(re) introducing the q[/t] werd: a video diary

It ain’t no mystery that we (been) preparing for dis’ (not-so) new film & video projects: nekkyd & the Q[/T] werd. 

season 1 features 32[+4]stories en the magic is in  retelling of OUR stories

some of the [extra] ordinary people featured [en behind the scenes] include: anitafrika dub theatre, blackness yes! and blockorama, bombastic kasha, bunge la mwananchi, bredrin and dadas in solidarity, colour me dragg, [is] the crux, deb singh, Elijah Masinde, elimu sanifu, faith Nolan, funkasia, the funketeers, gender education and advocacy project, house of munro, Ishtar, kalmplex, nikki mawanda, nneke dumele, red lips. cages for black girls, swagger, tajudeen abdul raheem, victor mukasa, en the Yoruba house project

A love letter to rafikis, [aka.] bredrin and dadas in solidarity.

 

b is for blackness yes! and blockorama

 I give thanks for yesterday, today and tomorrow. I give thanks for the gathering for the memorial of the death of Elijah Masinde, and our deepening connection with egun en those yet to be born.

Bless our ancestors, bredrin and dadas in solidarity en pikney. I pray that you forgive my sins, those that I do and don’t know about. I pray for my family, friends, enemies, and that I may not have any enemies…..Guide us to our right [full] destinies.

I pray for health and prosperity not only for myself but for others. Bless those who heal and look after themselves AND others, en (gran) mama earth.  

Ase. Ase…..

 I invite you to listen to dis’ poem and consider dis quote found (again) in a post on http://www.blacklooks.org/

“The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became
blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died.”
Revelation 16:3

 

Sankofa! Our ancestors are not gone, we stand on their shoulders, (as) they live deep in (around en under) us.

so consider then dis’ (pre) Obituary of Simiyu Barasa

Written by Himself

 Focus [on Afrika]: Kenya view 

When you find yourself talking with several guests of the morbid situation of your country during the wedding of one of your friends, you quickly realize there is something wrong with your country. When your National broadcasters show men being dragged out of public service vehicles and hacked to death by a mob of young men who do not even hide their faces from the police a few metres away, and such scenes are repeated more than the advertisements and commercials, then your country is doomed. When you hear that people are chased from their homes into a church for belonging to a particular tribe, and then followed into the church where women and children are locked inside and then burnt alive, my friends, you are no longer in a country, you are living inside hell on earth.

The Swahili (oh, that language that was supposed to unite us and now has been rendered impotent in its intended super-glue powers) – the Swahili say that when you see your friend being shaved with a razor, start wetting your hair in preparation for your shave too.

I do not intend to go gently into that dark beyond without saying a word of goodbye. Friends, (and those who consider me an enemy because of my tribe or lack of it), being of sane mind and in charge of my mental faculties, I bid you goodbye. I chose to write you an obituary, which you should read as a love letter to my country that has died in that critical moment when its dreams were giving birth to a beautiful bouncing future.

I know not the hour of my death, for no one knows the hour of their death in this country anymore. That man on Naivasha, who was dragged from the car and his speech as he answered questions betrayed him as belonging to a tribe the highway blockers were hunting down, he did not know his death. I have seen myself trying to run from the mob the way he desperately tried, machetes raining on his back, and yet he ran on, three desperate steps, before his body disintegrated into huge chunks of human flesh and fell down. Upon which they cubed him. I too, my friend, am about to face the same death. My tongue, when I try to speak, shall definitely betray me as a targeted tribesman when the mob does come to me. For I do not belong to any tribe.

My sister, Rozi, called me yesterday trembling with fear. She lives in Western Kenya, on the Eldoret/Kakamega border. They had taken a patient to Moi Referral Hospital Eldoret. On their way back, the ambulance was stopped by youths bearing all forms of crude weapons. They demanded to know which tribes everyone in the ambulance belonged to. The driver was of the local tribe, so he was told to step aside. As the others showed their National Identity cards, my sister realized that all around them were corpses of human beings freshly chopped to death. Her turn came and she said she was Luhya. They told her to speak in Luhya, but my Sister doesn’t know Luhya. “I really can’t speak it because my mother is a Taita!” she pleaded. She had to desperately show a photocopy of my mother’s National Identity card which she had in her purse, a photocopy my mother had given to her the previous week to use as a referee for the bank account she was switching to. That photocopy saved my sister. The only language my sister can speak, apart from English and the National Swahili, is Gikuyu. The tribe the youths were targeting.

My friend, I know no tribe. I only know languages. My mother is Taita, my Father is Luhya, and we were raised in Kiambu among the Gikuyu. It has never been important in our family to know which tribe we should belong to, my sisters and brothers have names from both sides of our parents communities. In this chaos, if the hunters of fellow humans were to find us in our house, would they really believe we are brothers and sisters from our names?

If I say am Luhya, the Gikuyu with whom I have lived and now am engaged to one of their daughters would kill me as they have gone on a mission to revenge the deaths of their kinsmen in Western Kenya. If I flee to my parent’s home in Luhyaland, the neighbours will barbecue me alive for I can’t speak their language and of course my mom is from a foreign tribe. Not to forget that the guy who sold us that piece of land where my mom and Dad saved so hard to buy is known to come and insist on grazing his cow on our compound claiming “my cows used to feed here, buying the land doesn’t mean I don’t own it!”

Now in this Nairobi where I stay, I am wary of my neighbours. The guy opposite my flat is a Luo with whom we argued amicably during the pre-election period on which party we supported. Maybe now, given that friendly neighbours have been the ones killing each other, he might remember our political chats over my litres of coffee and come chop me up?

That is why friends, I have decided to write this obituary. I know not my tribe, I have only known myself as Kenyan, and others as fellow Kenyans. In these times, belonging or not belonging means not being dead or being seriously dead. What chances does a person like me have?

My friends have their tribes mates to protect them. The cosmopolitan Nairobi has now been balkanized with residential estates being exclusive reserves of certain tribes. Complete with murderous gangs imported from up-country to protect their own. Mungiki for the Gikuyu, Chingororo for the Gusii, and the Baghdad Boys and Taliban for the Luo. Where, pray I, is the estate Balkanised for those of us of mixed heritage who know not their war cry of their tribal warriors? The only two tribes I can run to don’t have such armies. And claiming my Dad’s Luhya identity, and a Bukusu at that, is problematic in itself. The Gikuyus are hunting them down claiming they voted ODM together with the Luos, and the Luos are hunting them down too claiming they voted for Kibaki together with the Gikuyus. So such is my fate for my father belonging to this tribe that voted 50-50!

My friends, I have prepared myself for my death. I don’t know how it will be, but since as a Film and TV drama person I believe in rehearsals, I have rehearsed all possible scenarios so that when my moment comes, it won’t be so hard to take it. Chekhov’s method acting manuals are no longer needed. I just turn the TV on during news time or read the papers, and from the several images of people who have been killed in various ways, I choose one to dream and perfect that night. I have dreamt of being locked into a church or building with several others and torched alive. I have smelt the petrol fumes as its being splattered through the window onto our bodies and then round the building. I have seen the flash of the matchstick being lit, and smelled my flesh burning to ashes.

I have rehearsed how I will smile when I am dragged out of a public vehicle and hacked to pieces by the marauding youths who pop up in our numerous roads. I want to die smiling bravely, but just like the guys I see on Al Jazeera and other International TV channels, the moment I get to that part where a red eyed bearded man pokes his head into the bus and shouts “everyone wave your ID cards in the air!” I wet myself and start screaming for mercy, instantly easing their work of identifying foreigners for the blades to work on.

I have rehearsed how best to gasp when a barbed arrow strikes my chest. Or a club smashes my brain out of my skull. Or a spiked plank of wood is driven through my mouth. I have died so many times, my friends, that now I must be immune to the real death when it comes.

I used to laugh at tourists buying maps of Nairobi. I bought one recently. It is stuck in the wall of my bedroom where small pencil marks indicate all the escape routes I will try to walk in to get out of town once the mayhem knocks on my door. Unfortunately, to the west are roadblocks where my Luhya name will mean instant death. If I go Mombasa Road I might run into a roadblock where Kamba’s and all coast people are being cubed. To the North I can’t even dare. To the south I might pass, coz I can speak Gikuyu, but my name would be my passport to the grave yard. That map, my friend, directed me to writing this obituary.

Maybe if I was a famous poet I would go down in history alongside Chris Okigbo, the Nigerian poet who went to Biafra seeking to actualize his poetry but found bullets instead. My friends abroad are asking me if I am safe. Maybe if I had been bright of mind like they were I would have faked a bank account statement immediately I cleared my o-levels and fled to the United States to wash toilets in between my degree courses, but no. When they told me America is the land of dreams, I swore to them I am an Africanist, a believer in the African dream. When they filled scholarship forms to get away from this dark continent, I laughed at them. Now my faith in my country has faded faster than the newness of the new(s) year.

So, friends, some of us never really thought that our tribe was that important. Simply because we were from the tribes that make up Kenya. Some of us have lived in every province of this once great nation and learnt the local languages, drank the local brews, danced the local songs-so well that the locals even gave us the names of their tribes to fondly call us by. I have been called Kamau, Mwanganyi, Wambua, and even Bayelsa in Nigeria. (I should have known, when Dudun told me that Bayelsa is the troublesome state of Nigeria where the Delta is, that it was a premonition of the war in my country.)

I have nowhere to go. No tribe to run to. No tribesmen to protect me. Except the grave. Which is what my fellow country men are intent on sending all those who don’t belong to their tribe. Goodbye, friends.. Seeing that all fast food restaurants have a notice ‘pay in advance’, let me take the cue and say Goodbye in advance. When you see a pulp of human flesh in the tarmac with youths dancing round it waving their bloody matchetes, look closely. That ear might be mine. That grinning upper lip might be mine. I loved you, my fellow countrymen. I loved without thinking of your parental lineage. I loved Kenya. But look what this country has done to me: sodomised my sense of humanity and pride. 

Jan. 30th   2008, Nairobi

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKK3D0H9fWo]

Blogger’s note: In memory  and honour of Elijah Masinde’s anniversary, we dedicate these stories to (deepening our connection with) our ancestors, bredrin, dadas en pikney.

The Bukusu are one of the seventeen Kenyan sub-tribes of the Luhya (Bantu group of) East Africa.

Calling themselves ‘BaBukusu’, they are the largest single ethnic unit among the Luhya nation, making up about 17% of the whole Luhya population.

The other Luhya groups in Kenya are ABaTiriki, Maragoli, ABaNyore, ABaKhayo, ABaMateka, ABaNyala, ABaSamia, ABiSukha, AbiTakho, ABaShisa, ABaMarachi, ABaTsotso, ABaKabarasi, ABaTachoni, ABaWanga and ABaMarama.

Origins
The Bukusu myths of origin state that the first man, Mwambu (The discoverer or inventor), was made from mud by Wele Khakaba at a place called Mumbo (which translates to ‘West’). God then created a wife for Mwambu, a woman called Sela.

Mwambu and his descendants moved out of Mumbo and settled on the foothills of Mount Elgon, from where their descendants grew to form the current Bukusu population.

Other traditional stories relate of a place of origin called Misri, from Mizraim (Hebrew for Egypt).

Anthropologists believe that the Bukusu did not become a distinct grouping apart from the rest of the Luhya population until, at the very earliest, the late 18th Century.

They moved into Central Uganda as part of a much larger group of people, many forming the eastern extension of the great Bantu migration out of central Africa.

(See Origins of the Luhya.)

Settlement
Together with other Luhya groups, the Bukusu are thought to have first settled around the foothills of Mount Elgon. This area was already inhabited by Kalenjin warrior tribes, and the Bukusu and their neighbours had to build fortified villages to ward off the attacks of these tribes.

The first fortified villages were built at a place called Silikwa (sometimes called Sirikwa). Following repeated attacks and unfavourable weather conditions, folklore has it, a council was held at Silikwa and it was resolved to migrate south and east, where spies are said to have reported large, unsettled lands. However, a section of the population was reluctant to move and stayed behind when the main tribe moved.

Those who stayed behind are said to have become the Ugandan BaMasaaba tribe. Those who left moved into what is now Bungoma district of Kenya, to become the ancestors of the current Bukusu people.

Currently, the Bukusu mainly inhabit Bungoma district of Western Province, which is bordered by Kakamega District to the east, Busia District to the south, Mount Elgon to the north and Uganda to the west.

A large number of the Bukusu are also found in the Kitale area of Kenya’s Rift Valley province, as well as in Lugari-Malava district.

The BaMasaaba of Uganda are very closely related to the Bukusu, with many shared customs and a common dialect of the Luhya language.

Previously, the Bukusu were referred to as the ‘Kitosh’ by the neighbouring Kalenjin community, a name they despised. The reasons for this are not very clear: in some Kalenjin dialects, “Kitosh” means “people of the earth”. This could have been a reference to the agricultural Bukusu, or to the fact that they lived on the lower foothills of Mount Elgon. Following vigorous campaigns by community elders, the name Kitosh was eventually substituted with Bukusu in the mid 1950s.
A replica of a Bukusu hut at the Sarova White Sands Hotel in Mombasa, Kenya.

Traditional life
The Bukusu lived in fortified villages, and did not have a structure of central authority. The highest authority was the village headman, called Omukasa, who was usually elected by the men of the village. There were also healers and prophets who acquired great status because of their knowledge of tribal tradition, medicines, and religion. Elijah Masinde, a resistance leader and traditional medicineman, was revered as a healer in the early 1980s.

Family
Bukusu family structure was traditionally modelled on the generic Luhya family structure. Families were usually polygamous, with the first wife accorded a special status among her co-wives……….
Children inherited the clan of their father, and were not allowed to marry spouses from either their own clan, or their mother’s clan. The first son of the first wife was usually the main heir to his father, and he had a special name denoting this status: Simakulu.

At birth, children were usually named after grandparents or famous people, or after the weather. Male and female names were different: male names frequently began with ‘W’, while female names usually began with ‘N’. Thus, for example, a boy born during a famine would be named ‘Wanjala’, while a girl would be named ‘Nanjala’. Both names share the same root word, ‘njala’, from ‘eNjala’, the Bukusu word for hunger.

Initiation
The Bukusu practised (and still practise) male circumcision. It is thought that they adopted the practice from contact with the Kalenjin at Mount Elgon. Others argue, however, that the presence of the practice in the other Luhya tribes indicates an earlier adoption, before the Bukusu settled at Mount Elgon. In ceremonies that were spaced about two years apart, young boys of a particular age (usually about 15 years of age) would, on getting the go-ahead from their parents, invite relatives and friends to their initiation.

The initiation was a public event, witnessed by all. Going through the operation without showing any sign of pain was (and still is) thought to be an indicator of bravery. Once circumcised, an initiate became a member of an age-group. There are twelve age-groups, forming a cyclical system, with each age-group lasting for 8 years. Once the last age-group has been reached, the first is restarted, and so on. For example, the “Bachuma” age-group lasted from 1980 to 1986: every Bukusu circumcised within this period (that is, in 1980, 1982, 1984, and 1986) belongs to that age-group. In 1988, the “Basawe” age group began, and lasted until 1994.

Female circumcision was widely practiced among the Bukusu, until government campaigns put an end to the practice in the 1980s. However, some clans still continue the practice in secret. [depending on where you look at it from, it could also be that the practice died a few generations ago]

This is especially the case around Mount Elgon, where the neighbouring Kalenjin tribes also practice a form of female circumcision. [fafanua.]

Although circumcision was universal among the Bukusu, the form of the ceremony varied according to the clan. In particular, the festivities and ceremonies accompanying the final stage of initiation, when the now-healed initiates came out of seclusion to rejoin their families as ‘men’, were specific to clans, and have been handed down largely intact to the present day.

Marriage
Young men got married at about the age of 18-20, while girls got married at about the age of 16. There were two types of first-time marriage: arranged marriages and enforced eloping. If a young man came from a well-to-do family, he would ask his sisters to find a girl for him to marry. The ability of a potential wife to cook well, bear children and work in the fields were the main attractions in a girl. Once a girl was identified, an emissary was sent to her parents to ask for her hand. The girl had no say whatsoever in the whole matter: bride price would be discussed, and then once it was paid she would be sent off to live with her new husband. This form of marriage is still common in traditional households today.

In some cases, however, the young man would be from a poor family and could not afford to pay the likely bride-price. Traditional society allowed such young men to abduct the girls they intended to marry. (The girl had to present an opportunity to be ‘abducted’, so her cooperation was essential!) The couple would then leave their home to live with a far-off relative for a while, until the young man acquired enough wealth to pay the original bride price, as well as a fine, to the parents of the girl. This practice has since died out.

The Bukusu highly approve of intermarriages between themselves and BaMasaaba. This is because they have quite a number of similarities in their codes of conduct, marriage customs, circumcision traditions and even folklore. Among the most famous of Bukusu marriage customs is the immense respect accorded one’s in-laws. A lady, for example, treats her father-in-law with a lot of deference and respect, and they are not allowed to make physical contact in any way. The same is true of a man and his mother-in-law……

Cattle were very important: they were the main means of exchange, alongside cowrie shells (chisimbi). Most values, from the beauty of a girl to the price of a field of land, were expressed in terms of head of cattle. Possessing cattle wealth and prosperous agriculture, the Bukusu were sometimes not only admired but also envied by neighboring communities.

Occasionally intermarriages used to take place between them and the other communities. It was common practice for Kalenjin neighbors to give Bukusu their sons to look after their herds of cattle. In times of famine, which are said to have been frequent amongst their Kalenjin neighbors, the latter used to even sell their children to Bukusu. Bukusu also used to send their own young boys to grow up with Kalenjin or Maasai families, in some cases for espionage purposes.

Death
Being sedentary pastoralists, they had time to care for their sick and bury their dead. A sick person was looked after till he recuperated or died. When a person died, he was buried in a grave with a warrior’s weapons if he was an elder. Several functions were performed during and after the funeral ceremony. Ordinarily, burial pits ranged from 3-4 feet in depth, much shallower than today’s. Sometimes wild animals like hyenas exhumed corpses from graves and ate them. Should such an incident occur, people looked for the presumed skull of the desecrated body, and when they found it, they hung it in a leafy tree.

When the family of the deceased migrated, they brewed beer (kamalwa ke khuukhalanga) for the ceremony of transferring the skull with them to the new home or settlement. An old woman was entrusted with the responsibility of conveying the skull to the new site. Burial of the dead was thus, to say the least, ingrained in the Bukusu traditions.

Economic activities
Bukusu accounts indicate that both agricultural and pastoral economies have been practiced by the tribe for as long can be remembered. This is authenticated by the vast amount of knowledge they have about farming practices, rich pastoral vocabulary and the broad variety of legends connected with pastoral life. Today, they farm mainly maize for subsistence and sugar cane as a cash crop in the Bungoma area, as well as wheat in the Kitale area. Cattle and sheep are universally kept, cattle mainly for milk, and sheep for meat and ceremonial functions (when a sheep usually has to be offered to elders for sacrifice). Larger or polygamous families will usually have a team of oxen for ploughing and hauliage within the home. Chicken, a traditional delicacy, are nowadays reared on small to medium scales for commercial egg production.

Politics
The Bukusu currently form one of the main support bases of the governing coalition in Kenya, through the Ford-Kenya political party. Previously, they were mainly associated with opposition to the Kalenjin-dominated reign of former President Daniel Arap Moi.

Notable Personalities
Among the more notable Bukusu personalities past and present:

Maina wa Nalukale, a seer who was reputed to have foretold the coming of the British colonialists
Elijah Masinde, resistance and religious leader
Michael Wamalwa Kijana, former vice president of Kenya
Masinde Muliro, former minister and opposition leader
Musikari Kombo, current leader of Ford Kenya

References
Ayot, Henry Okello (1977) History Texts of the Lake Region of East Africa. Nairobi, Kenya: Kenya Literature Bureau.
Barker, Eric E. (1975) The Short History of Nyanza. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Literature Bureau.
Makila, F. E. (1978) An Outline History of Babukusu of Western Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya: Kenya Literature Bureau.
Were, Gideon S. (1967) A History of the Abaluyia of Western Kenya: c. 1500-1930. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishing House.

© The Wikipedia

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Elija Masinde (also spelt Elijah Masinde) was a traditional leader of the Bukusu people of western Kenya.

Early life
Born around 1910 – 1912 in Bungoma district, Masinde started out as a footballer, going on to play for Kenya against Uganda in 1930. By the early 1940s, he had risen to the rank of a junior elder within his community in Kimilili area, and became increasingly anti-colonial. In 1944, he led a number of localised defiance campaigns against the colonial authorities, and was imprisoned as a result.

Dini Ya Musambwa
While in jail, Masinde claimed to have been given divine interpretation of the Old Testament of the Bible, and proclaimed that a “Black Jesus” would come to liberate the people of Kenya from colonial oppression. When he was released, he formed a sect called “Dini Ya Musambwa” (Bukusu for “following of spirit[s] of the ancestors”), and gained huge followings in western Kenya.

Detention, old age, and death
Upon Kenya’s independence, Masinde was detained by the government of Jomo Kenyatta for almost 15 years. He had been accused of formenting religious hatred. He was released by the government of Daniel Arap Moi in 1978, and lived quietly in his native Kimilili area until his death in 1987.

It is reported that, before his death, Masinde pointed out to his family the spot where he wanted to be buried – he wanted a huge sycamore tree uprooted to make way for his grave. The family decided to bury him elsewhere, though, but were thwarted when a spot they chose for his grave turned out to be a hidden grave. They took this to be an omen and proceeded to bury him in the spot where the sycamore tree had been.

References
*Makila, F. E. (1978) An Outline History of Babukusu of Western Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya: Kenya Literature Bureau.
*Alembi, Ezekiel. (2000) Elijah Masinde: Rebel with a cause”. Nairobi, Kenya: Sasa Sema Publications Ltd.
http://experts.about.com/e/e/el/Elija_Masinde.htm

 

BLOGGER’S NOTE:

this post is a(nother) preview of the Q/t werd: a (real/raw en) mystic, organic, us-people driven caravan of  pan-afrikan myths, legends en our (kinda) super/s/heroes….we’re celebrating and (re) mapping the intersections of our diversity with werd! Sound! (en di) Powah! (of love)

These are some stories we know, that (not only) I heard (en read) many times before, from many different (kinda) folks,

you can do anything that you want with these hadithi, share them with others, cry about it, get angry or forget it, but don’t say you’d have lived your life differently if only you’d heard this story, now you know….

[We warn you, we have not only just begun! 😉 ]

http://www.kenyaimagine.com/Social-Issues/Literature-Blood-and-Doves.htmlLiterature, Blood and Doves
Wednesday, 26 March 2008
 As the media went into a frenzy celebrating the ‘5th Anniversary of the Iraq War’, my friend Jackie via chat asked why they were saying this like it was a happy event, like a wedding anniversary or something.We quickly came to the Kenyan situation and said next year we shall probably have our first Anniversary frenzy celebrating the post Election violence that was ethnically motivated and marked our descent into hell. Some people will actually be celebrating killing of others like it is a happy Birthday celebration. My friend aptly summarized it – “it will be warm and syrupy and Julie Gichuru will preside over the televised version on a talk show.”

But what lessons does it teach us, we practitioners and consumers of literature? It teaches us that from the roots, the development, and the eruption of the violence, literature (like other Kenyan institutions) was misused to fuel the ethnic violence. (‘Literature’ is here used loosely to mean the written, the spoken, and – as recently redefined by technology – the blogged, the SMSd, the graffitied, the rapped, the sung, the videoed.)  Literature in all the variety of its forms was abused to propagate negative tribalism and ethnocentric hatred of others, as well as misused by its practitioners, (lecturers, students, readers, editors of literary columns and internet bloggers,) to mis-interpret what are otherwise noble folktales, as well as to disparage fellow literary icons simply because they were from the ‘other tribe’. There was also the noble opposite, especially in the aftermath of the outbreak of violence, when writers and practitioners of literature used literary works and personalities in an attempt to address the violence, hatred and propaganda being bandied about by agents of ethnic hatred hiding under the veil of democracy.

The process of slanting the ideological and thematic strands in stories for political expediency was similar to the Nazi effort of the early 1930’s when the NSDAP sponsored the research and publication of folklore that had Nordic-Germanic symbols and themes of German supremacy, which they then used to galvanize the peasantry, and the population at large, in the belief that they were a pure master race. Alfred Rosenberg’s Kulturgemeinde issued in its two main journals, Kunst and Volc and Volskum and Heimadt, folktales with that intent. German Literature professors, especially in folklore, were pressured to align their research findings with the National Socialist Weltanschauung. An innocent story like Little Red Riding Hood, in the Grimm brothers’ Children and Household Tales (1812), was, for instance, turned by the propagandists of the Third Reich into a symbol of the German people, saved from the evil Jewish wolf. In this way, Adolf Hitler spread his hate against Jews, homosexuals, clergymen, gypsies, mentally challenged people, and all those not of (what was thought to be) pure German blood. In Rwanda, hate publications, stories and folktales were similarly mis-interpreted to propagate Hutu and Tutsi animosity.

Likewise in Kenya, from smoky rural huts to the Kenyan web. In one of the hate mails that circulated in the Rift Valley and on the internet, a section of the Nandi invoked the legend of Koitalel Arap Samoei, a brave son of the Nandi community, and one of the great freedom-fighters, who valiantly led the (unfortunately, seldom credited) longest resistance against the British colonialists, until he was tricked and killed by Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, after which the community divided once again. His heroism is one of the defining hallmarks of Kenyan nationhood: he proudly and honourably resisted imperialism and the oppression of a people by another. On the internet, as on the ground, however, the exploits of Koitalel were used to inspire the Nandi to rise up against the Gikuyu who had ‘occupied their land’; the Gikuyu it was alleged, were latter-day imperialists. It claimed the re-birth of Koitalel through Hon. Ruto, who shares the name Samoei name with him, urging the community to rally behind the reborn Orkoiyot. The brothers of the Nandi were urged to raise arms against the Gikuyu, ostensibly because whereas Kibaki was a Gikuyu and unreachable, they could get to his tribemates. The rest is history.

Similarly, a section of the Gikuyu, since the sunset years of the Moi regime, have rallied round the myth of Mugo wa Kibiru, a great soothsayer in Gikuyu land, who visioned the coming of the white man and urged his people to prepare to oppose the raider. The Gikuyus also invoked another legend, Dedan Kimathi Waciuri, widely seen as a symbol of the courageous struggle for Independence. With these two, united by the clandestine religio-socio-political Mau Mau movement that led the anti-British rebellion in Gikuyuland, a few young men claimed visitation by Mugo wa Kibiru, in which they were exhorted to lead the community against oppression by the Moi regime and his Kalenjin tribemates.

In the guise of returning Gikuyus to their pure cultural practices, the group widened and grew, eventually morphing into the well-organized Mungiki gang. When it was clear, according to the 2007 polls, that Mwai Kibaki was trailing Raila Odinga, and that, even among Gikuyu peasants, he was not a favourite due to the perceived favouring of his elitist moneyed friends, elements within the Gikuyu hireachy invoked tribal unity using the image of Dedan Kimathi: ‘we fought for Kenya’s Independence while they lazed around the lake’, there is no way ‘we the circumcised can be led by the uncircumcised’, it was said. Loose talk of ‘Kenya is ours’ was heard.

From Kenyatta’s speeches, where he is supposed to have told told MPs opposing his seemingly tribalistic governance that “My people drink milk in the morning, your people in the afternoon” to imply that former had a right to the cream of Kenya’s resources, such proverbs, and metaphors were used to spite other communities. Modern metaphors were dragged into the fray, equating the murderous mission with Christian evangelism. In an interview with Dennis Itumbi of AfricaNews, posted on kalenjin.net, a Mungiki leader (who studied at Kangaru and Mangu high schools, did a BA in Philosophy with a bias in (Religious) logic at the University of Nairobi and a Masters Degree at St. Paul’s Theological College in Limuru specializing in African Theology), a Mr Mathenge aka Mnyama, says Mungiki is “political and religious. Look when Jesus came on earth he said he was the King of the Jews. That is political. Then he said he has come to restore salvation. That is religious and that is our mission. You don’t even need to ask that question. Remember the recent meeting in Michuki’s office. Why were these politicians meeting?”  The rest is history.

Among the Luhya, particularly the Bukusu, one of their freedom fighters and legendary icons, Elijah Masinde, was invoked. The Bukusus, in an apparent bid to make them ignore the dangling of one of their own, Musikari Kombo, by Kibaki as a possible future president once Kibaki had served his full term, were reminded of a prophecy uttered by Elijah Masinde to the effect that ‘The throne would only come to Bukusu land through the path of the lake’ i.e., only Raila, being from the Lake region, had the duty to serve as Kenya’s president and pave the path to a Luhya once he retired, a fact hammered in by Raila’s choice of Mudavadi, a Luhya, as his running mate. What followed was major battle, with the differing political groups trying to outdo each other in the ‘best interpretation of the Elijah Masinde prophecy’, a resuscitation of Bukusu folktales urging caution against the Barwa (Nandi enemies), the Mango myth of Circumcision as well as Maina Wa Nalukale’s tales of Bukusu supremacy over the Luhya nation. It all culminated in a tussle of comic proportions when each group visited the grave of the legend to pay homage, donating blankets and other goodies in efforts to appease his spirit and counter the other groups appeasing efforts as a sacrilageous soiling of his name. All this for a man who, until last year, was largely forgotten in Kenya’s history outside Bukusuland.

Instead of literary scholars laying bare the selfish manipulations of these folktales and icons for political gain, they jumped onto the bandwagon, dropping their PhD  degrees and pamphlets of scholarly research to prove the rightness of whichever group they supported. Professors of literature attacked each other’s credibility on the basis of their tribe of origin. A major casualty, of course, was all those amazing works that were being done on the Mau Mau history. Suddenly, Mau Mau was collateral damage in the war for and against Kibaki. It was no good talking about it in serious forums. It was just a Gikuyu peasant war that had nothing to do with Kenyan History. No, it was the best example of we Gikuyu fighting the white man and now you want to say we can’t rule this land we shed blood for, so please write it and garnish it with sentiments of how grateful Kenya has to be to our tribe. Literary critics led the interpretation of literary works to discredit opposing tribes. An example is one review that was an unfortunate attack on an 80-year old peasant man who had slaved for over 28 years handwriting his memoirs about his life in detention, Kizuizini (Detention life), a Swahili book which I personally edited and researched at the National Archives to verify its credibility. (I am not Gikuyu so had no tribal allegiance). Despite it being a rich source of information about our history, one self-appointed ‘leading’ critic termed it ‘fiction’ saying that since the old man had a line which he said ‘we fought the white man because he had taken our land, and we wanted it back since it was given to us from the days of Gikuyu and Mumbi, our forefathers’ and since he later goes on to regret that ‘what we had fought for in Kenya, we never really got it, since those who supported the colonialists went on to grab land while many were left landless’. A noble book was dismissed as Gikuyu propaganda without proper consideration, simply because it was written by a Gikuyu; truly a case of a book caught in a war not of its own making.

It was also fashionable to dismiss Ngugi Wa Thiong’o as just another beneficiary of Gikuyu elevation. Years ago, when I was still a young brain, easily influenced by his egalitarian Marxism, a post-graduate student of high repute in the Institution I was at lashed out at Ngugi during a Black American Month symposium, stating that he was to blame for inventing the Mungiki Sect through The River Between; it had propagated the return of certain Gikuyu customs. I wrote a bitter defence in The Standard’s Literary Forum, arguing that those who founded Mungiki probably hadn’t even read the novel, and anyone who had read the novel could see that nowhere did it advocate beheading of people as a Gikuyu cultural norm. The defence sparked a barrage of hate replies and counter-replies which degenerated into tribal name-calling, after which the editor slammed shut the debate. Fast forward: Ngugi returned to Kenya after his self imposed exile; many read it as the beginning of a wider scheme of Gikuyu glorification, forgetting the return of Ali Mazrui and other fire-brands who had been demonized by the Moi Government. When the unfortunate attack on Ngugi and his wife happened, numerous emails circulated celebrating the fact with sneers of ‘The Gikuyu hyenas, look how they even eat one of their own.’ When the post-election violence broke in December, Ngugi’s remarks that some scenarios were similar to what he had written in his block-buster novel, The Wizard of The Crow , were angrily sneered at. It did not help when Ngugi wrote a pre-lection commentary concerning his impression of Kibaki, based on the three occasions they had met. The first rejoinder to that article was an attack on Ngugi claiming that he had proven that he did not think any president fit to lead Kenya unless he were Gikuyu. That article was circulated largely to discredit Ngugi as a Gikuyu apologist.

Even the new generation of writers were not averse to attacking each other on tribal bases. Some publishing houses were accused of being slanted towards publishing people from their owner’s tribal region and neglecting others in total disregard of the merit of their works. Whether that is true or not is debatable, but what is true is that the perceptions  that such and such a publishing house publishes only such and such tribes were there.

Literature had squarely entered the fray of tribalism, becoming as divided as all the other institutions which had been looked upon to deliver us from this evil: The Kenya Electoral Commission, the Judiciary, The Press, and the Church. You read or misread literature and, especially folklore, according to your tribal spectacles.

There was intense rejuvenation of folk tales that portrayed the Kalenjin and the Nandi as fit only to herd cattle. The famous story in which a cow was given to a Luo, a Gikuyu and a Kalenjin, did its rounds. The Gikuyu, it is claimed, zero grazed it, pampered it by planting and cutting napier grass for it, and it gave the best quantity of milk (to say Kibaki’s economic boon). The Kalenjin grazed it all over the land till he eroded the soil, and the cow gave a meager quantity of milk (a comment on the 24 years of Moi rule and the harsh economic times in his sunset years). The Luo, it was said, was too lazy to graze a cow day in and day out, so let it wander as he sat in his hut, knowing that whenever he needed food, he could walk to the lake, fish, eat, sleep and then go fish again when he felt hungry. This, you can guess, was spread by Gikuyu people. It was countered with numerous stories in print and oral narratives of stories with the motif of Gikuyu as genetically disposed towards thievery, and when the election dispute arose, the cry was ‘kill all the Gikuyu since they are nothing but thieves’.

Not to be outdone, the Gikuyu, particularly the Ameru, re-ignited myths of their migration to the Mt. Kenya region from Axum in Ethiopia, with links to the Queen of Sheba; thus they claimed to be one of the lost tribes of Israel. The more educated linked the Meru, particularly the Athuci, to this claim of Jewish descent. In bars, it was said that the Biblical Eden was located in the land divided by a flowing river (the Chania in this case); and that Mt. Kenya was the seat of God, who had bestowed Kibaki with the power to lead as only the Gikuyu could reign over the rest of the country.  You could not galvanise a people around their pride as the pure more strongly than this. Unless you are Hitler of course.

The folklore taught to the circumcised among the Bantu and especially among the Gikuyu were brought to the fore, encouraging distrust of other tribes as lazy. Numerous moderate Gikuyus, on trying to caution their hardliner friends about the irregularities marring the elections were taunted: ‘are you not circumcised? So why fear antagonizing a kihii (the uncircumcised)?” In the post election violence, Gikuyu youth hunted down Luos in Kibera, and Naivasha, forcefully circumcising them before either beating them or killing them. Reports from Independent bodies delving into the root causes of the violence have documented the same from the Nandi community: young circumcised youths were taught folklore during their cultural lessons, slanted to provoke them into attacking the Gikuyu in the Rift Valley, now that they were warriors. In turn, stories, proverbs and writings have cropped up which encourage what I can term the ‘Jewinisation’ of the Gikuyu: a feeling of persecution and ‘we are the hated because of being entrepreneurs’ which,  surprisingly, is getting encouragement from the learned and wealthy of the community. From hawkers to middle class homes, the Gikuyu feel besieged, and believe that they are being witch-hunted for working hard and prospering. With the Gospel of prosperity taught in evangelical churches, they have sought refuge in Christian stories of those persecuted by jealous people, and hence found solace by conceiving of themselves as an unfairly-persecuted minority, like the Jews. It resonates with the teaching of the bible; some religious people go further and rely on the Biblical hatred between the Jews and the Gentiles to justify hating the other tribe. Several blogs hosted by Gikuyu attest to this, one of the most prominent being one titled ‘Who are the Gikuyu? The Jews of Kenya‘. In Rwandesque terms, Kenyan communities claimed supremacy over others using their communal narratives, and urging the decimation of others as weeds, stains, and other negative terms. Proverbs were given tribal meanings to otherise. Communities were labeled madoadoa, stains that needed to be removed, in avenues as public as FM stations.

But fortunately most people decided to use literature in its various forms to propagate peace and provoke a re-evaluation of the whole Kenyan conflict, as well as what avenues there were to address the animosity that was fast claiming lives. The Concerned Kenyan Writers email group brought together arguably the best Kenyan writers in a dialogue of sorts, which quickly grew into a major forum for international media and literary people looking for a more authentic, alternative source of information that wasn’t censored by the commercial factors that hampered the mainstream media. Writers like Binyavanga Wainaina, Yvonne Awuor, Billy Kahora, Stanley Gazemba, Muthoni Garland, Rasnah Warah, Parselelo Kantai and others wrote fiction and non fiction articles that they posted on the site and were circulated worldwide. International writers played their part in narrating the Kenyan experience, mostly because it resonated with their own countries. Gappah Pettinah from Zimbabwe, Uganda’s Doreen Baingana and Kalundi Serrumaga are notable examples.

In December, before election day, Story Moja, a literary body in Nairobi, organized Kenya’s first Reading Festival; a story-telling competition was held. Most of the narratives referred to the General election that was around the corner, warning against the dire consequences of tribal politics as if prophesying the violence to come. The winning narrative, almost uncannily, was about kitchen tools that engaged in animosity and fought each other in their quest for supremacy, leading to a blaze in the kitchen. It ended with a plea for Kenyans not to be like the kitchen tools. But apparently some didn’t heed it. On the theatre scene, plays like Lwanda Magere which ‘pimped’ the legend of Lwanda Magere – the invincible Luo warrior who was invincible until he leaked the secret to a girl that only spearing his shadow could hurt him – were done with a modern political angle and toured the countryside. Youth from the Dandora slums organized by Patrick Shomba made a short film titled Ghetto President and aired it there.

After the violence erupted, writers gathered at the Sunday Salon to read stories of hope and love; all the admission money collected was donated to the Kenya Red Cross to buy food and clothing for the internally displaced. Similarly, a play was shown at the National Theater the proceeds of which were donated to charity. Many more events took place countrywide.

Despite the fact that literature was used to spread hate, it is not to be blamed. It is those who misused it who are to blame, in the same way that those who used the positive power of literature to ease the conflict are to be praised. One does not ban all water bodies simply because someone drowned in a river. With special reference to folktales, it is not that they are forms for hatred, but rather that people misused them.

At the end of World War II, Allied commanders banned the publication of the Grimm tales in Germany in the belief that they had contributed to Nazi savagery. Some even called for the banning of folktales and similar literary styles, but reason eventually prevailed: it was not the tales, but the manipulators who were the problem.  It is a fact that most of the folktales and narratives in our communities extolled peace and understanding. Even those that were slanted and mis-interpreted by the warmongers to spread hate are about the virtues of Koitalel Arap Samoei, Dedan Kimathi, and Lwanda Magere, who actually had virtues we all need to emulate: prominently, self-sacrifice for the communal good. Our folktales did not advocate killing of innocent women and children, and they did not advocate killing innocent people in a room set ablaze for the sake of revenge. But like everything at this insane moment in our country, truth was lost.  Literature, like a gun, depends on the hands it is in.

________________________________________

Simiyu Barasa is a film maker (Toto Millionaire), and a member of the Concerned Kenyan Writers collective.

i’ve been looking for inspiration in 

(my/people’s) daily efforts en successes in surviving en thriving…

recently, I have been mostly tired from the energy spent to re/build community, yet the anger has been washed away with rains en powerful winds, en I have planted many seeds, but I’m just going to take a minute, coz times ah here,to do the real digging, so my hours are wild, en I’ve shed alot (of tears),  the confusion has gone, yet my state has become a contradiction in so many ways…..

because right now if you ask me, I just don’t know….I don’t know what will happen, I really don’t know what is best, I know what I DON’T  want, en I know what I do seek, en I can tell you this, now that I’ve given up any delusions to martyrdom or unrealistic visions, I’m just going the way of love…..it’s a feat, that we have struggled with in all our lifetimes, that has transformed every story I tell myself en others about what is good en true……

en I promise to live true to myself, en my ancestors, en the future generations……..I will never give up my dreams…. 

somehow where I yam feels wilder, en as the moons have gone, the anxiety has multiplied like diasporic afrikan butterflies over the failures, yet the hope has grown with the years of different equations used to work at the problems not solved, like what if? en, what do these dreams mean? en why am I giving less when I know I need more? en are our ways en times really better, when there are so many more just barely managing to make means?

what does freedom really look like?…. 

the hope has grown too, that with every coming undone, there is an almost simultaneous rebirth….

the bigger point is…..

 I give thanks for my communities/families, my hoods,

for the angels en devils on earth,

I give thanks for yester/years, today en tomorrow

I promise to  give back what I owe,

en work for what is ours….

and love myself unconditionally……..

so here’s one of the stories I collected that I give back to you, dear reader, the truth about stories is……they are ours to do with as we please. I took this one as one of those daily reminders of the realities at hand…….

I  submit to you, dear reader,  ann njogu’s speech, given in Washington DC on 8th March, 2010….a speech given in Washington, D.C, by one of those mad talented afrikan womyn representing for my home….(East) Afrika.

 

“I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master.

I want the full menu of human rights”
 

Desmond Tutu

 

 

The U.S Secretary of State, Hilary  Rodham Clinton, 

The 1st Lady of The United States of America, Michelle Obama,

Ambassador  Melanne  Verveer,

Fellow recipients of the IWOC  Awards 2010,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen;

All protocols observed.

It is a great honor and humbling experience to be here to receive this award tonight. Great because this is a distinguished award that is dedicated to honoring women who have made a contribution globally and humbling because I am only aware that without the many women with whom I have had the privilege to work with at the grassroots in Kenya, it would not have been possible to celebrate anything much less for me to be here with you tonight. It is for this reason that I want to dedicate the award to all those women  in Kenya who have simply refused to give up the hope for a better Kenya.

I am talking about the woman from the urban shanties who has to wake up at 4.00am every morning to walk 20 miles to and 20 miles back from the market to fetch groceries to come back and sell the whole day to make a dollar; the woman who has to take care of her 7 children all alone or the one who has to fend for her 10 kids with her jobless and abusive husband all living in a one room shanty house;

To the rural poor who has to till tired ground to eke out a living to sustain a clan; to take her little daughter to school and avoid early marriage in the hope of breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and abuse;

To the young girl who has to brave taunts from classmates to attend schools even when her dress is messed up by her menses because she cannot afford the benefit of modern hygiene such as sanitary pads which are no novelty in the developed world;

I am talking about the woman in the Kenyan urban shanties and rural poor who has  to endure the terror of local chiefs and the extortion and abuse of local police every single waking day just to get along with their lives; women who pay tax to maintain these government officials but have no voice to control them or hold them to account because their MPs are too busy stealing from them or plotting on the next electoral violence to care. These are the women I work with every single day.

But I am also talking about the middle class woman who is starting to ask hard questions about our social and economic inequalities; the young executive who has started discarding the notion that the public space is male space; or that it is only bad girls that venture into politics;

I am also talking about the Kenyan Youth, who  have understood that the present and future of Kenya belongs to them. And that  to  believe otherwise would be to continually play to the  plan of the political elite who have pigeonholed them to an exploited and  manipulated  falsehood that they can only exist to serve the whims and narrow political interests of the politician. A youth who have understood that their  unemployment, exclusion, poverty and dire needs are not by default but by design of this political class.

For we  know that unless a new breed of leaders committed to a new kind of ethics and values that celebrate merit, excellence, service and accountability take over leadership, or unless ,by the unlikely , divine intervention those currently in power are transformed, my generation’s sad story will be the story of my daughter’s generation. And the generations after.

It is a combination of this fear and the inspiration I see in the eyes of mama mboga as she works through the day in the dusty shanty towns in Nairobi or as she toils away in the sun baked earth of Machakos that gives me the drive to keep going inspite of the unrelenting repression of government and police brutality. One of the great paradoxes of my country is that we have a government elected “democratically”  but which is habitually undemocratic;  a creature of movements such as ours but which has shown bad manners in dealing with those who seek to hold it against its promises.

Kenya’s story is part of the sad African story. But in that story a new story is evolving, the story of a people who are determined to make a clean break from the terrible legacy of unaccountable leadership and predatory governments; a story of people who are increasingly rejecting ethnic and political patronage in favor of democratic and accountable government; a story of people who are seeking transformation and not sedation through welfare; and it is a story of people who know that in Africa, we’ve got all the wealth we need to raise the continent from grinding poverty, disease and a sense of pervasive hopelessness into a prosperous land. A land from which no young woman or man will want to escape from to be an economic refugee in Europe, the US or anywhere else because it will be a land of opportunity.

It is with this breed of Kenyans and Africans that I identify myself and my work with. It may be the Pioneers for Change,  The C5, the Women and Youth Alliance, Bunge la Mwananchi, G10, KPTJ, among other progressive movements ,  but they are all united by one thing; to make sure that the transition in Kenya is substantive and not a vacuous formality.  I  have dedicated my time and energy at the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness(CREAW)  and the Africa Community Development Media (ACDM)  to make my contribution towards this great goal. I and my generation feel greatly privileged to be a point in our history where we can make a historic contribution.

In this we are greatly motivated by the achievements of the US, the South East Asian Tigers and the economies of Latin America.

This last Friday, 5th march- 2010, I celebrated my 45th birthday  away from  home . However in the midst of celebrating this personal landmark, two grim realities hit me right in the middle of my eyes. First, back home, my colleagues held  a memorial service in remembrance of two of our fallen  human rights defenders ; GPO Oulu and Oscar Kingara  both  executed in cold blood on the same day  last year ( – 5th march 2009- ) by state police in broad daylight right outside the University of Nairobi because of their dedication to bring to an end state sponsored terror.   Student protests were met with a further execution of one of the students. Todate state “investigations” have revealed nothing. It has joined the long list of unresolved politically motivated murders in Kenya. Such is the perilous reality of human rights defenders and the Kenyan public in my country today. The second reality was that my country’s life expectancy has fallen to 44 years. I am therefore lucky to be alive today!

Our Country Kenya

Kenya is indeed a  beautiful, great and profound   country situated in East Africa with a population of  approximately  40 m Kenyans  . Ever since we produced and exported  the incumbent President of the biggest super power in the world- President Barack Obama,  our claim to greatness  was vindicated! .  Yes, We have a track record not just for  producing  and exporting Presidents , but  it is in our country that you find such great names  like Wangari Maathai- the environmentalist,  our amazing   athletes, the very hard working   people, the vibrant civil society,  rolling mountains and scenery, singing birds, great weather, wonderful  natural resources and indeed  some of the best tourists destinations in the world!  Kenya has the potential to not only feed her people but be the bread basket of the whole continent of Africa- While it can have enough for everyone,  poor leadership and governance, corruption, impunity and lack of accountability have  determined that there is  not enough for a few greedy  men and women.

The high levels of inequality have determined that over 70% of the country’s resources are in the hands of a less than 10% of the population while  the last 10 % of the population own less than 1% of the country’s resources. It is a country where women  provide over 70% of the total labor in the agricultural sector and yet, own less than 5 %  of the country’s  land. It is a country where  over 47 % of the country’s population  live below the poverty line earning less than a dollar a day, with 70% of those extremely poor being women.  It is a country where  the  women and youth make the majority of populace and yet remain at the peripherals of decision making- a country that has   89% of its population  below  45 years   and yet this majority remain marginalized and  excluded in governance, decision making et al. It is a country that has been seeking reforms  of its key institutions of governance including the constitution  but where the said reforms have remained a mirage  due to state capture of the said instruments of reform.  This  enduring legacy has created  and fertilized a culture of  impunity, abuse and disregard to state institutions of governance, lack of accountability and a culture that disregards international norms and  standards of governance and human rights protection.  The political system of  first by the post , winner takes it all makes  elections a life and death matter always in favor of a small very powerful clique of   the political class.  Many other institutions like the cabinet, parliament, judiciary, police force, military  including media and religious institutions have come under  total and stifling elite capture. The outcome of this elite capture is a fractured  political and social system  , absence of  transparency and accountability, mismanagement of state institutions and impunity that have  eroded the national fabric resulting in serious  tensions-  Not surprising therefore that between Dec 2007 and  March 2008, Kenya faced its worst political and governance crisis yet and almost degenerated to a  state of total breakdown of law and order.

The question of police  brutality and complicity in perpetrating crime in general and violence against human rights defenders in particular is one of the biggest challenge within the existing Coalition government. The atrocities of the police are well documented; by the state human rights agency KNCHR,  UN Rapporteur  on Extra judicial killings; the government appointed Commission into Post Election Violence (CIPEV) which recommended a complete overhaul of the police force. earlier on at the conclusion of the Investigations into the Post election  Violence by the popularly  as the Waki Commission ( CIPEV)  – sadly,  and instead of implementing the recommendations,  the President responded by rewarding the then Commissioner of Police with a new appointment and a promotion for officers implicated in sexual assault and violence against peaceful Kenyan protestors.

The story of GPO Oulo and Oscar Kingara is the  story of so many other human rights defenders in Kenya and  in countries where there is no respect for human life, rule of law, democracy and   accountability. It is the story of so many other human rights defenders  who have paid and continue to pay heavy  prices for exercising their fundamental and constitutional rights.  When human rights activists in Kenya like in other countries like  Zimbabwe,   have sought  accountability from the powers that be,  the response of the authorities has been an escalating intransigence and violence, the violence of police dogs, tear gas, “disappearings”, exile, and even death.  Like  Bishop Desmond Tutu said at the height of  apartheid, “ We who advocate peace are becoming an irrelevance when we speak peace. The government speaks rubber bullets, live bullets, tear gas, police dogs, detention, and death”.

It is for this reason that while I humbly accept this award,   I dedicate it to all the human rights defenders in Kenya. They are the true champions and heroes of our struggle for change. They continue to put their lives in harm’s way because they are convinced that a different and better Kenya is possible. A different and better Africa is possible and a different and better world is possible.  Many of them like Oulu and Oscar have paid the ultimate price.

I also dedicate this award to my amazing  A-team and staff at CREAW, ACDM, Para-legal’s,  community educators and community news gatherers- without whom ,  my work would be impossible. This award is your award for all your hard work, dedication and commitment!

I finally dedicate this award to my children Stephanie and Ted-  who tearfully  plead with me not to go out onto the street for fear that they might never see their mother  alive  again but who also stoically understand why I do the work that I do. They too like other Kenyans, are tired of being divided along tribal and other imaginary lines, tired of running into ideological vacuums  and partisan roadblocks, tired of appeals to our worst instincts and greatest fears.

It is too late to stop this movement. Change must come!

We hear the voice of the people of the United States of America urging us on. We hear the voices of the people of Europe urging us on. We hear the voices of the peoples of the world urging us on; We see the changes taking place all over the world; We see nations rising from poverty and underdevelopment and creating economic miracles and we ask why not in Kenya? Why not in Africa?

We see undemocratic Nations being replaced by democracies and we ask why not in Africa? We  see millions being hauled out of early death with benefit of modern medicine and we ask why not in Africa? We read about the immense wealth in the belly of the continent and the endless miseries of the people living above the grounds and again we ask why in Africa?

Like Kennedy, I belong to those who believe in the power of a dream. Like him we dream of things that are yet to be and  we ask why not?

I understand that it is my duty and that of my generation to replace the present despair with a new hope in the continent of Africa; it is my duty to resist oppression and plant the flag of freedom in every homestead; it is my duty to challenge the massive inequalities that exist in my society and those of all other African states; it is my duty to stand up to grand corruption; to challenge police brutality and complicity in crime; it is my duty to prevent the recurrence of the post election violence in Kenya in the next general election; it is my solemn duty to prevent more and  more children from the violence and violations that continue to be visited upon our people; it is my duty because where leaders cease being role models and sources of inspiration, we must turn inwards and look for that inspiration from within ourselves. And we must stand firm in our place in the queue and never drop the ball; it is our duty to pick up the challenge that has rung from DC and across the World, that time is now for a new generation of leaders to emerge and to take the onerous task of completing the change begun 20 years ago to democratize, bring prosperity to our nations and to protect the rights and freedoms of every person in my country and in my continent. It is a call I am willing to accept even if I were alone. For didn’t Rosa Parks shows us right here in the USA the amazing power of a solitary soul committed to end injustice?

A great Kenya  for all is possible –

for the dignity of (Wo)man and the destiny of democracy.

We want  our Country Back!

Thank you all!

The annual International Women of Courage Award, started in March 2007 by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, recognizes women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women’s rights and advancement.

The other recipients of the award are: Janseela Majid (Sri Lanka), Shukria Asil (Afghanistan), Col. Shafiqa Quraishi (Afghanistan), Androula Henriques (Cyprus), Sonia Pierre (Dominican Republic), Shadi Sadr (Iran), Dr. Lee Ae-ran (Republic of Korea), Sister Marie Claude Naddaf (Syria), and Jestina Mukoko (Zimbabwe).