Try Again

Where were you when it happened?


I was sitting in the office, internet crapping out on me, trying to catch up on as much as I could of the Advocate’s oral submissions. The attorney general had been reliably eloquent and then I had watched Mr Neworjee and been surprised at his charisma.


Then it was 11:15 or thereabouts and the judges filed into the courtroom. Black on red robes. White tabs and the Lady Justices wearing these weird frilly things around their necks. I saw those and got irritated again. Why aren’t all the Justices wearing similar tabs?


Here’s a fun fact about those tabs (the things that they wear around their necks instead of ties, sticking out like two ivory pillars) they are meant to represent the ten commandments. Funny thing about the ten commandments, Moses went up to see God and they sat and chatted. God then brought himself low to write on the tablets of stone. For the first time since creation the physical form of the Lord made itself felt on the face of the earth. Contained in those tabs was the word of God, the literal word of God. Then Moses got angry and hurled the Law of God at the idol of humanity. In that instant the word of God was lost to us forever. Justice, the seat of God, disappeared from humanity on that night. Yes, we got other commandments but they weren’t touched by the divine. We have other laws but they are not the law of God. No matter how you read that story, literal or allegory or fable,  there is a hint in there that humanity drove a wedge between itself and its God by choosing other things, the idols of power and greed drove us away from the consideration of justice and left us cold. The efforts of the best of us to bridge the divide were in vain due to our human faults. And now we try to reach up to those heights but can’t. The world has no justice, only laws.


And back on earth the Chief Justice announced that there were dissents to the judgement. Right now, as I write this I can’t remember what happened, were the dissents read first? Did it go directly to the Chief Justice reading the majority finding? Barely a week later it starts to turn foggy. What I do remember is that once the CJ read the first limb of the determination and said that our Electoral Commission had failed in its duty towards Kenyans the internet stopped. There was nothing I could do for it. Here we were in this historic moment and I couldn’t watch it anymore. All I was receiving were whatsapp messages summarising what was happening. The texts said we were going to have a fresh election, that the last thing we did was a dry run, a trial, a chance for IEBC to work out the kinks in their system and that we would try again.


I was glued to my phone. Where were you when it happened?


A part of me was going to be happy no matter what. One of the little children being guarded by my soul had broken out and was dancing all over my table as soon as I heard that there were going to be two dissents. Two dissents!!!! Before I ever knew how this was going I heard about those dissents and reached for the rainbows. Not one but two!


A dissent is basically a differing opinion. When a court sits with more than two judges democracy is established. Let the majority have its way but let the minority have its say. These things are usually wonderful. Right there in the judgement that will be released in 2 weeks will be the minority’s say. The minority will write pages and pages backed up by evidence, based in law, laced with logic eviscerating their companions. Saying how could you people have got it so wrong? Who do you think you are to invalidate this election? Don’t you know people voted? Don’t you know they queued? Don’t you know they chose? And where do you get off telling them that they didn’t? Right now I can’t even believe I share this bench with you, I am so appalled at this thing you did, at these things you decided. It’s just my vast respect for you and the law holding me back. But you know what, the whole world is going to know just how wrong I think you are.


Right in there and I can’t wait to read this. I was so happy about the two dissenting from upholding the election (as I thought was happening)  so, so happy. So when I heard the election had been overturned and that the dissent was a decision to uphold it, that little boy did a jig. He turned into marble and gold, walked into the courtyard of the Supreme Court and stood there fish over his shoulder, turtles spitting up at him, proudly taking a piss.


Engineers its like someone made some new cement, musicians there’s a new instrument, businessmen there is an untapped niche market at the bottom of the ocean, teachers there’s this new Montessori method, bankers there are new….


What I’m saying, for a lawyer this was huge. The tome they drop on us will change the face of law for years, decades. In every court of law in the commonwealth if ever a presidential election is challenged the judges there will be told, “And the Kenyan Supreme Court in Raila Odinga v. IEBC part 2 held that…”


All I can do is imagine what’s in there. I’ll save a review for when it’s actually out.


Another golden ray of sunshine plays on my skin. I like to write and I love a good story. Lots of people try but nobody touches God. Life is stranger than fiction. Much, much stranger. From the mists of history we have those two great men of Kenya as it hurtled towards independence. Jomo Kenyatta ruminating in a prison cell somewhere as Jaramogi Odingais offered the premiership. Like caeser he turns it down, he says that only one man can unite our country, and you mutherfuckers have him locked up. Then that one man is no longer locked up. One midnight the flag of the imperialists is rolled down and ours sent to fly in the wind. The two men turn to the business of governing the country and soon they split apart. The very first opposition party is formed by Jaramogi and multi-partyism is outlawed. In between all this they somehow manage to have families. They somehow manage to pass on a certain something to their sons, neither of whom are the first to be born incidentally and neither of whom is sullied with  a name honouring a god not of their ancestors.


In the fullness of time history repeats itself and we have a President Kenyatta and opposition leader Odinga. They gear up for what we all hoped was their last fight. They throw everything at it. The dynasties we have been hearing about for all the life of our country are having what we think is the last great showdown. It’s a plot right out of Game of Thrones. Every thing down to the reality that you can’t beat an incumbent. Results are announced and it’s the Kenyatta who is declared winner.


That weekend an old man wakes up in Nyanza. Age has addled his mind and he’s not sure when it is. He can hear screams outside and he knows blood is being shed.

“Ango ma timore?” what’s happening.

“Gi nego wa” they’re killing us.

“Nga?” who

“Jo Kenyatta.” Kenyatta’s people.

“Gi dwar ango” what do they want?

“Gi dwar wa were gi Odinga.” They want us to stop supporting Odinga.


And the old man wonders, if it’s still 1969 why do I feel so weak?*


Then the court battle. In the Lord of the Rings, the hobbits make it home after destroying ultimate evil to deal with ordinary evil. The scouring of the shire shows that there is no end to the fights we fight. It stops and it starts. It cools and it heats. Yet the stakes don’t always feel as high. The stakes didn’t feel as high. I watched it to learn how to conduct myself in court. I watched it sure that no court turns over a presidential petition. We all did. We all knew there was only one outcome.


Instead of that one outcome we got the election overturned. Narratively this is one of those twists in the tale that stretch it’s credulity just a little too much. Do there even exist movies or books about courts overturning presidential petitions? There are movies where all the action is over and the protagonist is going home when out of nowhere a car hits her. This is what happened. A car came bounding out of the night and hit everyone.


“Something is happening here but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?”- Bob Dylan


And the stage is set. It is cleared of other contenders. All other contenders. One last dust up. The boxers at either end of the ring are both tired, they’ve both played dirty, they are both hated, they are both loved. Their families have thrown themselves at each other over and over and over again. The referee has been reminded that if he wants to favour one of the contestants he shouldn’t be so fucking obvious. The judges order a rematch, the bell rings and they are off.


How it ends nobody knows, they have both planted let’s see who sows.


Will it be good for the country what we are doing now? I hope so. In the coming weeks we are going to snipe at each other, we are going to claw, we are going to try to draw blood. We will take that blood and put a line in the road. The story accompanying the Kenyattas and the Odingas is the story of the Kikuyus and the Luos. A story of a brotherhood gone sour. A story of two cultures so diametrically opposed and yet having something in them that calls to the other. The blood of Abel called to Cain as much as his sacrifice did.


We are preparing to spew so much hate at each other. Understanding will be difficult to achieve. That bright red line is set for a while. I remember thinking at the end of the last election cycle (the just concluded County and Legislative elections) that you could call it a good one if you hadn’t lost any friends. Yeah.


People are going to lose friends. We will look at each other and be unable to understand how someone so reasonable could say that, could support that. When this is run down the rift between these two peoples will be a gulf. After that we will heal, after that maybe we will find a way back to love. for now if you are Kikuyu, if you are Luo get ready to hear the worst things about your brother get ready to see the worst forwards about your sister. Get ready for your family, your friends, your self to push you to hate and enmity. Get ready and resist as much as you can. It will be bad this time.


Luckily I think the violence we will do each other will only be psychic and not physical. We aren’t heading to an election, not really, we are heading to a referendum. From the last two referendums we had I trust Kenyans in this particular exercise of democracy. I trust it will go well, it will end well, and that half of the country will be so heartbreakingly sad.


The other 40 tribes, I hope we can get out of the way of your country after this. I hope we both realise that for the good of the country national leadership cannot continue to be tainted by the memories of what we did to each other. I hope we are going to be strong enough to accept that. If not, well the history of the country contains this little nugget about KADU being formed to fight the tyranny of numbers represented by the membership of KANU, the Kikuyu and the Luo. The Kalenjin dark-horsed their way out of that early coalition. Quite unfortunately no matter what we do we have another 5 years of KANU. After that, I really hope that we can be led by a person who does not carry the baggage us two carry. Those guys who formed KADU were right. This story of the Luos and the Kikuyus, this story of the Kenyattas and the Odingas it’s not good for our country. It got the best last chapter it ever could. And I really hope that’s it, done and dusted. There isn’t going to be real unity in this country under the leadership of either of us. That is a sad assessment of the next five years but at least we get a beautiful curtain to fall over everything.


Unless I’m wrong in this assessment. Unless my countrymen are better people than I give them credit for. Unless some light of empathy and understanding falls  on our path and we can at least understand each other’s choices even if we never agree on them. The sooner this happens the faster we heal. After we heal we will be stronger as a country. We will have at our back a judiciary we can trust, an electoral commission that is chastened, an executive that realises it’s power is not absolute but subject to the will of the people. The will of the people as expressed at the ballot. The will of the people that is expressed in our constitution. It’s a living document and unlike the vote does not stop at anytime. What we said we wanted when we voted for it continues to be said. it is said to all and we’ll remember that, we’ll remember that and feel powerful. After we heal. So let’s start healing.



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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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And into my little house

Blare the praise songs of the mighty

Those to whom I am a small louse

Send out their noise nightly

I can hear them

Even if you can’t

I know who to blame

It must be that…nah I can’t

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the dance

After a Shakespearean series of tragedies and misadventures I ended up at the Court Users Committee annual get together last week. It was being run to bring together all users of the Milimani Criminal Courts for bonding and a greater understanding.


I took a seat at the front to watch the dancers who began the ceremonies. Dressed in their sisal skirts and blessed with their rhythmic bodies they shook and slid for us. Then there was a talk by someone or other. Followed by a dialogue between two prisoners from Langata Women’s Prison. Part of the dialogue consisted of the sad fact that there are three crimes in Kenya that attract a mandatory death penalty: treason, murder, and robbery with violence. This means that if you are found guilty of any of these three then the magistrate’s or judge’s hands are tied and the circumstances don’t matter. They are not allowed to judge just how guilty you are, they have to sentence you to be hang by the neck until you die.


We haven’t prosecuted anyone for treason for a long time. When it comes to murder, well humanity agrees, in its sense of justice or perhaps overblown arrogance, that killing one of us is the worst thing we can possibly do. In fact so many of us believe it is so bad that the only way to remedy it is to do it again. Then there is robbery with violence. I still believe this is the most unjust law ever to grace our penal system. If someone steals from you and is either in the company of others, or harms you, or threatens to harm you immediately before or after the theft then they are guilty of robbery with violence. If they threaten to harm you they can be sentenced to death. The only way to commit theft is through threats of violence without this it is charity, it is obtaining money by false pretences, it is burglary, well pick-pockets I guess are still prosecuted for theft. Anyone else, anyone else who ever stole from you can be sentenced to death. In September last year a court in this country found that particular offence unconstitutional-then they suspended their judgement for 18 months to give the executive branch some time to get their shit together. They can suspend judgements? Apparently. What happens to anyone attracting this heinous sentence between then and March, 2018? Well if we begin following our laws we will hang them by the neck until they die. And where are they kept as they wait?


In Kamiti Maximum Prison. This is a place they are let out of every once in a while, if they happen to have an artistic bend in their body and there is a court user’s committee going on then they may be let out to come and sing and dance and entertain the prosecutors, magistrates, policemen, passers-by, well-wishers, judges, court-staff, and prison officers who attend this event.


They may even be allowed to sing. And in the song they thanked the justice system and the judge sitting right there for sending them to jail. They said thank you because they were going down a wrong path and now they would be rehabilitated. They sang a song of warning to those who would steal sadaka (church offering) and buy sweets with it. This was the first crime in a litany that took that young thief to Kamiti Maximum Prison but they told that young child that this was not the end. Imagine that.


There were three dancers. They had moves, they slid this way and that, their legs in unison, smiles plastered on their faces, just enough of a misstep between them that we could enjoy their individuality without breaking out of rhythm. They made me think that human beings should maintain prisons for no other reason than to test the resilience of the human spirit. These men had been sentenced to death. It was commuted by the President so they will just live in jail until they die. Yet somehow they practised, and somehow they wrote, and somehow they choreographed. Here they stood at the end of all of these and they smiled and dance and they took their bows. A rose will rise from concrete and an art from suffering, and for that maybe we should keep prisons.




They sang thank yous to the ones who sentenced them to death. They thanked the judge and it broke my heart to see this. Prison is one of the worst human experiences we have. Your life at that point is formulated into small, precise steps taken inside a grey, formless place overseen by powerful, human guards. When to eat and when to pee are decided upon. The warmth of human touch is denied. Love is withheld. Family is locked out. Sex when it happens is either covert or forced. You look around the walls of that prison and know that this is it for you. Then you are told that there is a court users committee and they want you to perform. So you write your song and do your dance. This song and dance has to please the supreme authority that the guards are. The guards pay obeisance to the judge and he needs to hear sweet, sweet lies, its his day off after all.


So they are brought out and they thank the justice system for sentencing them to death and locking them up forever. We sit and watch and smile and play fools in this fucking farce that is the human justice system. Everyone knows that it is broken, everyone knows its been destroyed. From the smiling prisoner who is seeing Nairobi for the first time in years to the grizzled judge who has been at this for decades to the warden as he dances with his wards. We all know that we are brought together by injustice. And, yes there is a reason for these places. People do kill and steal, people do rape and act in hate. There is a need for places like this where we tie up those who would tie the rest of us up there is and I know this but…


…our laws have such a thing as robbery with violence and suspended judgements and peoples lives have such bad luck as to be charged with that in the next 9 months. And putting these people away doesn’t bring back what was lost, it doesn’t even seem to act as a deterrent. It makes me sure that justice is not the work of humans.


All we know are laws. We are taught from a young age that there is something out there from which justice radiates. Something omnipotent, something omniscient. And when we are told this we know that justice is his job and nobody else’s. We prostate ourselves at his feet because all we know are laws and we can never be just, not really, not with all of our errors. And yet the lord above seems to have abdicated his duty. he has turned his back on us and on justice and we must now use laws. We must use laws to maintain peace as best we can, we must take his place, we must ask people to take his place even though we know what people are:  criminals. And we play this farce where someone does something and is punished according to his crime, we sing and dance and say that what we are doing is right, that we all deserve to be in this prison yet behind those plastered on smiles we are all breaking because we can hear the news, and we can see the world, and deep inside we know we will never, ever get it right.


After these guys  6 ladies from Langata Women’s Prison came to dance. As I watched the men dance I sat and thought of injustice and the broken ladder of Jacob we try to climb so we can sit on the throne above. When the women came to dance it was visions of Delilah, Bathsheba, Salome and Magdalene. It was a group of six and I vividly remember two of them, all had their hair done right, these two were so beautiful though. They’d flash their smiles as they danced and wipe away thoughts. When they turned around and shook my head shook with them. They went forth into the crowd with the honoured guests and pulled them up. They danced with these old men and these old men danced with these young women. The men were conscious of where they were and who they are and so they hid it well. They hid well the lust that beauty and especially young beauty inspires. One of them began shaking her waist slowly moving it down and then up again, seamlessly turning her body into a wave, into a ride, into a promise.


While the women danced all I could think about was them and their dance. Sensuality and sex, the anticipation and satisfaction that exists thanks to the female form is so powerful. In a minute it pulled my mind from an abyss considering cells and loss of freedom and set it free in a realm of imagination and desire. Just the sight of this beauty brought me from considerations of hell that had my face scrunched up in all these frowns to glimpses of heaven, a heaven populated with angels. It’s not something I understand but I hope that we have all felt that pull towards a person. That pull that says there is something divine hidden somewhere inside her and that just the search for it will remove all earthly considerations from mind.


Let’s say that God is not omnipotent but just extraordinarily powerful. Powerful enough to create the whole universe around us but not enough to make it a paradise. If he is just powerful enough that he cannot wipe away all our miseries despite how much he wants to. If he is not powerful enough to be justice at all times to all people at least he thought to include beauty in his design. At least he was powerful enough to create something within us that responds to something without and wipes away all the faults of the earth for an instant. An instant of paradise is enough for a hallelujah.


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Haiyaa!!! i turned Thirty

If I have learned anything in my three decades of death-defying experience it’s that the three things I would take with me to a desert island are: a god to pray to, a people to love, and a woman to hold. And if I’m allowed only one more thing it would be a woman to hold close.


21st June was my birthday for 14 years before I took a look at my birth certificate and realised that the official record of who I am differs both in name and age. For some unfathomable reason I chose to go with the official records. Perhaps it was recognition even at that age that there are powers we should not fight against. The shelter of family is amazing but it does not withstand the fury of government and it’s not fair to ask that of them if you don’t need it.


So yesterday was also my birthday, kind of. I had a date yesterday and I was excited. Then on my way home it started raining and I was excited. I was in one of those matatus where the front window can only be opened by the driver, I wanted him to close it but leave a little sliver. From that crescent shaped hole smells wafted in. Scents I had nearly forgotten about. There was that heady mixture of asphalt and wet. The rain changed the day from sunny exuberance to something darker immediately. Drops of heavenly dew fell all around me. It made me feel like maybe god still takes that day as my birthday, after all in my heart of hearts I know that the first prayer and the most important one has always been for rain. Life comes carried on billowing puffs of white and mist and nourishes the earth, it makes us live, it makes all that we kill live, it is magic and to be given this boon is always a good thing.


Yet for all of its divinity the rain does not mix with the city. Masses of humanity as are gathered together in urban areas are unable to consider its mystery and instead only get its chaos. In all gifts after all there is also something taken. So when she sent me a text promising lateness it was expected. It didn’t matter at that point though. The rain had come and my star had dusted off itself to exert its influence on humanity, I wanted to leave, I had to go. So I went anyway.


I got myself to Kenyatta Hospital, and then began to make my way to Impala. I had been saved from any considerations of time and so I could see. I had on a waterproof jacket and little specks of drizzle accompanied my steps.  I was just going to walk a little to catch a matatu but the stage got further and further and I kept walking like a Gump. My heart beat faster because it was dark and I was painfully aware at some of the mud-turned stretches of walkway that I was giving the grim-reaper one last chance at me before I got to three-0.


This is because I have been filled with visions of death this last year. Does everyone feel it I wonder? For a time I crossed roads so carefully because I was sure, I mean sure, that my death was coming by accident. I could see the car, hear the screech. It shook me but there was nothing I could do about it. I’ve been worried I wouldn’t make it to thirty. It seems like a big number and it is. It’s not as big as some, sure, but tis nothing to scoff at and I wasn’t going to dirty this achievement and show of grace by belittling the fact that I was almost there, just almost.


This must be what bothers people so much about turning thirty. It’s just a number but it feels like the first really big number. By the time we get here we are all intimate with death and her capriciousness. We all know that it’s not our choice, when we go or how. I know that even sitting here writing this the earth could open up and swallow me like an Old Testament sinner because we also know that anything is possible. So people start examining their lives and asking if they are worth living. They begin to think about legacy in terms of remembrance. They want children so that something of them remains. They want success so that something they build can still be seen after the winds of change have carried them away. They ask themselves if what they have done so far is deserving of these things, these labels of permanence, and for most of us the answer is no. If you have no children and have not made built your towers the world tells you that you are late. If you have a horde and a Babel to leave to them you still feel a niggling feeling that you aren’t in control, that death and chance could come and wipe all this away. (As if to confirm this electricity disappeared a minute or two after I was done with this paragraph and forced me to stop writing, -desktops mehn-). It is intimations of mortality in a body still shot through with youth and a mind still supple enough to change the path and look for that immortality elsewhere that gets us. Our man Jesus was after all thirty when he went and turned himself into something that will be carried forth by humanity for longer than anyone who saw him could imagine.


My first sighting on the road was Nairobi Baptist church. I had been there many times in the past. I had gone to pray for and pursue my twin ambitions: beauty and peace. I felt that it was a holy place. All these place of worship are holy places. In each of them no matter how dirtied and corrupted the teachings, selfish and greedy the leaders, mean and petty the congregants in at least one heart there is a genuineness in prayer. There is a seeking and searching in at least one heart for that thing we have all been told is up there. What exactly that thing is we don’t know and I’ve never been able to figure out and I think I’d be happy with never slating that curiosity. It must be though a feeling of confirmation that the world is a bad place. That where we have found ourselves is not right, we can all tell it’s not right. Leonard Cohen sung that everybody’s got a broken feeling like their father or their dog just died. These places of worship acknowledge the broken feeling, they admit that we can’t do anything about it; we can stop wars but not death, cure diseases but not souls, fill stomachs but not emptiness. And prayer, for me at least, has always been about surrender of control, or acknowledgement that even without that surrender we will never have control. And in these holy places that one heart surrenders its control and does what it believes will right the world. It seeks for a restoration of a broken relationship between god and man and believes that there is a place where that healing occurs. With this light of hope and faith in its heart it shines out on the world, and even if it doesn’t on average the world is lighter because one of us is. So I like the holy places.


I kept walking with every intention to avail myself of transport. I got to the place where Kilonzo and Company Advocates is. I haven’t thought about that great man in a while but I remember that when he died I couldn’t get enough of his life and his lions. He had lions, probably not at thirty but having lions is an achievement at any age. I went there once for one of the shortest interviews I have ever had. His son sat me down and in the time it would take to read my one page CV dismissed my value to the law firm.  Work is important to a human being. Work finds us our purpose. We are told this over and over in all the holy books and in the mouths of all the wise  there is a promise that work will give us a sense of purpose. The book of Ecclesiastes which distils the wisdom of wise King Solomon after his attempts to find peace in flesh and beauty failed him seems to have a couple of lessons. One of which is everything we do is useless. Another that we should find pleasure in work.


I’m asked a lot why I became a lawyer. My father is a lawyer and almost every boy wants to be like his father. There’s a reason that that is chosen as the metaphor for god in the most successful religion yet. Also I read so many books about lawyers as a young’un and the life they promised: a life of intellectual engagement, emotional variance, and if not spiritual satisfaction at least struggle with moral questions was a life that drew me. Those books didn’t steer me wrong because I can say without a shadow of doubt that I find pleasure in my work. That the mundane and repetitive aspects of it please me more than signing autographs could possibly please Beyonce. I like the slow crawl of it and the teachings of patience it imparts. I love feeling close to justice, feeling like its possible to make a difference. And I like talking and I like writing and this is what this work entails: talking and writing. There have been moments when I’d receive a salary and be writing submissions and wonder to myself how it’s possible that I was getting paid for this. I remember the first time I did a cross-examination and the wash of adrenaline at the end of it. A drug like that I would give up all else for. That wonderful hit, oh. Still I really hate wearing suits.


Just after those offices is the turning from Ngummo. When I was young we all used to go to NPC. After the service we’d squeeze ten people into a saloon car and the rest would go take buses and then go to my aunt’s place. Every week there was this immense family gathering. Food cooked like for a party. Work being done by everyone (except the boys-this is still Africa we’d get sent back and forth for things) from 1 to 7. Every Sunday. I was too young to appreciate it and of course I took it for granted. I thought this is what life entailed. A family of cousins and uncles and aunts seeing each other every week after worship. That house was my second home. I’d spend holidays there because at least there was social contact. I’ve luckily had a tradition to be in a family where everyone’s home was everyone else’s home. Sleepovers sudden and surprise were encouraged and could go on for weeks. We lived with each other in a way that may be lost as we become more and more. Those cousins have families now and I am blessed with the presence and vitality that real youth brings. Children of all ages who I see, not every week, but fairly regularly, who talk to me like I’m their equal and shout and laugh and play with me when we do meet. It’s that well the Samaritan woman was looking for, a place that you go to in order to heal. This is what family feels like to me, that well. A place where no matter how broken up you are it can put you back together. So while I don’t have children I feel that I have some of the joy of them. The way they run when they hear you coming home, and their unvarnished joy at seeing you, and their incessant questions because the world is new, and their deep affection and trust for the things around them, and their deep, deep wisdom that is available for anyone who bends a knee and approaches them as they would a friend. These things I feel I have experienced and it gladdens my heart to even think of them.


So I had been walking for quite a while at this point. Quite a while. My breath is heaving more than usual. The slight drizzle kept me cool and I had the company of all these people also walking back home. My sense of place in the world has never been fully developed. Situational awareness and locational knowledge escape me. I had no idea how far I had gone, I had no idea how much further Impala was. But I had time to walk and to consider the life I had led up to that point. I had time to remember that what I was doing right then, walking to Impala was something I had done for years on the Saturday near my birthday. I never had to organise a party all I had to do was go for Safari Sevens and there awaiting me was my party. In high school I watched Femi Kuti perform on those grounds, young but still me enough that when the performance started I gave it all of me until it ended. When they moved it away from June and from Impala I felt like we had lost the spring rites of Nairobi and that the urban gods were angry that we took their sacrifice away from them.


There was this girl I met the night Femi Kuti performed. I was in fourth form and had put on weight for the first time in my life. I can’t remember much except that she showed me her belly button and the ring  nestling there. I didn’t have a phone and so that chance encounter, that one time thing was all there was. There’s been a lot of casual love in my life. I can remember my uncle telling me as I was peeking down the throat of the twenties that it’s important not to get used to sex without love because it becomes hard to turn back to sex with love. The theme of the twenties seems to have been “I don’t doubt the experienced when they tell me all they know of love and lust, it’s just that these lessons are sweeter when delivered from the hands of a beautiful woman than from the mouth of an old man.”


So like everyone else, there were mistakes. A whole bunch of mistakes. Mistakes upon mistakes. In areas of love I have been as a thirsty man who moves away from the chalice seeking instead the sweet solace and waters of oasis. In every point it was demanded I gave only half my heart away, in giving it away so quickly and carelessly and regularly it must have seemed to the world that I gave it all. It’s something I can accept now that to refuse to give all is to refuse to accept plenty and to thus deny yourself access to another of the magic wells of world. I know also from my talks with children and from the books I’ve read and my interactions with the world as a whole that everybody here knows what they should be doing. That this knowledge is just hidden away by all the shit that life carries on its back. The reason writers seem to have this deep wisdom is because their craft practised right is about digging through all the junk, looking at it unflinchingly and throwing the hand of their soul into the shit to see what else lurks there. It is a painful profession and one that I don’t think I have the discipline for. I want her, writing, as a mistress not as a wife and employer. I want to turn to her to see light in times of darkness. I want to ignore her and do other things but come back and find her waiting. I can accept the law as my wife because she gives me things the mistress does but also as a necessity demands more because the loving of her is not restricted to my times before a computer. It is affected by the turning of the world, the whole world.


I was still walking and I stopped to ask for directions. One guy told me to just go ahead to Adams and keep going. I wanted kilometres so that I would know how far I had walked instead he spoke in landmarks. I could recognise the landmarks but had no idea how far spaced they were. I came to Adams Arcade soon enough. There was once a girl who lived down the road, she has a child and a husband now. They all seem to have one or the other, these women of my youth. Kibera Law Courts is also down that way. God, I love that place. When I was in Meru I would hear snatches of Luo as I went about my day. I would turn and point my ears to what I then considered the most beautiful language I had ever heard. I still do. Look, instead of Oyawre meaning good morning as most people are told it means “has it opened up?” and the answer also Oyawre means “it has.” What is it? The sky, the smile of God, another beautiful day. No matter because here is a language that begins your day with poetry. Then I  went to Kibera Law courts earlier this year and that was the language of the streets. Beauty being bandied without being dirtied.


There is a part of me that I feel I have neglected in my life so far. This is the part that insists that who my ancestors were is who I am too. The part carried in language and myth. The part preserved in story and legend. The part that has been calling out for nothing more than the Luo Creation Story just to start off. I can’t pretend to know what’s wrong with Kenya. Part of it is that we so easily made our ethnic affiliations into sources of evil. Part of it is that we so easily forgot what bore those ethnic affiliations. We turned our backs on the gods, and if you forget to pray for the angel then the angel forgets to pray for you. Even stripped of any of the mysticism I find much more interesting that a purely scientific consideration of the world, losing our gods means we don’t know why we do the things we do. The customs are empty without the holiness that they need. They are disrespected and the exchange of bride price can turn from an occasion for binding two families to one for impoverishing two (the man’s old and new family.)


Eventually I get to the area around Impala. Here the road narrows and I decide to walk on the field. Immediately, I mean immediately, I sink into the ground. It had just rained and the mud was fresh. It had just rained and my shoes just gobbled up the chance to become wider. I’m immediately sliding and laughing at my foolishness. Mud, if it exists, finds its way to me. I get out of there and wipe away the mud with tissue. My shoes still look horrible and this is really no state in which to go for a date. But even this act makes me feel young, even this act seems like something out of my past. The rain water I walked in from Zambia to Zimbabwe and back earlier in the year, the rain splashing out of the sky as I walked to university, snow dropping around me in Norway, that rain that waited until I was leaving Egypt and carried with it mud so that my clothes got dirty immediately it landed on me. All of this rain and mud combinations felt like a fitting  conclusion to the long decade known as the twenties.


A sign told me that just to the right was Makini School. I used to go there. We used to leave school in hordes and walk to Impala to swim, I never learned to swim.  Once I got tired of waiting to be picked up and I just left the school. I must have been six or seven years. I started walking home and was found along the way. I wasn’t beaten but a new rule was instituted about children not being able to just walk out of the gates. That school has the best uniform for people of that age. Polo shirts, no ties. This is important as modern life will “force a man to put a knife against his own neck and tie a noose around his own neck” so there’s absolutely no reason to begin with the nooses so young. I still think that a woman can wear nothing more beautiful than a red dress because of all that red the girls used to wear. Its seared itself in me as what covers beauty. I definitely need to look for more red.


When I finally got to Impala I found it was a private member’s club so I turned around to go to Harlequins’ Bar. There was a pathway I could jump to that I saw, you know those places between a ditch that have been worn by years of the laziness of man? One of those. I got on it so that I could jump and instead of anything else I began sliding down, down, down, then I jumped off and landed in mud again. A few metres in front of me was the road in.


The woman who had given me the gift of that walk was not there. The rain does get in the way of many things. Perhaps getting the answer to a prayer that I knew I always had and the surprise gift of that walk was enough. It’s not meet to be too greedy in this world.


Here’s a worry I have about being thirty though, it feels like adolescence. The twenties were a whirl of confusion but in teenage I felt like I knew. Now I feel like I know. I’m glad that I’ve had the experience of realising that I know nothing at all and if there is something I want to take with me and it’s only one thing it would be that. The realisation that I don’t really know anything even though I think I do. Luckily Bikozulu is doing a series on people turning 40 and that helps. In fact I would recommend to anyone turning thirty that what they need is to read or talk to people who have just turned 40.


With that I’m outtie.


Oh there’s a little more, I wrote it as a note on my phone as I went home last night and just remembered I forgot to make space for it: the world, she opens up to me and all I need do is stop and stare, if this I cannot manage I am undeserving of beauty.


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I saw.

I saw my people saw them all

I saw them shot i saw them tall

I saw them beck i saw them call

I saw them broke i saw them ball

I saw them diamond i saw them coal

I saw them stallion i saw them foal

Saw them in the forest saw them in the mall

I saw them run i saw them crawl

I saw them pray i saw them brawl

I saw them rise i saw them fall

I saw them wounded i saw them whole

I saw the palm i saw the hole

I saw the cut i saw the owl

I sowed the seed i sowed it all


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