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What An African Woman Thinks



It's my window, but I don't own the view.



Updated: 2018-01-15T19:27:25.831+03:00

 



Conversations with A Freedom Fighter

2016-03-26T21:09:40.895+03:00

On the wall directly opposite the door, above a fireless fireplace, is a china plate embedded with the ubiquitous image of Dedan Kimathi. He lies stiffly on what appears to be a makeshift stretcher, hands in chains, head in dreadlocks, bare chest, defiant eyes. On another wall, to the left, is a framed reproduction of a black and white image that has graced the pages of Kenyan newspapers often since Independence: Field Marshall Muthoni at the Ruringu Stadium in Nyeri on December 16th, 1963—almost 40 years ago—where some Mau Mau had gone to give up their weapons after the declaration of Independence 4 days previously. Her chin is up, her jaw is tight, her eyes are hard. Dreadlocks flow untidily onto the middle of her back. She is clad in a cloak of animal skin.Forty years later, we are seated in her house, suitably awed.We are grateful for the opportunity. We had hovered outside her gate anxiously for a few long drawn out minutes while our more savvy companion went in to persuade her to give us audience.Field Marshal Muthoni does not speak English, she did not go to school. She speaks a smattering of Kiswahili. We, on the other hand, are Kikuyu challenged. We can understand it, for the most part, but we are wary to speak it. So we pose our questions through an interpreter and then listen to intently her answers. Her intelligence strikes one immediately. She has an unquestionable air of authority about her. It is not difficult to understand why she rose up to the rank of Field Marshal in the Mau Mau Movement.With customary African hospitality, she offers a cup of tea. In customary African fashion, we accept, thank you very much.The interview begins tentatively: Why did she go into the forest? To fight, of course. Then she elaborates: My father worked for a settler. I was brought up in a settlers’ farm. Once you had lived with them, you knew you had to fight. And also, ‘we felt it was better to die in the forest fighting them, than to live without our freedom. We wanted our land, and we wanted our freedom, that is what we wanted.’Slowly she warms up to our interrogation and begins to carry the story. We interject less and less. When she mentions Dedan Kimathi, her eyes cloud over. There is depth of feeling there, one can tell. When she talks about the fate of freedom fighters after independence, there is a choke in her throat. She paints a haunting analogy. ‘It’s like a competitive match she says. We were the team. We played valiantly, sacrificially, against the opposing team. We sweated. We gave our lives. Then, at the end of the match, when we had won, the spectators ran away with the trophy. ‘This is a familiar theme among the Mau Mau ex freedom fighters still living today. Their bitterness with their treatment in independent Kenya is nigh palpable. Forty years on, Field Marshal Muthoni is still incredulous about the turn of events. The former freedom fighters around her, (and there are many), appear to still be reeling from the effects of what happened forty years ago. But she is by far the most eloquent. We listen, enthralled, to her account:We were in the forest fighting for our freedom. Our fellow black man was not our enemy, not even those who collaborated with the white man. Those who collaborated we knew did so because of their ignorance. The white man was not our enemy because of the colour of his skin. No. It was because of what he had done. He had come and taken our land and was oppressing us in our own land. That is what we fought for: Our land and our freedom.While they fought in the forest, another strategic war was taking place in the political arena. Parties were being formed after the fashion of western systems to fight for the rights of Kenya all the way to Lancaster house. Educated Kenyans were agitating for the rights of the black man in the legislature, through constitutional means. There was a parallel non violent movement campaigning rigorously for the end of British rule. Their goals were the same, their methods, starkly different. Nonetheless, there was a hazy overlap. Some Mau Mau[...]



New York New York

2016-03-26T20:59:27.880+03:00

I draw in a long, nervous breath. This is New York. I expect to be, well... intimidated.

Although, enroute, the dilapidation, the trash littered along the highway, humanized it. Shrank it from larger than life to ... life.

First things first, New York has characters. Or. In other words. Every native New Yorker is a character. All over. All sorts.

I find that I stop. I stare occasionally. I can't help it. No one minds me.

Also, New York is one big ego, and we have all flocked here to stroke it. This is a city in love with itself. I'm just saying. Not necessarily a good thing. Not necessarily a bad thing. Just a thing.

From now on, in my vocabulary, love of self will be spelt, NYphilia.

And, I understand why New York is so written. It's bulging with stories. They are leaking messily out of it.

I could write New York.

I loved the T-Shirts, razor sharp with sarcasm. Now that's the New York of the movie director's imagination. I however, bravely resisted the temptation to buy one at Time Square. Those prices are criminal. Or tourist. Or both. No way am I going down like that.

Speaking of which, that's a thing this city is highly skilled at. Sneaking its grubby little fingers into your pockets and greedily, gleefully, emptying them.

Ahem. I did not appreciate walking around for circa half an hour looking for a public restroom. (Earth to Mayor Bloomberg. Do your read me?)

Also, FYI, I did not appreciate being stashed into a corner at TGI Fridays.

Gasp. (Is this not the capital city of the Solo Act? C'mon TGI Fridays. C'mon.)

Or is mine a determined case of East, West, Home Best?

(Give me my Nairobi
Give me my Java
Give me my own booth

(imagined to the tune of Video by India Arie)).

People say you can get lost here, but me, I stick out like a sore thumb.

First, someone who looks vaguely familiar boards the tour bus I'm on, smiles and says hello. She sits behind me and we chat a little. She's Kenyan. We know we've met but we can't figure out where, how, courtesy of whom. We run through the list-high school, primary school, uni, neighbourhoods, nada.

Pleasant enough, as conversations in a tour bus with an overzealous tour guide labouring to drown you out go.

And Then. And Then. And Then.

On 46th and 8th, in crowded Manhattan, this guy stops me and asks me if I'm Kenyan. Gobsmackerationization. How how how? He's not even Kenyan. He's, wait for this, Togolese.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I can run, but apparently, I cannot hide.

I'm what Kenyan looks like.

(Once, way back, in Pretoria, I walked into a Hair Salon and one of the hairstylists broke out in animated Kikuyu in my direction.

Another time, in Cape Town, I'm standing at a bus stop in Rondebosch (I think), when all of a sudden this Mini Van Taxi draws to a halt right in front of me and the tout proceeds to address me in Kiswahili.)

Kenyan is a look. And, tag, I'm it.

Sigh. If you can't beat it, you might as well try to milk it for all the money it's worth.

I should probably approach the government to use me as a Postergirl for some Quintessential Kenya advertising campaign. Or some such. I wonder how much I'd get paid.

Anyhoo.

Something else I love about New York: how it unabashedly imagines itself into being. It will be whatever it wants to be and you can have your cow if you want. And milk it.

Brilliant.



God is Not Yet Dead

2016-03-26T20:58:28.054+03:00

The Guardian has an article on the recent tidal wave of books breaking violently against the God domain.

There's the God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, End of Faith by Sam Harris, and most recently, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens.

People are burying God all over the place, and gleefully sending flowers.

Thing is, I think they're bombing the wrong building. God doesn't live in people's minds so much as He lives in people's hearts and souls and experience. God is not dead as long as He lives in people's hearts.

That is not to say that I refuse to grapple intelligently with religious questions. That is not to say that I cling foolishly and blindly to unsupportable beliefs. That is to say that when I wrestle with the issues, and I do wrestle, I wrestle with something that is alive inside of me, something that is an inextricable part of me because it is a real (not imagined or imaginary) part of my experience. It is my faith.

I know: such an intangible thing FAITH. So 'how do you keep a wave upon the sand' like.

I should probably concede, at this juncture, that it is very unfortunate that some have used religion in recent times in the public domain in such a manner as to bring it into disrepute. OK, I will concede, I do concede. But, I must also add that, before I point the finger outward, my particular brand of believing obliges me point it selfward. And selfward tends to silence.

All this reminds me of a story I stumbled upon, a while ago, that really hit the switch that turns on the squirming: the blasphemy challenge story on ABCNews about a website where non-believers were encouraged to express their non-belief by cursing God.

The numbers of those who do not believe are swelling in certain parts of the world. I think I get that.

I see an upside. I see that the label Christian has fallen into disrepute there. As a result, people are more and more unwilling to wear it. It is no longer a label that they pick up and drop absentmindedly, randomly, as they go about the business of defining who they are. Instead, they think about it a little more. A lot more. And, when they do take on that label, it is because they know what they believe and why they believe it. Certainly they need to believe it enough to stand being accused of being stunted on the evolutionary chain because they still need to believe in a God.

I don't think that's altogether a bad thing, as things go.



Democratic Republic of Congo:Blood Minerals, the Reality Show

2016-03-26T21:02:07.030+03:00

I got this link in the mail, and I felt a little guilty as I've been skirting around the news of the outbreak of violence in the DRCongo, somewhat reluctant to write about it because the thought of writing about the DRCongo deflates me and depresses me and makes me wonder how so much can go wrong for so long in a country with such potential.

The New York Times is running a series titled Buried Treasure, Broken Nation which rehashes an old theme in a new and necessary way. Waiting to be uncovered in the first article in the series are these sombre assessments which ring depressingly true:

This is Africa’s resource curse: The wealth is unearthed by the poor, controlled by the strong, then sold to a world largely oblivious of its origins.

The bloodshed and terror have always been driven in part by the endless global thirst for Congo’s resources...
At the Tandaa Content Conference, Ian Fernandes suggested that if Africans were more proactive about telling their own story, we'd be talking about projects like the Inga Dam Project, a plan to build the world's largest and most powerful dam yet, projected to begin in 2014, rather than rehashing the same old story about conflict in the DRC.

I understand where he was coming from with that, and, on a normal day, I would heartily agree. But right now, all I can think is, we'd like to, we really would, but how can we when the likes of Laurent Nkunda are all up in our faces, rubbing our noses in all that can go so horribly wrong in Africa and, unfortunately, so often does?

Do not get me wrong: I do not believe that the people in Africa are any worse than the people elsewhere in the world. I think every country and every place on earth has its share of potential Laurent Nkundas. It's just that some other parts of the world seem to have been more successful in creating the kind of systems, structures, institutions and controls that tend to limit the unfettered expression of the basest form of humanity that almost inevitably leads to atrocities committed against fellow human beings than we have.

I wonder why? Where were we when this lesson was being taught in class? Why is it that we keep failing the exam?

Sigh. I knew if I got into this I'd sink into the doldrums. Oh well. Go on over and listen to what Shashank Bengali has to say. If you will.



Book Review: It's Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong

2016-03-26T21:01:11.979+03:00

A New Beginning?Kibaki’s inaugural declaration: “corruption will now cease to be a way of life in Kenya” made to roaring applause one hot December day at the tail end of a dramatic election year back in 2002 now reads like a line of pure comedy penned by a cynical scribe scripting the great African leadership farce. If they replayed that clip on television today, you would likely choke on a chortle for how far the present reality is from that lofty ideal to which we attached our national hopes.This was not always so.Once upon a time, we were true believers, high to delirious on hope.Michela Wrong begins by reminding us of that time, a time when we polled as the most optimistic people in the world.I remember the time. I remember the feeling. There’s a word for it: euphoric. We were euphoric.Enter into this euphoria a relatively young man, a couple of years shy of his 40th birthday, invited to be a part of shaping the new Kenya by taking up the position of anti corruption tsar. His name: John Githongo.It was a momentous task to be sure, but in the end, there were a number of reasons that compelled him to take the job. One, he was an idealist, understandably seduced by the opportunity to be the change he hoped to see. Two, his acquiescence was practically taken for granted by the men who nominated him, his father’s contemporaries, men he held in high regard, men he trusted. Three, we were in a state of euphoria, remember?So he took the job.It was an auspicious beginning.During his confirmation interview with President Kibaki, Githongo had been forthright with his future boss:“Sir,” he had said, “we can set up all the anti-corruption authorities we want, spend all the money we want, pass all the laws on anticorruption, but it all depends on you. If people believe the president is ‘eating’, the battle is lost. If you are steady on this thing, if the leadership is there, we will succeed.”He was certain he had been heard.Same Old, Same OldThere was every suggestion of 180-degree change in direction in those early days. As Permanent Secretary in charge of combating corruption, his office was located within State House, down the corridor from the president’s office giving him unprecedented access to the president and making him extremely powerful in the scheme of things. He formed his team, drawn for the most part from civil society rather than from the ranks of the civil service. He said ‘thanks but no thanks’ to the dark-blue BMW assigned to him as an official car. He set to work enthusiastically, participating in the new government’s effort “to carry out a detailed public tally of Kenya’s corruption problem.”He immersed himself into the system and applied himself wholeheartedly to the task as he envisioned it. He grew fond of his new boss, President Kibaki, might have been star-struck even.Alas the honeymoon was doomed to be shortlived.Soon, he became painfully aware of an ethnic polarisation taking place around the seat of power. Whereas Kibaki had won his handy election victory surrounded and supported by people from diverse parts of Kenya, slowly his inner circle distilled into one constituting mainly fellow Kikuyu and their allied tribes. The State House became increasingly mono-ethnic. Although Githongo was a Kikuyu, he was young and urban-bred, his ethnicity was far from his primary identity and this scenario discomfited him greatly.Further, it dismayed no end that this new grouping was almost singlehandedly responsible for delaying the process of drafting a new constitution, despite a clear election promise to deliver a new constitution to Kenyans.Then, persistent rumours of “new graft, of dodgy procurement contracts and lavish spending by members of the NARC administration,” began to waft his way, corroborated by a sophisticated network of informants he had cultivated. It turned out that the high level operatives within the NARC government were responsible for the sig[...]



Up in Arms: Some Follow-up Thoughts on the Arms Trade Treaty

2016-03-26T21:01:36.480+03:00

I spent a decent chunk of last week skirting around, hovering above and peering into the subject of calculated self-interest. While I was at it, and, perhaps because my antennae were up, I stumbled upon two articles that considered how that very idea may play out on the global stage. The one was an article about world hunger in which the argument was advanced, with qualification, that it is ultimately in the self-interest of the developed world to combat world hunger and that this is the case that should increasingly be made to the citizens of the more developed nations because framing the fight against hunger as a social justice issue has failed, in large part, to galvanise them. I’ll leave you to make of that what you will. The other was a critical piece in Time magazine about why this was so not the year to award Obama a nobel prize. I borrow a line from that article in Time magazine by Nancy Gibbs to lead you to where I’m standing: “peacemaking is more about ingenuity than inspiration, about reading other nations' selfish interests and cynically, strategically exploiting them for the common good.” Calculated national self-interest then, is at the heart of every negotiation on the global stage. In diplomatic circles, it may well be considered coarse to call it what it is, but that doesn’t alter its essence. Right. Now that we’re here, where I’ve been standing these past few, let’s usher the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) into the room, shall we? At the risk of grossly oversimplifying that which stubbornly defies simplification, I see three major trans-national groupings based on standing in the arms trade which then cluster somewhat differently based on their current stance toward the ATT. Based on standing in the arms trade, those major groupings are: • those a control arms report refers to as “the big five arms exporting countries” namely Russia, the UK, the US, France and Germany, which, per 2005 data, accounted for 82 per cent of global sales in conventional weapons; • the emerging players in the arms export market including countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, India, South Korea, Israel, China, Brazil, Singapore and South Africa, each competing to secure a slice of the conventional arms export market and; • the rest of the world. (Of course, in the space marked ‘the rest of the world’ it bears noting that there are currently some 92 countries producing some component or other for the small arms and light weapons industry, including my native Kenya. But the major players in the export market, which is the domain which the ATT is seeking to influence, are those outlined above.) Clustering based on stance towards an ATT as demonstrated in how nations voted on the 2006 UN General Assembly resolution to work “toward an Arms Trade Treaty” yields a slightly different map, although most places where the boundaries fall are familiar.There was one outright nay. There is no prize for guessing that it came from the US. An overwhelming majority of 153 states voted in favour of the resolution, including three of the big five conventional arms exporters, namely Germany, the UK and France (indeed all of Europe excepting Russia voted in favour of the resolution), a number of the emerging exporters including South Africa, Singapore, Brazil, plus sub-Saharan Africa, South America and the Caribbean, in the main.Those who abstained included most of the middle east, some of north Africa, the Indian sub continent and Russia. Plus a few other countries whose abstention rings contrarian more than anything else, like Zimbabwe and Venezuela.                                                                   Complexity unveiled This is where it gets interesting. (Read: complex). Three of the major small arms[...]



Who Needs an Arms Trade Treaty Anyway?

2016-03-26T21:03:20.943+03:00

Does the world need an Arms Trade Treaty? There is no doubt in my mind that Africa does, and because Africa does, the world does. In fact, if I had it my way, we would set in place an effective, transparent global mechanism to regulate the entire conventional weapons supply chain, not just the distribution end of the arms trade continuum such as is the current focus of the Arms Trade Treaty. We need it strong, we need it binding and we need it now. There is no getting away from it: unfettered access to illicit small arms has wrought great suffering on Africa. Few have suffered the social and economic cost of the flaws in the current system as Africa has. Tens of millions of lives have been lost and millions more have had their lives and livelihoods shattered in protracted armed conflicts across the continent. Certainly, access to weapons is not the whole story—conventional weapons do not in and of themselves cause conflict—but, it is an important part of the story because these weapons aggravate conflict multiple-fold. The centre spread photo montage in the western magazine of red-eyed African boy soldiers barely into their double digit years posing for the camera with deadly weapons slung nonchalantly over their shoulders may draw the wince out of the depth of us, but we cannot afford to look away: it’s our mirror and it’s on our wall. In his submission to the First Committee yesterday, the Kenyan representative made two thought provoking statements: one, illicit weapons and the heightened state of insecurity they cause forces governments to divert funds that would otherwise be applied to development projects towards securing itself; two, there is no development without security and no security without development. All which doesn’t augur very well for us, does it?And when you consider that 95 per cent of the weapons most commonly used in conflict in Africa come from outside the continent, you begin to see how patently unfair it all is. It brings to mind the very colourful Assistant Commissioner of Police from Jamaica, Novelette Grant, who’s frustrated no end by the devastating effect access to illicit weapons by criminal elements continues to have on her country as guns slip in through the island nation’s porous borders and lead to a murder rate of 61 per 100,000—alarmingly high for a country that has never been in conflict. The police force does best it can, but it is increasingly overwhelmed. Oftentimes, the illegal weapons they seize are a trickle compared to the flood coming into the country and their efforts are complicated by the fact that there’s a symbiotic relationship between the narcotics trade and the illegal trade in firearms. The gangs they encounter, she says, are often much better armed than they are. What’s a police force to do when this is what it comes to?Efforts such as these at the tail end of the supply chain where human and capital resources are in limited supply are a little like standing in knee-deep in water in a flooded house and trying to drain the water with a tea cup while the taps responsible for all the flooding are in somebody else’ house and are still turned on to full gush. Somebody do something at the tap already. That’s all we’re saying. It’s not that we’re resting on our laurels in Africa, mind you, waiting for our knight in shining armour to come to our rescue. Far from it. Three regional blocs in West, East and South Africa, already have in place legally binding agreements that seek to control the proliferation of small arms within their borders. The problem is that their success in this regard is limited by the fact that their outermost boundary,wherever it might be, is porous and vulnerable to undetected illegal penetration of arms. It’s the way of the world. We’re connected. We have to deal with it. Ergo, a global solution for an increasingly globalised world.The good new[...]



Talking About Guns in New York

2016-03-26T21:03:32.317+03:00

So this slackvitist has rocked off her chair, donned her bright red bata moccasins and made the trek across seven time zones to New York to participate in a series of events around the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations beginning at the UN this week. It’s about time and whatnot. In December 2006, an NGO-led movement that began agitating in the 1990s for a treaty to regulate the global arms trade based on universal principles scored a significant victory when the UN General Assembly voted by an overwhelming majority for negotiations to begin on what would be a legally binding universal Arms Trade Treaty. Fast forward to this, the week when the negotiations begin. The devil, as we well know, often crashes the party late, making a grand entrance just when the details are being served up. This is what I have come to see and hear, ever so briefly, firsthand. I’m very curious to witness, up-close, what major interest clusters have formed or will emerge to coalesce around which different positions and why. And to learn a little more about who’s got their foot on the accelerator and who’s got their foot on the brake and who will bring more pressure to bear to win the day.As usual, I make a commitment to listen and engage with all sides of the debate, but I make no claims of neutrality on this issue. States may have the right to produce or procure arms for self-defence and law enforcement but with that right comes the responsibility of ensuring that those arms do not slip out of the legitimate channels of distribution and cross porous borders so that the next thing you know there’s a story on my national television about heavily armed cattle rustlers in northern Kenya making away with thousands of heads of cattle, leaving a trail of death and destruction of livelihoods in their gun totting wake and; there are scores of teenagers wielding deadly weapons running around Nairobi in gangs, wreaking terror on our night life.Yes, what the raingods conjure up in these lofty parts rains down in torrents where I live. Often with devastating effects. This then, is personal. (As are most things, in the end.) So, here I am, to listen and to learn, to ask and to blog. Let the negotiations begin.It's my window, but I don't own the view.[...]



So, About Hillary Clinton

2012-02-05T16:12:28.320+03:00

I’ve been pro-Obama in the US presidential race. I will continue to be overwhelmingly pro-Obama. Not that it matters, of course, because I do not have the right to vote in the upcoming elections, being a Kenyan citizen, resident in Kenya. Still an opinion is an opinion and I have one.

But I have to say that I’ve developed a healthy respect for Hillary Clinton. She is a very intelligent, very formidable woman. Such grit. It is not easy to be her right now but she’s doing it with courage and dignity. I cannot remain unmoved when I watch her stand wearing her best smile before a crowd on whose faces she can read a sense of resignation, of futility. Here, where the clichéd rubber meets the road, this woman has substance, is substance.

Hillary Clinton is an incredibly gifted woman, and no one can take that away from her.

Besides, I cannot 'do a moving hope speech to galvanise a generation in the tradition of Obama' to save my life, not to mention the lives of my (yet unborn) children. In the public space, I would come off, in many ways, a lot like Clinton. I see me in her. I cannot help but empathise. (I also see my challenges of identity in Obama’s struggles, but that is not here.)

It’s been hard for me to distil the thought processes and feelings of African American women during this prolonged nomination process. Because they’re the point of intersection between Clinton and Obama. I think there’s been a lot of churning going on in the private place that hasn’t poured out into the public space. Or perhaps I just haven’t known where to look.

It’s been interesting to see African American women who are “women’s women” like Oprah Winfrey and Toni Morrison throw their weight behind Barack Obama. What does this mean? Is anybody talking about why it is and what it means? You get the strong sense, (especially in Oprah’s dipped ratings), that there’s a sense of betrayal in some quarters. Is this being tackled squarely or is it being sheepishly swept under the carpet?

I can't wait for this stretch to be over, and for women (especially African American women) to begin to narrate their stories retrospectively, as they slowly come to terms with what this historic race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has taught them about themselves.

And I agree with the Clinton supporter who said the nomination race is "a marathon and she should be allowed to finish." Even if she isn't going to be the first to cross the finishing line. Let her finish. That's the kind of woman that she is, and I admire and respect that. Because that's the kind of woman I'd like to be.

Space, people. Let the woman do this on her own terms.



I AM NOT MY TRIBE

2012-02-05T16:27:38.009+03:00

I salute what David Kobia is trying to do with I HAVE NO TRIBE. He has catalysed a useful discussion, especially in the wake of what I hear the Mashada forums had deteriorated to.To be Kenyan at this time and in this place is to go over your raison d’etre with a fine-tooth comb: to search your soul, deeply. We have been forced to revisit our presumptive identities, to unpack who we always thought we were, to grope for definition(s).I for one have been unearthing childhood memories and dusting them off in an attempt to isolate the spaces that shaped me into this person that I have become.And there have been interesting (sometimes heated) discussions about the place of socialization, values and ideas in the current crisis and about the nuanced standoff between individualistic and collective cultures as witnessed between certain ethnic communities in Kenya today. I have given as much as I have taken in these debates. There’s still much to give and as much to take.Today, I acknowledge that I belong to a specific ethnic community and that that belonging speaks to where I come from in vital ways that I will not disregard.But.I AM NOT MY TRIBE.At the top of my voice, defiantly, and somewhat breathlessly, to the tune of India Arie’s I Am Not My Hair, I am singing:I Am Not My Tribe, I Am Not This Name,I Am Not Your Expectations, No.This has become my mantra.My ethnicity speaks to me and to you about where I have come from, not to who I am nor where I am going.And I will not allow it to dictate my choices and my affiliations nor to set my limits for me of who I am and what I hold to be true.I have said before, if we are to forge a Kenyan nationhood, we have to find a new way of being. We cannot pass on this fractured nation to the next generation. We’ve battered and grievously assaulted what we’re meant to be holding in trust for our children and it is unconscionable to pass it on until we have restored it and set it on a path to where it ought to be going.And one of the most painful things that we must face up to, to a large extent, is that this is a journey that the generation before us will be neither able nor willing to take with us.In many ways, we will have to let go of our ‘parents’ in order to take hold of the future for our ‘children’.We were raised to hold our elders in the highest esteem, to listen to them when they spoke, to consider their words carefully, to trust their judgment. But, we cannot do so when they insist on speaking the divisions of the past as we strive to forge the bonds of tomorrow.We must find the strength, the courage and the vision to say: “Mum, Dad, _____, _______, you know I love you to the edge of madness, but, enough.”Enough.We are the ones who must find common stories of nationhood to coalesce around. This is our moment, and we must seize it or be swallowed up in it.***********For a Christian leader's take, see Pastor M's post on the subject.It's my window, but I don't own the view.[...]



If I Wallow, Let Me Wallow

2012-06-12T17:13:35.773+03:00

I had a meltdown of sorts on Sunday. The friend who received my frantic, gibberish, melodramatic text message that sent her into her own spiral of panic will attest to this.All these days, even as the situation has deteriorated, I confess that I have clung, against all odds, to the notion of a better Kenya, a Kenya where this cannot happen. A Kenya where it is enough that I am a Kenyan: a Kenya where my ethnicity is about where I come from, not who I am; a Kenya which had its fair share of problems, but which, despite these, was making progress.Now, it is fast becoming clear that that Kenya is a figment of my overly optimistic imagination.Now, doom and gloom predominate. I’m done betting my bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun. Clearly, I’m the deluded middle class, who used to live in a bubble. Somebody just stuck a pin in that bubble.I just had a visit from a friend who used to live in Kapsabet, a student at Baraton. Attackers came to her home but her neighbours hid her. She lost everything. Because of the generosity of the neighbours who hid her when the assailants came calling, her life and her children’s lives were spared.In Naivasha, a mob set alight yet another house with nineteen people, most of them women and children.A friend tells me that her family in Nakuru has sent the women away to (relative) safety and the men have remained to fight. Because what else are they going to do? They have to protect what is theirs. Her father could be my father. Her brother could be my brother. I try to imagine them wielding pangas, defending their lives and their livelihoods. My heart grows faint, my knees buckle.Another friend sent me a message the other day. The stories about Kenya in the international press made him very nervous. He said he was very afraid for me. He offered me the price of a ticket, said I should go stay with him and his family until the madness ends.I said “no thanks.” I said I wanted to stay, to see if there was anything I could do, any part I could play in bringing us back from the brink. Surely there must be something I could do.I’ve been to the meetings. Good ideas and solid plans. We’ve come up with the documents. We’ve passed them along. But Kenya is still burning.Now, I don’t feel so courageous and patriotic any more.Now, I watch myself walking around in a daze. I’m doing the routine things: getting up in the morning, going to work, going home in the evening, lying in my bed at night, getting up in the morning, going to work.Now, I want to pack all my beloved in a box and ship them out of this country. I know they won’t stand for it, of course.Yesterday, for the first time, I've thought seriously about running away, getting out of here while my visa is still valid. Just in case my family needs a place to run away to, someday. On the heel of that thought came the tears.When I travel and meet people who want to know a little about Kenya, I insist that they must come visit, and see it for themselves. The world is littered with people I’ve harassed to visit Kenya. Because everybody knows that you haven’t seen God smile, if you haven’t been to Kenya. I tell these people not to worry, accommodation is on me, I have room enough in my house to fit an entire family. So, please come. Seriously, come.Now, these very people are offering me refuge from this place I boast about.Because suddenly, God is not smiling.Remember Mary Doria Russell’s book The Sparrow which I blogged about sometime ago? Well, in her version of the future, somewhere in the middle of the 21st century, Kenyans are being accommodated at refugee camps in Sudan. I still remember reading that and filing it away in the “Yeah Right” folder. As if such a thing could happen, I chuckled to myself, under my breath.Today, yet another frie[...]



A Land of Wounded People

2012-06-12T17:15:48.506+03:00

I’m back to my 8 to whenever the work is done gig which means that, most of the time, I am preoccupied with any number of things.This is both a good thing and a bad thing.It is a good thing because, at least some of the time, I’m distracted by things other than the crisis in Kenya. Deadlines and reports and operating plans and bills to be paid at the end of the month have a way of distracting one. (And yet, in an odd sort of way, I see even my bills as a blessing now. They indicate to me that I have a roof over my head and access to basic amenities.)But it is a bad thing because not keeping up with the news breeds in me a false sense of calm.The truth is, there are still a good number of trouble spots all over this country. People are fleeing for their lives from Kipkelion, Molo and Kuresoi where the carnage persists. There was a news item on NTV tonight about a mob of stick-wielding youth attacking the Bata Shoe factory in Limuru demanding that people from particular ethnic communities be surrendered to them.In Nairobi’s low-income eastlands estates, Huruma, Dandora and Kariobangi North, gory killings are reported every night. On KTN, the camera sweeps cautiously over the lower body of a man who was beheaded in Kariobangi North. There’s a critical mass of evidence to support the persistent rumours that ethnic based militia that have reigned terror on Kenyans in the past have been revived, in particular Mungiki and Taliban. It is they that are now reigning terror on the residents of these densely populated estates each in their turn.At best our security forces are overwhelmed with the task at hand. At worst, they are culpable in at least some of the trouble spots. Mostly, they are on edge, in control, but barely.David Makali of the Media Institute, speaking at a press conference called by editors to address the government’s ban on live coverage, claims that there’s “a virtual breakdown of the rule of law on a scale never witnessed before.” I’m very afraid that we’ve let our “inner monster” out of its cage and that now that it’s out, we do not have an appreciation of how very difficult it will be to round it back in again.A political solution is only the beginning of the road to healing. We have deep social wounds that will need tending to. We may effectively have scarred the conscience of a generation. Can all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, put us back together again?There was a feature on NTV news this evening called Voices of Children.Anne is fourteen years old and she’s from Eldoret. She has nightmares every night. As she was fleeing from her home with her family, she saw a mob slashing an old woman and her grandchild to death. She cannot get this image out of her head.John is sixteen. He saw his father hacked to death by his neighbour. His life was spared because he was a friend to the neighbour’s son, but he had to flee for his life nonetheless.What is most striking about many of the stories that you hear is the common refrain: “It is people we know. It is people we lived with.”It is true, what many have argued: this is not so much an ethnic as a class war. It is, in the end, a battle between the haves and the have-nots. But, we cannot deny that it has had ethnic manifestations. The scars born of this displaced aggression are evident all over this nation. In the end, none of us is exempt. We are all the victims. We are all the perpetrators.But, credit where credit is due: twice this week, first in his address in Kisumu and then when he spoke at the Ligi Ndogo grounds, Raila appealed to his supporters not to attack their neighbours, explaining that, this is not a fight about ethnicity, it is a fight for justice.It's my window, but I don't own the view.[...]



Weep For This Place Called Home

2012-06-12T17:32:21.769+03:00

I’ve woken up to war cries outside my window. Kibera has poured out into our neighbourhood, one rival group hunting down another, sticks and stones in hand. Cries of war rent the air.

The mob stops occasionally to ransack kiosks nearby. Gun shots interrupt the mayhem. My next door neighbour is inconsolable. Her sister was out walking in Riruta trying to get away from it all with her children and she ran into a mob. The last she heard from her, she was trying to beg someone to let her into their house. Our watchman says he ran into Mungiki on his way from Kawangware to work. If you glance out into the distance, there’s smoke rising up out of Kibera, testimony to what transpired there at night.

In response, army helicopters are flying menacingly low.

Now I agree with Ptochos. In re-reading it, I can see how my shell-shocked blogging has come off as glib.

Yesterday’s hasty enthronement in the face of unresolved issues is going to haunt this country for a long time to come. It’s no matter to gloss over.

Meanwhile, the grinches who stole the election are safe in their high-walled, heavily guarded compounds far far away from here.

Weep for this place called home. Something needs to be done. Or UNDONE.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It's calmed down now. We're venturing out tentatively. There are cars on the road, there weren't before.

Yet in the middle of all this, the people give me hope. My neighbour downstairs says she’s noticed children roaming around unsupervised. She’s gone out to bring them back, into her home if necessary.

Because they’re just children.