Tag Archives: society

For Kenya!!!

Here’s something that unites Kenyans this January: the intense philosophical pondering over the doctor’s strike, who’s at fault, who’s not, who should we blame or should we just blame everybody for what’s going on? The doctors, the government, the people, tribalism, corruption, inefficiency, callousness, lack of decency, the sick people who are making our souls sick with all this agonising why in the world don’t they just wait until this crisis is resolved?


There has been a lot of debate about whether doctors are more important to a society than other professions are. Some of them think they are and they want to say it. They dearly want to say it but…they can’t, you don’t alienate the public at this time. So I’ll say it for them: medical health professionals are one of the most important people in any society. We need the farmers for food, the doctors so we are well enough to eat that food, the teachers to teach farmers and doctors. That’s my statement on the holy trinity of importance. It keeps going down further and further and not too far down we’ll get to priests, poets and prostitutes. They definitely come before lawyers, accountants and bankers though after builders, cleaners and deliverymen. The existential crisis about whether or not we matter is a deep one. Of course we all matter. But my point is most people would rather live with no lawyers than no prostitutes. You know these things by the fact of how many people have sought the services of the former as opposed to the latter.


So that’s how we start January. Philosophical rumbling to accompany that stomach grumbling. On the 4th straight night of noodles there are questions that deserve to be answered. Why oh why do we do this to ourselves? Must every January start in this rut? Must we be broke all the time? Do we have to December so damn hard? What is wrong with us? I told my aunt that I was broke because after my epic trip (which I will write all about after the fogs of memory make it diamond like through the mist) I had to buy gas. She almost burst out laughing:



“I’m young, I have young problems.”


I do. Ideally Njaanuary should be for parents shouldn’t it? January when you have to buy a new wardrobe of clothes, a new set of books, and manila paper-though now you can buy your lazy children pre-covered exercise books. And for whatever reason public secondary schools make you pay much more for fees in first term than they do the rest of the time. Why that happens is as good your guess as mine.


There’s also the pre-Christmas pay which if not a solely Kenyan thing is an African thing. I told a Polish girl about it and she couldn’t believe it. Why in the world pay two salaries in one month?


The dots connect. I once joked that Uhuru and Ruto are stealing wad after wad of money in an ingenious attempt to get rid of tribalism. You know, steal so much that the country unites against you. They would be martyrs, killing their political careers for the sake of the country. We wouldn’t remember them as such but they would be saved a special place in heaven where Judas Iscariot awaits. The seat next to the glory for those who do what is necessary and are hated throughout history. Atonement for the hell of having to hate what you do but doing it anyway because there is an idea here that matters more than you do. The idea of the sacrifice. The sacrifice that changes the world.


I look for national unity everywhere because we need it. And I find it and dub thee oh month of Njaanuary as another agent of this. This month strives with it’s lack of money, or pretence to lack of money, or smugness at having money, or relief at getting money to make us one. The common Kenyan condition that brings us together once again.


So as you drink keg instead of beer. As you drink once a week instead of 3. As you count down to the end of the month with a hope that cannot be contained know that you were not being foolish about how you spent your money in December. No. You my friend, my reader are involved in the great experiment of nation building that is Kenya. Your brokenness or lack of it. The knowledge of other people’s brokenness. Your social winter. Your economic slumber. As you toss and as you turn waiting for February so you can spring back….all of this is for Kenya! Kenya! Kenya! Nchi Yetu!!!!!



Filed under Uncategorized

how do you sleep at night?

How old are you? How much do you weigh? What did you eat that day? Well what did you have for dinner? Who made dinner? Did you drink with dinner? No, not even water? When did you drink? How much did you drink? What container did you drink out of? Who gave you the drink? How much do you usually drink? Who dropped you off at this party? At what time? But where exactly? What were you wearing? Why were you going to this party? What’ d you do when you got there? Are you sure you did that? But what time did you do that? What does this text mean? Who were you texting? When did you urinate? Where did you urinate? With whom did you urinate outside? Was your phone on silent when your sister called? Do you remember silencing it? Really because on page 53 I’d like to point out that you said it was set to ring. Did you drink in college? You said you were a party animal? How many times did you black out? Did you party at frats? Are you serious with your boyfriend? Are you sexually active with him? When did you start dating? Would you ever cheat? Do you have a history of cheating? What do you mean when you said you wanted to reward him? Do you remember what time you woke up? Were you wearing your cardigan? What color was your cardigan? Do you remember any more from that night? No? Okay, well, we’ll let Brock fill it in.


The above questions come from a lawyer questioning a woman who was raped the man who raped her, Brock was sentenced to a few months in prison. I’ll start off by asking anyone who hasn’t to read this letter because it’s necessary. Her story is extremely important and I hope that I can write what I’m about to write without taking away from it.


Brock the raper hired a lawyer to defend him in court. This is a right that we extend to criminals because no matter what a man or a woman does they are still human. I have heard it said that society forms itself around the need to lessen the damage caused by vengeance and vendettas. I have thought many times that the frustrating thing about the law and the legal system, its speed or lack thereof, is  not a bug but a feature. It allows emotions to cool and time to pass. It allows wounds to begin healing. The law at its best, at the ideal that we hope it will reach and that we strive for delivers justice for all while reminding us that nothing, nothing at all can strip any of us of our humanity. Not our sins, our crimes or our histories. We are all human beings.


This is a difficult thing to reach for because reaching for it means that a good man somewhere will feel compelled to defend people like Brock the raper. It means a greedy man somewhere will have some justification to defend people like Brock the raper. It means that either of these two will have to ask the questions up there. Will have to hit at the prosecution’s case until it cracks. I don’t think it’s easy.


People have asked me since I joined university what would I do if I had to defend a murderer. For nine years I have been asked this question and had to think of an answer. This is one of the biggest moral quandaries of this profession do the guilty who we know are guilty deserve as much of a defence as the innocent we believe are innocent? The answer has to be yes. But yet how can it? How can the answer to that question possibly be yes? In what way could that be considered justice? Is that fair? Is that the world we want to live in?


It’s a question we all struggle with in our various ways. We hide behind the constitution and its provisions of fair trials for everyone. We remind ourselves that it is not the guilty person being defended but the justice system. The religious amongst us find an analogue to the story by Jesus that ends with ”….in the same way, I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones who do not need to repent.” Many of us drink. A lot compartmentalise. You have to build those compartments in your mind. You have to shield this part of yourself from the other parts. It can’t also be the part that goes to church. It can’t also be the part that falls in love. It can’t also be the part that wants to run around with children. It can’t also be the part that sits down to have a drink with new acquaintances except that new acquaintances feel like they can ask you this question. They feel as if this deep moral dilemma can qualify as small talk and so you learn how to treat it as small talk. How to deflect it, turn it into a joke. There really is no correct answer to the question what would you do if Brock the raper came into your office and asked you to represent him? Either you would defend him or you wouldn’t and either way there’s something you betray. Your sense of rightness and justice for the individual or your sense of rightness and the ideal of justice.


I wonder if this , getting asked, happens to other people or if lawyers are fair game for reasons beyond understanding. Do doctors get asked by people they just met about the deaths of patients? About those horrible decisions they have to make between mother and child? Do they also get hounded about the things they have done that blacken their souls? Do priests? I know politicians do. Maybe it’s different and difficult because the law is a profession that arose out of human moral failings. It came about to regulate the worst impulses in all of us. Lawyers are there because people lie. We exist because people kill, steal and rape. We are important because given enough leeway you can find yourself in jail because the policeman’s wife smiled at you. The people in government lie, cheat and steal too and if we start saying that people accused of murder do not deserve a defence more people will be accused of murder. Protestors will and journalists will. Loudmouth drunks in bars will and pretty boys in clubs will. People with contrary opinions will and those whose star shines a bit too bright will too.


You see I have given thought to this question. I have been preparing myself for something like this for years and years because it would be folly not to consider the possibility of it. What I couldn’t prepare myself for is how much fun cross-examination is. I read all these books about advocacy and everyone said that cross-examination is the spice of law. That it is in that thing that’s not an art and not a science that you will find if your soul sings for the law. I can remember my first. I can remember where I was and the little droplets of sweat on my fingertips because I was so nervous. The way I felt afterwards I was ready to quit love and other drugs. There was only one thing  for me and it was whatever flooded my body at that time. It was beautiful,  sweet as a song, lovely as a lass. My soul sang and put down all doubts about doing anything else for at least a few years.


They pick me right up, these cross-examinations. It feels like a fight should. The way they are described in the best of books:


High, low, overhand, he rained down steel upon her. Left, right, backslash, swinging so hard that sparks flew when the swords came together, upswing, sideslash, overhand, always attacking, moving into her, step and slide, strike and step, step and strike, hacking, slashing,
faster, faster, faster . . .
Jaime could not have said how long he pressed the attack. It might have been minutes or it might have been hours; time slept when swords woke. –
George R.R. Martin  A Storm of Swords

It comes close to that feeling. Time almost sleeps and I’ve only been doing this a couple of months. I’m sure it’s the kind of thing that feels better and better the better you get at it. Like sex. Like sports. I even get the feeling of being lost to the rest of the world for that time. Sounds disappear and  all that there is are the wits you match against the witness in front of you. What you heard from your client, what you read in your file and the answers they give to you. It’s toe work and it feels great.


Then you have a client like Brock and you know what tack you have to take if you are going to serve him to the best of your ability. There is something shameful that demands to be done but it’s been years at this and you can rationalise it. Maybe you believe that justice is worth it all and maybe it’s money that drives you. Whatever it is you have to ask a series of questions like the ones up there. Questions that will get you hated, maligned, misunderstood and maybe do the same to any defender of yours. But, you do it. You start slowly because you are scared. Respectfully because you are human and you don’t like doing what you are about to do and then you continue into that forest. Swords swing and you get lost in it. The question about how do you sleep at night that everyone asks is :how do you sleep at night when you defend a person you know to be guilty? The answer to that has been done to death. There is however at the end of that day a more difficult question. How do you sleep at night when what you did to that girl, those questions you asked her, those moments you grilled her made you feel more alive than anything else you had done for weeks? How?


Filed under Uncategorized

questions about nairobi

Last week the leaders of Nairobi behaved badly. First there was that phone call that Sonko made to kiss fm.


Then Kidero slapped Naomi Shebesh.


That either of these things happened is appalling. That they happened within 24 hours of each other points to a rot much deeper than most of us imagined our society capable of. These two men represent the highest echelons of political power in what might be the most significant county in the biggest economy of east and central Africa. These are the people who represent our shining capital city.


I’m touched with a little urban arrogance because of  growing up here but I think that a capital city represents a country more than a little village miles and miles from the next nearest little village does. This is because it has the highest amount of inter-regional mixing in the country. All the life-blood comes to the city. There is someone, and a good number of them, from every administrative division in the country. The people in the city have to create a language for themselves that facilitates communication among people of different tongues. They have to heave and ho and tug until they have a cultural mix that tolerates thousands of different ways of looking at things. The most religions, the most foods, the most ways of life and thinking are found in a city. It is the melting pot of any country and my city bias tells me that when you look at the capital you are seeing, while not the best, the most representative of what a country has to offer you.


You are also looking at the most literate and educated, the most tolerant and exposed of all the people in the country on average. I don’t say it’s the best of what a country can give you because that’s not how mixing works. It works by weeding out the characteristics that don’t survive in difficult situations. It takes out the nice in a lot of us and leaves just the survival instincts. It leaves the people who live in it with just themselves, just their instincts, just who they really are. A city can strip you of all pretence that doesn’t let you survive. But, you can’t tell me that the best place to go to experience Kenyan culture is the shores of Lake Victoria, there you get Luo culture, it’s not othaya because there you get kikuyu culture and so on.


So, in this place that Kenya in all her forms and features is represented we elected a senator who thinks nothing of insulting the most famous female radio personality we have and a governor who slaps the representative of the women of that same city. There are many questions that need to be asked. There are many things these men need to answer before they can speak in any serious forum with any moral weight ever again.


The most important question though is one we need to ask  ourselves, and this question stems from those earlier questions. Quite simply, why won’t we hold them accountable for their actions? Why won’t we as a society censure them instead of just snickering and joking about what they did? Why won’t our disgust in their actions manifest itself in some change or some consequences for these men? Why will we forgive them this action so easily?


The simplest answer is Kenyans forgive. We forgive all too easily. We forgive our leaders every single transgression they visit upon us. Show me another country where both, forget both that’s setting the bar high, where either the president or the deputy president are facing charges for crimes against humanity. The refrain for this is that they are the president and the deputy now and that our sovereignty must be respected. Well, we live in an age where the Russian president is more sensitive to questions of sovereignty, more open to the nuances of what really goes on behind another’s borders than the American one is so it’s better not to play games with sovereignty. But that’s not even it. The “it” is, how did they win in the first place?


Kenyans pride themselves on their astute business sense so that question is better phrased when couched in business terms. If you owned a small business somewhere and  you needed a business manager, at this point you asked for applicants and they brought forward their curriculum vitaes. One of them told you very honesty, because that was never his problem, that he was suspected of stealing from his last place of employment. He then told you not to worry because he was completely innocent and the only reason those charges were proffered was because of his ethnic heritage. He then told you that the court cases may drag over some of the time that he was in your employ meaning he would be gone for a while, but not to worry he has the perfect second a guy willing and able to step in at a moment’s notice while he’s away. The only problem is that the other guy has exactly the same problem. Would you hire this man? Well if you are a Kenyan you would.


There can’t be that much wrong with forgiveness, it is the grease that moves religions after all. Maybe there is something wrong with too much forgiveness though. People do what they can get away with. Man has always been one to push the limits. Not satisfied enough to just walk, not satisfied enough  to just ride, not satisfied enough to just drive, not satisfied enough to just fly, not satisfied enough… man pushes the limits because he needs to know what’s on the other side.


The limits used to be of an economic nature but not anymore it seems. Verbal assault and threatening, physical assault and battery on live media have become new limits to test. You don’t have to look far to see where this happens. Just look up


Teju Cole wrote( “Every person of conscience in every society on earth thinks of his or her country: “This place is uniquely ridiculous.”” Kenya is ridiculous because the above happens. Except it only seems to happen in politics. In everything else we don’t allow people so much leeway. Salman Rushdie said that India had to decide whether to “give her approval to the rule of law or the overriding primacy of heroes.” That’s another question that Kenya needs to ask herself. Should we allow the people that we have tapped to be larger than life be allowed to get away with all these things that we have for so long.


We have a long line of heroes. All the way from independence we have had leaders that were larger than life. Their appetites are legendary. Listen to anyone talk about how much the president can drink. Listen to anyone who drinks talk about it, they sound like they want to be like him. I sound like I want to be like him. But that’s not a fair comparison, what a man does in his spare time that harms no one else is his own business.


Sonko and Kidero did not do this in their spare time. It hurt other people and I’m not just talking about these women. I’m talking about the society in which they live. It’s a society that says a woman can aim to be anything she wants to be but if she dares challenge a man she will quickly be shown where her place is. It will be done with a well-timed slap, it will be done with allegations about her immorality(things that are admirable when alleged about Uhuru are suddenly not when applied to Caroline Mutuko.) A motion was introduced to impeach the governor I would love to be proved wrong but i have a feeling it will end with another business manager telling us that he didn’t really steal, it’s all happening because of his ethnic heritage. Once it’s couched in those terms it will die soon enough, nobody wants to see their hero brought down. In the midst of this we forget that what Sonko did is also unacceptable, there are no noises about a callback, neither of them is on the path to an apology.


This society-Nairobi, Kenya. Will pack up her bags and move on from this too. We will forget that it happened. We will forget that our children saw it and laughed about it and in their minds thought it was how things should be. We will forget that because we don’t ask the right questions we don’t even get an approximation of the answers. I don’t know what the right questions are though. I have no idea. I have a feeling that it begins with a question of why we can forgive so easily. It begins with a question of why we allow these heroes of ours so much primacy. Before we can figure out why they treat us like shit we have to figure out why we allow ourselves to be trampled underfoot.


Filed under Uncategorized