I Just Wanted To Go Home

Brenda Wambui
7 April ,2015

On Saturday, the 14th of March, my friends and I had had a great evening catching up over drinks, after which we decided to check out a 50% off offer on burgers at a local coffee chain. They did not have the buns we wanted, though, so we decided to go home. I decided to take a matatu home. They asked me, “Will you be safe?” and I said “Sure! It’s not even 10 pm yet! It’s still safe!”

I was wrong. I arrived at my bus stop at 9.40 pm. At this time, the matatus that serve my route are no longer at Bus Station, but in front of Argho House, which is all the better as the area is much better lit. They are usually parked bumper to bumper, and one has to walk in between them as one would in a maze to get to the one that’s boarding. It was a routine I was used to. Only that this time, a makanga decided to stand in my way and block me from getting to my vehicle.

“Madam, si ukuje twende?” he said while hovering in my personal space. “Mimi siendi South C,” I replied. Normally, this is where other makangas would move out of my way and let me pass. This turned out not to be a normal day. The man did not move. Instead he grabbed my arm, and continued to harass me.

“Ai madam, kuja tu twende!” he said while trying to push me in the direction of his matatu. “Niachilie!” I said. I tried freeing myself of his grip, but his hand fit firmly around my arm, and I was unable to. I repeated myself, and he still would not let me go. “Niachilie ama nitakugonga!” I said, realizing that I would have to resort to violence if he did not let me go. At this point, another makanga, presumably from the same route, came and tried to ask him to let me go. “Manze, achana na huyu dame.”

He still wouldn’t let me go, and kept trying to push/talk me into going with him. So I punched him in the face, hard. The look on his face was one of horror and disbelief, as if he did not expect that I actually could, or would, hit him. I ran through the maze and emerged near my route’s matatus. The two makangas ran after me.

“Shonde wewe! Wewe ni shoga! Fala! Unajua tunaweza kufanyia nini wewe? Tunaweza kukuvua nguo, hata suruali! Malaya wewe! Tutakustrip! Tutakupiga wewe!” They were right there in my face, and people watched as they threatened me, and they did nothing. The makanga who had started all of this came and hit my right breast. All this was happening so fast, but somehow, I managed to rein in my anxiety and stand up to them.

“Ati mtanipiga? Mtanivua nguo? Kujeni basi!” I gestured to them to come nearer and attempt. They came nearer, but did none of what they were threatening. Instead, they kept screaming in my face, and I kept daring them to try. It was as if my apparent lack of fear is what stopped them from physically attacking me.

I could not continue for much longer, so I walked to the South B matatu that was boarding and told them that if they didn’t call their Sacco officials immediately to handle the issue, I would not rest until I shut their Sacco down. They quickly offered that the guys harassing me were actually South C makangas, under 12 C Matatu Sacco, and called two of their officials. The officials came, and asked me to tell them what was wrong. It was here that I learned through experience the violence we subject people to whenever we ask them to recount acts of violence committed against them. I recounted what had happened to the Sacco officials, and they tried to get the two makangas to apologize to me.

Instead, they moved closer and continued insulting me, threatening to beat me up and strip me. The original aggressor came too close for my comfort, and just before he could touch me or harm me in any way, I slapped him and threw him on the ground. When the Sacco officials asked the makangas to state their case, they lied that I had found them standing there and hit the first makanga when he asked me if I wanted to board their matatu. I actually laughed at how much the story of what actually happened had been changed.

By this time, the Sacco chairperson had been called, and he came and made me recount my story yet again. Only that unlike the two officials that came before him, he seemed to firmly be on the side of the makangas. “Madam, in situations like these unafaa kunyamaza na kunyenyekea na uache wanaume wa-sort it out.” He had a problem with how assertive I had been, and I could tell from the look of scorn on his face that he only planned on making the situation worse. When I asked him to handle the situation with the members of his Sacco, he looked at me with a smug look and said “Hizi ni vitu tuta-handle wenyewe kwa wenyewe, sio hapa, na sio saa hii.” He completely refused to accept that his staff were on the wrong, and he made the situation worse.

I stepped aside and called my mother to ask her for the phone number of any senior policeman she knew. She struggled to hear me over the noise, but later on she sent me an OCS’s number. I called the OCS just to let him know where I was and what was happening, in case I ended up injured, raped, or dead. The matatu people overheard me, and when I got off the phone, they started taunting me. “Unadhania ni wewe tu unajua polisi? Sisi tunawajua wote. Hata ukiwapigia, sisi pia tutapigia polisi wetu, na hutasaidika. Hii kitu tuta-sort wenyewe, hakuna polisi atakusaidia.”

This was when I lost it, and started yelling at the crowd of men that had gathered around me to spectate but offer no help, wondering what the point of having all those witnesses present but being unable to obtain some form of justice was. My attackers continued to verbally attack me. The Sacco chairman continued to stand by, looking smug. The two other officials stood by, doing nothing. Then, a huge man started approaching us, and my attackers ran off suddenly, while the matatu they were filling up sped off.

The man demanded to know what was going on. “As who?” I asked. He was a policeman, apparently. Again, I found myself recounting my story, reliving the violence. I expected that he would be of some help, but it seemed that he was in cahoots with the Sacco. “Utafanya hivi. Enda Central Police Station, uandikishe hii kisa, halafu utapewa OB number. Ukishapewa hio OB number, kaa nayo, halafu kila siku ukuje town, uangalie kama utaona hao makanga. Ukiwaona, just stop the nearest policeman na umuulize awashike. That is what you can do.”

It was now 10.10 pm. The man wanted me to go to the police station at that hour, never mind how dangerous that may have been. What was even worse was his ridiculous suggestion, that I should spend my days in town seeking my attackers, and upon seeing them, I should run to the nearest police officer and ask for them to be arrested. All the while this man was talking to me, the Sacco chairman stood by with a smug look on his face. I let them know that that was about the most ridiculous suggestion I had ever received: it was inefficient, time wasting and insulting. He shrugged his shoulders and asked me “Sasa unataka nifanye nini? Hio ndio hali ya vitu madam!” The Sacco chairman repeated the statement, just to infuriate me. “Unaweza kushika hawa watu wa 12 C Sacco wamesimama hapa, they were witnesses to what happened, and they stood by and did nothing,” I said. The policeman insisted that he could not arrest them because he cannot compel them to testify to something they did not participate in. I was stumped. He then started taunting me. “Nionyeshe hao wenye wamekuumiza, nitawashika saa hii!” knowing very well that my attackers ran off as soon as they saw him.

The group of men that had surrounded me then started offering me unsolicited advice. “Madam, unajua utafanya nini I was so deflated, I just tuned them out and walked away. I gave up, sat on a flower bed and called my taxi driver to come pick me up. After that, I burst into tears. I had never felt so hopeless.

I got home and had an altercation with my mother, who was insistent that I explain everything to her regardless of the fact that I had no energy to do so. I got into my room and called 999, and was advised to report the case to the nearest police station. The attendant I spoke to was optimistic, because in cases against Saccos, the threat of collective discipline is usually enough to get them to co-operate.

On Wednesday, 18th March, after telling my father what had happened, he accompanied me to Industrial Area Police Station, where I was seen by a female police officer he knows. It was a relief, because she did not engage in blaming me for what happened, and she did not ask me any insensitive questions. The incident was recorded, and I received an OB number and a P3 form (for assault). The policewoman filled her part of the P3 form, and told me to go to a hospital for assessment of my injuries (I did not have any, but when claiming assault, you have to go through this), get a summary report, then take this report to the police doctor, who would fill in his part of the P3 form. Then, I was to bring this form back to the police station, find out the policeman/woman who had been assigned my case, and then record a statement.

I followed her instructions. I went to a private hospital, where I recounted what happened to me and was assessed for injuries. Then, I headed to the police doctor. It struck me as insane, the fact that we only have one police doctor in Nairobi (he sits at Milimani Police Station) and that he does not work in the afternoon. I did not know this beforehand, so I went to the police doctor’s office at 2 pm. I had been warned of a long, winding queue that starts as early as 4 am, so I chose to go there at the time I am least productive. I had been told by my policewoman friend to call her in case he gave me any trouble.

His receptionist was a kind man, interested in helping me. He asked me what had happened, and I recounted yet again what had happened. He was empathetic, then he informed me that because he felt sad on my behalf, he would let me see the doctor; that the doctor’s hours end at lunch time. He wrote that I was a student on my form, to make my visit smoother, and I thanked him and told him that next time, I would come early. “Tunaomba kusiwahi kuwa na next time,” he said.

Upon entering the doctor’s office, he asked me what I was doing there, and I told him I was there to get my P3 form filled. He told me to sit down, and asked me to recount what had happened, so I did, again.

“Sasa mama mkubwa kama wewe, unaweza acha vitu kama hizo zifanyike? Kwa nini?” he asked. I was incredulous. “Ati sasa walikushika? Kitu ndogo kama hio, huwezi achilia? Lazima ufuatilie? Ai!” So I explained that the men actually threatened to physically harm me, to which he laughed. “I will never understand how women are assaulted and raped. Why do you have a mouth?” I thought this was a rhetorical question, so I did not respond. I just wanted him to fill my form so that I could get out of there. “Why do you have a mouth? I am asking you!” So I said “To eat and speak, I guess.” “And when the worst comes to the worst, what do you do with that mouth?” “You bite, I guess,” I said. “Exactly! You bite! So how are women attacked and raped all over and they have mouths!” Then he laughed for what seemed to be an eternity. “In fact, when someone is threatening to rape you or hurt you, you do not resist. You let them think you are actually going to let them do it, and then when they get near, you bite!” He continued to laugh.

“Where do you go to school? What do you study?” I cooked up a story that involved me being in my final year at a private university. “Do you have a job lined up? Have you even ever had an internship?” I continued to cook up my story that involved my being an undecided final year student who did not know what she wanted to do. “And now, this case, you plan on going to court? And pursuing it?” I answered yes. “Just because you were touched and threatened with stripping?” He continued to laugh. I lost my patience, and told him that I did not come to his office for his misguided remarks or unwanted counsel. I just needed him to do his job and fill in the P3 form, which he was yet to do. Instead, he had spent almost fifteen minutes taunting me, and I told him that for a medical professional, he should be deeply ashamed for saying the things he had. I could tell that he was not used to people speaking their minds to him.

He filled in the P3 form, and then asked me for KES 300. I only had KES 1000, but he told me he would give me change, which he did. It was then that I realized why the receptionist had insisted on writing that I was a student: I may have been charged more or never been attended to otherwise. He handed me my P3 form, and I asked him for my receipt. “Ati receipt? For what?” To which I responded “If you are mandated to charge me for this service, you should have a receipt book, therefore, I want my receipt.” He started laughing and said “Kumbe wewe ni mwerevu sio kama wale wengine? Leta hio mia saba.” I handed him the KES 700, and he returned my thousand shilling note. He pulled it out of a huge wad of notes, which I assumed was what he had managed to swindle out of other unfortunate people who had to see him, seeing as there was no other alternative.

I managed to get my P3 form back to the station and record my statement. On my way out, I went to thank the receptionist for helping me, to which he said “Nakuelewa tena sana. Hao watu wa matatu hawana heshima. Inabidi uwaripoti, hio kitu walikufanyia ni mbaya sana, nakutakia kila la heri kwa hio kesi.” I wished he was the doctor instead. The investigation on the case is ongoing, and I have learned a lot of things from this experience.

Every time I have been made to recount my story, it is as if I am reliving the violence. This is why we must be careful whenever we unnecessarily ask victims of sexual violence to tell us what happened. We are forcing them to relive the violence. I always knew that the stripping of women never has anything to do with what a woman is wearing. It is an act committed by men (or women) who wish to disempower a woman when she acts in a manner that is too empowered for their tastes. It is a cowardly act. I have experienced several people asking me “What were you wearing?” as if it matters. I was dressed in my regular uniform, a shirt and pants, and the issue of stripping only came up when I punched the makanga who thought he had a right to my time, space and body. When I showed him he did not, he aimed to humiliate me in the worst way he could imagine.

The fact that I seemed not to care about being beaten and stripped took the joy and satisfaction they would have got from doing it away, which was why they did not do it. The beating and stripping of women is meant to humiliate them and cut them down to size. I also always knew that asking “Did you report it?” is a harmful question, but I have learnt it anew because of what the system puts women who report through. I can only imagine a woman who has been raped or beaten up being forced to go to the police station, answer intrusive/insensitive questions because she did not have the privilege of having a relative with an empathetic police friend, then go to see that police doctor, who does not understand how women get beaten or raped. I can imagine him taunting them, laughing at them, asking them how they could let it happen. I can imagine him asking them why they have mouths, then signing their P3 forms and demanding for money for a job the government already pays him to do.

I have learnt that too many men feel entitled to a woman’s body, such that street harassment is a regular thing, and when you stand up to it, you get threatened with violence, and you get laughed at by insensitive doctors. Women are thought of as a resource that exists to satisfy men’s needs. Which is why a statement like “pesa, pombe, siasa na wanawake” exists. Women are not people, they are playthings for men, and when they prove otherwise, they must be cut down to size.

I have been asked why I am doing this; why I am pursuing justice through our legal system. It is because I want to stand up so that other women may never have to go through what I went through, or worse. So that people can see that even when you do everything right, our system will still let you down, and punish you at every juncture to get you to give up. I am doing this to teach the two makangas a lesson. When I offered them an opportunity to apologize, they did not, instead, they insulted me and threatened to beat/strip me. They thought they could threaten my life? Well, I will shit on theirs.

I am doing this so that whenever a man thinks of harassing or assaulting a woman, he will think twice, because he doesn’t know when he will run into a woman like me who will punch him in the face and get him thrown in jail. I am doing this so that everyone knows that “What were you wearing?” is an irrelevant question.

Most of all, I am doing this because I cannot believe that this is what can happen when a woman simply wants to go home.

The Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014

Brenda Wambui
16 December ,2014

In Kenya, we have a knack for knee jerk reactions to our problems and over reliance on legislation whenever things go wrong, especially with regards to our security. We have experienced several terror attacks from Al-Shabaab in the past four years, since our entry into Somalia, which have culminated in terror attacks in Mandera, Wajir, Lamu, among many other areas. The antidote to this, we have been made to believe, is a security amendment bill that has been proposed to parliament.

On December 11, 2014, the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and Administration (PCNSA) sent the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014 to parliament. It seeks to amend to 21 laws, and may be adopted by parliament in the coming days. Our president is convinced that this bill will improve how we handle security issues in Kenya, and I feel that we must examine this proposed legislation to see if this is true.

The Good

The Bill seeks to amend laws that refer to offices that no longer exist under the new constitution/government, or offices whose role has been changed. For example, amendments to the Public Order Act where “Director of Public Prosecutions” is substituted for “Attorney General”, “Inspector-General of National Police” is substituted for “Commissioner of Police” and “county” is substituted for “province.” This mainly happens in the amendments to The Public Order Act (Cap. 56).

A proposed new section (128A) of Cap. 63 states that “A public officer who in the cause of his or her employment aids or facilitates the commission of a felony, facilitates the entry of a criminal into Kenya, or conceals the whereabouts of a criminal is guilty of a felony.” This will facilitate the trial and punishment of public officers such as police officers who take bribes and let criminals run wild.

A proposed new section (251A) in Cap. 63 also protects the bodily integrity of Kenyans, stating that “A person who intentionally insults the modesty of any other person by intruding upon that person’s privacy or strips such person, is guilty of a felony.” This seems to be in response to the recent stripping menace, and provides an additional basis on which such crimes can be prosecuted.

Section 343 – 345 propose police supervision for persons convicted twice of offences punishable with imprisonment for a similar term, for up to five years after the date of their second release. This could go either way – it may make it easier for police to curb repeat crimes, but it may also make it easier for them to harass former convicts or even frame them for more crimes. The fact that a police officer can arrest without warrant a person whom he suspects to have committed an offence under section 345 (which speaks on failure to comply with police supervision) shows how this could happen.

Electronically recorded evidence would be admissible under a proposed insertion of section 33(1) in Cap. 80. Section 63(A) also allows oral evidence via teleconference or videoconference, while section 78(A) permits electronic messages and digital material as evidence. There is great emphasis on reliability of its identification, generation, storage and maintenance. This is progressive, as it would bring our evidence laws up to 21st Century standards, however, it is not farfetched to imagine people getting prosecuted because of seemingly harmless Facebook or Twitter posts that a powerful person did not like.

Section 11 of Cap. 76 would be amended to make extradition of suspects easier, allowing courts to issue warrants of surrender without holding proceedings as long as the authenticity of the warrant and the issuing authority are proper and verifiable. This would make it harder for white collar criminals and international terrorists to hide out in Kenya.

The Prisons Commissioner, under a proposed new section 70(A) in Cap. 90, shall maintain records of all prisoners detained in Kenyan prisons. They shall consist of personal and biometric data, physical and postal addresses, reasons for detention and number of times detained, and other particulars. The Commissioner shall also ensure control and regulation, as well as the necessary safeguards and database and network infrastructure for this information. The common sense nature of this insertion worries me – we are just now providing for this? However, the requirement for an integrated biometric system to enable sharing of information with the criminal justice system is a step in the right direction.

A proposed amendment (21A) to Cap. 296 seeks to have landlords keep records of tenants – such as their name, ID number, email address and telephone number – and provide them upon demand from law enforcement officers. This is generally good for record keeping and tracking down criminals, but it could be used to create a fascist surveillance state, something I have warned against before.

The Labour Institutions Act is to be amended to include section 54C which requires that employment bureaus seek and obtain government approval before sending Kenyans to work overseas. This would serve to reduce the number of Kenyans stuck in slavery in the Middle East and other parts of the world under the guise of working as domestic servants.

Section 74 of the National Intelligence Service Act is amended by making it mandatory for every state Organ, department, agency or public entity that receives intelligence from the NIS to act on or otherwise utilize the intelligence, and to provide information requested for by the Service. This will no doubt make security operations more efficient, and we may hear less of inter-agency communication breakdowns that lead to terror attacks. However, as mentioned before, unfettered access does lead to a surveillance state.

The establishment of a National Counter Terrorism Centre in the proposed amendment (40A) of The Prevention of Terrorism Act is a good move. This centre would be mandated to carry out duties such as: establishing a database to assist law enforcement agencies, conducting public awareness on prevention of terrorism and developing strategies such as counter and de-radicalization. While this sounds good on the surface, if our last effort to stem radicalization is anything to go by, serious effort will have to go into ensuring that this effort does not lead to further oppression of already marginalized communities.

The National Police Service Act has a proposed insertion (95A) which creates a National Police Service Disciplinary Board which will “inquire into matters related to discipline, undertake disciplinary proceedings in accordance with the regulations issued by the Commission, and determine and make recommendations to the Commission, including recommendation for summary dismissal, based on its findings.” This, if well implemented, could reduce the corruption and impunity of the police service.

The Bad

A proposed amendment (5A) to Cap. 56 of the Public Order Act states that “The Cabinet Secretary may by notice in the Gazette designate the areas where, and times at which public meetings, gatherings or public processions may be held.” This may be used to curtail freedom of movement and expression, especially in the cases of protests, rallies and opposition party meetings. The Cabinet Secretary may very well forbid such meetings under dubious grounds, pushing back democratic gains since the 90s.

The deletion of Cap. 56 (8) (4) which states that “Every curfew order shall, forthwith on its being made, be reported to the Minister, and the Minister may, if he thinks fit, vary or rescind the curfew order” leaves me to wonder whether the IG has unchecked power to declare curfews at will with no one else being able to revoke them.

Many sections of the Bill are vague when it comes to defining what constitutes an offence. For example, in Cap. 63 (66A) “A person who publishes or causes to be published or distributed obscene, gory or offensive material which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the general public or disturb public peace is guilty of a felony.” What is the threshold for obscenity, goriness or offensiveness? Is this not subjective? Can it not lead to a witch-hunt of people who those in power find “annoying”?

The process of obtaining and owning a firearm in Kenya has now become more straightforward with the amendments to The Firearms Act (Cap. 114). It establishes the Firearms Licensing Board, which will, among many other things, issue firearm permits, assess suitability of applicants and proficiency of firearm holders, register civilian firearm holders, dealers and manufacturers of firearms and maintain a centralized record management system. I am saddened that it has come to this, and worried that we may go in the way of the USA when it comes to the right to bear arms – what with mass shootings and class violence. I feel that it may fuel more crime, with more guns being available. Firearm theft may become rampant, especially with the maintenance of a register of all firearm holders and their personal details.

The Ugly

A proposed new section (42A) of Cap. 75 allows the prosecution not disclose to certain evidence on which it intends to rely “if the evidence is sensitive and it is not in the public interest to disclose” and goes on to say that something may be in public interest if it “discloses some unusual form of surveillance or method of detecting crime” or “touches on matters of national security.” Here, this bill not only attempts to justify state surveillance, but also wants to legalize and cover it up.

Still under Cap. 75, section 118A also proposes that “an application for a search warrant under section 118 shall be made ex-parte to a magistrate and the police officer carrying out the search pursuant to such warrant shall not, if acting in good faith, be liable to any legal proceedings.” Police officers may use this to intimidate Kenyans and coerce them, as their input in this process would not be present – the policeman only has to convince a judge. The threshold for good faith is also subjective, and the fact that such a warrant may not be subject to legal proceedings is worrying.

Sec 160A proposes that “an accused person who has been called upon to enter his defense, shall disclose to the prosecution the nature of his defense including witness statements and documentary evidence.” Yet, the prosecution may not reveal their evidence to the defense, perhaps under the guise of “national interest” as shown above. This already sets the accused up for a potentially unfair trial. Such a provision is unnecessary if the prosecution builds a good case, however, it seems to exist to protect the prosecution even when they do not have a good case.

While the proposed power to cancel registration and revoke an ID card obtained improperly in section 18(A) of Cap. 107 may seem good on the surface (in order to deal with Kenya’s fake citizenship problem), it may actually lead to the revocation of citizenship of genuine Kenyan citizens from marginalized regions or from marginalized communities. This would not be far-fetched considering we found it okay as a nation to detain members of one community in a stadium for weeks.

A proposed new insertion (16A) into The Refugees Act seeks to limit the number of refugees in Kenya to no more than 150,000, subject to variation by The National Assembly. Even then, such a variation would not exceed six months, and any further variation would not exceed another six months. This is cruel, considering that Kenya borders Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda, whose refugees in Kenya are far more than 150,000. Will we expel them and send them back to the conditions from which they ran? Is this right?

The National Intelligence Service Act has perhaps the most proposed amendments that violate basic human rights and freedoms. NIS agents (6A) can stop and detain any person whom he “suspects of engaging in any act or thing or being in possession of anything which poses a threat to national security.” This has the potential to take us back to the oppressive days of the Special Branch where torture and unlawful detention for years was the order of the day.

The amendments to Part V – Covert Operations, are equally as worrying. Written authorization by the Director-General allows NIS agents to “obtain any information, material, record, document or thing and for that purpose – enter any place or obtain access to anything, search for or remove or return, examine, take extracts from, make copies of or record in any manner the information, material, record, documents or thing, monitor communication, install, maintain or remove anything; or do anything considered necessary to preserve national security. This shall be specific and shall be valid for a period of one hundred and eighty days unless otherwise extended.” If this sounds dangerous and like unchecked power, that’s because it is. NIS agents would basically be operating on god-mode, free to plant evidence and even steal from suspects. We know how law enforcement agents in Kenya are easily bought. Is this proposal really in public interest?

A proposed amendment (30F) to The Prevention of Terrorism Act prohibits the broadcast of any information which undermines investigations or security operations relating to terrorism without authorization from the Police. However, any person may publish or broadcast factual information of a general nature to the public. What is the threshold for what counts as general information and what undermines investigations? Isn’t this subjective? Wouldn’t such a law gag journalists and prevent them from reporting malpractices in Kenyan security, such as the alleged looting of Westgate mall by soldiers?

Another proposed amendment to the same Act (36A) allows national security organs to “intercept communication for the purposes of detecting, deterring and disrupting terrorism in accordance with procedures to be prescribed by the Cabinet Secretary.” Surely, there should at least be a court order before this can happen to ensure that such interception is actually justified, otherwise this will further lead to a fascist surveillance state.


This Bill is inspired by something we all care deeply about: security. However, its letter leaves many avenues open for misuse, and could lead to the repression of Kenyans. It disregards the right to privacy, freedom of assembly and movement, freedom of expression, right to information, right to a fair trial as well as freedom from arbitrary detention and torture, in the attempt to arrest insecurity in Kenya. The hasty manner in which it was introduced to parliament, and the fervor with which its supporters have sought to bypass standard procedure so that it may become law, is worrying. This Bill alone has the power to catapult us back to the nightmare inducing Kenya of the 80s and 90s.

It is up to us – the people of Kenya – to fight for a better legislation that will not trample on our rights and freedoms. We stand to suffer and lose much of our progress should we return to the fascism of the Moi error. We can legislate all we want, however, we will only ever make progress once we focus on implementation – it takes good leadership, hard work and proper allocation of resources to solve fundamental problems such as these. Laws such as these on their own achieve nothing much. It is tough, but it must be done. We cannot hand over our rights and freedoms – which make us human – over to the government for some semblance of security.

“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

Benjamin Franklin

Let’s Talk About Uhuru

Brenda Wambui
2 December ,2014

I like to think that I learn something from all the reading I choose to indulge in – and in the past five years, I have read/learnt a bit about microexpressions. These are brief facial expressions that occur when a person conceals an emotion, either consciously or unconsciously. Seven of these facial expressions are universal, one of which is contempt.

Contempt is an attitude of disrespect, accompanied by intense dislike. It is quite easy to spot – it shows itself through a unilateral lip corner raise and tighten. Here are some examples:

Contempt Collage

Below is a video of Uhuru Kenyatta speaking on violence against women and general insecurity in Kenya, both of which have become noticeably worse since he took power.

I was able to spot contempt on Uhuru Kenyatta’s face at 0.05 – 0.06, 0.16, 0.25 and 0.48.

Contempt is the number one non-verbal indication of a failing relationship, because one party puts itself on a higher ground than the other, and they are unable to reach middle ground. Indeed, Kenya’s relationship with its president is failing. How do I know this? Because he is clearly contemptuous of us. What he says in that video is what he actually thinks of the Kenyan people, whom he is supposed to lead. Those remarks were unscripted – he is not reading a speech. No one advised him to say that, he did it all by himself.

In all truth, we are a people deserving of contempt. We did have post-election violence in 2007/08, we have been stripping and assaulting women recently, our private sector is one of the most corrupt in the world, and our general behavior can be very peculiar. The list of reasons is long, but Uhuru Kenyatta has no moral high ground from which to look down on Kenyans.

He is accused of crimes against humanity at the ICC as a result of the 2007/08 violence. Among these crimes is the rape of several women, and men. Yet he feels that it is okay to blame the family of a victim of a heinous crime like rape – asking what they were doing leaving the child alone with her uncles (I did not know that we stopped leaving our children with relatives in Kenya. I will adjust accordingly). Asking whether the police are in our homes to prevent crimes from happening there. Asking us what we are doing to prevent these situations. How about paying our taxes? How about voting like we are supposed to? How about electing leaders whom we (naively) expect to ensure the security of our country? How does one take up the biggest job in government and proceed to blame the electorate as if one did not know the job description?

He may be said to have done more for Brookside Dairies and his family’s other business interests since coming into power than for the Kenyan people. He turns constitutionally mandated processes into PR bonanzas to boost his ratings. He dons military fatigues whimsically, failing to regard the larger message he is sending to the people. His presidency has largely been defined by his ongoing case at the ICC, even though he promised during his campaign that it wouldn’t be.

When he was elected as president in March 2013, this is one of the things he said:

“We celebrate the triumph of democracy; the triumph of peace; the triumph of nationhood… We demonstrated a level of political maturity that surpassed expectations.”

How things have changed. Kenyans needed Uhuru to stand with us and reassure us after the recent series of terrible events, but all we got was blame and a statement that told us we are on our own. His comments are extremely insensitive and shocking, but the joke is truly on us for being surprised. How can we expect him to empathize? Many have speculated that he ran for the presidency so as to shake the ICC off his back. Perhaps they were right. Or perhaps he ran for the travel perks – as it stands, he is Kenya’s most travelled president, having made 28 trips in his first year in office – he is even thought to have exhausted his travel budget. In a country where police drive a bomb into their station, where police participate in the stripping of women, and where thugs raid police and army armouries for weapons, the biggest problem is hapless Kenyans. This is seen through his willingness to turn Kenya into a military state.

The Inspector General of Police, David Kimaiyo, is another example of the towering incompetence we have learnt to live with under Uhuru’s reign. He has presided over atrocities like Westgate, Kasarani Concentration Camp, Mpeketoni, Wajir, Kapedo, Mandera, Windowgate among others. He remains employed despite voices from the legal community shouting that indeed, it is within the president’s power to rid us of Mr. Kimaiyo, he just hasn’t done so.

Several security failures since the Westgate attack have happened, yet Joseph Ole Lenku remains in place as the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government – a walking insult to all the people who have lost their lives, their loved ones or their property due to the unlivable nature of Kenya. This is a man who does not feel like he needs to resign for his numerous failings, yet he rushes to court when he is offended because he was called names by Ahmednassir Abdullahi. Yet again, it is in the president’s power to rid us of this man, he likely just chooses not to. In fact, he has been nominated for a presidential award. Witnessing this is the equivalent of watching a man get kicked while he is down and asking him “Utado?” (What will you do?) If this does not show us how little we mean to this government and its leader, I don’t know what will.

Kenyans have long been complaining on both old and new media that the security apparatus in Kenya needs to change – that Ole Lenku and Kimaiyo need to go. Security is firmly under the president – that is why he is Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces. That is why the Ministry of Interior is under the Office of the President. He cannot shift blame on this one – one of the reasons nation states still exist is to protect their citizens/residents. If a nation-state cannot do that, it is failing.

But Uhuru Kenyatta does not care what the Kenyan people want, nor does he care what the constitution says. He has the power to act, and what he has done so far has been insufficient. He can do more, but he hasn’t.

His advisors seem as hell-bent on messing up his image and whatever goodwill he has left as he is. The Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU) is, ironically, infamous for its unstrategic moves. Upon the president’s return from Abu Dhabi, this is what they tweeted: “I have been out of the country for a few days as you have seen from the selfies in the newspapers.” How arrogant, and in poor taste. While women in Kenya wept and the people of Mandera, and Kenyans at large, mourned a massacre, our president was taking selfies and attending a Formula 1 race.

They have entered online battles with CORD (please read the comments on that article to get a feel of Kenyans’ sentiments), participated in the blaming of Kenyan people for insecurity, switched the reasons why Uhuru Kenyatta was in the UAE so as to placate the Kenyan people, and can be expected to continue gaffing based on their past performance. They are constantly on the defensive as a result of their bad moves. It should worry us that they speak on behalf of the president.

They recently started a dual campaign on social media, hashtagged #MyPresidentMyChoice and #KenyaIsMe. The may even have deployed Twitter bots to promote this hashtag, as seen here. Thankfully, they have failed. A better hashtag would have been #MyPresidentMyConsequences because although he was not everyone’s choice, we are all experiencing the bitter aftertaste of Uhuru Kenyatta’s leadership as a result of our poor choices, as we were warned.


Is this a man who can rightfully stand before his people and feel that he is better than them? I think not. When he said “Tuko Pamoja” as he was campaigning, he may not have understood what he was saying. Yes, he is richer than most, if not all Kenyans. Yes, he can only imagine what lives some Kenyans live, because he will never have the misfortune of experiencing poverty. But he is just as rotten as the rest of us, if not more. Here’s a serving of humble pie, Mr. President. Have a seat. Welcome home.

The Militarization Of Kenya

Brenda Wambui
11 November ,2014

On September 5th 2014, Uhuru Kenyatta caused a social media (and traditional media) standstill when he wore army fatigues for the first time in his presidency. All kinds of things were said: he looked “devilishly handsome”, “presidential”, “they fit him much better than his usual suits, he should get this tailor to make his suits”, “look at how cool my president is”, “oh my God you guys see how much swag he has”, and many others. He has done so at least once again since. This is a first for a Kenyan president: his predecessors have only worn their ceremonial Commander-in-Chief attire. As others celebrated, I was just sad, because this was yet another sign that Kenya was going in the direction of countries like the USA: becoming militarized.

Militarization occurs when a society organizes itself for violence and military conflict. It has many aspects: the threats a country thinks it faces, be it from terrorists, neighbouring states and natural resources such as diamonds and oil, will lead a state to wanting to achieve a certain level of military capacity to face these perceived threats. Arbitrary language also points to militarization, such as the “war on terror/drugs”. It is closely related to militarism, which is the military readiness of a state, and includes factors such as maintaining a standing army and actively developing advanced combat techniques and weaponry.

Militarism was a leading cause of World War 1. All over the world, there are conflicts, only varying in size and severity – these constitute militarization, and usually lead to war, when state forces (the police and the military) are actively deployed toward perceived or actual threats, such as resource wars and political wars between nation states, or inter-community clashes within a country. Globally, there has been a rise in militarization in the past two decades, since the end of the Cold War. As budgets for military spending increase, budgets for social goods such as education reduce.

Evidence of this in Kenya is daunting – other than our 2011 entry into Somalia to fight Al Shabaab, we have seen increasing military focus and spending since then, as well as a renewed focus in the militarization of youth through the National Youth Service (NYS). The NYS is a vocational training program for young people run by the Kenyan government. It was established in 1964 to train young people on tasks of national importance, such as service in the armed forces, national reconstruction programmes and disaster response. The NYS’s importance faded in the 1980s, and this renewed focus is supposed to “address insecurity, patriotism and morals” in the youth.

It aims to recruit 21,780 young people per year, up from the current 2,500. These 21,780 youth will then train a total of 227,670 young people across the 47 counties each year within a four to six month duration, after they complete their own training. The aim is to reach 1 million young people in four years and create a “social transformation army”, armed with skills and charged with the responsibility of transforming the other youth.

The recruits will take over traffic control in selected parts of the country and provide security for slum areas and in non-strategic government installations. NYS will also have a security firm where Kenyans can hire NYS guards to protect them. The intention here is to make NYS the alternative to militia groups and vigilantes. It is also to stop the radicalization of the youth by vigilante groups – which have proven to be attractive to jobless youth seeking a purpose for their lives.

I have spoken before on why patriotism as a concept is fallacious, and even dangerous to human beings. The effort being put into the NYS also seems to be as a response to our poor and terribly bureaucratic system of education. Who do these NYS recruitment drives target? People who have traditionally been denied opportunities to complete their 8-4-4 education either due to poverty or living in marginalized areas. Such programmes do not have as high enrolment in affluent, urban areas as they do in less affluent, rural and marginalized areas. This is essentially a resource distribution problem.

Even more dangerous is how such a programme makes a military culture, as opposed to a civilian one, natural. This is escalated by the fact that there is a plan to make the NYS mandatory for all high school leavers. Young people are inducted into the military way of life; its hierarchy. They have uniforms that resemble those of the military; their goal becomes to move up ranks while in the programme, just like in the military. All of these aspects are aimed at creating a militarized mind, such that these recruits, upon leaving the NYS, will feel most at home in the armed forces and likely enroll for military service, perhaps without regard to the hazards that come with the job: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide, and other mental health difficulties.

If Kenyan youth need “discipline, morals and patriotism” (I don’t think this is a problem with the youth, if the education and employment system change, this programme will be unnecessary), let us find ways to provide these things, but not through militarized training. Civilian forms of youth development, such as sports, physical education, after school activities, clubs, music and visual arts programmes can achieve this for youth across the country, and even better, can be provided through the current education system should it be streamlined.

As this happens, and our armed forces continue to expand via such fertile recruitment grounds, we may find Kenya more and more predisposed to using military force to solve our problems, both with our neighbours and internally. Perhaps we could have a dispute with our neighbours about the waters of Lake Victoria, for example, and rather than solving it amicably through dialogue, we opt for military intervention just because we have a strong, well equipped army. When a country has a huge military which is well-funded, it will feel inclined to use it to solve all manner of real and imaginary problems – if your only tool is a hammer, then every problem begins to look like a nail. The USA is a great example.

Closer home, since the Westgate attack of September 2013, we have become comfortable with military deployment within our borders. When 48 police officers were killed in Baragoi over what seemed like a cattle rustling dispute, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) were deployed there. Earlier in 2013 during the elections, when eight police officers were killed in Mombasa and Kilifi, KDF were deployed there. When there were clashes in Mandera and Wajir earlier this year and 18 people were killed, KDF was deployed to quell them. Most recently, KDF has been deployed to Kapedo to recover firearms from bandits after 21 police officers were killed there.

Rather than invest in improving the intelligence and police services, the government has opted for the nuclear option: deployment of the military within national borders. This constant reliance on the army to solve domestic problems is a clear sign of the failure of the police service as an institution. And, as we always do in Kenya, rather than fix the institution, we circumvent its failure, only that in this case, the stakes are very high – it’s a matter of life and death. It instills terror into the people living in the area where KDF have been deployed. Military intervention always leaves behind cases of torture, murder and rape, regardless of whether it is within or outside the country. But what is the government to do, you ask?

The paradox of government is thus: can a government be both empowered and constrained? For a government to perform its functions, the people it governs must cede control over some aspects of their lives to it. However, the inherent danger in this is that said government abuses its power and mistreats its citizens. One way in which governments do this is through their monopoly on military force.

The military has a well-defined organizational structure, weaponry and tactical training; as such, it is the ultimate tool of government abuse. Using the threat of force, especially of the violent kind, increases the cost associated with disagreeing with the government, and serves to repress the people. This leads us back to the aforementioned paradox: this force, technically speaking, can be used to protect the people from threats to both themselves and their property. On the other hand, however, it can also be used to trample on the very rights and freedoms it is supposed to protect.

The police are trained to protect and serve the Kenyan public. Even when a person is suspected to have committed a crime, a police officer is expected to continue to treat him/her as just that – a suspect. The police are still expected to protect the rights and freedoms of such people. They are trained to operate within a certain legal framework to solve problems, and to use physical violence as a last resort. This is why we must fix the police service.

On the other hand, members of the military only see two categories of people: “the enemy” and “not the enemy”. When deployed into a community, or region, the people inhabiting this community or region view them as intruders – occupiers. As a result, soldiers then view them as the enemy. Soldiers are also not trained to uphold domestic laws – they are trained for combat with the enemy. They see “the enemy” as a threat to their country, even when they are in their own country. They are out to subdue and/or destroy the enemy at all costs. This is why the military must be deployed within our borders sparingly, if at all.

I am worried when our president, an elected civilian, dons fatigues and goes about smiling as if such days are the best days of his life – considering the aforementioned situations. His comradery with the army is not something that should sit comfortably with Kenyans – it reads to me like a silent message about who is in charge, and who has the backing of the country’s most powerful institution if/when all goes to hell. Perhaps he does it to intimidate his enemies. Perhaps he is sending a warning to Kenyans. Perhaps, and this is very unlikely, he thought nothing of it other than “it would be so cool for me to wear fatigues!” Whatever the reason, he should stop it.

In Africa, countries too easily fall into military control, and once this happens, most times it ends badly for the civilian population. This has been the case in Nigeria, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, the DRC, Somalia and others. A president wearing military fatigues all too easily evokes the image of a dictator – all we need to do is look at Kenya’s Western neighbours, Uganda and Rwanda, where the presidents occasionally do so. Kagame and Museveni both came to power through armed struggles, and occasionally feel the need to remind their people what they are capable of by donning fatigues. Why must Uhuru Kenyatta do this? Is he planning for an armed struggle within the country? Does he have an alliance with the military for protection against “his enemies”?

We should know that militarization has real, grave consequences: remember, a soldier’s mandate is to terminate the enemy. We must not celebrate when our president wears fatigues, we must question. We need to dig deeper into the NYS, rather than accepting is as a wholesale solution to “the Kenyan youth problem.” We must resist the constant deployment of KDF within our borders. This is a matter of life and death – the more we militarize our country, the more we put ourselves at risk.

Fence Culture

Guest Writer
21 October ,2014

This essay is taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, Ha!Kuna Matata: Security in Kenya, which is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.

by Otieno Sumba

The first thing I learnt to climb was a fence, a rickety wooden fence. My friends and I would climb up and jump down all day, and our paper planes flew a lot better when launched from this elevated platform, especially because there were no trees around. Alone, this would hardly have been able to deter intruders, but the fauna that had grown around it was quite restraining. Having had to free my friends from the seemingly endless soft twig clutter on several occasions, I knew. The dry leaves on the ground would rustle loudly when trampled upon, a sound that could be heard adjacent block of flats, acting as a rather cheap but effective alarm system.

This fence had replaced a chain-link fence, which my friends and I had dissected over the years. During the last two play seasons (April and August during the school holidays), Musa, a teenage boy from the neighborhood had developed a new technique for manufacturing his wire toy-cars. While hip-high bamboo steering wheels and plastic mudguards were standard, Musa’s heavy duty cars were said to be able to carry 1 kg packets of Maize flour, and were obtainable at the unbeatable price of 30 bob, provided one brought his/her own raw materials. Straightened wires from chain-link fences in the neighbourhood were preferred. Musa then slit bicycle tubes from questionable sources into rubber bands, which he used to make the tires and to tie the car frame, interior and fittings together. Nobody realized that the chain link fence was gone until the bushes that covered it caved in. Meanwhile, going to the Shops to get maize flour had never been more exciting.

The intruders had long since found their ways around the wooden fence: they were brazen enough to come in through the gate. The red, wrought-iron Gate was flanked by a roofless watchman’s house and stood on slanting wrought-iron pillars.

The chokora mapipa (street kids), curtly called machokosh on the streets, were courteous enough to close the gate as they went in, inconspicuous in their rummaging around in the plot’s trash bins for anything that looked like plastic, ignorant of the flies that frenzied around them, and dutiful in their wielding of gunias (sacks) full of plastics onto their backs on their way out. Occasionally, a house help from one of the houses gave them a packed lunch of leftovers in a tin of Kimbo to eat, hurriedly placing the tin near them and scurrying off, stifling a giggle while the other house helps watched from the windows of the flats they worked in. The unspoken consensus was that the machokosh, despite their stench, were harmless and were therefore tolerated from safe distances. All the house helps would call in the children they were entrusted with when the distinct squeak of the gate was followed by a sack lugging chokosh and only release them to continue playing when a second squeak announced the departure of the said chokosh.

The robbers also found their way in. Like the machokosh, through the gate. Unlike them, at night, and they were less interested in the trash, and much more in the blue Audi saloon that was always parked at the far left corner of the yard. KPLC (Kenya Power and Lighting Company), having conspired to let us sit in the dark for a few hours every Tuesday and Thursday night, offered them a great opportunity to sneak in. Even the gate, which normally would squeak when opened, did not squeak that night. It is still a matter of contention as to whether or not the robbers lubricated it beforehand.

The pastor who lived in the ground floor flat in front of which the Audi was parked, swore he had a revelation that compelled him to look outside his bedroom, upon which he spotted the gang and raised alarm. By the grace of God he was still alive, never mind that the “gun toting gangsters” were not toting anything. The theft was botched and God thanked. Five years on, a self- proclaimed bishop, he was still giving this testimony, to the delight of his growing congregation at Praise International Ministries, some of whom had been attracted by this very testimony.

The second thing I learned to climb was a wall. It was more challenging than climbing the wooden fence, and more dangerous. Over two metres high, there was no getting over the wall without assistance. Friends’ shoulders and heads served well at the beginning, until we learned how to hug the wooden mast that hoisted the telephone wires and wriggle our way up, to the delight of our onlooking friends.

Playing on this wall was dangerous. At the top, it was lined with broken glass: bottles of Stoney Tangawizi, Coke and Sprite had been destroyed specifically for this purpose. Within a month, we had knocked off the glass over a stretch of a metre, so that two of us could stand side by side on top of the fence. Our newspaper jets flew even farther. We jumped down from the wall with open umbrellas hoping to glide, and when that failed, we tied stones to rectangular plastic bags, crumpled them together, then threw them from the wall and watched them glide as they descended, imagining ourselves as the stones. It was a blissful childhood, within the walls.

Outside the walls, our parents required us to walk to school in as straight a line as possible; no unnecessary turns, no stops to play, no stealing guavas over the hedge from a neighbour’s tree – and woe unto us if we talked to a strangers. Rogue drivers and crossing roads were the least of our parents’ worries. It was the thuggery “out there” that they were worried about: the kidnappers, thieves and what not. Soon, we had a carpool with our next door neighbour’s kids, and the following year, my school bought a bus whose services we were enlisted to.

We were picked up and dropped off every morning and evening respectively, each child was handed to a waiting brother, sister, house help or parent personally by the driver. If the brother, sister, house help or parent was late, the engine was put off and one of the older pupils was shown where the child in question lived. He was then duly instructed to deliver the child to his/her doorstep. Only then did the engine come on again.

When I got robbed, I did not tell my mother. Fresh out of primary school, I needed my freedom of movement, especially now that my curfew had been extended by two hours to 7 pm. This was unnecessary, since I would have come in to listen to the Top 7 at 7 radio show on Kiss 100 anyway. On my way home from buying meat one afternoon, I was intercepted by an angry looking chokosh on a path through an open field that I had chosen to take since it was shorter and less dusty than the parched murram road that connected to the main street that led to my house.

He lamented angrily about me being one of those “watoto wa wadosi” while forcefully searching and emptying my left, then right, pockets of my Champion sports trousers. Though scared, I managed to secure 50 bob of my pocket money in my back pocket with my left hand, which I later combined with another 50 bob (from my savings of 250 bob) to give my mother her change back.

In retrospect, this was my first adult decision, handling an instance of insecurity by myself. It could have been worse. I could have been beaten, stripped of my clothes or smeared with human scat. Kenyan life is transcended by measures against intrusion, Kenya being one of the few countries in the world where gated communities of various forms are not exclusively a preserve of the rich.

Secure living means living in a walled environment. While gated living may be attractive for reasons that are not limited to security such as amenities, reliable water and electricity supply, solid infrastructure, landscaping and community, for a majority of Kenyans, gated living is a choice that stems from security concerns. While the government is mostly to blame for failing to provide security for its citizens, walling and gating is hardly a solution to the problem. It is a band-aid solution – a reaction to our perceptions of a social problem rather than to the problem itself. Insecurity in Kenya is not the problem, it is a symptom.

In essence, only the poor have the “luxury” of living in “freedom” in Kenya. Slums and poorer neighbourhoods are sprawling and open, while everybody else is walled and locked up, busy creating an adjusted form of social reality – a perfect tiny world where crime and violence do not exist. The more one has, the higher the walls need to be surrounding it. The haves are afraid. Afraid of the day the have-nots will come and demand redistribution (I’ll save the Marxist arguments for another day). For example, for the chokosh who robbed me, I was rich simply because he presumed I lived behind a wall, and while I do not condone his actions I also do not, and cannot, blame him.

We have failed to create a society in which everybody belongs. Enclaves of prosperity by default physically segregate non-prosperous people. The receptiveness for the prosperity gospel preached in our religious institutions does not help matters either. When confronted with these facts, anybody will say that wanting to live in relative safety is a natural thing. Indeed it is, but what is often forgotten is that human beings are social beings, and they compare themselves with others in their environment.

It is therefore natural to want to have what your neighbours, friends or compatriots have, especially if your vicinity is shared. Walls in Kenya try to deny this immediate vicinity, with every slum bordering a “leafy suburb”, as the enclaves of the well-to-do have come to be known. If poor Kenyans have no other way of accessing the wealth that is flaunted to them every day by well-to-do Kenyans, the walls,no matter how high, will not prevent them from wanting it, yearning for it, taking it, or at least trying to.

And so young Kenyans will continue to die. Their bullet ridden bodies will be strewn on the street, again reaffirming the cheapness of African life, and their blood will seep into the soil after yet another botched robbery. Well-to-do Kenyans will commend the police for fighting “insecurity”; for shooting young men in the head without the slightest chance of fair trial, even when they were on their knees, their hands high up in the air in desperate surrender. Pictures of their lifeless bodies will be leaked on social media, captioned “Look at these lazy, sleazy school dropouts who don’t want to work hard for their money and to eat their sweat like honest and hard-working Kenyans!” and liked, shared, retweeted and favourited.

The truth is they did. They worked hard. They worked to build the fence around a villa in which their mothers cleaned, and their brothers tended lawns for 200 bob a day, just like their fathers before them. They worked hard for money that was not enough to take them through school, so they dropped out and looked for menial work to supplement their families’ income. They saw the wealth that they would never earn if they built a wall every day for the rest of their lives.

Peer pressure mounted from age-mates, who had earned a quick bob doing untaxed, illegal “labour” – who were trying to make life for their families worth living. Pressure mounted from their families, who asked them why they couldn’t be more like Jose, the neighbour’s boy who had dropped out of school the same time last year and who, recently, had bought his parents a new sofa set. With each day they hesitated, a younger sibling dropped out of school, a mother needed medication for her broken back, and food for the following day had to be bought.

They gave in, but were not too lucky.

Otieno Sumba is a BA student of Political Science and Sociology who finds fascination in the Akan Empire and African (sage) Philosophy. He reads, rides his Fixie, skates, attends film festivals and dissects Development Aid in his free time. Follow him on Twitter @_Otieno_

This essay is taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, Ha!Kuna Matata: Security in Kenya, which is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.

Every Death Should Matter

Guest Writer
30 September ,2014

This essay is taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, Ha!Kuna Matata: Security in Kenya, which is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.

by Morris Kiruga

In the dead of the night, two groups methodically approached the small serene police station. The outer wall of the station had seen better, cleaner days. Its dark blue and white paint had been peeling for years, and the little of the police crest that was left was now indiscernible. Tonight, it would get a shade of red.

The leading group wielded traditional weapons such as knives, and bows and arrows. It was both the decoy and assault group and it would, by the end of this first attack, have traded its rudimentary weapons for something with a greater punch. The second group kept a distance, with each of its members carrying a gun to cover the first group’s activities. As the first group entered the open police station door, the police officer on duty yawned, groggily registering the ragtag militia of young men coming his way. They must be bringing in a thief or something, he thought. It had been a quiet year. The last time anything big had ever happened was five years prior, and the local police station had remained untouched. To the young officer at the Occurrence Book (OB) desk, this was just as any other night.

Only that it wasn’t. The small group of visitors suddenly turned vicious, attacking the police officer and his two colleagues. They approached the armoury, their main object of interest, while the second group outside returned fire to a few officers who responded to the call for help.

For neighbours of the police station, what was weird about that dark night in Likoni was the fire that engulfed their beacon of hope. The Kenyan Police Service, albeit notoriously lax and underfunded, is still better than nothing. They provide some semblance of order when they want to, and when they can (although they are more likely to come in the morning to collect your corpse than to come in the dead of the night to rescue you). But tonight, the protector was burning, and all hope was lost.

As if cloned, a similar group of attackers, organized in the same way, was attacking a small police post at the ferry. At the same time. It was a night to be remembered, and for the young Digo men who formed this two cadres, it was the first of many nights of war and blood. As the police station and post fell, and screams filled the night, the attackers filled their own armoury and grew in strength and firepower.

Before long, they turned their sights on their primary targets, the civilian population. They had a specific profile for their victims, and they knew who they wanted to slaughter to terrorize those who were lucky enough to survive. For those victims, even police presence would have done little to save them but their absence, with six casualties by midnight of that night, made the already grim situation much worse. It was a bloody night in as the attackers ran rampage, killing hundreds in their eight-hour spree. They faced little resistance, except from the few brave men and women who lifted a panga or a rock to defend their families. Or the few young men who tried to save their own lives. Those died the most brutal deaths. By first light they had disappeared.

This cold night marked the first of many in that cold August. It was the beginning of the slaughter of ‘outside’ tribes in areas around Likoni, and it spread faster than anyone wanted to mount a response. Those who died became numbers on a Red Cross list, at least those who had relatives and friends who cared to look for them. Others were lost forever in the melee of the massacres and murders that would define the next three months.

The events of the night of 13th August 1997 seem eerily similar to those of the Mpeketoni attacks in 2014. The same ethnic profiling defined the victimology, and it was clear that the attackers were not just random spontaneous assailants. They had been funded, trained and fed by someone, or a group of people, and went on to fulfil their part of the bargain. Such planning always leaves a trail that should be easy to follow, as was the case in 1997 when an unassuming diary of the planning stages was found. Its contents bore details that revealed just how organized the group was, as has been almost every other group of attackers before and after that.

As has become common in the days since the first six people, all officers, died in Likoni in that election year, thugs and assassins have become more and more daring. The firepower is also getting better as terror organisations connect with home-grown terrorists, making the situation even worse.

The problem with Likoni is that it shows the lack of proper response services in the country. One might justify the fact that the police response was slowed down by just how quick and brutally efficient, and strategically genius, the first attacks were. There was no time to make radio calls, and hence, the world remained in the dark for eight hours as civilians and police officers died. But Westgate and Mpeketoni tell a different story.

In one of the security camera clippings featured in a recent HBO documentary on the Westgate attack, the four attackers seemed lost on what else to do. It takes a keen eye to notice the immediate lack of direction before they go back to their spree. In launching such a blatant attack in an opulent urban area, they had anticipated a full attack within the first few hours. It is likely that all they needed was an hour to do their damage but in the structural failures that would follow, they got at least two days. They had not surprised the security forces as the Kaya Bombo raiders did in 1997, yet for the first two and a half hours they experienced little resistance from the few officers and armed civilians who jumped into the melee on their own accord.

In Mpeketoni, news leaked out that the intelligence services had warned the security services days prior to the massacres. The police seemed not only complacent but also part conspiratory as they redirected traffic and went missing as the attackers turned the settlements into killing fields. They did the same thing the next day, as happened on the night of 14th August 1997 in Kaya Bombo, and then spread out their attacks into other smaller ones. Terror, it seems, has been winning all this time.

The problem is part police and part societal. The Kenyan way of handling everything, including insecurity at such a grim level, is to make do where the government fails. The answer to rampant insecurity is not demands for heightened police presence, for example, but the coming together of neighbours to hire security companies and Maasai guards. The private sector, both formal and informal, thus thrives in the government’s ineptitude, yet the masses for whom public services are meant cannot afford the comfort of making such decisions.

On the part of the police, the problem is multifaceted. While the organisation problems such as low pay and bad working conditions are common knowledge, there is a general institutional lethargy that bedevils the entire Kenyan public security system. Mix this up with organisational rivalry that exists between its different wings and you have a recipe for chaos, where the bullets of terrorists will continue mowing down Kenyans as security bosses decide who has the mandate to shoot back.

Consider Westgate, one of the most recent examples, where the media frenzy around the four-day attack allowed the country to see its police and army soldiers jostling for control and jurisdiction. That rivalry cost at least three lives, one of a General Service Unit (GSU) commander, and at least two soldiers who were shot in retaliation. It should have been a revelation that the rivalry was not a mere joke anymore but one that had gone to the extent of an internal war.

What it showed was a Mafia-like unspoken rivalry between the forces meant to protect Kenyans, both from themselves and from outsiders. Within the typical Mafia organisation, a murder must be avenged for there to be any forgiveness. Every cartel has its own territory, and breaching such territory is a declaration of war for which assassins will get paid to clean out the competition. Such competition exists in all spheres of life, although not all of them are marked with bullets and combat gear. They are what we have come to expect of drug gangs and Mafia organisations but not from security organisations.

The question of who should protect the country should be a fairly easy question to answer. It is not one that a civilian should even be expected to contemplate as terrorists aim to maim him or her. As a law-abiding, tax-paying, peaceable civilian, one’s right to life should be more than guaranteed. The social contract that drives this relationship demands that the civilian population only cede its rights to the government on the primary promise of security. If that promise is breached due to one reason or the other, such as foolhardy competition or incompetence, the contract should be assessed. But the Kenyan civilian population has grown numb to pain.

When the bullets rang in the air and the machetes were sharpened in Tana River, over 100,000 people had to flee their homes to survive. The terror that spread as each night approached meant that little or no work got done and the local economy suffered. In what often seems like a peaceful country, 0.25 percent of the population could not sleep at night for fear of attacks. The rest of the country, numbed by decades of rampant attacks, discussed the issue for a few days and then moved on to the next big issue.

Such has become the only way the national psyche can handle death and drama. Our legendary amnesia has moved from being a behavioural reaction to being ingrained in our social DNA. Within it has emerged a disconnect from the subject, and an acceptance for the government’s ineptitude as its unchangeable character.

As part of society, the ability to forget even the greatest of pain is actually derived from the pre-colonial era, although it is during the colonial era that people learnt to flinch when the needle pricked but say nothing about the jab in the days to come. It was necessary to forget. To accept and move on.

With Kaya Bombo in 1997, a flurry of calls to bring the obvious political influences to book followed. Investigations included a commission of inquiry which, spurred on by international organisations and other pressures, was one of the most efficient in the country. Of course few, if any, of the actionable points in the report were ever read even a second time. With Westgate, an attack on the higher income classes mostly, a new sort of silence followed. One year after the attacks, no such inquiry has ever been done, and the event seems to have been accepted as a disaster. Not a disaster that could have been prevented, or even stopped in its tracks within hours, but one that happened. The numbness to traumatic acts of public murder that now defines our social nature is frightening.

For societies to grow and develop, history shows, they have to be highly efficient and forward-looking. One of the ways to do this is to redefine the security parameters in such a way as to ensure that the farmers beyond the castle walls have access to the castle walls. Without them, the country burns and the Lord of the castle will starve and die with his nobles. Since an economy is essentially an ecosystem, each limb and organ must do its part for the entire system to be complete. Numbness denotes lethargy first, but the apathy of Kenyans towards their own security is not only a death warrant, but a shaky hand on the crystal ball.

The Russian mass murderer, Josef Stalin, once quipped that the death of one is a tragedy, and the death of a million is merely a statistic. He had a point, that until the death of each human being is considered a tragedy, it is impossible for mass murder to ever be anything more than a statistic.

In Kenya, at a different time and place, the likelihood that the next answer to a knock on the door may be your last is the harrowing possibility you have to live with. Even worse, that once the obituary page has yellowed and the mound of soil on your grave has flattened, and the flowers withered as the termites gnaw away the cross, your death will have taught us nothing, and will have meant nothing.

Morris Kiruga is a writer, blogger and researcher.

This essay is taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, Ha!Kuna Matata: Security in Kenya, which is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.

My Land Is Not Kenya: The Folly Of Patriotism

Brenda Wambui
22 July ,2014

You only got one mama

You only got one pa

You only got one life to live

No matter who you are

You can go the whole world over

Every city has its dawn

But everybody liveth has one place where he was born

And mine is Kenya, so warm and wild and free

You’ll always stay with me here in my heart

My land is Kenya, right from your highlands to the sea

You’ll always stay with me here in my heart, here in my heart.

Good for Roger Whittaker, who sang this song. It is normally used to whip up a nationalistic feeling in people whenever there is a public holiday, say Jamhuri or Madaraka Day. Eric Wainaina’s Daima Kenya is also used in the same way, played on radio and television to the point of exhaustion on holidays that are supposed to mean something to Kenyans, but just end up being extra days on which we can sleep in. Don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful songs. I just don’t identify with the feeling they try to inspire.

Patriotism has been defined as the love for, or devotion to, one’s homeland (country) or ancestry. A patriot is thought of as a person who would sacrifice their own interests for the interests and well-being of their country. In the 1700s, when the word was originated, a patriot was one who stood up against the King and his men to defend the rights of his country and “land.” In current conventional thinking, a patriot puts his country first, especially when it is “up against” another country. Great thinkers have also chimed in and given their definitions of patriotism:

“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Samuel Johnson

“Patriotism is the principle that will justify the training of wholesale murderers.” Leo Tolstoy

“Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.” Oscar Wilde

“Patriotism is a superstition, one far more injurious, brutal and inhumane than religion… It is artificially created and maintained through a network of lies and falsehoods. It is a superstition that has robbed man of his dignity, self-respect and increased his arrogance and conceit.” Gustave Herve

Perhaps the best definition comes from Emma Goldman:

“Indeed, conceit, arrogance and egotism are the essentials of patriotism. Let me illustrate. Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot consider themselves nobler, better, grander, more intelligent than those living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.

This is easily illustrated by the precarious situation we find our world in today. Pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists are thought to have shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in a territory which they control, leading to the death of 257 people who were on-board (41 people were still unconfirmed as dead or alive at the time of writing this essay). The cause? The rebels thought it was a Ukrainian government plane, since on the radar it looked similar to the Antonov AN 26 planes used by the Ukrainian Air Force. They had even brought one down on July 17th. 257 people died by mistake as rebels fought to protect the land that they love so much. This may also put Malaysian Airlines out of business, but no matter, all’s fair when protecting one’s country, right?

In the Middle East, Israel and the Hamas, who claim to represent Palestinians, are at war over the control of Gaza. The Palestinian death toll is up to 500 people (almost 100 being children) in the two weeks the fighting has been happening, while Israel has lost at least 20 people. This is a battle over the control of the Gaza strip, with each side feeling entitled to the land, Palestinians suffering genocide, and Israelis fearing that should they “allow” Palestine to be a nation, they would proceed to be wiped out. Meanwhile, the rest of the world watches, mostly shocked and clueless, while human beings are slaughtered in the bid to control a piece of land.

In Kenya, we have suffered terrorist attacks severally in the past two years (we have covered them on this site here, here, here and here). Our recent attempts to solve this have included spying on our neighbours, and outright discrimination against Kenyans of Somali origin, going as far as arresting them and putting them into a concentration camp. We were so quick to create an “us-vs-them” situation, with some Kenyans even alighting matatus when Somalis boarded. I wonder if those were little acts of patriotism in defence of our great motherland.

When Kenyans were killed in Mpeketoni, the fingers pointed directly at Al Shabaab (though Uhuru Kenyatta made a vehement statement that opposition leaders were behind it). Already, tribal rhetoric was being spewed, and people from opposition strongholds had been threatened with evacuation from some areas, only for it to be found out that the leader and mastermind of the cell that is terrorizing Kenyans at the Coast may be Idris Kamau. Not only is he not Somali, he also hails from the President’s tribe. The very definition of an enemy within. We continue to await the President’s statement on this.

It may be argued that these are extreme examples of patriotism gone wrong. That there is good patriotism and bad patriotism. Of course, there are good examples of patriotism. Whenever a Kenyan wins at an athletic event, we feel a burning pride. We are proud to be associated with them, because we share a homeland. However, politically speaking, such patriotism is inconsequential.

When we look at the relations between power and the state in our world today, “good patriotism” pales in comparison to “bad patriotism”, or nationalism. This powerful sentiment we feel seems like nothing when compared with the thirst to retain and expand power and territory. The threat of massive force cannot be used to subdue the people in many democracies. However, the stimulation of nationalistic loyalty, or patriotism, can. Icons are created to inspire patriotic sentiments, ensuring the ruling class does not even have to exert itself to maintain the status quo. They just need to master their propaganda. Think of Uhuru Kenyatta’s advertisement to end terrorism.

The icons inspire such blind and unthinking loyalty, and are so powerful, that anyone who dares to even think about questioning them is instantly castigated as being unpatriotic. Some may even go as far as labelling such people “terrorist sympathizers” and sellouts. Such icons include the national flag, the national anthem, the Armed Forces, the coat of arms, monuments in honour of national heroes among others.

When we look critically at these icons, what do we see? A printed cloth, a song, men and women in uniform, a fancy drawing and statues. However, the connotation behind them is heavy. When the state commits an offence, perhaps war crimes against other states, the national flag is brought out and the citizens of said state are told that it was done to defend their country, their honour and, by extension, their lives. This is meant to end all questioning and critical thinking about the matter at hand. Meanwhile, our ruling class can continue to commit its offences. What of when these offences are committed within national borders? Our other favourite icon, the Armed Forces, rears its head. We are suddenly required to rally behind our troops without questions, since they are out there taking the fall for us, especially the army. All of a sudden, the armed forces can impose shoot to kill orders, arbitrary curfews and ask the people to remove tint from their cars, and anyone who does not comply is obviously a terrorist. But what are the armed forces, if not scarecrows to scare away birds from our proverbial farm? They are shrouded in so much mystery and awe, almost worship, such that many are not able to see them for what they are: protectors of wealth, not of the people. What a convenient way to deflect criticism and inspire unwavering obedience to the ruling elite.

Even when we accept that our nation may be wrong, we somehow feel bound to support it. “My country, right or wrong”, many seem to say. Bound by what, though? The fact that we were born on this demarcated piece of land, when we could just have easily been born on another? We could easily have been Ugandan, Tanzanian, Somali, South Sudanese or Ethiopian. Instead, by some accident of nature, we were born here. Why don’t we ever pause to think that maybe, just maybe, the other side we are up against has valid reasons for pushing back against us? Is it because the implication is that we are letting our country down? Do we forget that governments are two-faced, like coins? Protecting your freedom while also being corrupt? Protecting your sovereignty while inspiring mass hysteria? Oppressing you every chance they get while accusing terrorists and other bogeymen of oppressing them?

The ardour inspired by patriotism is perhaps only second to that of religion: dressed in several metres of dogma, stealing from usually sound people the ability to think and question, making them easily manipulated by the ruling class, making them fight against their own interests and instead, for the interests of the elite, all the while not seeing what is happening. Patriotism is like a strong drug.

Centuries of patriotism (and a few other phenomena) have led us to this point we are in the world, a place where there is constant conflict between and within nations. It is naive to stop and ask “What happened?” because “it” has been happening for a long time now. We have been fighting for our hallowed motherlands for as far as human history can be recalled. Since the time of the cavemen, when man realized he fared better in the company of other cavemen (he had higher chances of surviving the harsh climate/terrain and animals in the wild when others supported him) than alone, man has needed to belong to a group. This is perfectly understandable. However, much carnage has been caused by this line of thinking we insist on carrying forward into modern times.

What is the solution? How about a patriotism that goes beyond borders? One that prizes human beings and human lives/well-being above land and capital? Is there a name for such a patriotism? Indeed there is: humanity.

How about we allow the concept of patriotism to evolve, as the world has evolved into a global village? Globalization will soon render national boundaries useless, and we seem unwilling to enter this era. We must no longer justify death and destruction using this “us-vs-them” mentality. We must no longer celebrate as the rights and freedoms of others are violated in our name. Countries are not people, that you should love them unconditionally. Let us instead love our fellow mankind, and stand up for them. Once we uphold human life and human dignity above all other things, only then will we know true peace.

“You’ll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race.”

George Bernard Shaw


Michael Onsando
15 July ,2014

Things that are dead make the most noise.

I realise this as I try to walk through a garden. It’s the live things that you will step on with no sound, or minimal sounds. Dead things creak, bend, protest, demand to be heard, acknowledged. Perhaps it is because, being dead, there is nothing to fear. Perhaps it is because, being dead, breaking is reaching into the world.

On Saturday, armed men attacked protesters with bows, arrows and pangas. As at the writing of this piece it is not clear whether they will be charged with anything – even though people are hospitalized with varied levels of wounding.

A friend of mine tells me about when Nairobi was invaded by locusts. Once they died their bodies littered the streets and the crunching underfoot was, literally, the sound of dead bodies breaking.

I hear dead bodies breaking.

All around the country I see dead bodies protesting. I see something that has died inside us being stepped on. And it is making a sound. You can hear it in the president wanting his own army. You can hear it in the Saba Saba talks. You can hear it in the silencing of protests with bows and arrows, and in  #KasaraniConcentrationCamp still being used, and blatant lies from the government saying it has been closed.

It’s hard to put a finger on the thing that died within us. Somewhere between the corruption and ethnopatriarchal nonesense, something inside us died to numb us to the world around. Somewhere, it became a race to break bodies, make money and go.

But how many bodies do we have to break before we realise that this model isn’t sustainable?

A few weeks ago I sat down to have a meal with two friends. Invariably, as conversations always do, we ended up discussing politics. Particularly about how the system here is designed so that a few individuals can reap maximum returns. While we agreed on the facts, it was clear that they had an admiration for this. “Look at how much money he made, though!” were statements made with awe. My pleas about how many bodies that had to break to pave a path for this wealth were not heard. And, when heard, were shrugged off.

I return to Sara Ahmed:

“Think of when a twig snaps. We might hear that snap as an origin of a movement, as the beginning of violence, because we don’t notice the pressure on the twig. A feminist understanding of power attends to what I called in The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004), “a history of reaction,” a history that tends to be erased, of bodies that are pressed, contorted, reduced, by what they come up against.

A snap is not a starting point.

She snaps; it shatters.”

I think of how long the breaking of Mpeketoni has been happening. I think of the countless times the residents have been told to have faith in the security agencies and the freshness of the wound every time they are failed. In the survivor’s heart, dead bodies break. Dead bodies protest.

A man wails.

A part of me revolts against writing this piece. There’s an insistence needed. I’ve written about this before. Something of this place demands that I write it differently and the words escape me.

Is this what breaking feels like?

The road to the military state is paved with broken bodies.

In Jima village pillagers stop to harvest maize before they move on.

“Security has been beefed up.”

Again we are reassured that the country is safe. Something else dies inside us. Soon, even the suffering we hear of becomes that – things we hear. Like birds in the morning and traffic at lunch time. Suffering becomes a part of the daily news. A part of the background noise.

Soon, even that disappears. Stories move from the lead to page 6. Then slowly they find themselves in a little corner in the lifestyle magazines.

Think about a glass. You might be washing a glass one day and you notice a crack. So you get angry. “Who cracked my glass?!” Soon, though, it becomes less important. The glass becomes the glass with a crack. Every now and then you take notice that the crack is getting bigger but you don’t really say/do anything. Eventually the glass just comes to pieces in your hand and you’re furious.

But the glass is already broken. And every time someone steps on it, or even tries to sweep it away, it rubs against itself. Reminding us that it is broken.

Every time we try to move our histories they rub against us. Reminding us that something is broken. Reminding us that something has died.

Judith Butler writes:

“Ungrievable lives are those that cannot be lost, and cannot be destroyed, because they already inhabit a lost and destroyed zone; they are, ontologically, and from the start, already lost and destroyed, which means that when they are lost and destroyed in war, nothing is destroyed.”

These ungrievable bodies are grieving. We do not know their names, but we know who they are. They are five suspected gangsters. They are a lady, walking back home one evening. They are a group of men, huddled around a radio listening to a football game. They are farm-helps tilling the land. They are mothers, weaving. They are being trampled underfoot – and we hear their bodies crunching.

What are we going to do about it?

“You cannot see it

but  the jacaranda trees are flowering

each blossom an insurgent

against the sameness of life

Soon the streets will be a revolution of colour

suffused with a tangible tenderness

Fight, grandma, fight

It’s worth the struggle

to witness next season’s  lilac uprising.”

– Phyllis Muthoni

(quoted from Still Life #2 by WM)


Kenya: A State Of Perpetual Fear And Chaos

Brenda Wambui
8 July ,2014

From Wednesday 18th June to Friday 20th June 2014, I got to experience life in Kakuma, at the refugee camp. A couple of bloggers and I went there courtesy of UNHCR to commemorate World Refugee Day, and each day, we had opportunities to interact with the host community, the Turkana, and the refugees, who are of more than 13 nationalities, and are about 150,000 at the moment.

Every morning, between 8 – 9 am, a lorry would arrive full of people displaced from their home countries, and they would head to the UNHCR offices to register themselves. Many of these people spoke English, and one could tell they were well-educated. Each day, we went into the camps and interact with the refugees. They told us stories of their countries, some like Somalia which have not known peace for over two decades, others like South Sudan which had earned a fresh start, only to throw it all in the wind and return to where they started.

The camp was hot and dusty, and a majority of the structures were made of either mabati (corrugated iron sheets) or mud (bricks). We heard stories of journalists from Ethiopia having to run away because they published stories the regime did not approve of. One such man was now making a living constructing bottle brick housing for people in the camps. There was a principal of one of the schools on the camp, who had come to Kenya as one of the first South Sudanese refugees, studied here and made a life for himself. Once South Sudan attained independence, he and many others went back, only to return to Kenya and have to start from scratch as refugees because of the infighting in South Sudan.

We heard stories of fights between the Turkana and the refugees, over firewood, water and other resources. The Turkana were resentful of the refugees because they received these things from humanitarian organizations while the Turkana had to go out and look, while the refugees insisted that they did not receive enough, thus they had to venture into Turkana territory. The Turkana complained of their children being like chokoraa (homeless/street children), not being allowed to study at the schools for refugees, and even having to work in the camps to eke out a living. There were frequent battles inside the camp that leave people dead, with the disagreements usually boiling down to cultural differences.

On World Refugee Day, a government official working with the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) had the gall to say that “There is no pride in being a refugee,” as he spoke of initiatives the Kenyan government was involved in to better their lives. On a day meant to celebrate these brave human beings, he decided to put them down.

When one’s country has imploded and you have been forced to run away, trading your valuable iPad, smart phone and everything else you have to your name to gain passage across the border, is there time for pride? When one has come from being a senior manager at a company to operating a boda boda (motor cycle) in Kakuma refugee camp for a living, what happens to their pride?

Yet it seems that many of us are as insensitive and idiotic as this government official. We do not imagine that a time could come when we could be seeking refuge in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda because our political situation got out of hand. That we may have to trade our cars, laptops, smartphones and other comforts in order to gain safe passage across the border. That we would then be packed like cattle, in a lorry, and ferried to safety, and once there, no amount of “pride” and “Do you know who I am? I am on the fast track to partnership at my firm!” would save us from our new reality: that we have burned our country, and that we are refugees.

This possibility has never seemed more real to me, especially after this trip.

We have already managed to displace people in their own country severally. An internally displaced person is a refugee in his/her own country. They rely on humanitarian aid, and experience the same troubles in the camps set up for them as external refugees do, including friction with the host community. It must be jarring to imagine that your own country would do this to you. Yet Kenya keeps doing it. As at January 2008, 404,000 people had been displaced from their homes as a result of post-election violence. Let us not forget those displaced by drought, floods and inter-community clashes.

Monday 7th July 2014 marked yet another Saba Saba Day. This is a historically important day for Kenya. In 1990, Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia called for a protest against Daniel Arap Moi, and the one party state system. Moi’s government responded by arresting them, Raila Odinga, George Anyona and others. However, Rev. Timothy Njoya, James Orengo, Martin Shikuku among others led a rally at Kamukunji Stadium, which ended with the protestors being attacked by security forces and KANU insisting that multi-party democracy would lead to violence and friction along tribal lines.

This act of civil disobedience led to the birth of the multi-party democracy we enjoy (or suffer under) today, along with relative press and other freedoms. However, when one surveys the internet today, civil disobedience is portrayed in a negative light, with every other Kenyan and their grandparents posting messages like “Let us be peaceful and not fight. Let us love one another…” One cannot help but notice the fear and potential chaos bubbling under these messages. We have a government that has all but failed to protect us, security personnel who do not take their jobs seriously, and a president who barely seems to care. People have every right to be furious, in fact, it is insane not to be. Our problem tends to be that we take this furiousness personally, as if we have been attacked as individuals, just because we share a tribe with the person/people under fire. The worst part is how we never seem to learn.

We come close to burning our country every so often, for example, on 19th June 2014, leaflets were distributed in Rift Valley asking all Luos to vacate or be attacked. This is the same idiocy that led us the 2007/08 post-election violence. When Kenya is attacked by terrorists, we oppress Somalis and put them in a concentration camp. When people are killed in Mpeketoni and Al Shabaab takes responsibility, our president comes out and denies that it was them and instead blames the opposition, leading to idiotic Kenyans attacking their neighbours because they come from opposition strongholds. In all this, it is we the people who suffer, who die, yet we continue to propagate the same stupidity over and over, somehow convinced it will yield different results. Perhaps we are a nation of idiots, and we deserve each other.

We need to understand that our problems are endemic, and of a much deeper nature, and “cleansing” the country of one ethnic group or the other will not solve them. Poverty and corruption are not by-products of ethnicity, they are born of greed and lawlessness. We need to abandon this constant state of fear and chaos, which has been used time and time again to keep us in check.

There are only two tribes in Kenya: the haves and the have-nots, and this constant ethnic tension and chaos ensures that the demarcations between those two groups remain, and that few cross over from one to the other. We are at a very important place in our democratic journey as a country: the true shambolic nature of our government is clear for all to see. We have a constitution that gives us recourse on what to do, let us not be afraid of our constitutional rights and powers as citizens, and hold our leaders to account.

Democracy is government of the people BY THE PEOPLE for the people, yet we always forget that little part – by the people. It gives citizens great power compared to many other systems of government, but this power comes with great responsibility. The work of change is hard, as our heroes Rubia, Matiba, Odinga, Anyona, Njoya, Wamwere, Shikuku and others would attest. Anything worth doing is going to be difficult, but it must be done. Once we confront the fact that our attitudes are flawed, and our leaders are hopelessly inept, we will have made the first step to recovery. Your neighbour’s tribe has nothing to do with your poverty. In fact, your neighbour is likely as poor as you are. What has her tribe done for her lately? Does it put food on her table? That is unlikely, which is why it is foolish of us to even allow ourselves to be pulled into ethnic violence.

I believe in market forces – demand and supply. I also believe that demand is a much more powerful force than supply. If we demand better leaders, and behave as we demand them to behave, the supply side (i.e. the leaders) will have to acquiesce. We will get what we work for, but we must first work. The next time there is an election, do the right thing. Vote on principle, not based on your tribe. Stand up against injustices, do not be afraid. The work of liberation has never been easy, but it is worth it. The first step is to liberate our minds. Otherwise, we are steadily on our way to joining Somalia, South Sudan and other war-torn countries in their crises, and I would hate for us to go that way.

What’s In a Name? Everything

Michael Onsando
24 June ,2014

“…Say their names:

Kiptoo, Onyango, Achieng’, Nyambura, Cheruiyot

Say their names:

missing, burned, raped, decapitated, insane

Say their names:

scared, criminalized, hated, feared, intimidated.”

– Witness 95

One can only imagine what Darius Mwanzi was doing that evening. Maybe he had just had a beer with his friends, maybe he didn’t drink, maybe he was with his family. The possibilities are endless. The only thing we can say, for certain is that he was another body in a war that we lack the tools to fully grasp. Karisa Thoya Iha was another. So was Jairo Kepkemboi. Liston Majira. Joseph Muchira. Elkana Makabila. There are 43 other names. The Star has a list.

Gukira writes:

Security discourse is seductive—it makes one feel grown-up, relevant, as though one is participating in a “national conversation” about “important matters.” It is, also, at least in this particular case, an imagination-eating discourse, so consuming that it does not leave space for any other kind of thinking, feeling, being.”

I’ve been watching, listening and hearing people speak about the Mpeketoni Attack and the larger need for security in the country. It’s interesting to see where/how Mpeketoni fits into a larger narrative of the country. It has come with a wave of shock, empathy, frustration and silence as most reactionary dialogues on security are in this country.

Again, we had to be reminded that Mpeketoni is not a happening. It is a place. We had to be reminded that this strife has been going on for a while. And that we, as expected have completely ignored Mpeketoni when it comes to matters of governance and discourse.

This is an important point. Just last week Sara Ahmed reminded us that breaking is not a happening. When bodies break it is not a moment but a culmination. Bodies that break tend to have been pulled, stretched twisted and torn. Bodies that break do not just break. To imagine the attack within the time space of three weeks – heck, of three months – is to imagine Mpeketoni as a town that just broke. It is to imagine away lives and histories that cannot be ignored.

This does not make the attack any less tragic. As a matter of fact, it makes it even more so. We marginalized Lamu, immensely (it has even been called internal colonialism). Even as they were attacked, reports have police taking 6 hours to get there. The breaking of Mpeketoni did not happen last week. It was not instigated by bullet holes tearing apart bodies. The breaking of Mpeketoni has been happening, and has been talked about, for a very long time.

When Murimi Marabi looked at his murders he was looking at histories of forgotten battles, of forgotten names, faces and struggles.  He was looking at a government that is more involved in increasing taxes than it is in taking care of him. His (and the others’) deaths were not just avoidable and preventable. They were a product of careless and oppressive policies/governments.

And this is why their names are so important.

We have been discussing this abstract concept of security. I keep wondering “for who?” Because if we are speaking about security in Kenya it would be important to remember that, for a large chunk of the country, Kenya has not been secure for a very long time. Just a few weeks ago Wajir was under curfew. Then we have the cattle raids up north, we have the numerous grenades and “3 killed in,”  “2 killed in” headlines that pepper our national papers every week.

So what is this new “insecurity” that we are talking about? Why are we discussing insecurity as if it is a new thing? As if this is not the same country that, 6 years ago, went through a large dose of ethnic based violence? Which names are we forgetting when we talk about Kenya not being secure “anymore?” When, in the next few months, something happens, will we quickly erase Paul Nzomo? Ng’endo Ruth? Will these names, and  spaces which they existed in, be lost again?

But, what is remembering? Wambui Mwangi writes:

To ‘re-member’ is to make a member again, to bring that member back into the community of imagination, re-awakening past trajectories and giving new momentum along new paths of the present. More prosaically, if your name is in the headline of a nationally-circulating newspaper, you are re-presented, recalled from absence and made present again, millions of times.

When we refuse to forget their names, refuse to forget that this has happened and will continue to happen, we are refusing to let these people leave the community of imagination. We are refusing to imagine without them. And this is something we need to do. To imagine the breaking as a culmination of past fragility, tension and marginalization is to create a better understanding.

However, I write this knowing that it is a difficult thing to do. It is easier to say “The people behind these attacks are monsters!” and not give thought to how these increasingly violent environments are being created.

I write this even as I know that in a time of grief, pain and confusion people can say things that they wouldn’t ordinarily mean. Misdirected anger can be dangerous. Even on social media, the hate speech has begun. The talk of “your tribe” is a thing. The social band-aid has been deployed and #WeAreOne and #TribeKenya are beginning to gather momentum.

So it’s with this background that I acknowledge that this is not the easiest time to think ethically. It is, however, the most important. As we discuss Mpeketoni (a name that has been intertwined with violence and death) it is easy to close our eyes and ignore Kasarani. It is easy to buy into the idea that continued dehumanisation of others will, somehow, buy our own safety. It won’t.

The people in Kasarani have names too.

These too are names that we cannot forget. These too are names that we must imagine with. Names that represented lives.  Lives given to a war that we still don’t understand.

Say their names:

forgotten, erased, error, error, error”