Monthly Archives: August 2017

a spoiler at noonday

When you cry, for some reason, your sinuses clear up. You feel healthier right then but afterwards you are sniffling and sucking mucous in. When you cry your eyes begin to burn up. They turn red as if a small flame has been introduced to their vicinity. Salt water has flowed through them after all and brine is not something to cook eyes in.

 

It hurts to cry. It pains physically as well as emotionally. There are a myriad of mental diseases and yet I don’t see grieving included there. I imagine this is because grieving is more like an injury than a disease, its being hit by a car, cut by a sword, passed through with a bullet, stopping a punch. Your body tells you immediately things are not ok, that they are not as they should be and the reason you are hurting is external. You can point to it. You can say I’m limping because I strained my ankle. You can say I’m crying because all those people have been killed by the police since we voted. You can know this but it won’t stop you hurting for all the hours you are awake, it won’t stop you wincing when you put your weight on that leg. Just because you can identify the source of the pain that feels like its killing you doesn’t mean that you’ve stopped it killing you.

 

Yesterday Raila told people to stay home and mourn. All day I’ve had to listen to all these jokes about it. I’ve had to listen to valid points too, bills must be paid, bosses placated, life lived. It’s true and a fact that we don’t take mental disease seriously, it’s also true that we don’t take mental wounds seriously.

 

Were we together over the last few days? Did we all hear the news of our country burning. Are we going to discount the news from Nyanza province about the killings, the beatings, the torture there? Will we say that the people in Mathare, in Kibera are lying when they tell us the police are breaking into their homes and pulling them out? What about when we see the videos of it being done what do we say then? Are you sure that’s not ’07? I’ve heard asked. The answer to that must surely be, no we’re not because we remember seeing a policeman shoot a young man dead in Kisumu back then and also in 2013  and we’re going to go crazy if we have to believe that this shit is happening again.

 

What will we say when a 6 month old baby is hospitalised because police broke into its home despite the protests of its parents, and get this, hit that baby. Have you touched the scalp of a baby? Remember how soft it is at that time, remember the wispy hair,  the size of a child that young and then imagine policemen hitting that child. Punishing it for the crime of its parents. But what crime did the parents commit? They weren’t protesting. They were home. Why do they have to watch over this little soul in ICU and beg God not to take it away?

 

What do you say to the parents of an 8 year old girl who was shot while playing on her balcony? She was home. She was not protesting. She was home. What do you tell the father of that child when our Internal Security Minister gets up on tv and says that the only people killed are criminals? When did we even miss the part that allows the police to kill criminals? Was it when three boys were shot in Isili and we applauded it? Was it when three dead and tortured bodies were found rolled into a river? Was it earlier? How do you hold the mother of that child when she hears that the policeman who killed her daughter did it on purpose? What do you use to wipe away the tears of that poor woman when she hears from two eyewitnesses how this policeman took aim and shot?

 

When judgement was passed on the first murderer recorded in the Bible the Lord said “What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood calls to me from the ground.” And sentence was passed “a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be on earth.” And Cain pled for mercy and mercy was found, “Therefore whoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.”

 

Just before all of this Cain had asked that most famous question of those who do not wish to accept responsibility, am I my brother’s keeper? And I say to you Mr. Kenyatta that you are. As president of this country you are the keeper of all her people. When the blood of any innocent is shed it calls to god for justice and for you to be his instrument. When the blood of any of us is shed by your emissaries and agents then it is as if it was shed by you. This, the heavy and terrible price that you pay for executive power. Being president is difficult and it should be. At the end of the day you are responsible for the executive. Your justice and your wrath are all we have because you give orders to the men with guns. And you told us you wanted to give orders to the men with guns. You told us you were the best possible person to give orders to the men with guns. A shitload of us said, ok, you tell the men with guns what they should do. We also said that what they do is now your responsibility. If you want this power you had better be ready for what it comes with. When blood is shed by the men with guns and we ask why your answer had better not be am I my brother’s keeper? Because you are.

 

If one of these men with guns disobeys you, we expect your wrath. Immediate and terrible. When what feels like co-ordinated attacks are launched against areas where people said they don’t want you in control of the men with guns, then weren’t they always right to say they didn’t want you? Weren’t they always right to protest you having that power? Weren’t they always right to say that the result no matter how meticulously guarded and verified that gave you the power over the men with guns was a wrong result?

 

And you can sit there where you sit and plead innocence. To prove your innocence you can point to your impotence. You can say, without batting an eyelid, that you were unable to guard even your own Deputy’s house from attack. We remember that a lone machete-wielding, motorcycle-riding, AP-gunning, mutherfucker went and took over the Deputy’s house for 8 hours and that the best of your men with guns couldn’t stop him till all of a day was done. So if you say again, “mnataka nifanyaje?” a fair amount of people will sympathise with the weight of the crown on your head and a fair amount will want you to put it down.

 

Yes, my President, you can always plead innocence and to prove just how guilt free you are show us to your incompetence. Remind us that you are unable to keep us safe. Remind us that you are unable to keep Mr. Ruto safe and that it is only by the grace of God that any of us stands here where we stand. But if that’s true why not give up power over the men with guns? Surely you know just how powerful those things are. There is a sound of thunder and a spot of red and 8 years after she came into this world a girl is dead. Imagine if these things were put to better use. But forgive me for asking you to stretch towards competence.

 

 

I remember the first time we asked you to shepherd the men with guns. I remember how I felt about that court that wanted to hold you to account for allegedly financing other men with guns, in another election, in another time that feels as familiar as this. I wanted them to go away. We Kenyans had chosen you and chosen your Deputy to lead us. I offered you congratulations because this is what the country wanted and with its democratic voice it had chosen. I put aside the niggling feeling that it’s wrong to put a man charged with crimes against humanity in charge of the men with guns. That last sentence seems obvious doesn’t it? It seems very, very obvious. But I said that the voices of 6 million needed to be louder than my doubt. And then we began to die.

 

At first it looked like you were doing all you could. When Westgate was attacked and with tears in your eyes you reminded us about our lions and their invincibility, I thought you were crying for the country but maybe it was just for your lost family members. Which, Mr. Kenyatta, I tell you is fine. The sting of death is most real when you know the life lost. Feeling that sting should lead to empathy, it should allow you to imagine how those people in Mpeketoni felt when they were attacked time and time and time again. When you stood up that day and said that it was the opposition undermining our country had you forgotten how it felt already?

 

Take a look at what your army did then. Remember how they kept us worried as they drunk and looted? Didn’t you realise that there was a discipline problem? Just last year when that lawyer and that client and that taxi driver were killed in a manner and following a series of events that implicated police posts and men all through your country didn’t you think that maybe something was wrong? When a man in a bulletproof car was gunned down and the whole country was convinced that your government was to blame didn’t it occur to you that maybe, just maybe, things were not right? When another lawyer was killed and nobody talked what did that make you feel? How does it feel to lead a country where only the first death matters? When Mr. Msando was killed just before the election and even some of your  voters thought it was you didn’t it pain you? Didn’t you realise that the force you were in charge of were a bunch of trigger-happy death-dealing maniacs. Ahhh you must have known you cannot claim that level of incompetence.

 

I’ve been reading the book of Jeremiah and, I wouldn’t recommend it as a book of comfort. The vision of God in that book is bleak and terrible, sample his words to his people in the 15th chapter:

“Thou has forsaken me saith the Lord, thou art gone backward: therefore I will stretch my hand against thee and destroy thee, I am weary with repenting. And I will fan them with a fan in the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children, I will destroy my people since they return not from their ways. Their widows are increased to me above the sands of the seas: I have brought upon them against the mother of the young men a spoiler at noonday; I have caused him to fall upon it suddenly and terrors upon the city.”

 

He is weary of repenting. He does not want to hear how sorry his people are. He has turned his back on them. He will allow them to die by the droves, good god he will even send game of thrones spoilers their way at midday on a Monday. He is wroth.

 

Look, you never want your people to feel any familiarity with the threats of an old testament god. Not if you are a real leader. If you are a real leader you will not act like he did and fan them with a fan in the gates of the land, and send men with guns to waylay them and instead of using rubber use lead until the widows are increased.

 

That bleakness is not the lot of a people. And, it is your responsibility, and nobody else’s to make sure that these things don’t happen. When our Ministers of Internal Security and Government Spokesmen say such hateful things as to lie about death I remind myself that if you didn’t want them to lie about death they wouldn’t be doing it. At least in this you cannot claim the clean hands of a commander whose soldiers fell to bloodlust. These are the pronouncements of men reading off of a script that you have directed.

 

My President, it would be wrong to say that you sent these men out with a purpose and that that purpose was to kill and to maim. It would be wrong to say that just because you were accused of crimes against humanity that you actually committed them or were partial to their commission in that future that is now our past. Nope, not to my president can you impugn such things because where is the proof? What makes you say anything so hateful without proof.

 

So we will do what you asked of us and clean your hands with incompetence. Your inability to see that the disciplined forces you command had tasted blood and seemed to like it. Your short-sightedness when you didn’t make an order that only rubber bullets should be used should there be protests against an election. Your inability to inspire fear in that man who killed that girl, he thinks he’s getting away with it, imagine that. That is what he thinks of your wrath. That is how well he thinks you can protect your people. Yet you didn’t see it.

 

Not seeing it, is that enough of a crime? Maybe not. Not for the rest of us. But you asked to be given control of the men with guns. You had control of them for 4 years and some change and then you asked again to be given control of them. Just as soon as you were given control of them for 5 years this happens? All this death around us. That’s all good Mr. Kenyatta and while we sit here and give hallelujahs because you are so much more just than your father you had better be sitting there and doing the same because it is not the wrath of the Father that is coming after you. The Father wearies of repenting, he can hear blood calling for justice, and he claims vengeance for his own. With him you would not get away with saying that you aren’t your brother’s keeper.

 

Murder happened on your watch by your people carrying out your orders (however imperfectly they may have been but remember even Cain just grew bad fruit in the opening verse that led to this very first murder.) the question you have to ask yourself in your cloak of innocence when you wonder why all these people are shooting arrows of guilt and responsibility your way is the age old question, am I my brother’s keeper?

We heard you speak about corruption and are worried you meant it about violence too when you said “sisi tunakula nyama, wao wanameza mate.” And your supporters said no, no, no he doesn’t mean that they are stealing, he just means that they are enjoying power. Well it’s been a post for painting you in the best possible light I can find. While you are enjoying that power please remember the awesome responsibility that comes with it. When I tell you the bible is a story about a God taking responsibility for the sins of his people even though he didn’t commit them do you realise this means that according to the God you believe in a leader must take responsibility for the actions of his people. That he is unable to plead ignorance or incompetence. That when that policeman knelt and shot that girl it is as if you knelt and shot that girl. It is a lot to ask of a person this responsibility I ask of you, but it is also a lot to ask of a people that power you asked of us. You have what you want…now?

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having eyes…

There’s a cloud hanging over us.

 

I don’t think that elections should always be times of existential crisis. I don’t believe that we should head towards polls feeling the kind of fear we do now. I don’t think that the most symbolic exercise of  democracy should ever be a by-word for terror.

 

Yet I live in Kenya.

 

It’s been 10 years since that traumatic event that we can’t get over or maybe shouldn’t. I had plans to go to Mombasa for my first time, the election was just after Christmas and I was getting on a bus to leave for celebrations, not about who won but for the new year.

 

15 years ago I was too young to vote but I remember that on December 31st people would wave their two fingers and say NARC instead of happy new year, because of this I could make plans to go celebrate.

 

But this is not how I feel now.

 

Let me be clear I don’t expect any form of widespread violence. The statistics bear me out. 1,000 people or more died last time in addition to this there are the undocumented rapes, the severed limbs, the destroyed relationships, the traumatised children, and a nation with PTSD. It’s quite a toll on a country. We haven’t gotten over it yet and how you know is how you feel.

 

I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that we lost 1,000 people and were at war for 2 weeks and the result of this is a “never again.” It proves to me that Kenyans in general have no stomach for the vagaries of war. Wars our neighbours engaged in go on for years. Wars our former slave-masters were engaged in killed tens of millions. The horror that took place in Rwanda killed almost ten percent of their population. That every death is a tragedy is a fact. Every single person who died that day left someone to mourn them. Every single person who died left. They went into the great unknown from which none of us has returned. They may be in any of the versions of heaven or hell that we believe in so much, they may be ghosts roaming our land, they may have come back to us in the form of all the new life since then, they may have been snuffed out and that light they gave the world lost forever. Death is a tragedy for everyone left behind but until we go there and know what awaits us we have to believe and behave as if it is a horrible tragedy for the one who died, otherwise what are we even doing here? Still I take heart from the fact that the relatively small scale of our war left us like this. We haven’t gotten over it yet.

So here we stand within grasp of the next election. The month of July served us up some big hiccups in terms of trust in our institutions, trust in our leaders, and trust in our mortality. The deaths of six Kenyans have left us shaken. Actually the truth is that the general forgetfulness and misogyny of Kenyans means that the deaths of 1 person has us shaken. Four men from the time of Moi died in that month within days of each other. The grim reaper had a field day calling them up to that vastness in the hereafter, by now we don’t really think about them too much because we are Kenyans. Remember that a KRA employee was found dumped on Mombasa Road just last month? He does not affect the math or us this sad reality is part of being Kenyan. Learning the value of human life by how much thought you put into it yourself.

 

Last week an IEBC commissioner and a young lady were killed. Who did it and why? We desperately want to know. Someone somewhere decided to order at least one death and sanction as many others as were necessary to cover up that first. Someone somewhere for reasons that are difficult to fathom did this to us this close to the election. Someone somewhere does not care about the lives of you and me and our loved ones. It pains me, this situation. It feels like something broke when this was done. There have been deaths and there has been anger before. We don’t speak about those deaths anymore we don’t think about that anger because something makes us forget these things.

 

When they killed Mr. Msando, when I really considered that they had gone and done it was clear to me at least that no life is sacred anymore. None of them can be protected. God has been endeavouring to remind us of this very fact all of our lives. The four men of Moi were scooped up in an attempt to tell us that death is not part of our province. That death is not something we should deal with. That for death all we should ever do is wait and not even for too long. Yet refusing to listen they killed him. The forces of the world conspired to leave us not only scared as we usually are when there are elections, but also saddened and angry.

 

They also killed Ms. Mundu. 21 years of life is all that was slotted for her. While medical professionals keep striking this is what our country does to them, it kills them. It kills them at an age when they are still full of life. It kills them before they have a chance to save any lives. It kills them and forgets them.

 

We have considered the death of Mr. Msando and treated that of Ms. Mundu as a by-line. She died for her country too. She too was a person who had chosen a life of service. She too was killed for all of us. The pain of losing somebody so young for something so senseless is not something I can pretend to understand or access.

 

And as one more death came to beg us to choose futility instead of hope another came to remind us that there is more than one type of hate in this country of ours. We have been talking about tribalism for so long you would think this was our only problem. Yet there are people always speaking about the other kind of hate. We dismiss them all the time. We say that the problems they talk about aren’t problems. We say that they hate men. We say that their concerns are quotidian. We turn the words of the bible against them. We deny that the world is kinder to us than it is to them. We take comfort in our conclaves. And, because this is how the world has looked to us we refuse to accept that it can look any different to anyone else.

 

People I consider reasonable waited barely a day before they took this death as a pulpit from which to preach the ills of adultery (as the only explanation they could reach for this association.) Ms. Mundu was blamed for not staying in her lane, she was blamed for associating with older men, women of her age are being told right now that this is what happens if they don’t do as told.

 

In the midst of this brutal reminder of those dark days ten years past somehow this poor woman was found guilty. If Jesus of Nazareth can see us what must he think? When he said let he without sin cast the first stone in order to show us that this act, whether or not a sin, is not a crime who do they think he was talking to? How can a society that believes that this man is God take advantage of a tragedy like this to cast stones?

 

There is before us a crime. We don’t know who the perpetrators were but we know what they did. They went and killed two of us. There are people to blame even if they are shadows, even if they are the forces of the world, even if they are the eponymous they. It is the killers to who we should turn with accusing fingers and eyes red with anger and tears. It is the murderers who we should throw at words of morality and quotations from scripture. It is the assassins who deserve our ire and our fire. In a situation where the lines of morality are so clearly drawn in blood red against the soil of our country some of us can still find it in us to blame Ms. Mundu.

 

We have some problems to fix in Kenya. There is hate in our hearts. There is a love for power which if we squint at just right looks exactly like a hate of people. And there is this hate of women. This thing we have encouraged until a person can in the same day ask us not to speculate on the possible reason for the death of Mr. Msando and use the death of Ms. Mundu as some kind of moral instruction to young women.

 

I’ve been seeing and accepting that women have it bad here. I had no idea it was this bad but it is.

 

What are the solutions to these problems? Fucked if I know, fucked if I don’t. Everything here is breaking apart and the truth is it is up to us to hold it together. To grab it in our pain with our palms to make it our aim to give up alms until it is fixed. As for the election, I wish my country and her people the best of luck as they go out to vote.

As to what to do when in front of a ballot paper with the blood of Kenyans dripping from the roof to allow you to vote let us remember the words of he who never wanted a stone cast “Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?”

 

 

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