Name, the Child Whose Death you Spoke about, Kiraithe?
ESSAY I Ayo Bole
evidence of our gaze is a lie, insufficient evidence of murder-by-thestate. Live bullets not allowed, he says. (Exceptional circumstances permitted, like a boy making faces at armed men in bibs, and in provinces occupied by perceived enemies-of-the-state). He says that the crowd we saw running away was in reality attacking the police. He says the boy had confronted the little security man who was representing the long arm of the law. He says the man in camouflage gear was doing his job. Good man. (Dear Kiraithe, you are merely one in a long line of historical folk who have said this. For example, the Nazi Nuremberg trial transcripts have a list of those who toasted human beings and scattered their ashes, and reiterated that they were just doing their job.) Kiraithe also wants the camera person, the one who shot the non-evidence, to give himself up, report to the police station and write a statement that will ‘help police with investigations’. He says the evidence on our screens is insufficient. Not state-approved murder. Merely the overzealous act of a single, thin policeman in a too-big camouflage jacket and bulletproof bib. Just doing his job. Like the cameraperson. Too late, Kiraithe. Some deaths become our own. They become us, however many words are used to try and wash them away. Some deaths move into and reside in our souls, and can never leave us. Like that of a tallish, teenage boy with a cheeky grin and a lop-sided swagger. Kenyan boy, Kiraithe. Kenyan, just like you. Can you imagine anything so strange as being a living Kenyan? ‘Ngo’ngo,’ a boy’s final deed in life. I wonder, police spokesman, if you ever contemplate what your last act in life will be. You who have lived past your teenage years and might even live into your dotage, enjoying the gift of life to the fullest. When that time comes, as you reflect on your past, as you must, will you remember that you were once young and outraged? Surely, you must have been young enough to cherish dreams about your future, the future that made you a spokesman for a young man’s death? You must once have known that rashness of youth that believes it is invincible. Inside your memory, you will probably
The police spokesman, his name is Eric Kiraithe. He says the evidence of our gaze is a lie, insufficient evidence of murderby-the-state. He says that the crowd we saw running away was in reality attacking the police. He says the boy had confronted the little security man who was representing the long arm of the law. He says the man in camouflage gear was doing his job. Good man.
flinch a little at the look of surprise on that child’s face on January 16th, 2007. Or not. But you will certainly smile a little at the need of all young men for heroes and heroic dreams. The yearnings that led you to the road of policing. You must have imagined there were things in life you could love strongly enough to die for. Do you have sons, Kiraithe, young men with big dreams about their own lives? Maybe teenagers, just like a cheeky lad dressed in black who died yesterday, surprise on his face. Curious. What was it about that cheeky boy that irritated you all so much? What was the one thing he did that eradicated his humanity for you and your men? Was it that he jeered, and seemed to enjoy his harmless mockery? Or was he a victim of this season of national madness that has the world divided into two: the righteous and the beasts? But you do also understand that when this time is over and done with, when the rhetoric disappears, both righteous and beasts will merge and become merely human. That there will be nothing left that will explain the death of a cheeky teenager from Kenya dressed in black. What was his name? The naughty young man who tried so hard to live. (Did you see that scene of him getting up and striding with anguished mischief etched on his face?) Just doing his job. What is his name, again, sir? You remember him. You saw the footage of his death on January 16th, 2007? What do you think your last act of life will be, and who will speak to the world about it, small man with a big gun? Pray that no conceited spokesman will attempt to trivialise your existence. Like talk of the life of a teenage boy in black. What was his name? Some deaths are historical and precious by themselves. Kiraithe, some deaths, especially the hopeful ones, must also become our own. Some deaths are named after a teenage boy in black who died on January 16th, 2007, right before our eyes. What was his name? This boy who danced before he died for us. What was his name? We need the name because next to the sainted icon of Dedan Kimathi, close to the Hilton Hotel, there is a space large enough for the image and likeness of a cheeky boy in black trousers and a hat, pulling at his ears, stretching out his tongue. The national saint of humour, youth and relentless hope. Like our country. Not stillborn. His death, like Dedan’s, gives birth to our resolute living. What is his name? PS: Small policeman in bulletproof bib and big gun, we hope you realise that when the chips are down, you will be sacrificed. You may want to write down the name of the man who commanded you to piga huyo. You will need it for the day you stand in front of a trial judge and say you were following orders, just doing your job. You, of course, already know that the spokesman of police will not be on call that day to speak for you.
CITIZENS By Muthoni Garland
n armless, toothless, directionless population held captive by politicians, police, thieves, and anyone else willing to display naked power. Our reactions to the deaths, massive population displacement, desecration of democracy, the destruction and looting of our infrastructure is shock, disbelief, wringing of wrists. We are unable to come to terms with the fact that our country is fragile. The victim accounts of those displaced, dispossessed, looted and evicted, and the horrific images of police using live ammunition on unarmed protestors in an ongoing assault on our dreams of nationhood. We are dying, literally and metaphorically. In nearly three months of mayhem, our jobs, businesses, transport system, school schedules are imperiled. Our plans are ‘not to plan’, because there is no knowing what will happen. Our plan is to react, retreat, stay out of the way, and somehow survive. As Kenya burns. Politicians gathered in parliament to elect their speakers, hijacked television for almost fifteen hours. What did we see? Hugs and congratulatory back-clapping between political enemies. Jokes about rigging secret ballots. Kibaki’s bemused smile at Ababu’s dramatics. Wako droning on about the difference between head of state and head of government, a corpulent red herring since Kibaki wears both hats. Farcical deafness to Raila and Nyongo’s disregard of the speaker’s rule that as per traditional proscribed form, swearing must include allegiance to the president – a selective application of law that could be read as fear, and trepidation, by a government crippled by the fact that more than half the country believed it rigged itself in. These are extraordinary times but in the house it was business as usual, their political banter so removed
from our terror and fear that we could only laugh to tears with helpless anger. And wait to endure more death and mayhem over the next three days of government-banned, opposition incited ‘mass action.’ We are a captive, eager audience, willing slaves to our television, radio and gossip factories. We viewed a well padded policeman with an AK47, as he chased two youthful protestors in Kondele slums. When they turned to wriggle fingers above their ears at him, like children playing monkey games in a playfield, he shot them. And as they lay dying, the policeman kicked one of them twice in front of cameras. What hatred or fear or order guided the actions of this law enforcement enforcer, and will he be held to an accounting? But a senior police officer suggested the footage to be Rambo-style staged drama. These are indeed extraordinary times. We would normally expect the police to investigate and then provide answers. Their live bullets seem to be trained mainly on Raila’s Luo supporters in Kisumu and Nairobi – protestors not killers. Another selective execution of the law by the same government that is either unable or unwilling to use necessary force to restrain the Kalenjin who are even now killing, burning and looting, while hundreds of thousands Gikuyu run for their lives. A war our government, far from the trenches, describes as ‘skirmishes’ and ‘isolated incidents’, as though our lives hopes and fears are no more than collateral damage. We interpret what is happening in the same way the blind men describe an elephant. Obeying the siren of the ethnic shepherd, we rake up old cultural stereotypes, use hate speech, unverified ‘facts’ and ‘secret’ documents to build our case for endorsing ethnic
myopia. We call ourselves Christians but ignore the pain of others. Gikuyu keep silent when traders in Wakulima market decide they will not sell to Luos, or when Luhyas are chased from jobs and homes in Dagoretti. Kalenjin keep quiet when Gikuyu wives are chased out of mixed-marriage homes. Luos do not cry for Gikuyu blood shed by Kalenjin. More virulently infectious than HIV/AIDS, ethnicity endangers our children, yet we refuse to publicly acknowledge and confront it. Instead of valuing their remarkable independence, we say Luhyas and Kambas are weak or untrustworthy because they do not vote like sheep. We jabber in vernacular in our single-tribe offices, salons, and restaurants, not paying heed to the exclusion felt by others. We set up our single-ethnicity dominated churches, like the four Gikuyu ones in Atlanta, America! Like frightened ostriches we privately refuse to see or imagine the consequences of our failure to rise above ethnic definition of our identity. We keep saying Kenya is not Rwanda. Not in scale, perhaps, but increasingly in intent. Ethnic vigilante and homegrown militias are likely to be our next growth industry. We continue to dig our snouts in troughs of ethnic myopia
instead of using our multiple voices to gather the shattered fragments and dreams of our nationhood. Each of us in little and big ways is responsible for choosing whether to further break or save this country. The choice is ours, not Raila’s or Kibaki’s. Instead of vesting our hopes in the goodwill of two men, let’s lead them by example. Instead of looking inwards, listening to our ethnic cacophony of concurrence, let’s each open our ears and hearts to others so as to hear their fears and learn the things we can all agree on. Our unified messages may form the platform our more youthful leaders take to parliament and sell on the stumps as the basis for meaningful negotiation. Kenya is in ICU, and needs citizens who believe in it to speak up, to reach out, and show love and goodwill to those of other ethnicities. If we make this leap of faith, we might even create a stronger country, one in which we no longer take our nationhood for granted.
Fine. Just fine By Keguro Macharia
y brother frustrates me. In response to my nagging, frantic, persistent questions, he responds with “fine, just fine.” I feel as though he's holding back. I want him to tell me how he “really” feels. I want him to translate his feelings into language. To become eloquent about his situation. I want to believeas smiling TV talk show hosts have taught methat anything and everything can and should be said. But we are not seated on a couch in front of a studio audience. And the scene of trauma is more inchoate than my desires will admit. Amidst the production of eloquently written narratives about the now, the incessant and necessary historical production of how we came to be here, I want to reserve a space for what eludes us. I want to set a place at the table for the specter who may never show up and who may never leave. I want the awkwardness of an empty seat at a dinner party, of a full plate of uneaten food dutifully served. I wonder if my desire to feel uncomfortable is a form of guilt. My brother wants the world to be “fine”, he believes if he says it is, it will be, perhaps in a throwback to the witchdoctors said to be in our family line. I want to probe the scab, to memorize its edges, to take impressions, create a sculpture: Scab of Trauma. I am trained, after all, to use language as a way to probe gaps and silences, listen for the unheard and the lost. Dare I confess I have been unable to write? Even as I press for narratives and read others' narratives, even as I react with rage, amusement and irritation at international stories that get it wrong or right, even as I want to mark my distance from the madness, my engagement with the madness my participation in the madness, my desire for the madness, my madness in the madness... I have been unable to write. Like my brother, I am unable to create a coherent narrative. Someone burnt the paper. Someone else stole the ink. And the desk has bloodstains on it. I don't remember the alphabets. I no longer remember language. I can only use sacred words. I have forgotten how to think. I doubt feelings exist in language. Everything is going to be all right. Perhaps my brother has it right. Perhaps he has found the only way to continue. At least one way to survive. Fine. Just fine.
Lessons Learnt By Doreen Baigana
ike many Ugandans, I have watched recent events unfold in Kenya in shock, but also with vague discomfort because of the familiarity, to us, of the images of violence, especially that unleashed by the police and army on fellow citizens. We Ugandans, unfortunately, are also too familiar with the mockery our leaders make of democratic processes, as with the rigged Kenyan election, and the surreal swearing-in ceremony that followed. What is one to do? Some Kenyan writers, whom I am lucky to call my friends, have put pen to paper to communicate their frustration, anger and shame, to try and sort through this calamitous mess, to reach for explanations as a way to find solutions out of it. Their writing, thank God, provides a deeper and more succinct perspective on the events than the three-minute foreign news items—plugged in before sports and business news—that churn out tired clichés of yet another African nation gone wrong. The writers have taken action using the skills and opportunities they have. What about those Kenyans who cannot express their frustrations and views in this or any other legitimate way? Those poor, marginalized millions who have been callously ignored by their leaders for generations? Last year they were persuaded to vote, they were told an election was one way to speak and be heard, to take action to change their circumstances by throwing out ineffective leaders. And vote they did, in millions. But, it was the election results that were thrown out. This was a huge, public slap in the voters’ collective face, including those who voted for Mwai Kibaki, because he has now completely illegitimatized himself. And so the scorned populace reacted publicly, vehemently, but extremely unwisely, by turning on their neighbours, attacking and killing. It is the worst form of expression, the worst form of action to cause change, but perhaps the one that was most easily available, as years of simmering anger burst forth. Many others have tried more legitimate forms of expression, protests, but even they have been thwarted; we have all seen the horrific images of protesters being beaten and shot at by the military police. The question remains—in what legitimate, sane and safe way can the majority of Kenyans express themselves politically and be heard, and have their concerns acted upon? The Kibaki clique insists that there is no problem, while answering violence with violence. It is also not clear, so far, that opposition leaders are genuinely acting on behalf of the frustrated and angry citizens, or are looking after their own butts and pockets. The two concerns rarely coincide. Disregarding the peoples’ grievances will only continue the crisis and resultant death count.
What strikes me about the Kenyan writers’ views is the genuine shock that what is happening now is happening in Kenya. In neighboring Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, okay, but not Kenya. Also expressed is the sincere belief in Kenya as a fully formed nation, not an ungainly collection of ethnic groups, that Kenyans love peace (who doesn’t?), are intrinsically democratic, in short, Kenya is not your average CNN banana republic smoldering in chaos. That this lovely thing called Kenya is suddenly and strangely crumbling to dust. There is shock expressed that Kenyans, Kenyans could turn to violence, as if it hadn’t happened before (for example, the attempted coup of 1982, the clashes in the Rift Valley in 1992), as if the daily violence in Nairobbery doesn’t count because it is normal. It is now starkly clear, and cannot be ignored, that the underlying long-in-the-making causes of this crisis are not much different, except in degree, to the conditions among Kenya’s neighbors: the highly centralized power structure, the ethnocentrism, the acute economic inequality, the huge masses of frustrated poor. Something was bound to give, sooner or later, and the blatant rigging burst the fragile seams that seemed to be holding the nation together. I am not condemning this innocent view of Kenya that the middle and upper classes have been privileged enough to have. In fact I applaud it, if it is not completely blind, because an idealistic belief in one’s country and the democratic process is necessary for the idea of a nation to become a reality. It is the belief in Kenya’s democratic institutions that lead millions to vote; and in fact the voting itself was said to be, on the whole, free and fair. The tallying, or lack thereof, is another matter. My fear is that the rigging will have a more searing effect on the nation’s psyche than this deadly chaos we now see; it will completely erode the idealistic belief in the democratic process and institutions, and then there really will be nothing left but machetes and guns. I say this as a Ugandan who has absolutely no trust in our leaders, and no reason to trust them. Cynicism is the Ugandan’s default position when it comes to politics. When you grow up with public executions as entertainment on TV, and any walk outside shows you that army men rule the streets, and wield their power brutally, the first thing you learn about politics is that the state is an instrument of terror. We learnt this lesson not just during the Idi Amin era, but had it harshly repeated, as if we did not get the first time, by government after government that followed. No generation has been left behind. As we watched adults do anything to put food on the table, bribe, beg, spy, steal, or become politicians, we learnt that this is what you do to survive, and right or wrong is
not the issue. I dare not imagine what lessons those who have grown up in the IDP camps in northern Uganda these last twenty years have learnt, stuck between bloodthirsty rebels and a government army that for baffling reasons has been unable or unwilling to protect them. Let not the rest of Uganda think it is anymore free than those children are from the consequences of this still ongoing calamity. One lesson deeply ingrained in every Ugandan is that our security forces exist to attack us, not to protect us. Lest we dared forget, lulled by campaign talk during the presidential elections of 2006, the government graciously ordered the “Black Mamba” paramilitary unit to storm the courts as opposition members tried to seek legal recourse. We were rudely reminded that those in power would not let go simply because of this game called the elections. What lessons are the newly-minted Kenyan refugee children learning right now, before they can learn anything else? That if you hate someone or feel cheated: kill. If not, burn down their property, chase them away, and if they are lucky enough to get to refugee camps, try and poison their food. The protesters in Nairobi, Kisumu and elsewhere, and all who have watched the police beat and shoot at unarmed protesters, now know without a doubt what the police exists for. And what have all those children who watched Kibaki’s swearing-in ceremony learnt? That if you steal quickly and unashamedly in public, go through the motions, pretend to be legitimate for long enough, the lie could morph into solid fact. That the way to deal with a huge crisis you have caused is to keep insisting, with a straight face, that there is no problem. That the law serves the state, not the people. That the democratic process exists to be abused. After learning these lessons, the best most of us Ugandans can do is avoid trouble and bullets, shrug our shoulders and try to survive. Others become the politicians they have been taught to become. We watch our leaders steal and plunder with hardly a note of protest. It makes absolute sense that President Museveni is the only national leader who has congratulated Kibaki for his act of daylight robbery. We do not expect more of him. We wonder why he even bothers to explain that it was a diplomatic gesture. Oh, but of course, he is the only leader in the world aware of diplomacy. We are not surprised by rumors that the Ugandan army is in Kenya assisting in the attacks against the opposition. That is what our army does. It went to Rwanda, to Congo, why not Kenya? We react with jokes: that the head of our Electoral Commission was sent as a consultant to Kenya, it must have been to teach the ECK how to rig (he obviously did a terrible job); that the Kibaki steal was so clumsy it now makes us look good in comparison.hat this should teach the Kenyans, who thought they were better than we are. Kenyans, please don’t go down our cynical road: it leads to nothing but more violence, victims and a victim mentality, and it is self-perpetuating. But it is not too late. That human rights activist who chained himself to the police gates in Nairobi is to be a powerful counterpoint to the images of killers with pangas and police with guns. He proved to you, to us and the world that some Kenyans still have faith in the possibility of a government that exists to serve the people, and thus are brave enough to challenge this fake one. The young must be given a chance to cultivate this faith and idealism; they must not learn their political lessons from the images and events witnessed in Kenya these last terrible weeks.
WOULD YOU? By Betty Muragori Would you wield a panga in Burnt Forest, and cut a stranger down? You slashed that man as he pleaded with you for life, Instead you led the crowd baying for his blood A stranger you did not even know, He cowered and cried out, bleating like a lamb Innocent of any crime Death unwilling to take him, He died long and hard, way before his time His blood has watered your farm like acid rain, How will you live? Would you? Would you catch a running girl? Escaping a church fire in Eldoret? Place her roughly on the burning pyre A parody of father, tender, laying his baby girl to sleep, on downy bed, No lullaby can drown her keening dread, Her fear of eternal coming sleep Your pitiless face did not soothe Now you must be careful for your child, Would you? Would you? Would you seek a loving wife and give her one-hour to leave her home? Depart from all she knows and those she loves And go where? You do not care! And you call that an act of charity When she pleads with you to kill her then, To wield a blunt blade, Carve out her heart! For all is lost, At 59 where does she go to start again? You stood resolute You did not yield Would you? Would you turn against your neighbor's son? The one who lent you salt in halcyon days, That same who nursed your wounds and soothed your troubled heart And flush that son out of his hiding place And hand him over to certain death, Ignore beseeching eyes of your neighbor friend Who stands too stunned to make a sound? Now your own son is done, Would you? Would you serrate your friend with words of hate? Spoken cruel to cause a mortal wound, She's the one you used to call a chum Your careless hatred has sown seeds of harm Now you stand alone in fulsome deed?
UNFINISHED MATTER OF KENYA RAL COMMISSION TO EC EL E H T OF VUITU, CHAIR R TO SAMUEL KI E TT LE N E OP AN
By Shailja Patel Mr. Kivuitu, We've never met. It's unlikely we ever will. But, like every other Kenyan, I will remember you for the rest of my life. You had a mandate, Mr. Kivuitu. To deliver a free, fair and transparent election to the people of Kenya. You and your commission had five years to prepare, with a tremendous pool of resources, skills and technical support to draw on. You had the trust of 37 million Kenyans. On December 27th, a record 65% of registered Kenyan voters rose from as early as 4am to vote. They queued for up to 10 hours in the sun, without food, drink, or even toilet facilities. As the results came in, we cheered when nineteen powerful ministers lost their parliamentary seats. When the voters of Rift Valley threw out the three sons of Daniel arap Moi—the despot who looted Kenya for 24 years. The country rejected the mind-blowing greed, corruption, human rights abuses, callous dismissal of Kenya's poor, which have characterized the Kibaki administration. But Kibaki wasn't ready to go. When it became clear that you were announcing vote tallies that differed from those counted and confirmed in the constituencies, there was a sudden power blackout at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, where the results were being announced. Hundreds of GSU paramilitaries marched in and ejected all media except the government mouthpiece, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. Fifteen minutes later, you declared Kibaki the winner. Thirty minutes later, we watched in sickened outrage as you handed the announcement to Kibaki on the lawns of the State House, where the Chief Justice, strangely enough, was already waiting, fully robed, to hurriedly swear him in. As the Kenya Chapter of the International Commission of Jurists rescinds the “Jurist of the Year” award they bestowed on you, as the Law Society of Kenya strikes you from their Roll of Honour and disbars you, what goes through your mind these days? Do you think of the 300,000 Kenyans displaced from their homes, their lives? Of the thousands still trapped in police stations, churches, across the country without food, water, toilets, or blankets? Of fields ready for harvest, razed? Granaries filled with rotting grain, because no one can get to them? Of Nairobi slum residents of Kibera, Mathare, Huruma, Dandora, ringed by GSU and police, denied exit, or emergency relief? I bet you haven't been to Jamhuri Park yet. But I'm sure you saw the news pictures of poor Americans, packed like battery chickens into their stadiums, when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. Imagine that here in Nairobi, Mr. Kivuitu. 5,000 Kenyans, crammed into a giant makeshift refugee camp. Our own Hurricane Kivuitu-Kibaki, driven by fire, rather than floods. By organized militia rather than crumbling levees. And now, imagine grief, Mr. Kivuitu. Grief so fierce, so deep, it shreds the muscle fibres of your heart. Violation that grinds down the very organs of your body, forces the remnants through your kidneys, for you to piss out in red water. Multiply that by every Kenyan who has watched a loved one slashed to death in the past week. Whose child lies, killed by police bullets, in the mortuaries of Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret. Who has run sobbing from a burning home or church. Every woman, girl, gang-raped.
Meanwhile, the man you named president cowers in the State House, ringed by rapacious power brokers, sycophantic unseated ministers and MPs, jostling for position and succession. Smoke continues to rise from the torched swathes of Rift Valley, the gutted city of Kisumu, the slums of Nairobi and Mombasa. The Red Cross warns of imminent cholera outbreak in Western Kenya, deprived for days now of electricity and water. Containers pile up at the Port of Mombasa. Ships, unable to unload cargo, return whence they came. Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Southern Sudan, the DRC, all dependent on Kenyan transit for fuel and vital supplies, grind to a halt. A repressive regime rolls out its panoply of oppression against legitimate dissent. Who knew our police force had so many sleek, muscled, excellently trained horses to mow down protestors? Who guessed that in a city of perennial water shortages, we had high-powered water cannons to terrorize Kenyans off the streets? In this terrible time, I have had the privilege to work with the most brilliant, principled, brave, resilient Kenyans of my generation. We organize, analyse, strategize and mobilize, to save our country. I marvel at the sheer volume of trained intelligence, of professional skill, expertise, and experience in our meetings. At the ability to rise above personal tragedy—families still hostage in war zones, friends killed, homes overflowing with displaced relatives—to focus on the larger picture and envisage solutions. I think: You know these people too, Mr. Kivuitu. The idealists who took seriously the words we sang as schoolchildren, about building the nation. Some worked closely with you, right through the election. Some called you friend. You know of the decades of struggle, bloodshed, faith that created this fragile beautiful thing we called the “democratic space in Kenya.” So you can imagine the ways in which we engage with the unimaginable. We coin new similes: (the missing electoral tally forms). We wonder if a Red Cross Special Committee for the Resettlement of Displaced Presidents and Ministers might resolve our crisis. We joke about —which turns internationalists, pan-Africanists, fervent advocates for the dissolution of borders, into patriots who cry at the words of the national anthem: ….justice be our shield and defender May we dwell in unity Peace and liberty Plenty be found within our borders. Rarely do we pause to absorb the enormity of our country, shattered in seven days. We cry, I think, in private. In public, we mourn through irony, persistent humor, and action. Through the fierce relentless focus of our best energies towards challenges of stomachchurning magnitude. We tell the stories that aren't making it into the press. The retired general in Rift Valley sheltering 200 displaced families on his farm. The Muslim Medical Professionals offering free treatment to anyone injured in political protest. We challenge, repeatedly, wearily, international media labels of “tribal warfare”, for audiences that know Africa only through Hollywood. I wish you'd thought of those people when you betrayed us. Drawn on their courage, integrity, clarity, when your own failed you. Had the imagination to enter into the lives, and dreams, of 37 million Kenyans. But, as you've probably guessed by now, Mr. Kivuitu, this isn't really a letter to you at all. This is an attempt to put words to that which words cannot capture. To mourn what is too immense to mourn. Communicate what can only be lived, moment by moment. A clumsy groping beyond the word “heartbreak”. This is a howl of anguish and rage. This is a long low keening for my country. A love letter to a nation.
s I sit down to write this piece, it is just over a month since the GSU threw journalists, observers, and anyone else getting in the way, out of Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) in the first step to quickly re-instate Kibaki as President. During this period, conservative estimates indicate nearly 1000 people have died and over half a million are refugees. Kenya, once the symbol of progress in Africa, lies in tatters as a systemic and poisonous polarisation infects the country. At first it’s possible to feel outraged when someone with such questionable moral fibre as Jacob Zuma urges his supporters not to behave violently in a backward way – ‘like those Kenyans’. But then the killings and mass displacement which are extensively documented – this has been a media saturated event – begin to spread and grow. And every day, in large and small ways, the animosity continues to increase, infiltrating deeply into Kenyan society. Security companies shuffle askaris around to ensure they’re guarding clients of the same ethnic background. Disturbing reports appear of preferential treatment in Nairobi’s Kenyatta hospital – subject to ethnic status. In Naivasha, a Luo nurse is torched in her clinic by her patients. Recently, a well-known large banking group had to split up a fist-fight amongst their staff relating to ethnicity in the office. Even the moderate voices of reason are breaking down. In response to the terrible events that have built into this crescendo of shock, we see our leaders – aspirant and otherwise – proverbially retreat behind great big electric fences, to bicker while
By Shalini Gidoomal
Let Kenyans Take the Lead
ESSAY I Shalini Gidoomal
Kenya burns. They argue about seating arrangements during mediation talks. They insist that filmed police murders are mere computer graphics. They deny attacks on both sides of the ethnic divide were pre-planned. They play a ping-pong blame game. It’s their only consistent form of public debate. Even though we have long passed the place where that sort of brinkmanship is heroic. And as they verbally harangue each other, gunshots, bonfires and machetes continue to claim Kenyan life after Kenyan life. It is as if our leaders don’t comprehend the scale of the crisis on their hands. Or perhaps they don’t care. As Kenya bleeds and burns, neither Raila nor Kibaki have yet to come out clearly with a strong condemnation of the spiralling violence. Their messages don’t convey any real desire to quell the unrest. And so, their fudging has instead created a platform on which Kenya is enacting its worst hatreds. It wasn’t always this way. In February 2003, I was having lunch at Naivasha Country Club (recently under siege), when a newly elected Kibaki decided to pay a visit. He arrived unannounced with a small coterie of six people and sat down to have tea. Spontaneously the occupants of other tables, some 200 individuals, stood up and began to clap. Kibaki looked bemused, surprised that his presence – or what it represented – could cause such a reaction. We were basking in the glow of the power of the vote, the delivery of democracy at last. Five years later and Kenya is being destroyed in name of that democracy. What kind of warped logic allowed this to happen? Perhaps it is because there’s only ever been a superficial diagnosis of the problems afflicting us – which means they can’t be healed, because the root of the sickness remains uncovered. We have a small, barely-minted modern middle class with their professors, their associations, their academics who, in the past five years took out loans to buy their own home or to contribute to traffic jams in their very own new car. We have a cabal of wealthy citizens, about 1% of the population, who command over half of Kenya’s wealth. Based on this, we talk of economic growth rates, rising tourist numbers, the vision of 2030. All the time forgetting that over 60% of our people live in a different world. A world which doesn’t access this growth at all. They can only watch as banking, privatisation of national assets, stocks and property booms benefit a few. The growth rate of the last administration did not create significant additional jobs or provide infrastructure to improve living standards. So the poor continue to pay over inflated rents in the cramped conditions of Nairobi slums, or stay in rural areas where there’s little hope of jobs. In India, when the economy powered on with an impressive double digit growth of 13%, up from 3%, the voting public – the masses, the youth – threw out Vajpayee Singh’s government. The reason? His galloping economic progress didn’t touch them. And it’s the same here. Figures released by government agencies indicate that 1.8 million youth have no jobs. That’s a lot of restless anger waking up each morning with nothing to do, nowhere to go. A substantial mass of energy with no goal and no focus. Until now. In this post election chaos, the bitterness festering in our society has found a vent. Ethnic fears incited and excited during the 2005 referendum, and through poverty, and have combined in an explosive mix.
For the many dispossessed, this time of violence is a seminal moment in their lives – it is a time of grand expression. An intoxicating taste of an immense newly-found power. After all, being responsible for someone’s death is supremacy indeed. Quite a change from the tedium of a daily routine of nothingness. And all this is in the name of a cause – fighting for the tribe. It needs to be different. As Kenyans, we have surrendered collective leadership to a political elite who have shown nothing but self-interest. No one, from the array of elected parliamentarians, has emerged out of this crisis looking like a credible national leader. Where’s our Nelson Mandela? Our Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi? Our Martin Luther King? Looking back into history could point the way to possible solutions. In the early 19th century when the Teso broke from the Karamajong and fought their way towards what is now the Busia border, they became a Nilotic enclave surrounded by Bantu. As there was direct competition for land between these two groups, the next 100 years were a series of bloody territorial incursions. In the 1880s the Teso and Abagusii met and permanently stigmatized war amongst their groups. One could not go home a hero if one killed either Teso or Gusii. For 130 years there wasn’t a single raid amongst the two ethnic groups – although both continued to war with their neighbours with whom no pact was made. Can this process be extended across Kenya? Can such pacts, which extend existing moral boundaries, be used to create an abhorrence of killing? Can a widespread campaign to stigmatise ethnic slaughter, and humanise each and every person in every ethnic group, make a change? It could work. We need to take this sort of process and spread it across Kenya – to stigmatise killing, vilify those who advocate it, make it abhorrent, unpopular and ugly. A sustained campaign is critical. Are we fed up enough to try? The politicians are sure to follow if it is successful enough. After all, don’t they jump on the bandwagon of anything that gains them popularity? In essence we could save us. We need to save us. Informal institutions must usurp national responsibility; leap in where leaders have left a vacuum. Established organisations such as churches, member clubs, associations, businesses and unions all need to band together with coalitions that have sprung up such as the Concerned Citizens for Peace, and Peace with Truth and Justice, to steer a new track. Some of this is already happening. These groups have already begun working through public forums, through initiatives by women, by the youth, and through cooperation with the mass media. The networks are spreading, but they need to work faster, harder, if we hope to save Kenya from the brutalizing violence that is destroying our great nation. And it would behove our so-called leaders to reflect on how this country, in its munificence, has served them well. Both Raila and Kibaki are millionaires with major assets and holdings. Both have been allowed to amass vast political prestige. Now it is our turn. They owe it to Kenyans to give back to us, with dignity and integrity. To let go and let Kenyans find a way to be Kenyans. They owe it to us.
Machete Democracy By Muthoni Garland â€œYou heard," whispers a voice dazed with fear, "about our people burning?" A prelude to asking for room in a kinship house in the old country "Terrible what they are doing to us" auntie replies, "I'll pray that God keeps you safe and sounds our enemies a warning." A phone put down. Credit is dead. As cleansed as Kikuyus in the Great Rift Valley Where it rains tears, limbs, blood, rational thought, and irreversible heart-damage The camps are looters' paradise From all sides they come, the hungry for donated blankets and maize-flour; the well-fed for photographs and stories Women scrabble for food. In troubled times, people are always famished. Children eat and play, 'Kalenjin against Kikuyu' the new Cowboys and Indians. They all want to play Kalenjin. Men huddle and rage, "Will it take a quarter million more of us before our Kikuyu president understands we are being finished?" They yearn for rallying, clarifying action, to add grit to their voice as they scold their children "Go back," says a government determined to end the chapter on internal displacement. Guns aim at those protesting electoral rigging; consistent clampdown on images that threaten investment Go back to houses and granaries now charcoal feeding the fires set by warriors wanting to annihilate them? Unable to raise 60,000 shillings to buy land in Kikuyu Central Province , the final searing Go back to hunger as you contemplate the ashes that remain of kiosks and shacks in city slums ruled by tribal vigilante who've raped over a 1000 women and threw a pregnant one off a storied building? So the wounded walk the land latching onto to those of their kind They now know no one else will understand their language Like their foes, they pick up machete and hoe, and drink the blood oath When democracy fails, ancient methods Rambo The questions we asked "Was the violence planned, was it orchestrated?" missed the point . Poverty's voice is awkward, Unschooled. Risible. A man in a matatu speaks in vernacular, tells those who understand his tongue to alight from the public taxi at the next stop. As they silently comply, are they mortified, revenged, or just relieved to be Gikuyu? All that's left of the Luo nurse and others who uncomprehendingly remain are limbs and body parts. Rwanda-style museum parts of a machete butchering, and butchered innocence. A boy in black making faces at police in the days this was about an election. Felled by a policeman's AK47, whose spokesman implied it was staged television. The boy stood one last time to seer a question on our minds, "Why did you kill me?" His death should have broken the back of our confusion. His monkey antics showed how ridiculous, and ridiculously uneven, the fight between man and country It is no longer about Kibaki rigging or Raila claiming he won the election, or those of their kind who sympathies from afar and feed the mania. Surely this now about who wins the war. Will it be tribe or nation? Will it be you, me, or us?
BOOKEXCERPT countries of Africa, but probably none as much as the European trade in enslaved Africans and the subsequent devastations wrought by colonialism. It was the development of German interest in acquiring colonies in Africa that led to an international conference in Berlin in 1884 5. A conference which, of course, did not include a single African representative. The European powers, as well as representatives from the Ottoman Empire and the USA, sat around a table drawing lines on the map of Africa, dividing the continent among themselves and agreeing that if at all possible they should not fight wars with each other for possession. Some areas were declared 'spheres of influence' while others were 'possessions'. Historic, natural and linguistic boundaries were ignored, thus creating 'artificial creations, [which] have created very serious problems, many of which have still not been solved', according to Professor Adu Boahen of the University of Ghana.
The trade in enslaved Africans
After Abolition: Britain and the Slave Trade Since 1807 By Marika Sherwood IB Tauris. 192 pages. ÂŁ20.00. From Chapter 5, 'Africa' How was the modern map of Africa created? Did African countries develop 'naturally', through the rise and fall of empires, kingdoms, chieftaincies, as European countries, or as China evolved? Certainly not. By the 19th century, some Europeans had been trading with Africans for four centuries. So had what became the Ottoman Empire, as well as Arabian kingdoms, and Indian and Chinese traders. All these traders influenced the development of the
There had been slavery in various forms in Africa, as there had been elsewhere in the world, probably since time immemorial. The 'English' were enslaved by the Roman conquerors; my Magyar forefathers were enslaved by the Turkish conquerors of Hungary in the 16th century. There had been a trade in slaves in Africa, marching the enslaved women and men North, across the Sahara, for about a thousand years. European slave traders arrived on the West African coast in the 15th century. There was a trade in slaves from the East coast also, going North and East and eventually across the Atlantic. Africans, of course, resisted. Though there has been some research on revolts on slaving vessels, research on resistance in Africa has been relatively recent. This is not surprising as British (and other 'Western') historians have only admitted within the past few decades that Africa had a history. (And in Africa, universities with research facilities have only existed for the past 2030 years.) Britain had begun trading in enslaved Africans in the 16th century. The Abolition Act of 1807 and all the subsequent Acts, and the many treaties signed with slave trading and/or slave-holding countries had very little effect. Historian David Eltis has estimated that about 16 million African were embarked from the shores of Africa after 1808; about 80% of them arrived at their destination. How many survived there is not known. Nor do we know how many were killed in the process of enslavement or how many died while awaiting shipment. So after the much-lauded Abolition Act of 1807 the export of the enslaved continued, and the use of domestic slaves in Africa increased. The last British Acts abolishing the legal status of slavery were passed almost one hundred years after the 1833 Act of Emancipation: it was in 1927 that slavery was abolished in the British colony of Sierra Leone. On the Gold Coast, where 'slave dealing' had been abolished (at least on paper) in 1874, the legal status of slavery was not abolished till 1928.
TEENAGERS IN A (FORGOTTEN) TIME OF WAR By Tolu Ogunlesi
ound within the pages of a book, the emotive intensity of a suffering child rises one notch. This goes some way to explaining why the bestselling lists have been powerless in the face of an onslaught of “misery-lit” stories of childhoods sacrificed on the altars of domestic abuse. (Famous examples: Dave Pelzer's A Child Called It; Toni Maguire's Don't Tell Mummy: A True Story of the Ultimate Betrayal; Julie Gregory's Sickened: The True Story of a Lost Childhood, and Torey Hayden's Somebody Else's Kids: They Were Problems No One Wanted!) Now, take that child out of the domestic setting, and plant him (or her) in a theatre of war, not simply as a victim, but as an active, even if unwilling, perpetrator of evil. What follows is an emotional effect different not in its intensity, but instead in its formthe distress evoked by domestic suffering is replaced by another feeling, a dramatic cross between shock, disgust and curiosity. Seeing violent
adult impulses and emotions through the eyes and voice (and, I daresay, gun-nozzle) of one not yet equipped to handle such, is an experience in a class of its own. A number of booksfictional and nonfictionalhave recently appeared, featuring African child soldiers as protagonists: Sierra Leonean Ishmael Beah's memoir, A Long Way Gone; Uzodinma Iweala's debut novel Beasts Of No Nation (set in an unnamed African country and featuring the rotten-English speaking Agu); Ahmadou Kourouma's Allah is Not Obliged (described by the UK Guardian as “…a gruesome but exuberantly narrated litany of corruption and carnage as witnessed by a child soldier in Liberia”); What is the What, Dave Eggers' fictional recreation (“novelised autobiography”) of Valentino Achak Deng's life as a child refugee in war-torn Southern Sudan; and Ugandan China Keitetsi's Child Soldier: Fighting for my Life (it was China Keitetsi's life story which influenced Uzodinma Iweala in the writing of his novel). The list perhaps goes on and on. What is clear from the above is the fact that a major distinction between Africa and the West in the 21st century is in the type of child-misery dripping onto the pages of our books. Civil War misery versus Sitting Room misery. The War kid versus the Unwanted kid. The latest addition to the list of “warkid-lit” is Biyi Bandele's Burma Boy. But Mr. Bandele has chosen to set himself apart, not only by settling on a war much farther removed from the 21st century than the wars regularly featured in the other books (Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, etc), but also by portraying his teenage soldiers in a manner different from the “genre” trademark of tragic or damaged or traumatised victims of violence and coercion. This is one novel about a teenage African soldier that will not feel at home in the traditional warkid-lit section of the bookstores. For one, the characters that throng the pages of this book are not child soldiers coerced into war (Lord's Resistance Army-style). In fact, Ali Banana, the fourteen-year old protagonist, has to inflate his age in order to get enlisted into the army. And the impulse that drives him to war is neither bloodlust nor fear, but rather the simple fact that his two bosom friends have enlisted. And, from then on, the desire to prove useful to King George and the Empire. Then again, refreshingly, this is one war in which child soldiers feature that is not African in any way. Not in the warlords, nor again in the “booty” being fought over. (Take a back seat, Angolan oil, take a nap, Sierra Leonean diamonds, let Master Hitler et al show you how blood is shed.) These are not Hutus and Tutsis, or southern Christians and northern Muslims massacring each other, no. Instead, we see them, these young soldiers, joining hands behind a common “master” to fight a common enemy. Mr. Bandele, in this book, seems to be trying to remind us that Africa has never owned the copyright on war. Burma Boy is a book that is based largely on historical events and persons. There is a real-life Ali Banana, but Mr. Bandele is quick to warn us that “[the] imaginary namesake is pure invention and bears no resemblance to his historical forerunner”. There is also a real-life Wingate, the famed founder of the Chindits. In a lengthy note at the back of the book the author acknowledges his debt to a number of books (mainly “first class accounts of the Chindits”) as
REVIEW I Tolu Ogunlesi
well as to “…my father's stories of carnage, shell-shock and hardwon compassion”. The Senior Bandele was a Burma veteran. The novel follows the “Thunder Brigade”an arm of the “Chindits” (an unorthodox Allied Commando Unit named after a mythical beast said to be a guardian of Burmese temples)on their journey through the jungle, dodging landmines, snipers and stray bullets from largely invisible enemies. The website www.chindits.info informs us that “The Chindits were the largest of the allied Special Forces of the 2nd World War. They were formed and led by Major General Orde Wingate DSO. The Chindits operated deep behind enemy lines in North Burma in the War against Japan. For many months they lived in and fought the enemy in the jungles of Japanese occupied Burma, totally relying on airdrops for their supplies.” Burma Boy is a laugh-out-loud novel, which, for one set in one of the most brutal stages of a most brutal war, is an admirable and brave achievement. When Banana discovers that one of his comrades has brought kulikuli (fried groundnut paste) along from Northern Nigeria, he cannot believe his eyes. “Kulikuli here in India? God is great.” It is also a novel of much fine detail, and manages to keep sharply poignant memories of home on the tips of the boys' tongues and hearts. Memorable nicknames and comically mispronounced names abound, a fallout of the fact that much of the dialogue in the novel is conducted in Hausa vernacular. Bandele of course doesn't inflict this vernacular upon us, he skilfully translates into English, while leaving just enough of it to tantaliseso that “Captain” emerges on the native tongue as “Kyaftin”, Sergeant becomes “Samanja”, Private, “Farabiti” and General, “Janar”. The English King, George VI transforms into a near-mythical “Kingi Joji”. A warning though: if you are a reader looking for a rounded, “more-dimensional” representation of Japanese fighters of the Second World War, you will have to look beyond Burma Boy. My first exposure to the “Janpani” was in the war and adventure comics I devoured as a childand they presented a series of unflattering representations. The Janpani always came across as bumbling, tactless, reckless, English languagemauling “warriors” who seemed to prefer bayonets to bullets. Their favoured strategy seemed to be a mass stampede in the direction of the enemy, while yelling “Banzai!” Now, in Burma Boy, we meet them again at their most suicidal, seeking strength not in military strategy but in sheer number. The reality of war is palpably evoked, and as the novel progresses it becomes evident that there is no amount of humour that can reverse the cruelties and tragedies of war. The Yoruba proverbthat twenty children cannot play for twenty yearsis a law that even in peace-time is as true as gravity, not to talk of in a time of war. In my opinion, the first chapter of Burma Boy easily qualifies as one of the best first chapters of any novel in recent times. The character profile of the fictional Wingatea man whose life was bound up in near-equal measures of fact and mythand his hallucinatory, Atabrine-induced stumbling through the streets of Cairo into his hotel room, the eventual scene of a failed but gruesome suicide attempt, is
simply in a class of its own. However, juxtaposed with the mastery of this opening scene, I found the novel's ending strange and unsatisfying, laced with exaggerations that seemed bent on camouflaging the novel's “helmet” in ill-fitting leaves of magical realism. In Burma Boy, Biyi Bandele pays tribute to the “boys” who left their homes in 1940s Nigeria for a jungle ridden with death and disease, to fight a war they understood little or nothing about. These were the ancestors of today's Agus and Ishmael Beahs. Unlike their descendants however, they have largely lain unsung, forgotten even. The collective amnesia with which the sacrifice of these brave fellows has been paid back cannot only be attributed to the unavailability in those times of CNN-type “embedded” news coverage, or the absence of now-ubiquitous dollar-soaked NGOs who pump solicited fortunes into the war against childsoldieringbut, in our defence, because new Wars have not stopped arising to replace old ones. The novel blurb informs us that “Burma Boy is the first novel to depict the experiences of black African soldiers in the Second World War.” We have Biyi Bandele to thank for this well-realised act of resurrection and immortalisation.
What is your idea of perfect happiness? The sun, a good book, and a mug of hot chocolate (topped with cream) while on holiday. What is your most treasured possession? My soul. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be? We are not perfect but I love the imperfection. I wouldn't change a thing. What negative stereotype of Africa do you hold that you are most ashamed of? That corruption is endemic. What is your greatest extravagance? Books.
CHIKAChikaUNIGWE Unigwe is the author of two novels, De Feniks (published in English as The Phoenix) and the recently released Fata Morgana. She was in Lagos in December 2007 to give readings from The Phoenix. Herein, the Belgium-based multilinguist reflects on missed appointments, perfect happiness and a name in search of a bearer.
What talent would you most like to have? I'd like to be able to have â€œsoulâ€?; dance like we Africans are reputed to be able to. And sing. I have a crappy voice and I'm a crappier singer. What are your favourite names? Jefeechi (my last son's name). Adaolisa (a name I've saved for my daughter when and if she comes). What living person do you most admire? Buchi Emecheta, for surviving and making it against all odds. Who are your favourite writers? I have favourite books but if I'm pressed I'd say Haruki Murakami, I love all his books. Peter Carey, Caryl Phillips, and In Arcadia by Ben Okri. What is your greatest regret? That I never kept an appointment I made with Flora Nwapa. What African figure are you most intrigued by? Nelson Mandela. When was the last time you shed a tear, and why? In November, when a friend who had been trying to get pregnant for the past twelve years had a beautiful baby boy.
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