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Reflections

Confessions of a Jubilee Supporter

8 min read.

I don’t yet know how to make peace with the fact that I had a hand in legitimising probably the worst administration this country has had the misfortune of enduring. I will never deserve that peace.

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Confessions of a Jubilee Supporter
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On the night in August 2017 when the results of Uhuru Kenyatta’s electoral win was announced, my neighbours broke out in celebration. Red flags waved outside windows. Vuvuzelas punctuated the loud night. My father and I went to the main road to watch the spectacle. Men, women, children, it seemed even dogs and cars… everyone sang and cheered along the road. A river of bodies winding along the road chanting their gratitude to whichever deity was listening.

In the preceding weeks, I had sensed a lot of tension among my friends and various social circles. But I had told myself that it was inevitable that the incumbent would win.

“Nothing can happen. Uhuru has the numbers anyway. There’s no way he’s not winning this election,” would be my unyielding refrain in those charged political discussions.

The chorus continued like the unbroken chime of a clock.

Tyranny of numbers.

Tano tena.

Wembe ni ule ule.

We went to sleep with smiles on our faces. Happy that “our man”, a designed Jesus from Gatundu had won and would continue with the “great” work he was doing.

But on the “other” side of the political divide, things were not so peaceful. There was anger and disappointment. At first, I was dismissive about it. It felt like the same old song by the supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga. How could they have been robbed when they didn’t have – at the bare bones of it – the tribal numbers?

It was practically common sense that in Kenya’s political landscape, all you need to win a presidential election is solid votes from Rift Valley, Central and half of Nairobi. And those places bled and swore red by Jubilee. Tuko Pamoja. So how could opposition supporters think that their election was “stolen”?

“Accept and move on,” came the rhetoric from “our side”.

But accept and move on to what? And the honest truth is, I was completely aware of the sins of Jubilee, and yet I had supported them and celebrated their victory. I cannot even begin to explain the disconnect here, which makes it all rather unforgivable. Why was I so quick to forgive Jubilee? Was it because I had accepted their mendacity and moved on, and now expected others to do the same? Was it because I am Kikuyu? Because I from middle class Nairobi and the status quo suits me better?

But those who refused to accept these election results endured gunfire, teargas, armed raids from the security forces, and even death, and continued to say no. Some of the victims were not even actively involved in demonstrations. Yet those on “our side” still defended Uhuruto. When I began to speak out against police brutality – the innocent victims had begun to tug at my heart – those on the “other side” called me foolish for imagining that the only crime here was police brutality. They were right – when I compiled Jubilee’s biggest transgressions before 2017, I might as well have worn a neon sign marked, “Dunce”.

In 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto arose like sainted phoenixes from the ashy aftermath of the post-election violence that rocked the country five years earlier. “We won” against the white man’s broad sweep of justice. “Our boys” made it out alive.

Their vision seemed clear enough. Umoja, Uchumi, Uwazi. Unity, Economy, Transparency. The President himself was a billionaire; one of the richest men in the country. There was no need to worry about corruption.

“He’s already rich. He won’t steal,” I heard it said many times. And I agreed. It seemed logical.

After 2013, Jubilee has come under fire for various issues plaguing Kenyans. In 2014, the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board nipped the laptop in 2014 project in the bud after it was discovered that the tender to supply the laptops wasn’t awarded fairly.

In 2015, the National Land Commission found that land belonging to Lang’ata Road Primary School was invaded on by the Weston Hotel, which the deputy president owns a stake in.

That same August, the Auditor General, Edward Ouko found that Sh100 million of taxpayers’ money was used by deputy president William Ruto to charter a private jet.

In October 2016, investigations found that the Health Ministry had misappropriated Sh5.2 billion. Not forgetting Chickengate, where a British national (who has jailed and has since been released) paid bribes of up to Sh50 million to Kenya National Examination Council and Interim Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission.

And of course, the catastrophe that was Eurobond. In September 2016, Standard Media reported that the Auditor General was unable to account for Sh215 billion which the government said had already been allocated to ministries.

The list goes on and on.

Jubilee’s continued its signature insistence of fixing dire issues with cosmetic solutions. The First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta, organised an annual marathon to deal with maternal health care in the country. So far, reports indicate the project hasn’t been a success.

In 2016, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission chairman Philip Kinisu spoke to Reuters about the issue.“The state budget is now approaching Sh2 trillion, a third of it is being wasted through corruption,” he said.

The Elephant itself has a very helpful guide pinpointing each and every major corruption scandal from 2013 to 2018.

By election time, we were monikered Uthamakistan, due to our relentlessness in calling Uhuru the chosen one. We lined up on that cold August morning believing that somehow the plunder would stop if we gave the “dynamic duo” a second term. Party primaries a few weeks prior had been chaotic, but we told ourselves that the “bad eggs” had been eliminated – it would get better.

It didn’t. Just after the announcement of the victory, Raila’s camp went to court to contest the victory. The ruling declared Uhuru’s win invalid. We were ordered back to the ballot on October 26th. The opposition wasn’t having it. They wanted complete electoral reform.

We rose up again less vocally this time, “Kwani you want a constitutional crisis?”

The most moderate of the uthamakistanis made a hollow concession that yes, the electoral process had been a mess. “Accept and move on,” they still said, before quickly adding, “but we understand where you’re coming from. IEBC really handled that poorly.”

After the October election, an eerie calm settled over the city. Things were either about to get a lot worse or marginally worse. They got worse. For a while, it became scary just to go out.

One Friday afternoon while I was at work, protests broke out in Kawangware 56, which is on my route home. A friend who was the same route called me to warn me off.

“Don’t use that route. Go to town or Westlands. There is chaos huku.”

“What is happening?” I asked, panic rising.

Street gangs from opposing camps had split the area in two, he said, and woe to you if you were caught on the wrong side.“Ukiwa hii side unaulizwa kama ulipiga kura. Na kama ulipiga wanakuchapa. Alafu ukienda terminus wanaangalia kama una rangi kwa kidole na kama hauna wanakuchapa.” (If you’re on this side, they ask you if you voted, and if you did they beat you up. And if you’re on the other side of the bus terminus, if they don’t see you voted by the ink on your finger, they beat you up.)

My friend told me he escaped any chaos because he had no ink and he is multilingual. No accent to betray him. No “special” features. Others didn’t fare so well.

Reports say that at least 10 people had died in Kawangware that day. Social media was inundated with messages demanding the local leaders to go cool the storming hotbed of violence. The last thing the country needed was more bloodshed. The violence lasted four days with the real number of victims remaining a mystery.

After 2017, I woke up and smelled the dead roses. However late, it happened. There wasn’t a particularly triggering event. But a subconscious harboring of anger and resentment that simply overflowed. I don’t yet know how to make peace with the fact that I had a hand in legitimising probably the worst administration this country has had the misfortune of enduring. I will never deserve that peace.

Shamefully, I recalled a correspondence I had with a friend during the 2017 election, when I exposed myself as a Jubilee supporter.

“Why are you voting for Uhuru?” he asked me.

I shrugged, and said the rote answers, “Let him finish his work. It’s difficult to beat the incumbent anyway. Raila isn’t a better option. Better the devil you know. ODM is so disorganised. There is no way they can lead this country to prosperity. At least Jubilee have done some development.”

“But he has had the most corruption scandals since Moi.”

“It’s not him, it’s the people around him.”

“But China…”

“Our debts to China won’t be repaid now. They’ll be repaid later.”

“But inflation…”

“That’s just the usual progression of an economy.”

“High cost of living, squandering government money, lower job security…”

Aii kwani you want to vote for Raila?”

Then one day, the cognitive dissonance became impossible to bear. It all slammed into me like a truck with no brakes. How could I keep up this charade? How was I still capable of defending him? The administration had been rogue all along.

Last December, a video surfaced on Twitter in December 2018 tagged “Business Community Speaks”. A woman spoke to the camera, her voice betraying the anger and frustration most Kenyans felt.

Tuna amka tunaskia mafuta imepandishwa,” she lamented, “Na tuli amka asubuhi kuchaguana… Nina mtoto mdogo nilimwacha kwa nyumbandio nikachague president… mwenye anaweza kututetea. Na saa hii hawajuisisi tunaelekea wapi.” (I heard this morning that fuel has become more expensive, yet we woke up early to vote. I left my baby in the house that day to vote for the president, someone who can defend us. But now, I don’t know what’s going to happen to us).

Thus far, a lot of the government’s actions have brought swift abandonment from their more resolute supporters. And the issues have been there all along, and they continue to intensify – hunger, extrajudicial killings, a failing healthcare system, a coal project in complete disregard to the environment, increased reports of femicide, and most recently, punishing whistleblowers. And we cannot call it corruption any more, as if the looting is an unfortunate outcome of an otherwise benign system – the plunder is the entire point. It is state capture.

I have no clue how any of this will be solved.

I wonder about an electoral boycott in 2022. Algeria has gone radical and conducted massive demonstrations forcing their president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to abandon his plans to run for a fifth term. Their transition won’t be easy. A caretaker government has been appointed to oversee the country until the next presidential election. Algerians want a clean slate. The military may have helped push for the resignation of their former leader but what role will they play in ensuring the protesters get what they were fighting for? It is still uncertain.

Sudan also held protests for months to oust Bashir and ensure a transition of power conducted by civilians rather than the military.

So, what if not voting is the answer? What if, instead of going to queue to vote for fresh faces that make the same non-deliveries, Kenyans just didn’t show up to vote?

I ran this idea by a friend but he disagreed.

“Political parties are the ones with power. If you want to make change, you’d be better off showing up in droves to vote for the person you chose. You can vet the candidates during the primaries. And then make sure the best candidate is representing you.”

The idea of boycotts isn’t new. They have been used by civilians to show displeasure at the practices of those in power. Understandably, this may also have the added effect of enabling the status quo. Let’s call it a last resort; a drastic measure to be taken when there are no viable candidates to rally behind. Then again, the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 was seminal event in the Civil Rights Movement in the US. The Anti-Apartheid Movement which led to boycotts of South Africa helped abolish apartheid in 1994.

The Kenyan constitution currently doesn’t have any provisions for extremely low voter turnout. But if people refused to show up, it would send an undeniable message. Thy will is not being done. There would be no added leverage of legitimacy. At the very least, it would establish a kind of controlled anarchy that would display an unwillingness to be taken for fools. While this may not provide an instant avenue to rebuilding a structure that is more acceptable to Kenyans, it may lay the groundwork to foster desired change.

With no visible grassroots organisation, an intrinsic fear for our lives and our livelihoods, perhaps the best solution at the moment, is not a nationwide gathering but a disappearance, one that won’t have consequences on jobs and lives. On that day of the vote, nobody goes.

There seems to be an unspoken truth that Kenyans are waiting for a “trigger”. The sayings punda amechoka (The donkey is exhausted) and Kenyans are tired keep being thrown around, to the point of becoming clichés. There is a simmering belief that at the right moment, the people will rise up and disenfranchise the hold Jubilee has over the people.

Still, going by the Huduma Number exercise, Kenyans are not keen on defying the government and they queued for hours to comply with the government directives. If a simple act of civil disobedience can’t be agreed upon, how can a revolution based on unified rebellion ever work?

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Gloria Mari is a writer and a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Reflections

Marseille 2021: The 2nd Scramble for Africa

I come back home a worried man, even more perturbed than I was before, about the march of colonialism under the guise of conservation.

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Marseille 2021: The 2nd Scramble for Africa
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Dear Natives, do you know any conservationist who was in Marseille, France, in the last couple of weeks? If you’re a conscious African citizen, you need to ask them exactly what they were doing there and what they discussed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress. Personally, I was there as part of a group organizing resistance against the relentless advance of colonialism throughout the global south under the guise of conservation. Like most conservation conferences today, this meeting was full of backslapping and self-congratulatory nonsense exchanged between celebrities, politicians and business people. This is the ultimate irony because this is the group of people most responsible for the consumption patterns that have landed the world in the climate predicament we’re in today.

They created the most effective filter to keep out people from the global south (where most biodiversity exists), the students who may be learning new scientific lessons on conservation, and the independent-minded practitioners who would be there to share their views, rather than show their faces, flaunt their status and prostitute their credentials for the benefit of their benefactors. This filter was the registration fee. The cheapest rate was the “special members fee” which was 780 Euros (slightly over KShs100,000).

While most of the Kenyan conservationists are now back from Marseille gushing about the beauty of the South of France (which is true), I come back home a worried man, even more perturbed than I was before, about the march of colonialism under the guise of conservation.

For any African proud of their heritage, this worry is heightened by the unending queue of Home Guards and Uncle Toms lining up to sing for the crumbs and leftovers from Massa’s table, the small jobs, big cars and trips to conferences where the only thing prominent about them is their dark complexion and not the intellectual content of their contributions. These heritage salesmen and saleswomen give themselves all sorts of fancy titles, but their brains are of no consequence to the European colonizers. They are as much props as the obviously (physically, mentally, both?) uncomfortable woman unfortunate (or foolish?) enough to have her ridiculous image carrying a pangolin used on the blueprint for the new scramble for Africa.

The biggest thing out of Marseille was the European Union’s grand plan to capture Africa’s natural heritage through a programme called NaturAfrica. Since they know that they have selected partners in Africa to whom prostitution comes easily, they drowned the announcement in noise about doubling of funding for conservation on Twitter.

Marseille 2021: The 2nd Scramble for Africa

EU’s Philippe Mayaux presenting the NaturAfrica initiative.

In the first photo above, you can see the EU’s Philippe Mayaux presenting the audacious grand plan. He expressly stated that they are going to use the “Northern Rangelands Trust model” which has served them well thus far. I’ve been saying for the last 5 years that NRT is a model for colonialism and some invertebrates here have been breaking wind in consternation at my disrespect for their cult. The financiers have now said that it is a pilot for their planned acquisition of Africa’s natural heritage. What say you now? Who’s in charge of the plantation? Do the naïve majority now understand the violence in northern Kenya? Do the naïve majority now understand why foreign special forces are training armed personnel (outside our state security organs) to guard the so-called conservancies?

Following this extravagant declaration by Mayaux, the CEO of the NRT, Tom Lalampaa, barely containing his joy, took to the podium and gushed that “NaturAfrica will be welcomed by all Africans.” Only the irrational excitement brought on by Massa’s praises can cause a mere NGO director to purport to speak for the 1.3 billion inhabitants of the world’s second largest continent. Kwenda huko! Get out of here! We can see through the scheme!

Tom Lalampaa, CEO of the NRT

Tom Lalampaa, CEO of the NRT

On the map presented by Mayeux, you can see the takeover plan (the dark green areas); Tsavo, Amboseli and Mkomazi in northern Tanzania is a colony of the WWF “Unganisha” programme. To the west is The Nature Conservancy colony consisting of the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association in Kenya, and the Northern Tanzania Rangelands Initiative. The rest are the NRT colony (including the Rift Valley, which is clearly marked) and the oil fields in northern Kenya. East Africa’s entire Indian Ocean seascape is marked for acquisition; spare a thought for the Island nations therein, because they have been swallowed whole. The plan has already been implemented around the Seychelles and documented.

I will repeat this as often as necessary: the biggest threat to the rights and sovereignty of African peoples in the 21st century is not military conflict, terrorism, disease, hunger, etc. It is conservation organizations and governments that seek to dominate us through conservation. They will bring their expatriates, their militaries, and their policies. If you look at the map, the relatively “free” countries—like Nigeria, Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, etc.—are those where international conservation NGOs haven’t been able to get a foothold. Here in Kenya, our state agency, the Kenya Wildlife Services, is busy counting animals, not knowing that it is well on the way to becoming an irrelevant spectator in our conservation arena. If you think this is far-fetched, ask someone there why there are radioactive materials dumped by the Naro Moru gate to Mt. Kenya National Park. Or why the Kenya Forest Service is standing by without any policy position while the Rhino Ark goes about fencing Mt. Kenya Forest, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Has anyone asked the EU why this grand plan isn’t global, but only focused on Africa? Are there no conservation concerns in Europe, Asia, or the Americas? Ours is the land of opportunity and this is why they want it. The funding will facilitate immigration and pay to employ the expatriates that will look after their interests in our homelands. Their militias will keep us out of our lands which they need for “carbon credits” so their industries can continue to produce and pollute unabated. Lastly, they need our land for export dumping of their household rubbish, toxic waste and, most of all, radioactive material. This is obviously a continental initiative, but addressing my compatriots (Kenyans), can you now see what I have been talking about for years, even as the European colonists tell Maasais, Samburus and other pastoralist communities that they shouldn’t listen to me because I am Luo? Can you now see how miniscule that school of thought is, how easily your attention has been diverted to discussing irrelevant minutiae in the face of the scale of their grand scheme?

As I said in the beginning, my mission, together with colleagues in Survival International, is the de-colonization of conservation in Africa and the global south. The routine violation of indigenous people’s rights, and the violence constantly meted against them, is the most visible symptom that brought this problem to our notice, but we must understand that the violence isn’t just for sport, as much as these organizations revel in it. Like 18th and 19th century colonialism, it is a commercial venture where political interests follow in its wake because it is too big to remain private. When Leopold’s Belgians massacred people in Congo, it wasn’t just for sport (although at some point it looked like that)—they were there to collect rubber and other resources. The conservation militias don’t just kill indigenous Africans for sport. They are here to protect colonies on behalf of capital interests. It is not about the wildlife—that is just the window dressing. After all, the people and the wildlife were here for thousands of years before their militias came.

This is why we cannot afford to give up. It’s not just about biodiversity. It’s also about our identity, our resources and our children. This is why we must fight intellectually to develop our own conservation philosophy and reject this violent and elitist Tarzanesque Western model. In order to restore the rights of indigenous peoples, we must tackle the reason why they are being oppressed, tortured and sometimes killed. It is commerce. Conservation is just the attire in which it is clothed.

Find an African who was in Marseille and ask him or her what they were doing there. If they cannot demonstrate that they spoke against this colonial project, they had better show you a lot of photos of them shopping and spending a wonderful holiday in the south of France. If they can do neither, then be sure they were in France selling or facilitating the sale of our heritage to corporate pirates.

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Reflections

Surviving the Hood: A Walk Through Nairobi’s Iconic Neighbourhoods

For us hood folk – no matter where we land – especially if we survive the hood – then it is forever home

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Surviving the Hood: A Walk Through Nairobi’s Iconic Neighbourhoods
Photo: WikiCommons/tropenmuseum
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What you up to I asked.
I’m going back home to take some pictures for my foundation was the answer.

For us hood folk – no matter where we land – especially if we survive the hood – then it is forever home. Because we remember how far we have gone.
And no matter what trauma and hardships we suffered – we remember this time through rose tinted glasses.

What? Going back home, home I said
Yes, won’t be there for long but we can meet after. No way! I am coming with you. I am going home too. And so, we set off.

First stop Kaloleni – Ololo – for a walk and picture taking.
You see for them Americans to give their hard-earned cash – we have to reaffirm our poverty and massage their saviour ego.
But today I am not on that soapbox.

I am 7 years old, visiting a relative in Kaloleni – eating peanuts that Nyaredo (my uncle) has bought us.
I am 7 years old – waiting for the medicine man to bring a variety of roots that need to be boiled and me washed with it. You see at age 7 I have terrible eczema and the many trips to Aga Khan courtesy of the KQ medical cover has not helped.
Dana knows the cure – and so off we go to Kaloleni.

We say hi to Mama. She is shocked to see me. I am happy to see her.
And of course, I come bearing gifts. I know she loves flowers – and these are bright orange. My Mama loved orange.
Mothers are precious and I do miss my own Mama, so I channel that love to any mother I come across – especially my friends Mums.

These houses looked much bigger when I was 7. They seem shrunken – but we have grown. This takes me back to the sights and sounds of our homes growing up.
Wow – it must have been loud – with laughter, joy, tears and hopes.

We walk around the old neighbourhood.
There is a beautiful old building that was the maternity clinic back in the day. A safe place. Walking distance from any home for mothers to welcome new life.
The library is next – open – recently renovated.
The social hall still stands …and there is a handball pitch too.
Hmmm – handball I inquire – yes, it has been here since our childhood.

This estate was planned.
Every common space has a tree.
The wooden shutters – painted green and that city council sky blue are still present. I am 7 years old, eating peanuts as I wait for the medicine man.

Next stop is my hood. Jericho.

Jogoo Road has changed but it is still the same.
Barma market – where we bought live kukus for those special Sundays still stands. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

We exit Jogoo Road as we remember the number 7 and 8B bus routes. Long live Kenya Bus Service!

Bahati estate is still the same. Jennifer would get off here.
She was beautiful – Arab looking Kamba gal – Evelyn Tei’s cousin. Next
Evelyn and Davi would get off at Kimathi.
These were the it houses! 3-bedroom stand-alone homes – yo!

I was then in the bus by myself or with Agnes till Jeri.
Funny – no one lived in Jerusalem or Ofafa Jericho…maybe they did, and we just didn’t take the same bus…

Welcome to Trench Town

The sign greeted me as the bus turned into my road. Then I knew I was home safe!

Oduko so – the big shops – the main shopping centre – our Mall
I ate mtura there and ferried metal birikas of soup from there to neighbours’ homes. I got my shoes mended there at the cobbler outside the bar.
My feet grew like weeds – no new shoes, mended shoes for me.
My Mum’s local – drinking those small Tuskers with my Godmother and various aunties. Laughing.

The field next to the dukas was where the monthly open-air movies were screened. To this day I wonder who was behind that…
Bringing a screen and projector and showing a free movie to the masses.

Then the clinic…
The clinic where you had to buy an empty small bottle for your cough medicine. In the hood, Actifed came in 5 litre jerricans.
The clinic where Starehe Boys volunteered during the holidays.

Them in their very colourful uniforms – ever so smart. Patrick Shaw smart. The clinic that I ran to when I broke my toe…
Which was not set properly – and has given me wahala ever since.
I remember the day clearly because my uncle Cliff was there volunteering that day… The game was tapo…or blada…or cha mkebe
Anyway
I ended up with a broken toe that healed funny.

St. Joseph’s …my nursery and local catholic church. Weird place, looking back.
Lots of light skinned kids …pointies…running around. The only white jamaas were the…. yeap! ‘nuff said!
We drive to the parking lot and I am 12. I loved a boy from that house.

He smelled sooo good – Old Spice I remember.
First place I ever heard Tracy Chapman.
His brother was playing his guitar to ‘Fast car’. But alas, he was smelling good for someone else…

Celestine’s house.
Her mother told her not to talk to me because ‘I knew too much’. Celestine got pregnant in Standard 8…
Clearly, I knew nothing!

Wiki’s house – Wycliff – his full name was too long for us kids. First boy and last male who ever slapped me.
Heard my brother defended me by giving him a thorough beating! The joys of big bros in the hood.

Hilary’s house.
Now that was an anomaly…
Hilary lived there with his Mum. The end.
Just him and his Mum…in that huge 2 bedroomed house! My family of 5 kids was the smallest…the average was 8 kids We had a cousin and house help living with us…
We slept in one room.
So, you see the thought of just Hilary – alone – in the room – solo…that was mind boggling!

Owanjo so…the big field Looks so small now.

Walking to church along the bougainvillea fence…
Wondering why the boys are allowed to watch football whilst I have to go to church.

Oti Papa – towering tall. The coach. Superstar Someone scores, the crowd goes wild…
I walk to church…

I am 10.
Walking across the field after school to the far far corner to buy deep fried mhogo… Laughing with my two mates – Pauline and Mamie
Pure bliss
Them Mushrooms are having a jam/rehearsal session. The drums sound good, I fall in love with the guitar We eat and listen…

Thoma’s house.
First real rejection. I am 15 going on 16
Standing in the kitchen – the gally kitchens of Jeri… Gathered courage to go in for a kiss.
Dude jumped back as if I was about to stab him…
Note to self – do not make any sudden movements towards the male species. They are somewhat fragile when not in control.
Years later – we are back in the kitchen. Him from Sweden, me from my new hood. He has lost his Dad; I am saying pole.
And I remind him …ai ai ai…wacha hiyo story Posh (my hood nickname). We laugh and he goes – lakini you are free ku jaribu tena.

The car park.
With the Maasai watchie wrapped in his Raymond’s blanket, armed with his bow and arrow. It must have been a good year for Peugeot…everyone seemed to own one…or so it seemed. There was the occasional Datsun, Nissan and my Mama’s VW – KGG 908.

My street. Our house.
Laughter – it is a Saturday and Mama is having her bura – she is laughing, my aunties are laughing, gossiping, listening, helping, soothing, accounting for the monthly contributions. They are drinking and laughing, and Franco plays in the background.
Sisterhood – this is what it looks like.
Joy – Earth, Wind and Fire – blasts from the record player. I am mesmerised by the sparkly cover.
Fear – people running, horses…what? horses in Jericho? Screams… the 82 coup has arrived. Tears – loud wailing – my Uncle’s death – HIV – early days…he makes it into Newsweek… Violence mwizi comes the rallying call. We all pour out of our homes…
Nyerere with a panga, blood everywhere, leta mafuta…
Later on I wonder how witnessing that affected us kids…
Domes – the wall shook…my neighbour battering his wife. Her head made contact with the wall.
The late-night knocks, the crying, black eye, broken bone – letting in a weeping female who needs to make it to hospital…
Clear thought goes through my child mind – never marry a Kisii or a Luo for that matter…

The big easy – remembering the lazy Sunday afternoons, the footballers walking home, Leonard Mambo Mbotela asking us je, huu ni ungwana.
The only time I think Luo men my Dad’s age attempted to understand Swahili.

The Bus Stop
My stop – 3 steps and I am home.
The bus stop where Mwangi gathered courage and gave me a love letter via Freddie.
In their Martini uniform. Martini which I later realised was Martin Luther King Primary School. Go figure!
Mwangi from Ziwani.
As I got off the 8B – he got on. At times he didn’t.
He sat there with a clear view of our kitchen and veranda. Young love.
I turned him down gently…he swore to love me fore

The Obembo tree.
Weeping Willow – I discovered years later in my adulthood.
Dhi kel kedi – go bring a stick. God help you if you got a dry one!
It had to be flexible…so as it came down on you, you were dead just from the swishing sound it made.

I am 9.
In standard 3…
I have a toothache.
I take a nap after lunch and I miss my afternoon classes. The maid reports me to my Dad with glee!
Dhi om kedi. I die a thousand deaths. I am sick, in pain, my tooth!
All my Dad hears is that I skipped school…like that is my fucking nature!
I pick a nice flexible one because even in my misery, I want to be good and obedient and get a good kedi.
I have seen this guy cane my brother.
Watched my brother cry – my defender, my hero against the hood boys… I can’t imagine that wrath reigning down on me.
My Dad is speaking… I can’t hear him…
I am dying – can’t he see? I am crying – I am the good one. I am screaming – I am not lying! He raises his arm…
I pee…right there where I stand. He looks at me in shock…
I look at him in shock… He tells me to go shower.
He never raised his hands again…to me. But everyone else got it…sadly.
That is why only one boy has ever slapped me. One. Once. The end.

The hood.
We connected at a basic level
No pretence. No explaining. No pity. No judgement Just simple memories…
The medicine man The bus ride Sunday football Them Mushrooms
The Weeping Willow – which caused a lot of weeping Love – young unrequited love
Friends – rest in peace Mamie Tracy Chapman
Old Spice.

I am 45.
Standing in an empty car park Facing owanjo so
The bougainvillea is long gone
There is a stone wall instead – protecting the space from land grabbers…Kenya! The grass and red soil are now gone…
It is astro turf
Kids play in their bright yellow jerseys…dreaming… Oti Papa would be proud.
I wonder about Celestine, Wiki and Hillary…

Me at 45
Standing in the car park Old spice in my memory
But now not quite Old Spice but an expensive scent Tracy in my memory…
Nvirri the Storyteller on my mind
Football in the background
And in front of me… Home.

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Reflections

Die Kijana Die: The Crime of Being a Young Poor Man in Kenya

Growing up in Mathare, we all start out with beautiful dreams. A dream of becoming a doctor, police, engineer, professor, pilot, and so many more. Teachers used to tell us these dreams will only become true if you work hard. Maybe that’s why Motiso worked so hard to achieve his dream—to be a dancer.

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Die Kijana Die: The Crime of Being a Young Poor Man in Kenya
Photo: Julian Myles on Unsplash
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If you want to see colonialism alive and well in 2021, one of the first places you should look is Mathare, or any of Nairobi’s informal settlements. These are places where people are still not treated as full citizens, but rather, as sources of cheap labor. Citizens deserve publicly provided or accessible water, electricity, healthcare, education, roads, etc. But the people of Mathare are not treated as citizens. They are treated as disposable.

One of the ways that disposability is made most clear are police killings. In August, there was one week when police gunned down seven uncharged, unconvicted young men. But, while criminal suspects in other parts of the city are arrested and jailed, police kills the “disposable” young men of the ghetto because society, in its complicit silence, has agreed that it is more efficient this way.

We know that Kenyan civil society has long spoken up against police killings. The recent murders of Benson Njiru Ndwiga and Emmanuel Mutura Ndwiga while in police custody in Embu have rightfully incited public outrage. But what about the seven young men who were shot dead by police in Mathare within that one bloody week in August?

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On 9 August, 2021, a young man called Ian Motiso sat down to take a late lunch at a kibanda in Mlango Kubwa, Mathare when a killer cop called Blacky passed by. Blacky took out his gun and shot Motiso down then and there. Just like that, Motiso is no longer with us. He was 21 years old.

Another extrajudicial execution. Another life cut short.

Even though police killings continue throughout Kenya, people are speaking up about it now more than ever. A couple weeks ago, the Ndwiga brothers were detained in Embu by police. While in police custody, police beat them to death. The public responded with anger. National news covered it widely. Lawyers have taken up the brothers’ cases.

But what about Motiso? What about the other six young men killed in Mathare within that week? Almost silence.

People say that the young men police kill in the ghetto are “thugs.” People say that those who speak out against police killings simply do not understand what it is like to be a victim of crime in informal settlements. I was born and raised in Mathare. I have been a victim of crime. I know the pain of being robbed of valuable property. I know the pain of beatings from heartless young men. I know the pain of losing loved ones to “boys” who stab with knives.

Motiso committed crimes. Motiso personally attacked me. And Motiso did not deserve to be extrajudicially executed. I believe this, even though I still have a wound behind my right ear from when he bashed my head.

Two months ago, Smater Zagadat and I had just arrived at the Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) to lead rehearsals for the MSJC Kids Club as usual. MSJC Kids Club is an initiative that uses dance and community theatre to advocate for social justice. Smater and I are the coordinators. That afternoon, I was wearing a black T-shirt with the logo “Dance with Zagadat”—Smater’s brand—so Smater took our her phone to take a picture of it. Within seconds, three teenagers swooped in and snatched the phone. We ran after them down towards the river and managed to catch the guy who grabbed the phone. Some kids from MSJC Kids Club followed behind.

We grabbed the thief and dragged him back up to the office so he could return Smater’s phone. But, suddenly, a group of young men came out of nowhere and attacked me. I only remember feeling their punches coming from all directions. Their fingers were covered with heavy coated rings. My teeth almost came out. I could not see what was happening, but I could see blood coming out of my mouth. All of this happened in the early evening on Mau Mau Road, between the bridge that connects Kambi Safi Road to Kosovo Hospital Ward, a very busy area—yet no one came to my rescue, except for the MSJC kids who shouted and cursed the attackers.

I recognized one of the attackers. Even though he recognized me back, he didn’t stop beating me. He felt no shame attacking someone he knew. He was Motiso.

Let me take you back, because I want you to understand something important. Motiso was born and raised in Mathare. He knew all six wards of Mathare very well, from the elderly to children. By the time he was 16 years old, he was already a very talented dancer and was a part of the Billian Music Family (BMF), together with Smater herself.  The community loved these dance groups, and in return, the groups inspired many kids in Mathare, including myself.

The first time I saw BMF’s Dance group, I was just out of primary school. The dancers were performing “Vigelegele” by Willy Paul along Mau Mau Road. That was the first time I heard the name Motiso. The kids, yelling above the booming speakers, cheered for him as he danced.

“Umecheki vile Motiso amedo hiyo Stingo?!”

“Atakua dancer mgori!”

He was just that good, and I guess that’s why he easily became famous.

Growing up in Mathare, we all start out with beautiful dreams. A dream of becoming a doctor, police, engineer, professor, pilot, and so many more. Teachers used to tell us these dreams will only become true if you work hard. Maybe that’s why Motiso worked so hard to achieve his dream—to be a dancer.

Maybe if he wasn’t born into a poor family, his hard work would have turned his dream true. But Motiso was born into a place that reeks of all sorts of human rights violations, of poverty, of ecological injustice. His dream was shut down because of the environment he was brought up in. So, did he give up? Yes, Motiso gave up.

Imagine the struggle he passed through. First, he was unemployed. Motiso, like many of us in Mathare, was trapped in a cycle of wage slavery. You wake up, go to job, get a salary, barely make food and rent, sleep, repeat until you die. But your work never turns into a dignified life. You’re just trapped.

Second, Motiso was in the danger zone of being a man in his twenties living in the ghetto. As young men in Mathare, when we reach this age, we automatically become an enemy of the state. The ghetto is a place where a child grows up innocent, then later on becomes a victim of predators who target, hunt, and prey on them.

So Motiso went ahead and jumped on a bad bandwagon. He left dancing and got involved in crime like petty theft. The reason why he chose crime over a path of straightness is simple: He needed to survive.

Some people criticize his decision, asking why he should commit crime when the government has offered plenty of job opportunities to the youth, like one program called Kazi Mtaani. But, if those people understood that Mutiso was a victim of structural violence created by the system that we are born into, they would understand that they are demanding a young man to make “good” decisions while he chokes inside a system that has never treated him as a human.

Mutiso did try to join Kazi Mtaani, actually. A few months ago in Mathare, a group of young men went to the administration to register for Kazi Mtaani. But they were surprised to find that, in order to participate, they would first have to bribe the Area Chief 1,000 KES ($10). How can you look a young unemployed man in the eye, when you know he has no job, and ask him for money? Maybe the thieves who snatched Smater’s phone wanted to sell it in order to bribe the Chief and get a job.

Motiso will always be remembered as a thief. He robbed many. Many are still crying because of what he did.

But remember—he was also a friend. He was a family member.

He never deserved to be born into a system that does not care for poor people.

He never deserved to live in a world that kept poor people powerless in order to exploit them and, when they did what they wanted to survive, killed them off.

He did not deserve to be killed by the people whom we expect to protect us.

He never deserved that.

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