Monthly Archives: April 2016

being kenyan for me meant one thing this weekend

The Kenya Sevens team recently won the Singapore Sevens title. Now, the rugby team is good. In Kenya only 3 sports have ever taken an international stage and as a result captured the national imagination. Cricket, rugby and athletics. Cricket has been slowly creaking off it, in fact the glory days of this sport are so far back I only know about it from stories. Athletics is something we are great at. Our runners win the gold, the bronze and the silver with such regularity you would think someone was rigging the races. Rugby has always been a middling child. We’ve been good. We’ve been almost great but the giants of the sport England and France, New Zealand and Australia, Fiji and South Africa have kept us at bay. Until in what is already being described in superlatives( “the greatest sports upset of the year” is one phrase I’ve seen bandied) the rugby team won the Singapore Sevens title.

 

Sports is a unifying and glorifying field. Feats of physical strength speed and endurance put us in mind of the gods. They elevate us. Our association no matter how tenuous with a person who would throw, run, bash, strategise, shoot so much better than we can will always fill us with glory by association. Look at all the people who are over the moon about a Manchester United or an Arsenal win. These are sports teams with absolutely no connection to who we are or what we do. The Kenyan rugby team though is essentially who we are. A team with less resources than the other teams. Players who can’t give this pursuit their all because of the pressures of living in a third world country. People drawn from amongst us who despite all the pressures to settle and be average that life in a place like Kenya gives have the temerity and determination to rise above all that, to compete with the best at every turn and to do it so well that they win. This is surely something to be proud of.

 

Yet, none of the euphoria touched me. I saw the celebrations online. I was forwarded all the memes and pictures on whatsapp. There was a revelling in being Kenyan on Sunday. Happiness abounded. We did it. We beat the world. Still it refused to be anything more to me than just another sports team winning yet another tournament. Where was my pride to be Kenyan at this moment of national unity?

 

The day before there was another celebration in Kenya. There was thanksgiving and ulululation of the sort that our rugby team cannot expect to be showered with. The people being feted were Kenyans known by the now-famous moniker the Ocampo Six. Kenya had beat the world before Sunday. We had beat the justice system by gaming it, by rigging it, by using it for political means, by corrupting a court that in itself held some of the highest ideals that the world aspired towards.

 

The ICC is a direct descendant of the Nuremberg trials. It is the physical manifestation of the world banding together to say never again to crimes against humanity. The result of wars so horrible and losses of lives so callous that those who perpetrated them could not be called merely criminals. Their crimes were not against one person but against the whole of humanity. Any person who had committed the crimes that the formation of the ICC contemplated was a scar on the conscience of the human race. This is what the Rome Treaty said. This is what brought it about to bring to justice the ones who no one nation could contain.

 

A horrible thing happened in 2007 in Kenya. Our country slipped slowly and softly towards civil war. Hate was pushed into the air like mustard gas. It infected all of us. It affected many of us more than it did others. It was horrible that people rose up the way they did. That machetes were stained with blood. Not just blood but the blood of brothers and sisters the screams of mothers and daughters the end of fathers and sons. The two people who stood to gain the most from the violence that was unleashed did what powerful people who stand to gain from violence always do, nothing. Nothing to stop it, nothing to contain it, nothing to contradict it. For weeks it went on. We heard about massacres and murders. There were fires driven by fury and our country was never the same again. In such a short time we were derailed from the path towards real nationhood and splintered into tribal affiliations. Those were crimes against all the people of Kenya, those were crimes against humanity and somebody needed to be held responsible and the ICC swung into action.

 

When I say swung I mean it in the least swinging way possible. I mean that there were investigations. There were attempts to have a local tribunal formed. There was all the anticipation of finding out who the Ocampo six were and we were finally told six years ago. The legal process does not swing as much as it creaks on rusted hinges of due process and judicial deliberation. To know the truth of this all you have to realise is that it took 6 years for the Court to say that there was no case for Deputy President Ruto and future political aspirant Joshua arap Sang to answer. Would it have been another three years before the cases were concluded if they were carried to their end? Maybe more? The systems of justice we put in place to control our worst impulses rely on the cooling of minds. Revenge, they say is a dish best served cold maybe because cooled off revenge is actually justice. Maybe because it’s really forgiveness.

 

Kenya was divided. As we came to the conclusion of these proceedings the refrain could be heard “locking people up will not bring back the dead anyway.” I wonder if people believe this. The literal truth of this statement is undeniable but the deeper truth always lies behind the lines of such poetry. The deeper truth of this is that justice as we serve it on each other has no place in our society. Forget about anyone who ever did you wrong, it will never right the wrong. Once you have been sinned against there is nothing that can be done to put you back in the place where you have not been sinned against therefore “accept and move on.”

 

This is a statement that lies in complete opposition to the statement “never again.” The argument that is put forward is that peace must be considered. We need to reconcile with each other because we live in this country together. I won’t argue against that but I’ll point out that no process of reconciliation was ever carried out in the form that was seen in Rwanda or South Africa. Instead we had a process of reconciliation was carried out in a manner reminiscent of the chief sending his daughter to marry the chief of the other tribe. A marriage of convenience that hopefully would put a stop to anything else. Did it work? It seems to have on cursory examination of the nation. The tribes most affected by the post-election violence banded together to give a victory to the people accused of causing it. This is the very definition of revenge served ice-cold following the adage that if the gods would punish us they give us what we ask for.

 

But I still couldn’t feel the euphoria of a Kenyan win. That’s the moment we all remember that we are Kenyans. This is the greatness of artists and sportsmen. By entertaining us they can make us one but still I felt ice.

 

The day before the rugby win the Ocampo six paraded themselves and their freedom. The last vestiges of colonial influence over us were being torn away. We are after all a country that thrives best on local solutions by local people. Kenya had beaten the world. The ICC admitted its ineffectuality and impotence when it was unable to convict even one of the people named in what perhaps is its most high profile case. There was something wrong with the process by which we sought justice or by which the ICC attempted to deliver justice. Somewhere in the pipeline something went horribly wrong. The investigations were bungled and the wrong people were charged. Or the right people where charged  but the lawyers prosecuting them were incompetent. Or the right witnesses were found but they were cajoled and intimidated and disappeared until they couldn’t give any kind of testimony. Or the wrong witnesses were found and the justice system rooted them out as conscience began to speak to them. Or the right people were charged and they had at their disposal an arsenal of diplomatic, financial and political weapons. Or the wrong people were charged and the 6 million Kenyans who placed their trust in them knew this all along, took it on faith that these men they had never met were innocent of any charge levied against them and had their faith vindicated by the facts of the world.

 

The people who were charged may not have been guilty, we may never know. What we do know is that there was a correct combination to open the safe. The correct numbers existed to punish the people who made us suffer so much. Someone somewhere dropped the ball and this is the history we have to live with now. The history that was celebrated on Saturday. The Ocampo six were so pleased that the ICC process failed that they forgot it failed not only us but them too. The ICC process failed humanity.

 

There is a hope of justice that faded farther and farther away over the last nine years. All the political manoeuvring even before Ocampo first forayed into Kenya told us that impunity existed. That it was there and that it stood in all readiness to mock us. Perhaps the system was corrupted from the get-go. Perhaps it rotted as it went along. No matter what the truth of this is by the end it couldn’t cover us or anyone else.

 

Being Kenyan for me meant one thing this weekend. It meant that nobody would be held to account for all those deaths. That this book was closed. So when the rugby team pulled off their amazing feat and it was time to be proud to be Kenyan I couldn’t do it.

 

 

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the relaxation that a drink can bring after the dignity that a hard day’s work can provide

“Umefungia kifunguo ndani ya piki piki basi funga dirisha” You’ve locked its key in the motorcycle? Break the window then.

 

This was a snippet of a conversation I had lucked onto at my Tuesday bar. It’s a great little bar tucked into the side of the road. It has two branches one called “plan A” and the other called “plan B.” You enter and there’s enough space for two tables to fit with the patrons comfortably at ease. Two tables. At the end of this is the bar, a locked up place that sells the various beers, vodkas, rums, whiskeys and brandies that go with the ambience (read easy on the pocket.) Past that is another smaller room. It’s the smoking room and also where the keg container is stored. Beyond that are the toilets and an outside veranda that’s part of plan B. The toilets are open air urinals. By that I don’t mean we pee in the bush, it’s just a stall with cement floors and a hole somewhere. There’s no door or it’s always open. I’ve always liked these kinds of urinals. Though I wish this one had no roof, it seems more hygienic somehow. Plus it gives drunks a much wider area on which to splash their urine around. Inside there are pictures of His Excellency, the President of Kenya and Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta on the wall. They are not pictures of Uhunye or My guy the President (as I imagine Margaret calls him.) But pictures of the President of Kenya and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta. He’s in his CIC uniform, sitting on that awesome walking stick that folds into a chair and looking like he is ready to run off to Somalia and show Al-Shabaab what they are messing with.

 

Usually I go here with a book to read. I sit down near where I can smoke and crack the spine. For hours I read and read, hoping that there will be a conversation in Swahili that I can drop in on. Sometimes there’s no such luck since everyone is conversing in Kimeru and I’m the only foreigner there. When I get too drunk to read I sit and drink and think about life. Usually thinking it has served me a pretty sweet deal. That day though I entered and there was another foreigner there. He seemed to have been born and brought up in Nairobi. He was also a self-confessed alcoholic.

 

I get uncomfortable when that word is dropped in a bar. I get paranoid when it is dropped by a person who seems to drink no more than me. I start convincing them to say drunk instead. It’s much easier to be a drunk. It signifies a bad habit but not a life-destroying one. Or even drinker. This is so much better. It slides you further away from alcoholic. Now you are just somebody who occasionally enjoys the relaxation that a drink can bring after the dignity that a hard day’s work can provide. But, he’s not those. He was sad. He pointed at the people around us drinking and said of social drinkers that they were always happy but that alcoholics are sad drinkers. That they sit there drinking and wondering how the hell they ended up here again. Cursing their habit and the cost it has on their life.

 

He had been in hospital for two weeks as a result of high blood pressure associated with his drinking habits. He had been asked to lay off and he was unable to. He took a half of a quarter bottle of blue moon vodka and poured it into his cup. This was after he had told me that he didn’t always know how he got home. That he had recently fallen in a ditch and the only reason he was around to tell me this story was because the ditch had no water in it. He was sure he would have suffocated if it did. Sure that the splash of cold, foul water would not have been enough to startle him out of his stupor.

 

Most mornings I’m found in a different kind of bar. Sitting with my professional colleagues. Lawyers in suits with files on the desks, a lack of enough pens for everyone on the table, and diaries that are used as religiously as the word religiously. There is, I will admit, a pompousness to having a judge ask you whether a certain date is convenient and then opening your diary, flipping to that date and frowning as you knit your eyebrows (it’s an art you practise until you master)and say that it’s not. The courts here can be hilarious. There’s a particular judge who would have loved to be a teacher. I can tell because in the middle of these cases he’ll begin giving a lecture. Telling you about something that happened a long time ago, or about what you should have done, or what you did wrong. You can tell he’s about to start talking because he leans back in his chair and adopts a thoughtful look, he looks off to the edge with his slightly skewed glasses and begins. Usually it’s best to sit down if you are on your feet. There is in court a lot of standing up and sitting down as you address the court and wait for it to record what was said. That definitely harkens back to catholic masses. So does calling judges my Lord and my Lady.

 

Anyway one day this judge is threatening a guy that he will throw him in jail if he disobeys court orders. Right there in the middle of the courtroom he begins to tell him that he looks strong. I thought that he was going to say that even his strength will be wilted by a few weeks in jail. He tells him instead that they like strong men in jail. I can see where this is going because who hasn’t made this joke, but we are in a crowded courtroom there’s no way…he tells him that even in two weeks one of the prisoners will make him his wife if he gets sent there. I laugh behind my diary because who the fuck would not?

 

 

Then another time I’m in this criminal court and it’s time for judgement to be given. The judge starts reading out the judgement. This guy had been charged with murder. The judge says that the evidence the prosecution has read out is not enough to convict him and if he does not give any evidence of his own she will have no choice but to acquit him. (Yes the exact same thing that happened with Deputy President William Samoei  Ruto) All this time the guy is standing there looking forlorn. I don’t know if he doesn’t understand what’s happening, that instead of going to prison for life he is free; he is free right the fuck now…. then she turns to him and says

 

“I know you did it but the family covered it up. There’s just no evidence to put you in. Go and don’t repeat it. ”

That chilled me. The way justice is served. Our insistence on evidence. The number of murderers, rapists, thieves walking free because there was no evidence or because they had good lawyers. It chilled me. Like with so many things in life we seem to have locked the key in the motorcycle and just because we can’t come up with better ways to respond to this some of us break the window.

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This at the end of the day is the only real noose.

This has been a noose (sic) heavy week. It’s rare for me to feel that since I don’t watch news. I remember being a child and not liking news and all the adults would tell me “you’ll grow into it” they said it in that smug tone that adults have when they are giving advice to a stupid young child. The kind of voice you use when complaining about young’uns getting rid of punctuation, vowels, consonants and whole words when they type up something on social media. Except better because at least the adults then remembered that they too didn’t like news and had to grow into it.

 

I didn’t grow into it because… I don’t know why. Some years ago I asked my cousin why she doesn’t watch news, she was about ten. She shrugged her shoulders and said in that tone of absolute truth and unbesmirched innocence “because it makes me sad.” So I stopped trying to watch the news. It still catches up with you especially on a week like this. I mean there were

 

  1. The Panama Papers.

 

You know from the outset that this name was chosen for its alliteration. If the leak had been about any other tax haven the second word would have been different: the Luxembourg Leaks, the Cayman Islands cache, the Bermuda bundles, the Swiss secrets and so forth.

 

This came with a bang. One minute I haven’t thought about offshore accounts in a minute. I mean I think about my account all the time wondering why the money in there is trickling to nothingness with each passing day. Then every end month it makes me believe in re-incarnation as all that dead money comes back to life, mine to use and abuse as I please. But offshore accounts? It had been years.

 

All of a sudden they are the biggest news in the world. A law firm with the foreign sounding name (to any national of any country) of Fonseca Mossack has been creating companies right left and centre. In whichever direction a tax haven can be found. A huge bonus of reading about these things is that you find new countries e.g. Niue. A country that, like the name Hermione, no Kenyan can properly pronounce (is it new? Nye? Nigh?). A country whose population hovers around one thousand. A country with an annual budget of two million dollars a year. A country who through business with Fonseca Mossack was making 80% of their annual budget.

 

Offshore accounts we all know are used to hide money from governments. It could be dirty money made through crime and corruption. It could be money worked for in a worthwhile manner. But there is a stink to it. We immediately assume that a) you are really, really rich. Fonseca charges millions for its services (more than the annual budget of Niue from two clients.) and b) you don’t want people to know just how rich you are.

 

So the Deputy Chief Justice of Kenya Kalpana Rawal is one of the people named in the Panama Papers. This is a country where one of her brethren in the supreme court was accused of accepting a 2 million dollar bribe (yes the annual  budget of said Niue) in order to determine an election petition. No one is talking about this though and can we really blame them after all

 

2.) University of Nairobi students striked.

Again. Here’s what I take to be the reason for the strike, Babu Owino. The chairman of SONU who has been the chairman of Sonu for years and years and years. When he was not going to be qualified to be chair anymore because of his impending graduation he re-enrolled as a first year student. He went on to win the chairmanship. Then he won again. Then there were problems. His re-election was protested in what is a great case study as a microcosm of the modern African democratic process involving incumbents running for office. To wit, the incumbent runs, he has more money than anyone else, there is a popular opposition figure, election day rolls around, the incumbent wins, the popular opposition leader does not accept that the election was free and fair (of course it was not free for the incumbent he spent millions after all), a segment of the population strike, the police beat the shit out of them and theirs.

 

The same Kenyans who were encouraging Ugandans in their quest for democracy on social media once Museveni won another term now wear new shoes. Asking these students to accept and move on. Gleefully sharing shameful video of these students being caned and saying that it’s justified. That for possible property damage and the inconvenience of a traffic jam they deserve to be caned. It’s a truly disgusting video.

They are laid out on the floor and members of the police beat them. They are beaten more than once. The fact that they are lying on the floor means that they were threatened with something much worse were they to look up. Jail time? Worse beatings? Death? This is what we teach our students about the end of protests and when politicians rob us blind we wonder why nobody did anything about it. The answer is all the people who would have were beaten by the police in university and not only did we turn a blind eye we encouraged it. So they buy into a life with their heads down. They get jobs. They complain on twitter. They get married like….

 

3.) Bob Collymore got marri…. I’m sorry this isn’t really news all the speculation about the collapse or not of this marriage should be focused instead on….

 

4.) The collapse or not of Chase Bank.

 

It starts with a whisper. It is spoken about in small circles. It is told to other people. The rumour threatens to give birth to itself like a person who goes back in time to ensure his existence. The self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course now it starts with a tweet. It becomes a screenshot and is shared far and wide on whatsapp.

 

It’s being interesting watching this happen on Wednesday the 6th Day of April, 2016. One whatsapp group I am a member of talked about it the whole day. Those in the banking sector gave the warning. As soon as people heard it they believed it because this is how the human mind works. As long as something is not too incredible we will swallow it. Especially after Imperial Bank went belly-up so recently. This is an episode that remains fresh in our minds because it had been such a long time since this happened to a bank in Kenya. We survived the “Global” financial crisis largely unscathed. People still took loans to buy land, cars and lifestyles. They still paid the ridiculous interest rates that banks asked for as long as they could. The real estate economy has been booming. Property prices climbing higher and higher as land stopped being something that people lived on but something they sat on until they could sell it and move into something better. We refused to learn from America and Europe and did all the things that led to their crisis.

 

Chase Bank a group member says is known for giving easy loans. Accounting practices have been shoddy. The Central Bank has failed to regulate anything but its own greed (no employees of that institution are named in the Panama Papers after all so they must be doing something right.) though the whiff of corruption is in the air.

 

On the other hand these could be malicious rumours started by the competition. A cynical and remarkably effective marketing ploy. In Kenya we trust in International Banks and Equity. We definitely trust Equity Bank I mean they even have sim-cards and have you been to any of them lately? Lines out the door at all hours of the day. That bank definitely has cash.

 

The same day this happens the Chase Bank MD and CEO resign. We also hear that their unpaid loan portfolio has gone from 3 billion shs. In 2014 to 11 billion in 2015. 11 billion, just for perspective is Niue’s annual budget for 55 years. And that’s what this bank in a small-medium country somewhere in East Africa has on their unpaid loans. FUUUCK.

 

Things look bad for chase. Another group member had been contemplating putting money in there. He changed his mind, obviously. Yet another one got his money the fuck out of there. There has been a run on that bank. Perhaps they can survive 11 billion in unpaid, unperforming loans but now cash is a problem for them. Very soon they won’t have the minimum needed in order to operate a bank. There are people who will just stop paying loans since the bank is rumoured to be a non-entity. These kinds of things can break a bank. We spoke about it so comfortably because

 

5.) Whatsapp now encrypts all our messages.

 

If they are to be believed any message you send on whatsapp is now completely secure. The government can’t access it. The owners of the company can’t access it. God himself-well, of course God can access it he’s God.

 

This to me seems like the most childish thumbing of nails at a government I have ever seen. These fucking Americans and their insistence on their rights to absurd levels. Whatever these people were thinking is informed by the same ideology that allows people to bear assault rifles there despite the numerous shootings all the damn time. Our Constitution limits rights because they have to be limited. There are, we can all agree, situations where the government should be able to spy on you. What if you and another person are terrorists and they have your numbers but because of the geniuses running whatsapp they can’t access what you say to each other? How much child porn will be circulated via whatsapp now? How many conspiracies? How much death and suffering with this insistence on the indefeasibility of the right to privacy lead to?

 

Unless they are just fucking with us to make the terrorists and criminals slip up. I mean legally acquired spying by the Government is a necessary part of society if only because without it there would never have been the Wire. And you can bet these whatsapp people enjoy the Wire. A great show that taught us how evidence should be gathered and preserved, what it really takes to win a case something not everyone in the world who should knows how to do and we know this because

 

6.) Ruto and Arap Sang (he’s not famous enough for one name yet) were practically acquitted by the ICC.

 

Not acquitted because what happened is it was found that they have no case to answer. This is a determination that a Court makes once they hear the prosecution’s case. Yes, it is a ruling based only on evidence brought forward by the Prosecution, not one word from the defence.  The judges are saying basically you just wasted my time. You wasted your time. You wasted Mr. Ruto’s time. You wasted the time of the people of Kenya.

 

This is the most emotionally charged news of the week. There were six Kenyans named by Louis Ocampo who, according to general consensus, was just a flashy, showy man who was not terribly good at his job. Sure he was good but not terribly good. Three of them didn’t even make it to trial their cases were that bad. Three of them were accused. Two of them became the President and the Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya. Their cases were decided by the people of Kenya on 4th March, 2013.

 

We the people said that we had absolved them of any sins. We the people handed them the sceptre and the sword. We the people gave them the fly-whip and the rungu. We the people gave them the means to lobby the whole of Africa to stand behind them to ensure that those white people over there did not come into our continent over here and take away a president and his deputy.

 

They in power changed the narrative completely so that it was not about justice anymore but neo-colonialism, it was about racism (everyone ever indicted is from Africa? Fuck those guys.) They in power avoided the ICC perhaps by just being they in power.

 

During the election campaign Uhuru said Mudavadi could be president. Something happened and he came out and said that he never meant what he said; he said that devils must have possessed him when he said that. We forget that. But he did. If I was one of the witnesses against him and I heard he had become in president I would have followed his example. This after all is a man who at the time was accused of crimes against humanity. Now he has all the power of the state. How scared would I be? I would say that devils must have possessed me when I said he was guilty.

 

Perhaps though the law did what it was supposed to do and let the not guilty go free. Perhaps they weren’t guilty. Either way the ICC chapter of Kenyan politics and life is behind us. It’s been more than nine years since the horrible things that happened in Kenya happened. Nine years since we had an election campaign steeped in so much hate speech, so many threats of people being uprooted and kicked out of their homes, filled with so much tribalism and hate and disunity the likes of which even Trump has only hinted at.

 

Nine years since we had an election rigged so blatantly and ineptly that anybody watching the counting on the day could see what happened. Didn’t he know he was going to lose? Even if he thought he was going to win he should still have rigged he may have spared us all that came next with his last minute rigging.

 

Nine years since the country erupted. Neighbour against neighbour. There was property damage. There was theft. People were beaten. Rape took place. Death. Death by gun. Death by fire. Death by panga. People bled to death and burned to death and the worst episode of my country in living history happened. There were people who were locked in a church and burned. People shot to death by police on TV because of stone throwing. There were texts warning us that the water was poisoned and we shouldn’t drink it. We locked ourselves up in our homes and lied that it wasn’t so bad where we lived. I lived in a place that saw no actual violence and it was so bad where I lived. The quiet. The tension. The knowledge that people nearby were dying. The riots. The fear. The fucking fear. And the two fucking principals doing nothing to stop it. Letting our country burn and our country men die. Almost as many of our countrymen as there are people in Niue.

 

It’s been nine years but it’s still fresh for a lot of people. It still gets to me this Post Election Violence. It’s still the worst thing.

 

The ICC admitted ineffectuality regarding the case. Their reputation has been forever damaged because if they couldn’t grab the Deputy President of a small-medium sized country somewhere in East Africa then no sitting head of state will ever submit to them. The dream of a body sanctioned by the world to punish people for crimes against humanity was crushed. More importantly the dreams of Kenyans hoping for justice was abused. Most importantly justice was never possible as soon as their brothers and sisters and sons and daughters and fathers and mothers were killed. That was the most unjust thing that could ever happen. Maybe history will tell us who bears responsibility though the truth is nobody will ever agree on it.

 

This at the end of the day is the only real noose. People died and for that there is no justice.

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