It is not your fault.
You did not fail to lead. You had no thought.
You did not fail to protect. You had no dominion.
You are not a child of two worlds colonialism and post-colonialism, pre-World War II and post-World War II, you are child of no world.
You are silent because you are lost.
How can you become what you do not know? Who knows what a Kikuyu was? Was like? So that you could be Kikuyu?
What does interring 1.5 million members of a primitive agrarian tribe do to its memory?
It sears. It purges it.
It prepares it for loading with new thoughts, new memories.
Mzee, you were de-centred before you were born.
What Riika (Age-Set) are you? Who are your relatives to the other in the larger family that is tribe?
Yes, Mzee, you would not know. And this is through no fault of your own. Your sole point of access to tribal history and initiation into the social order was interdicted decades before the birth of your generation. That is the “Riika” social system. It is not only the repository of the social map of the Kikuyu tribe, it also facilitated social initiation in ceremonies that defined transition from boyhood to warriorhood to junior elder to senior and finally to tribal council. It is this information void that makes every Kikuyu, a stranger to every other Kikuyu. It is the information that makes every Somali a brother to another Somali. It is the information at the heart of “Somali FIRST”.
There has not been a Riika ceremony in a century and a half. The Colonial Government in a stroke of diabolical genius banned the one dated for 1910 making the last one of 1898 the last existent social memory of self.
The breadth and depth of the Imperial war to enslave your people was multi-generational and socially kaleidoscopic in terms of spectrum of tools applied; consisting of conventional, economic, psychological, biological and cultural prongs.
Your history and identity were systematically erased at all levels of consciousness and awareness.
The Church Missionary Society that cultured you was all about Imperial mission. Did you know the idea of the Church Missionary Society was conceived by Charles Grant, the Chairman of Imperial British East India (IBEI). And it was executed by British Members of Parliament William Wilberforce, in the last quarter of the 18th Century, all Secular Imperialists, not a single clergyman.
Closer home, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa which was the institutional protagonist of Christianity in the Central Highlands is actually the bastard child of the Imperial British East Africa company believe it or not. Yes, it is not a secret, it is public information. One century after the establishment of the Church Missionary Society around 1891 Sir William Mackinnon, Mr. A. L. Bruce and other directors of the Imperial British East Africa Company dispatched another group of Imperial agents with Bibles in their hands to British East Africa. As incredulous as it might sound the spiritual values of the Kikuyu tribe were given to it by its expropriator and slave master, the infamous Imperial British East Africa Company.
Can you see why Kikuyus are capitalists by faith? Why sons kill fathers for land and wives kill husbands for property? Why poverty is the ultimate sin in Kikuyu land? Can you now see the source of the Kikuyu tribes’ pseudo-Imperialist hubris? The Imperial British East Africa (IBEA) Company is the Kikuyu tribe’s pseudo-deity, it is the sovereign source of its spiritual beliefs.
During “the emergency” in the fifties, when the “Mau Mau” resistance rose, the church, both Protestants and Catholics, did not remain silent, neutral or inactive. The missionaries threw their weight behind the British forces and joined their ranks even serving on armed patrols. Yes, “the missionaries” did not call for peace and or love here, there was no division between the Catholics and the Protestants, there was a unified call to in-discriminatory armed action against all “natives”. Bring them to bear, how dare they resist Imperial expropriation and Christian occupation!
This language and phrasing as harsh as it actually sounds is actually quite mild. As bizarre as it may sound they did see themselves as Christian saviours of savages, and were surprised by the resistance. In fact, so much so, their analysis of the Mau Mau resistance ranged from a form of mental illness to spiritual evil. Language exactly equivalent to that being used to describe Muslims resisting the brutal occupation of their land, pillage of their resources and rape of their women; Terrorists, Irrational, Bloodthirsty, Extremist, Retrogressive, Deranged… How could anyone hate American Democracy? How could anyone hate British Christianity?
Mzee, not even your denomination is a matter of theological consequence. Your denomination is a result of imperial interest. What I mean is that your Catholicism or Protestantism was decided by the outcome of the Kikuyu 1913 Conference, a meeting wherein the Mission divided between its various missions different regions of the Kikuyu highlands with Sykes-Picot level avarice. Stating that it would prevent “unseemly competition”(sic) and ensure strategic obstruction of Islam into the region. It was the First Council of Nicaea all over again, pure empire.
I am reminded of a quote by Paul J. Getty “The meek shall inherit the earth, but not it’s mineral rights…”. Our dear father is the promise of transcendental real-estate, a “paradise” where we would continue, condemned to servitude, damned to sing for eternity, in praise of a nondescript god who denied us everything in all worlds, for eternity, yes father, for eternity.
Do you now see what the network of churches and schools in the Mt. Kenya region are? Do you understand the ramifications of their concentration in the ‘white’ highlands? It is Kenya’s “Iraqi Greenzone”. It is the network of snake pits, it is the operational heart of the occupation.
The network of churches and schools in the highlands you grew up in, formed the imperial psycho-socio-cultural beachhead. Its concentration intensity is an indicator of the special interest the British Imperialists had in the Kikuyu tribe and its land. Or did you think the appearance of Rev. Musa Gitau, the establishment of Musa Gitau Primary school in 1901, the 1907 recruitment, culturing and emergence of chief collaborator Johnstone Muigai Jomo Kenyatta from this institution and the simultaneous banning of the tribal Riika ceremony of 1910 as all coincidence? The Kikuyu tribe was being specially prepared for a special task. Remember the Kikuyu tribe was not simply broken like other tribes, it was actively re-programmed to serve as the vanguard of British Imperial order in the territory. A sociological scale “nyapara” (taskmaster).
And now to compound an already irreversible problem, the colonial territory’s administrative order many think is “their” government, “Serikali nisaidie”, entrenched, expanded the socio-cultural and psychological warfare infrastructure that is the Christian Imperial-Missionary schools it inherited. It not just the physical infrastructure but the organization i.e. schedule, format, management method and all. Not just the syllabus but even the book contents as well. Imagine, the native administration did not even bother to either review even re-write the history books. In effect, it became natives yoking each other and their young physically, economically, intellectually, culturally in a never-ending cycle of self-driven slavery into perpetuity.
The Kikuyu tribe was totally socially reprogrammed. Not even your diet was spared. But how could diet escape control, food in that age was the entire economy. Food is sustenance, to enslave people control their survival, bringing me to my next point.
Total cultural re-engineering via economic and belief interventions. In 1893 depending on which version you want to believe, Mr. John Paterson who came to support the “Christian mission” introduced the first coffee seeds.
Why is this significant?
The use of food as a weapon can be later seen as captured by the insidious intent of the Royal Commission on Population, which King George VI had created in 1944 “to consider what measures should be taken in the national interest to influence the future trend of population.” The commission found that Britain was gravely threatened by population growth in its colonies, since “a populous country has decided advantages over a sparsely-populated one for industrial production.” The combined effects of increasing population and industrialization in its colonies, it warned, “might be decisive in its effects on the prestige and influence of the West,” especially effecting “military strength and security.”
Let me digress a bit to magnify the ramifications of this, not as articulated by me, but by the imperialists themselves. Henry (Heinz) Kissinger in a report for the United States of America, the imperator of our century, in this rather obviously labelled report “Food as a Weapon” revealed knowledge and awareness that dependency on imports for basic food ultimately lead to famine and death that for them has the intended positive outcome of population reduction outside of Birth Control means.
It has statements and questions that any human being would find fiendish. Listen to the “celebrated Statesman” Heinz Kissinger state; “Mandatory programs may be needed and we should be considering these possibilities now,” the document continued, adding, “Would food be considered an instrument of national power? … Is the U.S. prepared to accept food rationing to help people who can’t/won’t control their population growth?”
He also predicted a return of famines that could make exclusive reliance on birth control programs unnecessary. “Rapid population growth and lagging food production in developing countries, together with the sharp deterioration in the global food situation in 1972 and 1973, have raised serious concerns about the ability of the world to feed itself adequately over the next quarter of century and beyond,” he said.
The report goes on to predict, that the cause of the coming food deficit would not be not natural, but a result of western financial policy: “Capital investments for irrigation and infrastructure and the organization requirements for continuous improvements in agricultural yields may be beyond the financial and administrative capacity of many LDCs (Less Developed Countries). For some of the areas under heaviest population pressure, there is little or no prospect for foreign exchange earnings to cover constantly increasingly imports of food.” Kissinger Said.
“It is questionable,” Kissinger gloated, “whether aid donor countries will be prepared to provide the sort of massive food aid called for by the import projections on a long-term continuing basis.” Consequently, “large-scale famine of a kind not experienced for several decades—a kind the world thought had been permanently banished,” was foreseeable—famine, which has indeed come to pass.
Based on my understanding it becomes clear that the I.B.E.A and P.C.E.A Church were the modern day Monsanto and Bill Gates Foundation G.M.O alliance of your time. Where the founding P.C.E.A church wielded the Imperial Bible to justify subjugation and domination, Monsanto and Bill Gates Foundation wields science and influence to push ‘democratic’ equality in a veiled philanthrocapitalism agenda.
The introduction of a cash-crop economy coupled with taxes and forced labour, Mzee, was not economic warfare, it was slavery, a brutal war to enslave.
Everyone loves to quote Winston Churchill “We can afford to be generous in victory…”. The British were definitely generous; to the French they granted Limestone mining concessions, the American’s off-shore oil drilling rights. They, the British, own everything else; the Gold, the Oil, the Titanium, the Land and even the Women. And what in terms of land or minerals they have been unable to exploit for capacity, timing or other political or economic reasons, they have cordoned off with expropriatory legal tools titled “Natural Wildlife Reserves”, “National Parks”, “Conservancies” and all other manner of evolving terms.
One hundred and sixty seven years ago (Jan. 2nd, 1851), Henry Venn uttered these words:–“If Africa is to be penetrated by European missionaries, it must be from the East Coast.”
Mzee, consider us fully – penetrated. From the East Coast. If only you would have been awake to their designs.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi a pre-eminent Daimyō, warrior, general, samurai, and politician of the Sengoku period in the 16th Century is regarded as Japan’s second “great unifier”. In November of 1586, Hideyoshi ordered the expulsion of all Christian missionaries on Kyushu. Later on in 1596, he ordered the crucifixion of six shipwrecked Spanish Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits, and seventeen Japanese Christians at Nagasaki.
This moment, I submit Mzee, was the moment that bought Japan another 500 years of independence. This was the reception Dr. Johann Ludwig Krapf should have received when he hit the East Coast beach in 1844, under the patronage of the Imperial British East Africa Company via it’s psycho-social-cultural warfare arm – the Church Missionary Society.
Mwene-Nyaga does not exist, Gikuyu is lost, there are no Kikuyu. The land has been conquered and the tribe has been scattered. It was actually effectively scattered in 1890 when the last Riika ceremony turned out to be the last. With its history lost its identity evaporated in a Century even awareness of genealogical existence will cease to exist. In simple terms, the tribe will not exist in 100 years. Imperial British East Africa Company with its socio-cultural prong the Presbyterian Church of East Africa succeeded in reprogramming an agrarian Bantu tribe into an amorphous mass of secular capitalist individuals. The Kikuyu are victims of the victory strategist Sun Tzu classified as not just victory, but a victory that is complete. The Kikuyu tribe vanquished, never to rise again. The women who bear Kikuyu genealogical heritage should be married and absorbed into the tribes that survived the imperial scourge, this is their only hope for safety, security and honour. The Kikuyu men who cannot establish new colonies and tribes should dissolve into the nihil of time.
The only way is forward. The Kikuyu as a people or as individuals must reject Man as Sovereign. In Monarchical form or Demos form both have translated to tyranny. There is no way back to the past, the “Mungiki” attempt revealed everything about where the path back into the past would lead. The Kikuyu must find a new Sovereign, or be damned to eternal humiliation.
If the new Sovereign be a man or material being, it can bring nothing but misguidance and oppression. For the true sovereign must be able to answer the question of where we have come from, why we are here, where we are going. The true sovereign must be established above and outside our material reality for creation cannot define its own purpose. The true sovereign will create just, cogent, tranquil internal and external order.
I have walked my journey, conducted my search, and found a sovereign who qualifies vengeance, guarantees inheritance of the earth to those who serve him unreservedly and promises Jannatul Firdaus, an afterlife replete with spoils of war that make Valhallah pale in comparison, adorned couches and raised thrones, wide-eyed virgins and youthful serfs.
This is the Sovereign I will serve, this is the Sovereign my son will serve, this is the Sovereign I invite you to serve, Oh Gikuyu.
Kissinger’s 1974 Plan for Food Control Genocide by Joseph Brewda
Executive Intelligence Review
Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya – Caroline Elkins (2005)
The early attempts at ecumenical co-operation in East Africa: the case of the Kikuyu Conference of 1913
Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae, October 2010, 36(2), 73-93 – Julius Gathogo
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Nairobi, Nairobae, Nairoberry
Cacophonous, labyrinthine, gluttonous, angry, envious, charming, paradoxical, mysterious, confusing, alluring.
Nairobi. A cacophony of matatu hoots and booming bongs from church bells. All in inexplicable harmony. Like a Beethoven piece. A muezzin’s melody moves the ummah from a minaret here, a bus conductor — shouting from the most pimped out mathree — moves umati there. A hawker here. An ambulance there. But there’s also a silent monotone. The sound of hope dying. Of someone stealing two billion every day, of the clock going tick-tock from your 9 to 5. There’s that saying: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? But what if it’s in the middle of Waiyaki Way? Just because someone thinks giving us an expressway will absolve him of war crimes. While in reality, all it does is leave all the marabou storks homeless.
Nairobi. A labyrinth of lipstick-stained shot glasses and semi-filled ashtrays. Where a party starts regardless of where the limbs of the clock point. And only ends when everyone is browned out and on the brink of calling the one that got away. Nairobi is looking for coins during traffic because you want to help the beggar, who is patient enough to receive the donation before snatching your phone. It is being stagnant in that same traffic for long enough to buy crisps made with transformer oil and served in compact disk wrapping. And like clockwork, you put the window back up because Nairobbery isn’t just a play on words. But the ones that hurt the most are the conmen, because nigga I trusted you!
Nairobi. Where gluttony is second nature. A kaleidoscope of too much gold tequila and too many smokie pasuas. Of good pasta and wine in overpriced restaurants. Of ramen noodles and pre-cooked meat. Where nothing is ever enough. We drink and eat to our fill because life sucks. Why wouldn’t it? Our last president’s advisor was the bottom of a Jameson bottle and our current one’s advisor is Jesus. The spirit guides the nation either way, I guess. But still, Nairobi tastes like chances and do-overs. It tastes like anxieties and aspirations and I know it doesn’t feel like it but today you omoka na 3-piecer then one day you omoka, for real.
Nairobi. Reeks of piss and thrifted clothes. Fresh bakeries and Subway. Old currency and that one cologne every man in their early 20s wears. Smells like fighting your titans and sending a million job applications. Nairobi. Where you can go weeks without a lover’s touch but only days without a cop grabbing you by the wedgie into a mariamu because you shouldn’t be idle as you wait for your Uber outside Alchemist. Because of course in that time you should take up a sport, play an instrument, solve world peace, et cetera.
There are few occasions when pride will linger. Like when Kipchoge finishes a marathon in under two hours. When Lupita wins an Oscar. The hubris you feel when your copy makes it to the billboard on UN Avenue. Or when your lame joke gets five retweets because Kenyans on Twitter will massacre you if you think you’re the next Churchill. Orrrr that one time we were all watching Money Heist and so gassed that Nairobi was one of the characters.
Sadly, Nairobi pride also comes in with its individualism. Everyone is out here on their own trying to get some bread whether they’re in the upper class getting baguettes and rye bread or in the lower class getting Supaloaf. I get it though, the city doesn’t let anyone rest from the grind and the hustle and the drudgery. And the wealth gap is bigger than Vera Sidika’s bunda. But ironically, the city is a paradox. An optical illusion. Sometimes the people are so ready to convene in community that it kinda revives the fickle hope you have in humanity. From safe spaces to fundraisers to a simple hearty conversation with your Uber driver.
And there’s obviously that murky feeling of greed that comes from 90 per cent of our politicians. When you’re at the bottom of the food chain it’s called hunger, but the higher you climb the more you want and it becomes indulgence. Greed makes them say and do all kinds of things. Like apologising to Arab countries that are exploiting Kenyans because they don’t want to be cut off. Y’all know any juakali guys we can commission for guillotines? – Heads gotta roll. Because how will I steal cooking oil and flour and end up in a cold cell but they’ll steal billions and end up with a second five-year term?
I think wrath is the most Nairobi-esque of the cardinal sins. We’re angry at the police. At the government, at global warming, at nduthis, at KPLC, at Zuku, at Safaricom, at KCB, at each other. Agonizingly though, our anger fizzles out as fast as it blazes up. I don’t think we’re ever angry enough.
And then there’s the envy. You know you’ll get there eventually but that gets lost in translation when you see someone with better because that sparks something in you even though we are all on different paths at different paces. Whether it’s a BMW or an airfryer, the question stays: Why not me? And also I’m personally jealous of the people who’ve managed to move out of Nairobi to Naivasha, Watamu or wherever. It feels like they’ve figured their way out the maze while I’m still at a dead end wondering whether I can just hop out the sides. Doesn’t matter what it is, our eyes are as green as the parks and spaces we so desperately need in this godforsaken city.
Nairobi. The city of miniskirts and cheers baba jackets. Lust dripping down the sides of our mouths because we can’t seem to contain it under our tongues. I don’t even know why people bother to go to Vasha for WRC when they live in the city of sexual debauchery where the only thing that’s on heat more than the sun is whatever’s between people’s legs. Where even Christian Grey would pause and do a double-take. Where ropes aren’t just for skipping and leashes aren’t just for dogs. If you find ordered love in the city, you must have saved refugees and orphans in your past life. This is the city where the flesh is truly willing.
You know that intense sloth-like feeling when you wanna wake up for Sunday brunch at Brew Bistro or K1 and then later watch Hamilton race at around 4 when all the mimosas have hit your head and you’re surprised that your wig is still intact? Or the next day when you’re trying to get out of your covers and you’re thinking about that beastly Nairobi traffic you’re about to face and all you can do is tweet “Nimewacha pombe mimi”. Truthfully though, other than that and a few other instances, the pace is too fast for me. I just wanna be in a dera next to the beach drinking a passion caipiroska and eating viazi karai cause why are y’all always running?
And y’all are way too fast when coming up with new words too. There’s like a million words for currency, ass, sex, sherehe, et cetera. Truly, there is a certain linguistic je ne sais quoi when it comes to the Nairobian’s language. It stops being a transaction of random syllables and begins to become an understanding of feelings, emotions and behaviour. I, especially, like how we knead it into our art. We sneak it into our music and get phenomena like gengetone.
We compress it into our films and get Nairobi Half Life. We squeeze it into our visual pieces and get Michael Soi. One thing about Nairobians is we do not cower in silence, we have words to say and we shall say them. Even if that means running a president out of Twitter. That’s why our writers are as staggeringly sensational as they are. Ngartia. Sookie. Grey. Muthaka. Laria. Abu. And those are just my friends, dawg.
But it’s not just the writing. The fashion. Rosemary Wangari. Nicole Wendo. Samantha Nyakoe. The music. Mau from Nowhere, Vallerie Muthoni, Karun, Maya Amolo, XPRSO. Just a Band. The films. The painting. Muthoni Matu. Zolesa. The architecture. The cinema. The theatre. Too Early for Birds is back! et cetera. Man, I gotta tell ya, when God was cooking up the cauldron of this city, he went hard on the talent. Quote me on this: a lot of exceptional creatives from this city are gonna hit the world with a head-splitting bang in a couple of years.
Nairobi. Despite the crowds, the queues and the poor drainage, it still has a charm. Mysterious. Confusing. Alluring. Despite the fact that you can only truly enjoy the Nairobi experience if you’re a bird or an expat, me I love it still.
Nairobians, keep sinning, keep winning!
The Enemy Within
Death hangs heavily over people with cancer – it is always there, reminding you of your mortality.
So, this is what happens when a doctor tells you that you have cancer. The first response is disbelief (how can this be true?), followed by anger (I don’t deserve this, I never hurt anyone), and then a deep sense of grief and loss (what will I miss when I die, and how will my loved ones cope without me?)
They say cancer is the result of pent-up anger and resentment. Apparently, years of holding on to these emotions make your cells misbehave and become toxic. Cancer cells end up eating up healthy cells, leaving the body so full of poison that it collapses from lack of vitality. The jury is still out on whether lifestyle choices generate cancer in the body because people who lead healthy lives seem to be as prone to cancer as those who don’t. Nonetheless, when you find out you have cancer, your first reaction is to blame yourself. It is sort of like being told you have HIV. (Was I responsible for this? Was I reckless? Should I have used a condom?)
Friends and relatives will tell you that breast cancer is beatable, that they know so many women who had breast cancer and lived healthy lives years after treatment. What they don’t tell you is that all the literature points to a short life expectancy after the discovery of cancer. The chances of recurrence are high, even with chemotherapy, mastectomy or radiation, the traditional methods to “cure” breast cancer. I have read studies where women who had chemotherapy had an equal chance of recurrence as those who didn’t. So, death hangs heavily over people with cancer – it is always there, constantly reminding you of your mortality.
Most people are so afraid of cancer that they can’t even say the word. The receptionist at an oncologist’s office actually asked me what kind of “C” I had – never used the word cancer. Yet she deals with cancer patients every day. Another oncologist I consulted couldn’t even make eye contact with me and rushed me through a diagnosis I couldn’t understand, perhaps believing that my cancer was contagious?
The thing is that cancer is not like any other disease that can be cured through surgery or drugs. It requires months of treatment and constant monitoring. It’s not like having malaria or a broken bone. It is like having an enemy residing in your body, hostile, predatory, waiting to pounce at any moment.
It seems a positive frame of mind is critical in recovering from cancer. I got calls from women who told me they bounced right back into their lives after months of treatment as if nothing had happened, that I mustn’t believe all the literature, that I should get all the treatments done and go back to living a normal life. They didn’t explain to me why they have been working from home since their treatment started and since their so-called “recovery”. Others are more honest about their experiences. A South African women called to tell me that her experience with chemotherapy had damaged her heart, and she is on life-long medication that makes her urinate every few minutes, which means she can no longer work in an office. Instead of destroying the cancer, the chemo destroyed healthy cells in her heart. She is cancer-free but now disabled in other ways. Another friend told me her aunt died not from the cancer, but from the chemo.
What the doctors and the optimists don’t tell you is that both chemotherapy and radiation have debilitating impacts on your body. They literally are poisons injected into your body to kill another poison. Sort of like a vaccine but not quite because they do not boost your immunity. Both chemotherapy and radiation therapies involve weeks of hospital visits that cost an arm and leg. Nausea, burns on your body, fatigue are common side effects.
A friend from Boston who has studied alternative ways of healing from cancer (including not getting any treatment at all) tells me that each woman with breast cancer has to make an individual choice about what kind of treatment she should get. Doctors trained in Western medicine will be quick to put you on chemotherapy and the other treatments without giving you other options. Desperate and eager to cling onto life, the patient with cancer readily accepts any treatment, not realising that not only is it a very long process, but very costly as well. Mental preparation and psychological support are also necessary before embarking on the long and arduous journey called cancer treatment. People become life-long patients; some recover well, others not so well. Some women opt for no treatment, preferring to lead a good quality of life before the disease ravages the body.
I am looking at alternative methods of healing, including Pranic healing that works on your energy fields and chakras. So far it seems to be helping me, but only time will tell if I will be a success story. I have certainly started eating more, and those dizzy spells in the morning seem to be getting rarer.
The biopsy results are not yet out, so I am still not sure what the oncologist will prescribe, but in Kenya, the modus operandi seems to follow the same script: mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy or radiation and some kind of hormone treatment. Am I ready to go there? Not sure. Women who lose their breasts speak of feeling like an amputee; the loss of an organ that defines their femininity impacts their identity and self-esteem. Others are more casual about losing their breasts, (“It’s just fat,” one woman told me). `
The other thing about cancer is that when you have it, you think of nothing else. Everything is a blur. Someone wants to make small talk, and all you want to do is look the other way or scream. (Can’t you see I have cancer? Do you really want to discuss the weather?) You think about your life in vivid film shots. Your past suddenly comes into sharp focus, both the happy and sad days. You begin questioning the meaning of life in ways you never did before. Cancer prepares you for death the way a fatal car accident doesn’t. Is sudden death preferable to dying slowly because you can’t see it coming? Not sure.
But let me not be the purveyor of doom and gloom. The reason I am writing this article is that I have learned wonderful things about myself and other people. One of the things I have learned is that people can be kind and generous when they know you are in pain. People I don’t even know and have never met have sent me good wishes, prayers and even money for my treatment. Friends and family have sent food and offered accommodation. An Indian friend called to say that if I opted to go to India for treatment, I could stay in his home for as long as I needed. These generous and kind offers have literally brought tears to my eyes.
What I also learned is that my life’s work has not been a waste, and that my readers love and admire me for my writing. I didn’t realise I had inspired so many people, not just in Kenya but around the world, through words I have penned. That is a really important things for me to know and hold onto right now – to realise that I had a gift that I used well, and which helped others. And to know that when I go, my writing will live on.
I also learned that life is very, very short. So, we must not postpone the things we need to do. If your job makes you unhappy, quit. If a relationship is toxic, leave it. If people around you are making you feel bad about yourself, walk away. Surround yourself with people who love and cherish you. Love is very important for human survival, so distribute it freely. Be kind and generous. This thing called life is temporary, so enjoy every moment and live it as if every day is your last.
Someone’s Grandmother Just Died!
It is painful to always have to consider the feelings of others while legitimate calls for acknowledgement of racial injustice and reparations are consistently ignored and dismissed.
Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, I watched the televised service at St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh attended by the royals and various Scottish dignitaries, as well as the many hundreds who came out to pay their respects or to be a part of this historical event.
As I watched the outpouring of public emotion, I couldn’t help but wonder what emotions the queen’s death would invoke in those whose lives have been blighted because of the British colonial policies that killed millions and left a legacy of misery and disenfranchisement in countries far too many to name.
At first I was saddened by the news. But then came the reactions of global figures the world over, with some proclaiming outright that Queen Elizabeth had been a guiding light, a symbol of hope and stability in the world. One broadcaster went so far as to say “She was everybody’s grandmother.” My problem was that she wasn’t mine.
My grandmother, born in 1923, was just three years old when the Queen was born, my 81-year-old mother told me when I called to get her reaction to the news that the Queen had died. “She would’ve been 99 years old today if she had she lived,” my mom said. I could hear the emotion in her voice as she remembered her mother. My grandmother died in 1983; she was 59 years old. I was then just 18 years old. I said, “Mom with all the things we know about the racist systems that have kept Black and Brown people oppressed, I really don’t know how I want to feel about the death of the British Queen.” Never one to mince her words, my mom replied, “She was a human being, and we, well you know, we mourn the loss of any life.”
Yes. She may have been a grandmother to many but to me she was a symbol of institutionalized racism in its clearest form. Images of British dynasty have been present in the education of every American who has gone through the public school system since the Second World War during which the United States allied with Britain in their quest for global power and dominance. Yet here was the evil of the Crown being portrayed in the media—as it’s always been portrayed—as providence, something divine. As I listened to a special broadcast by the popular British talk show host James Corden talking to an American audience about the Queen’s passing, his tone struck me as odd: “She will be missed, she was everybody’s grandmother,” he said, going on to tell us how well she had served the country and the world.
As I was listening to Corden and wondering why I was so irritated by his outpouring of emotion, it dawned on me that racism moves from generation to generation, falling back on the old practices of how to colonize a nation: You teach them to love you more than they love themselves. Racism survives because the symbols of racism never die. We carry the symbols in our hearts and in our minds and once we have identified with them, we seek to justify their existence. While I could empathise with those that felt a special connection to the Crown, what I realized and felt most immediately, was the insensitivity I received as an African American who bears the scars of the legacy of slavery that has made the British Empire one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world today.
The next day I watched the funeral procession move through the streets of Edinburgh, the commentators conveying the solemn mood of the people who came out to pay tribute to their Queen. All the while I couldn’t see past the 1989 image of Princess Diana hugging a child suffering from HIV/AIDS. On her first unaccompanied trip overseas, Princess Diana spontaneously broke with protocol and showed compassion towards a suffering Black child with all the world watching, at a time when the stigma of HIV/AIDS was as bad as the disease, and Blacks were being impacted the most and no one else seemed to care. Diana’s humanity helped solidify her reputation as the “People’s Princess” and it radically changed the way AIDS sufferers were perceived.
While the news played on I thought about two recent exchanges I had had in Amsterdam, just outside my front door. The first exchange took place in a cafe.
I was sitting at the bar having a coffee. Another Black male of Surinamese origin was sitting a couple of tables away. It was midmorning and we were the only ones there. In an attempt to start a conversation, as men do, he asked my opinion on the war in Ukraine. I told him I thought it was crazy, all too unreal. The white Dutchman behind the counter leaned over and candidly shared, “I don’t give a shit about the war in Ukraine.” I didn’t speak again and left the bar so abruptly the young brother asked, “You leaving?” I was in no mood to have that conversation so early in the day, having experienced the backlash of the “Black Lives Matter” protest with the counter-narrative that All Lives Matter; I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to just hold one’s peace and walk away. (It literally is your peace.)
Shortly after that incident, a couple of days later, I had another encounter that made me realize that we simply can’t afford not to care. I had wandered into a tool shop on the corner of my street that looks more like a men’s gift shop inside than a hardware store selling nails, drills and plywood. Behind me walked in a man who apparently knew what he wanted because we reached the cash register at the same time, he with a power drill in his hand. I moved aside to let him be the first in line, not sure if I was done.
The Dutchman behind the counter seemed not to have noticed that the man with the drill wasn’t Dutch and didn’t speak the language. But to his credit, he did know what he wanted: the drill and a bag in which to put the canisters of spray paint he had already placed on the counter. Being familiar with Eastern Europeans, I assumed the man was Polish and asked “Polske?” “No! Ukraine!” he said, then, smiling, added, “Close.”
“Hij wil een tas.” He wants a bag, I said to the clerk; bags are not automatically handed out after a purchase these days. The clerk then understood and reached under the counter. I was pleased I could help and the Ukrainian was happy as well. To my surprise, as I placed my items on the counter, the Ukrainian tapped my shoulder and offered a fist bump.
I say all this to say of the human condition that people appreciate what they understand. And sadly enough, we rarely think about injustice until it is visited upon us.
Whose permission do we now need to talk about racism and the policies that still impact us today? Africa and the African diaspora’s historical issues are and always have been about racism and this is why members of this group, my group, will always hold a contrarian view when the West attempts to compel us to join them in their moment of grief. My grandmother died in 1983, at the young age of 59, in a small southern town next to a river; there was no horse and carriage, no media. The British Empire once covered the whole world, a dominance that was achieved through suppression and oppression. Many atrocities were committed and entire communities decimated under the authority of the Queen. I was raised never to speak ill of the dead because they aren’t here to defend themselves but I will submit this: it is painful to always have to consider the feelings of others while legitimate calls for acknowledgement of racial injustice and reparations are consistently ignored and dismissed. Where is the same fervour and energy for those issues that matter to us?
When we as Black people keep the peace, we empower the presence of the historical lie that we are inferior and thus require control. When we remain silent we allow the systems of the institutions and the prejudices that block our collective growth to thrive. Why should we care about the death of the Queen when the Queen has stood for the oppression of our people? Why should we be guilt-tripped into silence, into not speaking out about the dead, into not pursuing our freedom? When will our emergency, the issues that impact Black and Brown people, become a top concern for the White world? When will I be able speak without fear of being branded just another angry black man, angry for what I don’t have that others do?
Sad as the Queen’s death is to those that survive her, honouring her service is a symbolic gesture that must be contextualized because, for many, and not just in the UK but all over the world, the English monarchy is a symbol of oppression. I recently listened to a podcast in which a Black podcaster scolded an guest who said this of the Queen: “She is the symbol of colonialism and racism for many; however much we want to romanticize the Queen of England’s long reign on the throne as a stabilizing force on earth, she has also allowed many human rights violations on her watch”. The podcaster’s response was a classic putdown, “Why do Black people have to always bring up racism? Someone’s grandmother just died!”
Racism endures because when we identify with its symbols, we will do anything and everything in our power to justify and defend them.
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