The illusion of sovereignty and state arising out of territories created in 1885 is fast disintegrating. The false political medium in Africa modelled after the Westphalian nation-state which Zbigniew Brzezinski aptly described as “pseudo-states”, is undergoing Samual Huntington’s political decay. In this case a situation where social-political awareness and activism has evolved at a pace beyond the ability of the colonial institutional order’s ability to adapt.
Natives under the delusion of rights that they presumed they had as a natural outcome of the false liberation from colonialism, make untenable demands on the imperial order. These demands consequently lead to fracture of the illusion citizenship and statehood. As the political medium has matured and aged natives’ attempts to align what they have been taught in school and what they instinctively believe to be the reality they exist in, is testing the fabric of the medium to it’s limits.
This was best exemplified by the March 26th 2017 Jomo Kenyatta International Airport incident in which the Kenya Government removed a native born lawyer by the name of Miguna Miguna to Canada. Miguna Miguna was born in the Kenya territory but had acquired Canadian citizenship. Simply, a man was expelled from his country of birth and ethnic heritage, not by his people but by the instrument of colonial imperialism that had long since been presumed defunct.
The moment revealed the incorporeal prison grid that is the Westphalian nation-state geopolitical system. For both the ignorant and informed the Miguna Miguna “deportation” debacle exposed fundamental contradictions that are intrinsic to the Westphalian nation-state system.
His courageous demand to be allowed to re-enter his country of birth without passport validation created a clash that spewed to the surface the rotten core of colonial imperialist thoughts carried by a native elite whose vacuity was now beyond the political but also human.
To the south, another native, the founder and current leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters Party – Julius Malema threatens the illusion of the Rainbow Nation. Challenging the South African independence fraud which granted “political freedom” without release of the reigns of control of the economy, yet another falsity of such ontological improbability, it’s mere existence is testament to the ideological bankruptcy of natives of the African continent.
“I was born here! This is my country of birth!” shouted Miguna Miguna
While standing at the doorway to the plane that was meant to fly him to any destination but his home country.
A native, begging for jus soli (Birthright citizenship).
Native. Jus Soli.
The irony of our dystopic reality.
“I am a Kenyan!”
Declared Miguna Miguna demanding jus civile in a state of colonus, intending jus naturale, while in an actual state of jus gentium. Ignorantly claiming jus civile where no state even exists.
“I am JaLuo”, directed at the JoLuo Ruoth would have been more conceptually consistent with jus civile, though even more impotent. Given in our coloniality, we have obsequiously embraced inane oxymoron like “negative ethnicity”, at once de-legitimizing our own “larger families” and compelling submission to colonial abstractions like “Kenya” which are defined and redefined at will by the imperialists, as we witnessed in Sudan and other regions of the world. An example being the current re-engineering of identities in the Middle East through the Greater Middle East Initiative GMEI which is re-mapping the old and worn genocidal British-French Sykes-Picot colonial order of the 20th Century in America’s sociopathic imperial image. The cry “I am JaLuo” would sadly not only have been impotent but also politically incorrect.
One is only allowed to identify with the identity imposed by the imperial colonialists, any other is met with ridicule at best, and the potential danger of political lynching for “tribalism” by fellow serfs, at worst. No-one dare shout “I am ndorobo!”, on an international stage, where when Phil Neville says “I am British and Proud”. His ethnicity is not only acceptable but is also recognized institutionally and procedurally. White ethnic identity has citizenship, in fact sufficient jus civile to cater for any whom the white power structure would deign to grant use of their ethnicity i.e. an Arab and Somali can say they are British without fear of contradiction while the reverse would be preposterous. The small “n” in “I am ndorobo!” and the capital “B” in “I am British and Proud” is deliberate.
With this simple “sleight of hand”, the imperialists can enjoy citizenship in expropriated lands where they do not belong. They have created political aberrations like “kenya”, which enable contradictions that sustain a system that keeps the native inhabitants of colonies and occupied territories from enjoying the rights of citizenship in the suzerain’s homeland, while allowing the imperial citizen to enjoy rights in the occupied land equivalent to those in his own.
The colonial status and identity structure Prof. Mahmood Mamdani effectively described is based on the melanin phenotype. Rights belong strictly to low melanin individuals who look pink but are termed white and defined as imperial citizens, they are governed by Civil law. This superstructure is also occupied by a sub-class of individuals with more hyper-activated melanin, termed as brown. Though this subject-class occupy the upper strata governed by Civil law, they exist below the citizens and only have privileges. Natives occupy the substructure as a large muddy brown to black muck that has neither rights nor privileges and exist outside the remit of Civil law. The implications of which are, for example, murder does not apply when it is of a black (notice the absence of the term person) by a white person.
Simply put, the right Miguna Miguna demanded was a right of being a Luo to the Luo Nation. He was demanding this natural right from the un-natural entity of a colony which itself masquerades as a State and therefore has in essence no citizenship to offer, anyone.
“I am a Kenyan!”
Cried Miguna Miguna for the umpteenth time to any and all who would listen, a peregrini (alien), now out of his depth desperately using any and all means of identity available jus coloni (Serf; status of tenant farmer in Rome between freedom and slavery), jus soli (Birhtright citizenship) in order to be granted access back in to the “Kenya” province of the Imperial Empire, not knowing neither civile nor gentium exist for the natives.
“I am a Kenyan!”
Demanded Miguna Miguna the house negro, through the transparent airport departure lounge door to excited members of the Ministry of Truth in a bizarre moment loaded with dramatic scenes and contradictions that leaped back and forth between shakesperean drama and orwellian dystopia.
He flashed his chattel tag, the infamous kipande.
Yes, he was definitely one us, a slave, he belonged in our fields.
No longer a resistance “General”?
The curse of native cyclopia. Given yet to “form” “mind”, “essence” makes no “matter”.
He demanded to be allowed back in to the field. He had realized, that though being a field negro was wretched, being amongst his fellow slaves consolidated his identity and reinforced his esteem and sense of self, compared to living in the lap of the master where there was all comfort, but total deontological corrosion.
Why was he now seemingly rejecting the safety and security of his master’s house? In exchange for what we dare ask? The negro had tasted life. The field promised fame, power, relevance he could never enjoy in the master’s house, which though comfortable was cold. Nothing beyond the comfort was real. Man was not created to live in the comfort of another man’s house. It is not natural, not for any Man, only for a slave.
The fields though harsh are real, hardship strips masks, revealing us to ourselves, giving rise to struggle, struggle to meaning, meaning to purpose, purpose to life.
The life the negro had tasted.
“I am a Lawyer!”
Exclaimed the plebeian in patrician outrage. Shocked by the treatment meted out on him by fellow members of his own underclass.
Neither being “born here” (wherever “here” is), nor being a Lawyer, nor being “Kenyan” entitled the poor agitator to anything. In actual fact, being “a Kenyan” his greatest defence actually qualified him for the greatest subjugation. As being a Kenyan unlike being a Somali or a German, was the actual slavery.
According to the Kenya Gazette Supplement No. 93 of 7th December 1960 the term “Kenya” means, the colony and Protectorate of Kenya Crown Land.
What is the “Kenya Crown Land”? It rises from the Crown Lands Ordinance (C.L.O) of 1902.
To be “Kenyan” is to be chattel property of the Crown, to be “proudly Kenyan” is to be proudly chattel property of the Crown.
“I am undocumented!”
Protested Miguna Miguna. Imagine that; A world in which to be undocumented is to be institutionally non-existent. But close scrutiny reveals that “some animals are more equal than others”, as the “Citizens” of the world do not need to prove their right to re-enter their countries using Passports. Reaffirming the fact that the native has no systemic rights in the imperial order, even in his native land of birth.
“I do not have status!”
Shouted Miguna Miguna at the highly professional pilot. “I have no status in Dubai!” he cried very legitimately. As landing in Dubai without immigration status could expose him to unnecessary harrasment, potential prosecution and even temporary incarceration.
This, for the first time was serendipitously correct in literal terms, and in Dubai he would have been treated exactly as such, a runaway slave.
Without the chattel tag in form of passport or identity card, the native literally has no status, anywhere. While the Queen of England does not require a passport to travel anywhere, not even his President escapes this procedural requirement essentially exhibiting the pecking order even at Head of State level. As for the native he is no less a slave now than he was a century and a half ago, secular imperialism has only evolved an incorporeal yoke for him.
Guns mean nothing! Guns are not issues!” sneered Miguna Miguna disdainfully…
while standing at the barrel end of the insurmountable power of the loaded gun of imperium, he inadvertently revealed why he and his ilk are damned to eternal slavery to men.
Guns are key. Gun ownership is organically related to political agency. Gun ownership in the sense of right to arms is fundamentally integral to Citizenship. The “Gun control” controversy the World has witnessed in America is not about the civilian attacks conducted by deranged gunmen that the main stream media so loves to amplify. It is about political agency. The American people having an instinctive sense of the true essence of slavery having been both subjects and slave owners, and now FREE MEN. Americans deeply understand that “Gun regulation” is political subjugation.
Arms and guardianship were defining characteristics of Citizenship even in Ancient Greece and Sparta. Only chattel slaves were not allowed to own arms then, guns now. Natives. If one can take a moment to flash back to the “Westgate”incident. The Asians who out of nowhere filled the parking lot, for local citizenry, bore a strange arms configuration – Semi-Automatic and Automatic Weapons. No organized group of native civilians is known to be armed in this way, not even in the Private Security Companies. Begging the question, how? Why?
Prof. Mahmood Mamdani in his treatise on Citizenship equips us with the tools to understand the colonial system. Once clearly understood it reveals the existing socio-political identity and dispensation to be simply a paint job, cosmetic makeover of the imperial system established in 1885.
To recap, the top rung is occupied by individuals like Tom Chomondeley, the great grandson of the 3rd Baron Delamere, who has the three vital characteristics necessary to citizenship under Secular Imperialism; very low melanin, property ownership and guns. The bizarre drama all witnessed where then “state employee” Attorney General Amos Wako, flew “state employee” Director of Public Prosecutions to Nakuru NOT to initiate but to terminate the prosecution of Tom Chomondeley, in a case where he was being charged with killing Samson Ole Sisina, a state employee!? This conundrum is only effectively explained by Prof. Mahmood Mamdani’s classic treatise “Citizen And Subject” which revealed the real imperial writ, that has been insidiously cosmetically masked by a bankrupt native elite using a false constitutional order. A white man killed a native, a legal non-person. The promulgated constitution of the territory did not and does not apply to imperial citizens. The constitution is then in reality the amalgamation of customary norms of natives into a social contract strictly for natives. Scaled to state level where the property is “oil and minerals” and the guns are “nuclear weapons”, one finds an analogically equivalent order, which qualifies and enables “white” nation ownership rights to all the oil and minerals on earth and possession of Nuclear weapons. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is the demarcation line between Civil States and native territories. Thus the great political effort to de-nuclearise the East.
The materialist nature of Secular Democracy compels a logic of power as the criterion of rule i.e. “Might makes Right”. Citizens for this reason must guarantee their rights from the sovereign, their rights are not guaranteed by the Sovereign. The right to ownership of arms is not manifest in the “Firearms license” local drug dealers, elected natives and other petty bourgeois who like flashing at restaurants, when not terrorising family members and competing lovers with.
Gun ownership is epitomized by Cliven Bundy. It is manifest in Cliven Bundy’s ability to exercise defensive power against an organized expropriator in the form of the United States rogue government. The legal dispute between Cliven Bundy and the United States Federal Government is not the primary issue of importance. Of concern is how the armed standoff between Cliven Bundy’s armed militia and armed agents of the United States Government Bureau of Land Management between April 5th 2014 and April 12th 2014, ended with a United States Government standing down.
Why did the United States Government hesitate? Why not another Waco? This is a government which is infamous for love of overkill, be it by conventional, nuclear, chemical or biological weapons means. Death of innocents is no matter for the United States Government, what about an armed militia?
One has to understand how the white horizontal rungs intersect with the columns of the global property rights regime to create the power structure that Imperial elites depend on to subjugate the World. It is in this interstice, that Cliven Bundy made his stand.
The United States Government could not de-legitimize Bundy as a fanatic like David Koresh and neutralize him, given first, his call was Patriotic, second he is a “White Property Owner”. Patriotism is the call the United States Government uses to raise canon fodder for its imperial wars around the world. Such contradiction would have endangered the false basis of its existence with exposure. Given second he is White and owns Property, his execution would have potentially undermined the power structure that the imperial elite depend on to subjugate the entire world.
This is why the Imperial United States Government, owner to a standing military of a million plus clones, Nuclear Submarines, Carriers Strike Groups, Nuclear and Ballistic Missile arsenals unrivalled by any other power (now and in history), X-37B robotic space plane and the HTV-2 hypersonic glider prototype, when confronted by a small band of armed, white, property owners… blinked.
Had “the people” owned arms in England during the expropriatory “Enclosure” policy (essentially robbery of land by the elites), the history of the entire World would probably be different.
Guns matter. Raising the question, how does the other errant native, Julius Malema intend to accomplish his mission?
“Expropriation without compensation!”
Declared the Leader! “Expropriation without compensation!” chanted the crowd in ecstatic consent! “Expropriation without compensation!” demanded the renegade! “Expropriation without compensation!” saluted Africa!
What is your method, Julius Malema? Who or what is your sovereign source, Julius Malema? Given you support Democracy, from where will you raise force to compel, reward and punish? What is your new “post-expropriation” world order? Where are your guns?
The title deed is an article defined by law but more importantly anchored in the sovereign. Thus Beth Mugo’s infamous statement “The title deed is sacrosanct”, implying to undermine it is to undermine the sovereign. It is the most powerful manifestation of the concept of “property rights”. To expropriate is to negate “Property Rights”. Property Rights are a global regime. To negate property rights is tear up the global property rights regime. It is an attack on the global imperial sovereign.
Lenin, Trotsky and their merry band of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks respectively, tore up Tsarist ancien régime and instituted Communism. A world that promised equality to the masses, “distribution” to everyone as much as they needed, “expropriation” from everyone as much it could. To the elites party membership and safety from the Red Army and dreaded Cheka.
The Queen of England massacred natives around the world, tore up their communal order and instituted Secular Imperial Colonialism in the form of “In-direct Rule”. For the masses who collaborated, the Queen promised acquisition of transcendental real-estate through Christian conversion. For the elites who collaborated, the Queen granted English as a Language, token real-estate and a place in her extractive administration overseeing native labour. For all others, her soldiers torched their villages, mowed down men, raped and killed their women and children of all ages, pogromed and interred their entire tribes and nations into camps and reservations where she would starve them into submission and death.
America killed hundreds of thousands using nuclear weapons to send a message to the entire world, Imperium. Like the Queen of England in a necessarily paraphrased copy and paste, America has “massacred natives around the world, torn up their social-political order and instituted Secular Imperialism in the form of “Democratic Rule”. For the masses who collaborated, America promised “Freedom” through Secular conversion. For the elites who collaborated, America granted “lives of the Rich and Famous”, and a place in her extractive capitalist order. For all others, American soldiers torched their villages, mowed down men, raped and killed their women and children of all ages, pogromed and interred their entire tribes and nations into refugee camps around the world where the United Nations Security Council would use them as pawns on Zbigniews Brzezinksi’s Grand Chessboard as their ‘Peacekeeping Soldiers’ abused them and their children”.
What is your source of authority Julius Malema? What imperium will you leverage to execute expropriation? What framework will you use to phase-in to a new political post-expropriation order?
Or are you Jean-Jacques Dessalines, whom after successfully stamping out resistance through the Haitian revolution of 1804, then sought to re-engage his nation to the same Imperial system that gave rise to his oppressors? This was repeated more recently through Democratic process by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. A journey of blood tears and sacrifice out of Misr, literally, then right back in to the arms of Firaun.
While vengeance is sweet, vengeance is right, and vengeance is just, vengeance is only linear at individual level. At sociological level it is evolutionary. The sequence of events in relation to cause and effect only move in one direction along the timeline. A simpler but poor analogical example is, in contracts of kinship. When one marries to end the marriage one undertakes a divorce, one does not undo the marriage by un-marrying.
The failure or inability of the natives to successfully defend their land or conduct a revanche created a new reality which cannot be altered by the same political praxis that created it. Iraq and Afghanistan cannot remove the Imperial occupier through Secular Democracy, this is a matter of ontology. Somalia cannot remove America’s proxy occupation – AMISOM by the method of invitation which it presumably used to create it.
Expropriation is materialist praxis, the method of Secular Imperialism. One cannot “undo” expropriation by expropriating. Expropriating the expropriator (though fun and probably vindictively satisfying) does not undo the first act of expropriation but in essence effects a new act of expropriation with it’s own effective outcome. Vulgarly, equivalent to “raping the rapist””murdering the murderer”. It is a completely new, different, separate action/event in the continuum of life. The purpose here is to create and share a template that can help understand and discuss the nature and consequence of this line of action. This submission is not advice to “do or not do”.
Iraq and Afghanistan will lift the yoke of Imperialism by Islamic revolution. A new Islamic dispensation ordered on the sovereignty of the Sharia of Allah (Mighty & Majestic), enabled by the praxis of the Sunnah (Method) of the Prophet and last Messenger to Mankind, Muhammad (PBUH). The method for Islam to acquire dominion and the post revolution civilisation are clearly articulated in Islam’s holy texts. To those whom Islam would rule, Islam governs by rational gravity of truth, not the brutal logic of power. Islam for instance solves the problem of land concentration by instituting a land tax based on the productive potential of the land rather than expropriation. This compels productive use of the land triggering an explosion in employment opportunities (as Agriculture has in economic terms the largest potential for employment at all levels, low skill, middle to high), a drastic drop in food prices, food security, all the while averting the social and economic upheaval that devaluing the title deed would cause. As, for those who have neither the interest or capacity to cultivate the land and used the title deeds purely speculatively, the will have the opportunity to voluntarily surrender the excess they hold of the limited resource that is land through voluntary commercial transaction. Taxing the land rather than labour not only increases the treasury of the state but also the disposable income of the population creating an explosion in economic activity. Islam articulates purpose of and for life. Islam gives Language. Islam grants individual and societal tranquillity by answering the pan-ultimate question of Man. The reordering process compelled by rout and replacement of existing sovereign, is therefore complete.
Expropriation is impossible without the establishment of a new sovereign through revolution. As the Economic Freedom Fighters Party Manifesto does not articulate any new or potential sovereign source, no revolution is possible let alone in the offing. The EFF’s commitment to non-violence and democratic process will lead the people to activity that will exhaust their energies ultimately leading to surrender by the vast majority. The few strong willed and committed to ending the imperial occupation will either pressure for armed insurgency or break away to form an armed insurrection. In the South African context, this path of events seems highly unlikely.
What for Mzansi, Julius Malema? What is your promise for Mzansi?
Melanin as political criterion will not cut it as the Khoisan lady at your Cape Chamber of Commerce debate with Clem Sunter showed. To succeed you must establish a new sovereign, then lead us. The Dialectic Material sovereign failed. Only one of two choices of possible sovereign anchor remain; Extant Secular Capital and revolutionary Islamic Shari’yah, tightly coupled with their commensurate praxis of Expropriation and Proselytizaton, respectively.
Choose carefully. Do not shed human blood in vain.
Our Grandmother’s Miniskirt: A People’s History Through Photographs and Stories
8 min read. It was the women of that time that intrigued me most and I was watching their lives with the impatient envy of a child. I wanted to grow up and wear those cat-eye glasses and cute kitten heels, burn my hair straight, drink Babycham and laugh like they did, with a hand full of bangles held out at just the right angle.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been inviting people to share photos of their mothers, grandmothers and aunties looking stylish in the fashion of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The idea, which we are calling “Our Grandmother’s Miniskirt”, is simple enough, crowdsource photographs from Kenyan homes of women dressed in the style of that era; the photographs will be accompanied by reflections, essays, short stories or poems. The aim is to capture a history of ordinary people and to share this history through physical exhibitions, an online archived exhibition, and a coffee table book. I see the project as a celebration of Kenyan women and gives a snap shot of the emergence of the modern Kenyan woman.
By the time we staged the first mini-exhibition with a selection of 27 photographs submitted by people from around the country, I had come to understand that projects are not easy in that they all require planning and careful execution, even if they excite people. Getting people to send their scanned photographs from precious family albums has been challenging. The project goes into the intimate spaces of families and asks them to override their tendency towards privacy and share their lives with strangers. Of course this was always going to be a trial. It was not surprising that although the daughters or granddaughters were enthusiastic to participate in the project, their mothers and grandmothers — the subjects of the photos — sometimes refused to allow them to share these images. But I’m glad the images are trickling in.
Implementing the project over the last few months has helped me see its possibilities and expanded its scope in so many ways. Most important I am now looking for photographs before the 1960s and of Kenyan women wearing a variety of dress and hairstyles. The secret to the power of the project has furthermore revealed itself in the act of crowdsourcing. This approach has allowed people to connect and own the project, much more than if the photos were purchased from a media source.
My Childhood: 1960s and 1970s
The photographs have unleashed a collage of memories for me. I was a child in the 1960s and the 1970s watching Nairobi slowly emerge from its colonial yoke and my parents seemed to be at the centre of it all. They were amongst that group of Africans who were literally stepping into the shoes left by our colonial powers. My late father’s (William Ndala Wamalwa) career developed quickly and after only two or three years in government service, he stopped driving himself and moved to the senior government ranks.
But it was the women of that time that intrigued me most and I was watching their lives with the impatient envy of a child. I wanted to grow up and wear those cat-eye glasses and cute kitten heels, burn my hair straight, drink Babycham and laugh like they did, with a hand full of bangles held out at just the right angle. But most of all I wanted to wear those glamorous clothes that I saw women wear to parties and dinners – there seemed to be a party or dinner every other weekend! Miniskirts, bell-bottom trouser suits, halter tops, maxi dresses, stilettoes, kitten heels. I wanted to dance to the very dangerous James Brown, the elegant Supremes, the cool Fadhili William, the revolutionary Miriam Makeba, and the handsome Harry Belafonte. I thought all these musicians were my parents’ friends. Imagine my shock when I grew up enough to understand that these were distant celebrities.
For African women, hair means everything. Women spend large sums of money on our hair and even more woman-hours on styling it. Braiding can take eight hours. Typically a myriad of products are used on African hair, from oils, pomades, sprays, gels, dyes, treatments, conditioners and shampoos. How seriously do African women take their hair? Well in the days when we still had plastic bag around, Kenyan women could be seen risking their reputations by wearing plastic bags on their heads in broad daylight, to stop their hair from getting wet during an unexpected downpour.
But when it comes to hair, there was a simpler time. In the early 1960s, hair straightening was not yet fashionable and chemical relaxers had not yet arrived in the country. Kenyan women still wore their natural hair and fashioned it using African hairstyle traditions that involved elaborate cornrows, braids and plaiting. Saturday was the day when hair was dressed, typically with the help of skilled friends or relatives. Hair salons were still a faraway concept and the hair industry was a rudimentary affair and not the billion shilling industry of today.
In our home, many Saturdays found Aunty Truphena dressing my mother’s hair. Aunty Truphena was not my mother’s sister. But she and my mother were closer than sisters. They came from one of the smallest of the eighteen Luyhia sub-tribes, the Abanyala ba Ndombi, who are located in Navakholo division, north of Kakamega forest, in western Kenya. At that time, not many people seemed to have made it out of my Bunyala and it was rare to meet a Mnyala in Nairobi.
Sometimes Aunty Truphena straightened my mother’s hair using a hot comb heated on a charcoal jiko. She divided the wet hai,r drenched it in liquid coconut oil, and burnt it straight with the hot comb. Next she rolled the hair onto pink rollers and pinned it down. I wondered how she had learnt to dress hair like that. Her own hair was forever hidden under the flowered scarf that she always wore.
Nigerians Come to Town
The late 1960s were marked by an influx of Nigerians who came with their loud laughter, outsized personalities and strange food. They were mostly Igbos who had fled to Kenya as refugees from the Biafran War (1967-1970), but there was nothing “refugee pathetic” about them. In fact they came and took over our live,s adding flavour and passion like I had never experienced. I remember the names of one family in particular: Chief Jerome Oputa Udoji, his wife Mrs. Uzoamaka Udoji (Aunty Uzo) and their three children Scholastica, Osita Paul and Peter Ebelechukwu. The photograph of my mother below was taken at that time, and it was Aunty Uzo who made me realise just how beautiful my mother was, when she loudly exclaimed that my mother looked like Miss Kenya.
Mrs Rose Nanjala Wamalwa (Sitawa Namwalie’s mother) as an executive secretary at the Ford Foundation in Nairobi, Kenya (early 1970s). Photo Credit: Studio One.
Aunty Uzo was a force of nature. She and the other Nigerian women introduced me to a different way of being African. They were militant in taking on any vestigial racism that still had the temerity to cling on and even fight back, so soon after Kenya’s Independence. Aunty Uzo often regaled us with stories of the many battles she fought when white people dared to assert their colonial-era privilege. For us Kenyans, would so often acquiesce to everyday racism from the British, but not a Nigerian and definitely not Aunty Uzo. She fought with the priests at St. Mary’s school in Lavington where her sons were enrolled and she fought when white people tried to jump queues in banks or supermarkets and she argued with African waiters who tried to ignore her in restaurants. She was strong and assertive, always encouraging Kenyans not to be cowed by white people.
There were days when Aunty Uzo took over our kitchen and taught my mother how to cook Nigerian food, subjecting us to strange new flavours and aromas. Every so often our kitchen was overwhelmed by the strong smell of a dried fish imported direct from Nigeria which was even more pungent than our sivambala catfish dried in the hot sun of western Kenya. I learnt that Nigerians waste very little, cooking all parts of the goat,:the skin, meat, innards and hooves. The one dish that really tested my rather narrow palate as a child was a soup that combined beef, fish and chicken which Nigerians seemed to particularly love. When the war in Nigeria ended, our Nigerian friends left, leaving us changed for ever. But soon their place was taken by Ugandans fleeing the abuses of Idi Amin who began his rule in 1971, but that is a story for another day.
About the Exhibition
These photographs have triggered so many memories for me and it is my hope that they will do the same for all who see them. They document the social history of ordinary people in Kenya. I’ve learned that the past can be another country, sometimes a more interesting country than the narrow ideas that populate the present. I shared the premise of “Our Grandmother’s Miniskirt” with a young man, Basil Ibrahim who taught me the word hagiographic when he wrote the following in an email about the project;
“…a particularly interesting deviation from the hagiographic custom of The Great Men model of history-making…It is a model for bringing the archive to life, using memory, popular culture…in an experiment to provoke us to think about the implications the past has on the future we want.” (17 August 2019)
What he meant was that we tend to make saints of certain “great men” of the past (hagiography means the making of a saint), while ignoring the stories of ordinary people, who lived through those times. I hope that this project will correct that tendency towards hagiography.
When arranged chronologically, the photographs begin with one from1945 of a woman named Gatoro Ndugi M’Chabari, dressed in the traditional dress of the Tharaka ethnic community. The type of dress she wears was worn by married women. The unmarried ladies had their breasts left uncovered. The photograph was submitted by Mr Simon Mitambo, Gatoro’s nephew and shows her in what can only be described as a brief miniskirt. The photo was taken in Meru town in 1945, after entertaining the then colonial governor of Meru. In discussing her traditional dress, Gatoro Ndugi M’Chabari — who is over 90 years old — had the following to say: “Although we looked almost naked in miniskirts, there were no cases of sexual harassment.”
Gatoro Ndugi M’Chabari, from the Tharaka ethnic community. 1945, Photograph submitted by Mr Simon Mitambo.
In another story entitled, “The Village Woman and Son, Bound for England” John Sibi-Okumu pays tribute to his mother Maria Ajiambo, wa Agostino Munika nende Sarah Mbaye (the names of her parents.) She was also addressed as Naliali, her clan name from the Samia of Western Kenya. John estimates that she was born in 1936.
Maria Ajiambo wa Agostino Munika nende Sarah Mbaye, mother of John Sibi-Okumu. The photograph was taken in 1958 at Noble Studio in Nairobi when John, her first born son, was four years of age.
John’s story of his mother reveals many intriguing circumstances, first being that his mother was born on a sisal estate in Juja, Kalimoni, where his grandfather worked as a nyapara or ‘overseer.’ John notes that Tom Mboya was born in similar circumstances, showing the country had already started to change with people migrating from their homes and making new homes in different parts of the country.
Rosalie Kere wearing a “Stiff” skirt and her “Beehive” hairstyle (1961). Photograph submitted by Caroline Kere.
Caroline Kere shared the photographs of her mother Rosalie Kere – the first photo above – who had the distinction of being a poster girl for soap called “Nakasero” and “Lux” in the early 1960s. Caroline’s tribute story to her mother has the intriguing title, “The Amazing Story of How my Father Found my Mother”. Her mother and father’s story is such an improbable romance story worthy of a blockbuster Nollywood film, that you can read for yourself at the exhibition, the online archive or in the coffee table book that is to come.
What follows is an exhibition of selected photographs.
Grace Ntini, from Narok County. The photograph was taken in Nairobi in 1969. Grace was 24 years old and worked for Avis Rent-A-Car Company. The photograph was submitted by Grace’s sister-in-law, Rosemary Mesopirr.
Rosemary Mesopirr, who was 14 years old and a primary school pupil in the rural areas of Narok County. This photograph was taken in Mombasa in 1974. This was the first time she travelled to the Kenyan coast to visit her father who was a civil servant then. It was her first time to board a bus.
My Stylish Mother
By Doris Rutere
My mother Cecilia Kanyoe was a copy typist at Marimanti Rural Training Centre back in 1975. She was always detailed and careful in her choice of office wear. In this photograph she is wearing closed toe heels and has broken her suit with a turtleneck that matches her head gear, a chain and a wrist watch. I think they present a level of sophistication making her refined and chic. Next to her is Esther Muthoni, who was my mother’s friend. In the picture, she wears a wide belt on her cute mini-dress to create contrast while matching her head gear partly with her shoes.
Both women are quite careful in how they let their hands rest on their thighs.
Joyce Akoth, pregnant with her fifth born in 1973. This picture was taken in the early 1970s when Joyce worked as a teacher and before joining the Ministry of Public Works. The photograph of Joyce Akoth was submitted by her daughter Esther Adiambo.
Nancy Wanjiku Kimani , the photo was taken outside Kijabe Nursing Institute, where she was undergoing training as a nurse in Kijabe Town (1969). The photograph was submitted by her daughter Ruth Kimani.
A Letter to Stella Nyanzi: “You Teach Us to Lay Blame Exactly Where It Belongs”
6 min read. Too often we are willing to believe that if we are calm enough, if we are silent enough, polite enough, eloquent enough, poised enough, then the tyrants will listen. We believe that if we are ‘’well mannered’’ then we will be heard. You remind us that this is deception.
My sister Nyanzi,
I used to think tyranny means one-party rule, one media station and army garrisons everywhere. Now I know tyranny also means that who we love, how we live, how we die and even the speed of our death is chosen for us by people that never have to face us, by people that have learned not to fear our wrath or our collective pain. You have taught me this, because both of us live under tyrannies. As I write this, you are in Luzira Maximum Security Prison contending with the tyrannies of the prison authorities, the judicial system, the police, Makerere University, Museveni and his state and personal machinery. We live under multiple tyrannies at once, some more immediate than others, all of them intent on silencing us.
I am writing this from Kenya. I am writing from a country reeling through an economic recession that the state’s press statements will never admit exists. A manmade recession fueled by the looting that seems to grow more arrogant with each day. As I write this, many Kenyans are dying in public hospitals because there is no medicine or the doctors have not been paid or someone stole the money for the equipment. As I write this, there are young people attending endless seminars on entrepreneurship because they face grim rates of unemployment, this too is manmade disaster. I don’t know how many young men the police have killed today; I don’t know how many women have been sexually abused or killed by a country that just seems to hate its women. There are also the university students who are teargassed and beat up every time they try to march, and the many communities unhumaned by the state. I don’t know how many queer people have been stripped or raped or mocked or told to prove they are human beings today. These are the tyrannies I live under.
We share some of these tyrannies and for this, I call you sister. Allow me to call you Stella.
When you staged your first nude protest at Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR), several academics gave media interviews to say that they condemned your protest and found it to be ‘’too much’’, they mockingly asked if negotiations had failed for you to go to such lengths. More insultingly, some said while they agreed you had legitimate grievances, you could have been more civil. They seem to think that you should have spoken more sweetly. I laughed when I heard them. You know how tyranny works Stella, how it works especially well in bureaucracies. You know how good bureaucracies are at silencing and ignoring. You and I know that bureaucracies move at exactly the speed dictated by tyranny, no faster and no slower.
It is a maddening thing to realize that even in the hallowed halls of universities, we are ignored and insulted and treated anyhow, as our people say. It is more maddening to know that our emails, our eloquent letters and our pleas will go unheard when tyranny is present, as it was at MISR. Tyranny often wears a nice suit and can be well spoken and well respected. At Makerere, you used the tools at your disposal in defense of yourself. The tools on that day were red paint, cellotape, your body, your voice and camera. Those were the tools available to you. The other important tool in your arsenal, arguably the most potent, is your refusal of respectability.
So often, women are only celebrated when we protest in service of the men in our lives — our brothers, our fathers, anyone but ourselves. I think of all of us who are scared of speaking in our own defense, scared of organizing for our own wellbeing, our reproductive freedom, our sexual freedom, our safety. I think of how we have been intimidated to believe that this is entitlement, as if being entitled is a bad thing. How many of us have swallowed indignity after indignity because the only person being humiliated is us?
Here, I pause, in the middle of my letter to acknowledge and greet you in the movements you come from, the movements that have shaped you and supported you. We know that often people are isolated from their movements in order to make them messiahs. But messiahs always fail because they don’t really exist. I greet you in the name of the #RotAtMISR , #WomensMarchUG , #ThisTaxMustGo , #PeoplePowerMovement and the many offline political actions you have taken. From standing in solidarity with students of Makerere when they protested arbitrary inclusion of fees, to caring for the Arua 33 that were victims of state violence, to dealing with menstrual injustice through the #Pads4GirlsUG movement.
It is from your movements that you have dealt with the effects of Museveni’s tyranny intimately, by seeing how your comrades are brutalized and seeing how relaxed the dictators can be even in the face of impassioned pleas for even a small measure of justice. You have seen your movements forced to wait on the dictator’s time. We all do so much waiting after all. We wait for enough money to take our relatives to decent hospitals and decent schools, we wait for courts to vindicate us and for the churches to speak for justice and for the police to stop killing. On both sides of the Malaba border, we wait. A feminist sister, Mumbi, has written about how we are forced to wait on the state’s time, wait on tyranny’s time, in order to live as human beings. Mumbi considers that one of the ways we can disrupt the state’s time is through the communities we build and how we care for each other.
You have given us another answer to how we can disrupt the state’s time; by abandoning respectability and politeness. After all, the tyrants know exactly what they are doing when they abuse our humanity. From your political actions, your Facebook posts, and your court appearances, we learn to call the tyrants by name and declare their shame to them. I read somewhere that your father died because of the poor healthcare system in Uganda, and in your writing, you lay the responsibility for this on Museveni’s head. Rightfully so. Another feminist sister, Sunshine, says that this is reminiscent of what Fela Kuti did when his mother (and our feminist ancestor) Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti died from injuries she got after the Nigerian police raided Fela’s home. Fela took his mother’s coffin to the army barracks, to Olusegun Obasanjo, who for all intents and purposes had killed Funmilayo. When you call Museveni a pair of buttocks, that is exactly what you are doing, connecting the tragedy of all the deaths and suffering caused by a sick state to the head of the state. Truth telling can start there, by us clearly naming the tyrants and abusers.
For some reason, tyrants hate this. They are shocked at the idea that we might call them what they are: abusers, misogynists, sexists, thieves, robbers, murderers, homophobes. You teach us to lay blame exactly where it belongs, to practice the radical truth telling that refuses to be distracted by bureaucracy. Stella, you say that politeness has been held captive, and the powerful don’t listen anymore, and sometimes we have to say fuck it and then people will listen.
Too often we are willing to believe that if we are calm enough, if we are silent enough, polite enough, eloquent enough, poised enough, then the tyrants will listen. We believe that if we are ‘’well mannered’’ then we will be heard. We think if we bend ourselves enough, the tyrants will feel some pity for us. You remind us that this is deception. Good manners are decided by the powerful, and after all — isn’t it the worst manners to steal and oppress? Yet no one accuses tyrants of having bad manners. No, bad manners are left to be a cross for us to carry to hasten our own silencing, our own internal and final deaths. Respectability protects the comfort of the tyrants. Your political actions show us that when we shed politeness, we can disturb their peace in potent ways.
You, like Audre Lorde, know that our silence will not save us. Not only that, but politeness and niceness cannot save us either. You know that we only get silent to work out our internal convictions and from there, we use whatever tools we have to shout, be it our bodies, our phones, our voices. We shout. We shout because we are being killed either way. Your poetry, court appearances and nude protest are all political actions, asking us what we are still afraid of. What do we gain by protecting the comfort of these tyrants to enjoy their theft, their tyranny unoffended?
Stella, you are a woman who has reached into herself and taken joy, taken brazenness and categorically refused shame. Your body is your manifesto, as you say, and with it, you declare and live your radical queer feminist politics every day. We are affirmed by you.
Some people think you are fearless, others believe you are unashameable, I don’t believe either of them. Even with the best intentions, they are trying to make you iron, invulnerable, and otherworldly. I know different. You are not otherworldly Stella, you are fully human.
In care and love,
A Letter To Stella Nyanzi: The Revolution Lives in You
7 min read. I want, like you, to steadily and surely offend anything that stands in the way of freedom, of liberation, of love, of justice, of truth, of humanity. Let me be rude, let me be all these things, if all they are trying to say is that I am free, unbound.
My sister Nyanzi,
We grew up on folktales and stories that spoke on the value of truth, of clarity, of assertiveness. We read about scheming animals always having to face the consequences of their actions, while those characters that upheld the truth were the examples that we were meant to emulate. Yet, somehow, these stories were supposed to remain suspended in our minds, perhaps as pieces of entertainment. No one wanted a truth teller, especially not a primary school going child. I have gone through most of my life being called rude, difficult, entitled or spoilt, by aunties, by cousins, by teachers, and by neighbors who cautioned their children against associating with me. Most of my life, I thought there was something wrong with how God made me.
Why did my teachers punish me for speaking truth? Why did I go home, my body tender from a caning because I asked the teacher to explain the logic behind making students kneel on gravel? Why did my cousins whisper behind my back, saying that my opinions were rude, that my parents had spoilt me, and that I was too entitled? I questioned a lot, yet I did not see any other way to live. I knew the truth to be good, even when it seemed a heavy weight on my heart. Each one of us owes ourselves the truth. The truth is our duty. It is my duty, a duty that you have taken on and stood by, even when the very ground is threatening to betray you.
I am writing this after returning to Kenya from a visit to Uganda less than 24 hours ago. I thought about you a lot during my stay there. I thought about all the Ugandans who have lived their lives silencing themselves, their truth, their pain, their desires, their ability to want to imagine freedom because of fear, fear not born of themselves, but of tyranny, from the ways in which their society has dealt with ‘rude’ individuals. I saw children going to school, with heavy bags and tender spirits. I thought of all the stories, the theory, the language they are being taught about morality and truth, knowing that they are probably being short-changed. I thought about how they are being taught that truth depends on who holds the power to instill fear.
Are the children being told that truth is silence? Are they being told that truth is folding the pain in their hearts into smiles? Are they being told that truth is accepting state and religious terrorism? Are the children carrying fear in their heavy bags? Are they rushing home to be cautioned against following in the footsteps of Dr. Stella Nyanzi? I thought about your multiple arrests, and how that has been weaponized to further silence, to further disregard, and to further trample on the possibility of individual and collective expression. What do the children think when they see you on television? What do they say about you in their private conversations?
It is no secret that we live in a world that rewards complacency. The systems we live under: economic, social, and political, are so fragile and fickle that they have made us scared of ourselves. Of course, all this is deliberate, to maintain control. We live under the giant lie that we get to choose. We choose which schools our children go to, what we will purchase, how we will spend our time, how we will interact with authority, what and how we teach our children, yet all this exists under tyranny. We have been robbed of our humanity, of our ability to make decisions guided by what aligns with truth, with courage, with kindness. That is why, Stella, the children are being taught politeness, one that will rob them of their ability to speak up in the face of injustice when they are told that they cannot love who they want to love, when they are told that they don’t belong, when they are told that their lives are not precious, when they are lied to over and over, when they are made to wait for their rights, when they are killed, when they are hurt, when their education is used to oppress them, and when their lives become small residues of what freedom might have looked like, when they are reduced to small ‘maybes’ and ‘could have beens.’
That is why many people may be blind to the importance of your protest, which is in effect, a protest to your protest. Is this the tragedy of having a heart constantly pursuing freedom?
When I first read about you, I felt so affirmed that I cried. When I saw you speaking, how you spoke, what you spoke about, I remember feeling small eruptions of heavy joy inside me amidst the pain of seeing how the state responded to you. I prayed for the courage to want, so intently and so intentionally, the kind of truth abiding freedom that oozed from your heart. I prayed that I am brave enough to bare it all in the face of millions of odds stacked against me. I prayed that I may never steer away from a life tied to imagining, wanting and working towards freedom, towards a life unbound by fear. They have used your truth to call you obscene, to call you indecent, to call you lascivious, and to say that you are profane. They say you hold no remorse, but why should you? They call you untamed, rude, vulgar, and reckless; they call you intolerable. In the churches, they are saying that you are sinning against god. In truth, all they are trying to say is that you are free. Unbound. Your spirit can never be contained. They do not have the language for any of this because they speak the language of fear. The voice of truth makes them afraid. Your life is testimony that freedom is possible. Unbounded freedom. Freedom that is safe from tyranny, freedom that tugs on the heart and forces you to run towards the what is right, what is eternal, and what is true.
So let me live a vulgar disrespectful life. Let me be seriously and gloriously profane. Let me be intolerable. Let the people say that no man will marry me. Especially that. Let me be disagreeable. Let me be a sinner. Unapologetically. Let me be ungovernable. Let me be untamed. Let me be unremorseful. Let me be untethered. Let my life insult them. Let me be offensive. Let my freedom live as critical evidence that truth exists, that it always sits sharp and intentional, between my joy and my pain. I am shameless. I am unafraid. I am a manifestation of defiance. Let my life be shaped by defiance and resistance. I want to steadily and surely offend anything that stands in the way of freedom, of liberation, of love, of justice, of truth, of humanity. Let me be rude, let me be all these things, if all they are trying to say is that I am free, unbound. Let my life be grandly disruptive. That’s what I want. Let us all be grandly disruptive, in our small ways, in standing up in our small pockets of possibility. May we be the embodiment of radical rudeness.
Manners always end up on the shelves, next to civility, collecting dust and making the silence louder. This is why the despots love them. This is why we are told to use ‘respectable civil channels,’ when that in itself is an injustice: to be told we will be heard by the very tools which ensure we remain unheard. You live in a country under dictatorship, under tyranny, under evil rule. So do I, so do so many people on this continent. They have arrested our freedoms, kept them locked up. They lie, they steal, and they laugh at us for wanting to live. They deny us belonging, they want to take away everything, our voices, the voices of the children, even before they break.
Stella, they want us to beg them. They want us to lick their feet, grateful for the smelly crumbs. They want us to crawl on our bellies, waiting for permission to sit on our buttocks, then to kneel before them, and then finally, maybe, to stand, when they will it, how they will it, for their benefit. I refuse. Let these tyrants sweat in terror at the mention of your name, let them tremble at the sound of your song, your poetry, your protest, your truth, your prayer, your defiance. Let all the despots shake and fear at the sound of our collective lament. Let peace be least of their experiences. Let them tremble. May they tremble.
I refuse politeness. I dedicate my life to unlearning respectability, because at the end of it all, divine freedom is fearless. It is not neat and pretty and dainty. It is rude, it is vulgar, it is naked, it is wild, it is unashamed, it is raw, it is profane, it is indecent. It is loud. It is demanding and disrespectful. It is you. You are divinely free, and they cannot take that away from you. The entire revolution has already happened inside you, and we get to experience that, from your life, your words, your work, hoping that we can meet you, where you are, in whatever capacity we can. You have taught me that when we are silent, we are more at risk of pain, of suffering, of living lives suspended on insubstantial strings of fear, always waiting on where our next small redemption will come from. You have taught me that the process of truth is rewarding, not in the ways in which the world rewards, but the ways in which the spirit rewards. The process is indeed the shortcut. It is the homage to freedom, to the channels between us and liberation.
So I am writing this to you, and to my 15 year old self, to my 10 year old self, and to the black children who will live after us. I am writing this to myself, before I accepted that I am brazen, before I accepted that nothing is wrong with me, that maybe everyone who called me rude for speaking the truth was just afraid and cowardly, because this world thrives on the fear of people. I am writing this to my sisters, to my mothers, to everyone who has housed silence and shame in their hearts. I am writing this to you, hoping that you can rest in the knowledge that there are so many of us who are holding your spirit, your soul, your heart, your dreams, in our spirits, in our souls, in our hearts, in our dreams, during this time and always. We stand in solidarity with you, with your defiance, and with your dreams of freedom. Your life has affirmed us in so many ways, and knowing that you live an absolutely unapologetic life has sustained the bulk of my ability to imagine freedom. I hope like you, I can show up as my highest, truest self, always. May your words continue to be the fuel that will sustain the fire that will consume all these tyrants, all these despots, all these oppressors, all these dictators.
Thank you for refusing shame, for refusing fear, for embracing love, for embracing the call of truth and freedom. Thank you for always showing up as your full self, thank you for making it possible to for so many of us to imagine other ways of living, of being. Thank you for your poetry, for remaining tender, for remaining you.
In love and solidarity,
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