Icarus tales: Power and Proximity in Kenya: Part 1

Guest Writer
5 February ,2019

by Joash Onsando

CS Dr. Fred Matiangi

On 21st January 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued his first executive order in 2019. The purpose of the order is  to realign the manner in which government projects would be carried out. In the order, he established The National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee. The committee, tasked with five major functions, chief among them being supervising government projects, will be chaired by Interior CS Dr Fred Matiangi, who will be deputized by his Treasury and Planning counterpart, Henry Rotich.

No other Executive ordered by the President has received as much attention or raised as much controversy as order number 1 of 2019. However, the attention had little to do with its probity, either in law or otherwise (as has been the case with other controversial orders) but rather what it portends to the relationship between the President and his Deputy. There could be two reasons for this.

Firstly, the order explicitly states the Matiangi led committee’s reporting obligations as ‘’to His Excellency the President”. Before this, jubilee formal and informal communication has always made reference to “the Presidency” as though Uhuru and Ruto are attached at the hip. By breaking away from this norm, the President seemed to suggest said attachment was an inconvenience to him.

Secondly, the order seemed to have given the committee the exclusive mandate to do two things: i) Monitor and evaluate the progress of national projects, and ii) Provide coordinated strategic communication to the public and other stakeholders on the progress of national projects.

These two, seem to be the very functions the Deputy President purports to be carrying out in his whirlwind tours across the country (now aptly christened tanga tanga). On multiple occasions, the DP has dismissed critics who claim he is engaged in a premature campaign for the 2022 general elections. Together with his allies, the DP claims to be making his forays around the country strictly for development purposes. He has often stated that, as the President’s Principal Assistant, it is his job to communicate (read launch), supervise, and evaluate the status of Jubilee development projects. So to many pundits, the executive order seems to usurp roles and responsibilities assumed by the DP and handing them over to the Interior CS. If indeed this is the case then it is no accident that the President picked the CS as his hatchet man.

Fred Okenyo Matiangi is no stranger to controversy.  However, little was known about the former university don, before his appointment to the cabinet as ICT CS in 2013.

Since then, none of his cabinet colleagues have had to encounter and overcome as many challenges as he has. Further, none has accumulated as much notoriety as he has, in the execution of their duties. Dr Matiangi is also the only CS during Uhuru’s tenure to have held substantive and acting cabinet positions on two separate occasions, having acted in the lands ministry whilst at ICT and acted in the interior ministry whilst at Education.

His meteoric rise in public service began with a baptism of fire at the ICT ministry in 2015. He was tasked to oversee the migration of the broadcast industry from analogue to digital platforms. This move would prove to be particularly unpopular amongst many industry stakeholders, particularly media owners.

According to the MOA, the media owners lobby group, the migration exercise needed more time and consideration. Many observers saw their hesitation as being informed by the need to protect their business interests rather than the greater good they purported to be their motivation. The government position was a polar opposite. According to Matiangi, change was inevitable, and had to happen immediately. Both sides dug in, spoiling for a fight, a long protracted battle or at least it seemed so.

Kenyans had become accustomed to private corporate interest, holding sway over government policy positions that were in conflict with their own. Given how powerful the MOA lobby is, the expectation was that the CS would ultimately buckle under pressure and give in. Surprisingly however, Matiangi held his own and successfully oversaw the migration process. This was the first feather in his cap!

In December 2015, Matiangi was appointed CS for Education, Science and Technology. At the time, instances of leakages and cheating in national examinations had become so rampant that some education stakeholders openly expressed a complete lack of trust in the examination process and ultimately, the integrity of its results. The phenomenon of cheating in exam results had grown to what was then described as a cartel involving KNEC (the examinations council) officials, teachers, parents and students.

Upon assuming office and in his characteristic, bullish style, Dr. Matiangi moved to disband the Kenya National examination Council. Alongside reconstituting it under the leadership of a hardnosed, kindred spirit, Prof. George Magoha, the CS also instituted radical reforms to the process of administering and marking national examinations. Security measures during examinations were the most stringent ever seen. The marking process was also significantly expedited. The ultimate outcome was the announcement of KCSE results two months early and its results being hailed by many, as the closest reflection of the candidates’ performance the country had seen in a long time. Popular opinion was that the CS had taken on a powerful cartel and prevailed.

On July 8, 2017, Kenya awoke to the sad news of the demise of the then Interior CS Joseph Nkaiserry. The interior docket is not one to be left vacant for long. The president needed to find a replacement, fast! Matiangi was an obvious choice. He had proved himself many times over! However, one political consideration stood in the way; for some inexplicable reason, the internal security mandate seemed to have become a reserve of the Maasai community. From Prof George Saitoti and Katoo Ole Metito under the Kibaki regime to Joseph ole Lenku and Maj Gen Nkaiserry under Uhuru there seemed to be an unwritten rule or tradition that the docket was a preserve of Maa speakers.

With the general election only a few weeks away, it remained to be seen if the President was willing to antagonize the Maasai community by givin away ‘their seat’., therefore risking the loss of an important swing vote. A few days later the president took the gamble and appointed Matiangi, albeit in an acting capacity. Surprisingly, there wasn’t an iota of grumbling from the Maasai community. Seemingly, the CS was such a formidable pick that it wasn’t politically expedient for the Maa to grumble. Such is the position that Matiangi had horned for himself in the Jubilee administration. He had, over time, managed to establish himself as the poster boy for fighting cartels and corruption networks, at least in the eyes of the president’s support base.

Matiangi was, however not done endearing himself to the administration and its supporters. With the Commander in Chief being rather destructed by a strenuous campaign and the prospect of a general election too close to call, he was able to depend on him to hold fort, on matters security.  And that is exactly what he did.

With the Supreme Court ordering a rerun of the presidential election, the Jubilee administration was thrown into a tail spin. Its hitherto unchallengeable grasp on power hang on a thin thread and a firm hand was needed to restore the status quo. It was because of controversial and highly unpopular decisions such as proscribing the NRM as an illegal organization that allowed the president the kind of leverage he needed to prevail past the Jan 30th swearing in of the president and ultimately the handshake.

In the post handshake era, the CS has managed to widen his approval base beyond Jubilee supporters, particularly by his oversight of the clamp down on counterfeited goods and his ability to step into the gaps in the Transport ministry’s role with regards to reducing road carnage. This was further buttressed by his commitment to purge the country of not only illegal immigrants but also of undeserving holders of work permits.

When it is all said and done, one thing remains undoubtable; Matiangi has established himself as President Uhuru’s fixer in chief. His critics might disagree with his intentions and methods but even they would agree that he gets things done for his boss! There could be many factors that could have led to this. After all, no phenomenon is mono factorial in nature. He fondly refers to the President as ‘commander in chief’ as opposed to the more commonly used ‘his excellency’. This betrays a man whose unity of purpiose to drive the president’s agenda is to be carried out unquestioningly and with military precision!

  Dr. Matiangi was born in Borabu, Nyamira County. His academic journey culminated with him being conferred a doctorate degree from the University of Nairobi. His career before cabinet was illustrious to say the least. Hehas more than 12 years’ experience in democracy development including a six year stint at the Kenya Parliamentary Strengthening Project, rising through the ranks to the position of Chief of Party. He also has extensive experience in governance related research, civil society advocacy as well as donor funded democracy and government projects. Clearly his past roles served to prepare him well to understand government bureaucracy as well as the vagaries of navigating public sector environments while getting things done.

The CS has enjoyed the mentorship and patronage of former Gusii political supremo, Mzee Simeon Nyachae, who is rumoured to have influenced his appointment to cabinet. Mzee Nyachae will be remembered for having risen through the ranks of provincial administration faster than his counterparts. In fact, after being appointed as the PC for Rift Valley, a Senior Chief Titi quipped that Mzee Kenyatta had appointed a child as PC.

The 1975 assasination of Nyandarua MP JM Kariuki happened whilst Nyachae was the Central Province PC.  The general belief in the region was that government machinery eas behind the popular MP’s assassination. So great was the bitterness in the region that a song, ‘Maai ni maruru’ (water is bitter) was composed to condemn the killing. Realizing the need to contain a potentially volatile situation, Nyachae invoked the then Chief’s Act to ban the song! As if that was not enough, the PC stood up to be the only senior government official to have attended JM’s funeral. In fact he ended up reading the Jomo Kenyatta’s speech, a task that a number of senoir officials, including cabinet ministers Jeremiah Nyagah and Dr. Julius Kiano had turned down.

This is the kind of dedication and unquestioning loyalty to the powers that be that the CS inherited from his mentor and political Godfather.

CS Matiangi is  also an ardent member of the SDA Church. His public pronouncements betray a person who derives a lot of strength and resolve from his spiritual faith and doctrine. He seems to justify his zeal and bulldozer approach to issues by a firm held belief that his work is part of a wider divine agenda and plan to which he is only accountable to the God he serves.

He might be a man of many firsts but Matiangi is definitely not the first ‘fixer in chief’ we have seen in our history as a country. This position has and will remain to be a precarious one for any person to hold. Almost without exception, previous holders of this position have fallen from grace quite pitifully. George Santayana said ‘’those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. If nothing at all, the good CS must pay heed to these famous words even as he soars close to the sun, on borrowed wings.

Joash is a Kenyan thinker and budding policy analyst, with a passion for public sector governance and democracy. Find more of his work on medium.

Falling Stories

Michael Onsando
25 September ,2018

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


It’s September and the Jacarandas are in bloom. On twitter, #JacarandaPropaganda has already started making its way to the top trends. We own this tree and we hold it close as a testament to the beauty of the country.

Native to Brazil and Argentina, jacaranda is the name of a genus with about 50 different species of trees with a wide range of flower colours. The name Jacaranda comes from a Native American Tupi word “yacarana” or “yacaranda” which which the Portuguese spell with a J. On twitter #JacarandaPropaganda has already started

But what do you see when you look at the Jacaranda?

The spread of the Jacaranda is largely attributed to Allan Cunningham who came across the tree on one of his many travels before reporting its existence to the queen. They were first imported to Zimbabwe(then Rhodesia of sorts) by British settlers after which they found their way around the continent.

Despite pulling in a significant amount of Japanese tourism, there was still a long debate about cutting a number of them down in 2012. The reason was that their root system was too invasive and their high water intake prevented anything else from growing.

You know that

you carry their history.

But you also know

you don’t carry their scars.

And that, you hope,

will make all the difference.

When I was a child (Lol at was – I am still children) I loved trying to catch the Jacaranda flowers before they hit the ground. There was one particular tree where we used to go to church. I spend a lot of time under this tree, waiting for a gust of wind to catch the branches and release a few more flowers, which we would use to wish.

Our wishes never came true, but that didn’t stop us.

“And this common ground is necessary. The political winds of the West are calling them to consolidation of their political power – towards nationalism. From a purely timing perspective, this would not be the time to destroy the marriage that is Kenya. To do that would be to break the power (that we have only just began to understand we have) as a country and leave smaller vulnerable ethnonation. To allow ourselves to be led by and towards our differences it to play right into the idea of divide and conquer. 

So instead we find ourselves with decolonisation. Slowly analyzing and comparing pasts, asking for permission – negotiating for ways to keep our identities alive. Does this one work for you? How about you? What if we keep this one, and let that other one go?”

I’ve written here about institutional memory before and how it works in relation to the philosophies that govern the not-so-august house that is the Kenyan parliament. Especially when held in relation to the labour of decolonisation. The work of decolonisation calls for us to go into ourselves work towards erasing internalised racism, sexism et al.

I remember the Jacaranda as the tree that filled my childhood with mystery. I remember Moi’s era as a time with free milk. Those with longer memories remember when Moi over-borrowed in the 80s and the IMF restrictions that followed. Those with even longer memories speak of a Kenya that worked on some level. They speak with nostalgia about working hospitals and not needing to lock their door in the evening. They speak of an education system that all but guaranteed labour and a time when the country’s zeitgeist was full of hope. But they also remember the struggle, the death and pain that came with the strife for this freedom. Memory is vastly unreliable as a way to record history – but it was the only tool available to those not allowed to record their own.

And through this lens – what do we remember?

“It is not forgetfulness, but the state in which it is deemed necessary or at least desirable to go through a process of forgetting. 

The kind of forgetting in forgetingness is not a mere slipping away from memory, but rather a process of extraction from being. 

Through this process, issues and people are washed clean of their identity and significance.”


I ask because the history I studied reads like a series of tragedies and defeats. Of suppressions and executions, of disappearances and whispers. We move from independence to a coup, from a coup to the struggle for multipartyism to the silencing of Moi to the corruption and scandals that followed.

Where are the stories of my grandfather standing under a jacaranda tree, wishing on a blossom for the love of his life to look his way? Where are the stories of the young and hopeful and how they managed to make their way to establishing a life for themselves and their families? Even as we do the work of looking at our history and taking apart its invasive roots, where are the falling flowers that the child in me might catch one and wish for a better future?

When something has to give (or, towards hope)

Michael Onsando
24 July ,2018

“The system adopted in Kenya is African Socialism, but the characteristics of the system and the economic mechanisms it implies have never been spelled out fully in an agreed form.”

  • Sessional Paper No 10 of 1965, Part I, 6

“There are two African traditions which form an essential basis for African Socialism—political democracy and mutual social responsibility. Political democracy implies that each member of society is equal in his political rights and that no individual or group will be permitted to exert undue influence on the policies of the State. The State, therefore, can never become the tool of special interests, catering to the desires of a minority at the expense of the needs of the majority. The State will represent all of the people and will do so impartially and without prejudice.”

Perhaps the imagining of an idea must always happen at it’s purest. Perhaps there was more room to be optimistic at the birth of the nation. Whatever it is I always feel a sense of possibility when I read article from around post independence Kenya. There’s a feeling of thought and deliberateness from the collective on what things should mean/how they should be.

The story of the Ndungu Report is one of systematic perversion of established procedures meant to protect public interest for political gain and the unjust enrichment of a few. It needs to be told.”

Ndung’u Land Report

Still, the story itself is in the telling. It’s also around the time that these ideals were being spoken of that the country was being divided amidst anyone who could afford to be in the room (or, as legend has it, according to how long mzee Kenyatta slept).

“Corruption scandals have become a “fact of life” for many Kenyans, who have come to regard them as just another facet of Kenyan life, alongside high taxes, poor service delivery, our “cult of personality” approach to politics and religion, and the misfortunes occasioned to us by terrorism. These burdens seem to be ours for the long haul, and we seem to have accepted them, albeit half-heartedly. It is tiresome to watch or listen to the news; even being on Twitter at a time when one was not prepared for shock or disappointment can derail one’s entire day.“ 

Maybe it is the rise of report realism, maybe it is the coming out of 24 years of repression under Moi or maybe the writers are just often in a bad mood. Today’s tone is less hopeful, less believing. It’s impossible to go through the papers without sensing the despair. There is no hope, looking for hope or trying toward hope. Only a resounding cry of how deep in it we are – and how much deeper we are going.

A theory I’ve heard floating around involves institutional memory. This narrative begins with Kenya as an idea that was imposed upon these 43 peoples. Not through war, territorial battles and forging of trusted relationships are we bound, but by subjugation. In this narrative, corruption becomes a machine for the redirection of resources back to the people (idealized). Of course, in the absence of a colonial overlord, it just becomes stealing the meat from your own soup and serving it to the dogs. But institutions remember, and so corruption becomes the embedded language of the August house.

A friend writes on email,

“At some point many of the people who start off working against corruption end up in the very positions of power that dictate that they steal. Because people have failed to realize that politics is not a subjective game. You don’t come into it with your feelings and try to change it. The people who have been the greatest change factors have always done so outside of the political system – especially when the issue was corruption.” 

There must be more at play here.

Another friend of mine talks about how it is not what power is but rather what it is about spaces (obligations, responsibilities and roles) and how those spaces shape us. To come up against institutional memory is to have an institution remind you what you are coming up against.

“If they want to fight drug barons if they want to fight the al shabaab, if they want to fight crime – they can do it. But they can’t fight crime, they can’t fight al shabaab, they can’t fight barons because everyone has a cut in it.”

Mohammed Ali

“In a video, the angry youth called out Moha for betraying the trust they had on him by associating with the Jubilee government despite corruption scandals rocking the government from within.” 

“The ultimate objectives of all societies are remarkably similar and have a universal character suggesting that present conflicts need not be enduring. These objectives typically include— 

(i) Political equality;

(ii) Social justice;

(iii) Human dignity including freedom of conscience;

(iv) Freedom from want, disease, and exploitations;

(v) Equal opportunities; and

(vi) High and growing per capita incomes, equitably distributed.”

Perhaps, when working towards this goal, and in defining this goal – we lost sight of what it looks like.

“We must see killability as too high a price to pay for development, for peace.” 

  • Keguro Macharia

And maybe we’re tired of paying the price.

Where is Kenya? A Review

Michael Onsando
19 December ,2017

“Today we commemorate our 54th Birthday as an independent nation.  On this day, 54 years ago, the Union Jack came down and the Kenyan flag went up.”

With these words, a week ago, the president began his speech to mark our 54th year of independence. It was in this speech that he revealed his ‘big four’ i.e. food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and affordable healthcare. These are all noble causes. At the core of human existence is food clothing and shelter – the four pillars address all three, and add longevity to the mix.

But, with 54 years of independence, we must continue to ask ourselves why we aren’t there yet. What are the things that are getting in the way of us and our ability to provide decency for the citizens of the country? An abstract question that could make for polite conversation at a bar that would last the whole night – and make little progress while at it. It is still an important question to be asked – to be considered by as many Kenyans as possible, because without answers from people with diverse interactions with the country, how can we be sure we have a full picture?

Perhaps this is what Footprints Press sought to do when they put together the book 50 Years since Independence, Where is Kenya? A collection of 50 essays in three parts, the book is a collection of views from a diverse group of Kenyans with different experiences of the country. From bleak:

“As Kenya marks 50 years of independence I have little to commemorate and nothing to celebrate. It bothers me that we are glossing over the past with such aplomb yet in the present we have outgrown our national significance.”

  • Anyango Odhiambo

To optimistic:

“It is my perspective that whether by design or accident, we have put the necessary building blocks that will pave the way for a sustained economic take-off”

  • Tony Githuku

The authors are drawn from various backgrounds with the book organized in 3 parts – Society and Culture, Politics and the Marco-Economy. Because of the nature of essays (an argument must be contextualized) the book is packed, not just with historical facts, but insights on mindsets and how those mindsets affected the decisions that were made. Take this by Margaret Wambui Ngugi Shava for example:

“I have often wondered how my parents, who endured the vagaries of a racist colonial power, whose lives were fundamentally touched by the Mau Mau resistance, managed to bring up my siblings and myself in such an even handed manner… how is it that as we grow older, most of our friends seem to speak the same language we do?”

This is of particular value to the ‘new’ generation. Those who live with little context to the current mess. Gladwell Otieno puts it best:

“What happens to an injury, an injustice unprocessed? Does it fester, burrowing into the psyche and leaving its traced being inherited from one generation to the next? As a country we are not good at dealing with the sins of the past or the present. The current motto of ‘move on’ in response to the presidential elections is typical. We do not learn from our history and are thus condemned to keep on stumbling over the same hurdles, committing the same crimes”

This book allows us to begin to contextualize current Kenya. In giving us their insights on where Kenya is at fifty years, the writers allowed us to see into their own world, into their own (versions of) history so that we can have a clearer picture of what here looks like. It is in seeing the collection as a whole, as an arena of debating voices, that we begin to understand that competing interests that have been pulling at our country for the last half a decade or so.

A lot of the essays agree on the significances of certain happenings. There are repeated mentions of the death of Kenyatta in 1978 and the attempted coup in 1982. The repressive nature of the Moi regime comes up repeatedly as well as an impediment to freedoms in business, in law, in media and in development of identity. The constitution (promulgated in 2010, I’ve decided we need to stop calling it new) also features a great deal.

But even on these things that they agree on, the perspectives are wide. When writing about the constitution, for example, Henry Awori writes:

 ‘The referendum overwhelmingly approved a constitution that set some high standards for leadership. But when the tenth parliament legislated for its operationalization, the threshold was lowered, making a mockery of the people’s wishes and throwing the principle of public goods to the dogs.’

And Githu Muigai writes:

‘The recent constitution making process remains one of the greatest achievements in our nationhood in the last fifty years… this design has brought new ideas, a transformed conception of government, and, certainly, new applications of old ideas.’

Perhaps if there was something that stood out sharply for me in the book was the importance of hope. The need to believe (or at least try to believe) that this thing called Kenya is possible – that it can be done. Each essay attempts to shed a perspective on the mechanics – how it can be done, what needs to go, what needs to stay, what has been forgotten, what needs to be forgotten and so forth. But it seems strongest that even before we begin to think of how, we must first accept that it is here and that we have a stake in it – then begin to work towards making it better.

‘Where is Kenya? 50 Years Since Independence’ is available from Footprints Press for KES 3,500. Click here for more details.

To Africanize, Decolonize Or Both?

Brenda Wambui
6 December ,2016

This conversation on what it means to be African has been happening since the days of the independence struggles in many African countries, and has been a major part of African post-colonial discourse. The conversation has mostly focused on knowledge, since knowledge is the beginning of identity formation, with some commentators saying that we need to Africanize, others saying that we need to decolonize, and many saying that we need to do both.

In the words of Tebello Letsekha:

[Africanization] is a learning process and a way of life for Africans. It involves incorporating, adapting and integrating other cultures into and through African visions to provide the dynamism, evolution and flexibility so essential in the global village. Africanization is the process of defining or interpreting African identity and culture. It is formed by the experiences of the African Diaspora and has endured and matured over time from the narrow nationalistic intolerance to an accommodating, realistic and global form.

The Sankofa Youth Movement says:

By “Africanization”, we mean the embracing of our African heritage, and developing a sense of loyalty towards the Motherland – Africa. This involves adopting and promoting African culture, putting it on the pedestal currently occupied by the west.’ These reflections seem to suggest conflict between the idea of being African and the need to adopt aspects of Western culture. It is a situation that might impact negatively on the development of appropriate African curricula in education in general, and in higher education in particular. In fact, Le Grange (2007, 581) warns educators to be aware of this interaction between cultures, because it could complicate the learning process: ‘For non-Western learners, interaction between two worldviews characterizes much of their school experience, complicating the learning process and potentially resulting in cognitive conflict.’

Africanization, then, is an exercise in offering context. In learning our history. In changing our lenses. Much of the history of our continent is written by white men from Europe and North America, and this no doubt affects how the world sees us, but more importantly, how we see ourselves. For our children, it has meant a very narrow view of our continent. In many school books, the history of our continent is written in three broad categories: pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial. In doing so, we single out colonization as the single most important thing that has happened to Africa, and centre it.

However, there is great, uncharted territory when it comes to re-writing our history from our own perspective. To begin with, our experience as Africans should form the foundation of this revisionist history. It should capture both the unique histories of our countries/peoples, and the common history we share by virtue of coming from the same continent, being othered by the rest of the world, and experiencing many other similar challenges. We have great stories of our peoples that do not begin and end with colonization, we must capture those.

We have been taught that we have no knowledge. That we do not like to read. This is not only false, but extremely damaging, and is as a result of seeing Africa through a Western lens. Our histories must be revised and expanded, and taught to our children. They must also be inclusive.

Chimamanda Adichie says this in her talk, The Danger of a Single Story:

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

If the African story has traditionally been told through the white, male lens, then the revisionist history must be inclusive. I am reminded of the constant retort I receive whenever I speak of feminism, or the LGBTQI community. I am told that they “are unAfrican.” Which then begs the question, what qualifies as “African”? Who sets the standard? Because I would argue what many consider “African” is in fact 1800s Victorian England’s intolerance, prudishness and small mindedness.

Our revisionist history must include the voices of women, of the queer community, of all other minorities on the continent. Africanization is a process in memory, both past and present. Thus even as we live our lives in the present, we are creating our history, and it is important that we tell our stories. From our perspective, and that these stories be inclusive, capturing the beauties and vagaries of every day African life, and resisting the two simplistic, prevailing narratives of our continent. Africa is not Schroedinger’s cat, that it could only ever be dead or alive; that we must endlessly speculate and bloviate on whether it is “the dark continent” or “rising.” Africa is many things to many people. It always has been, and will continue to be so.

If Africanization is a process in memory, decolonization is the removal of shackles – mental, economic, social and political. Decolonization was narrowly viewed by the West as the process in which African countries attained independence from their colonial rule, but the exit of the colonialists did not mean that the African had been fully decolonized.

In the words of Frantz Fanon:

Decolonization, which sets out to change the order of the world, is, obviously, a program of complete disorder. But it cannot come as a result of magical practices, nor of a natural shock, nor of a friendly understanding. Decolonization, as we know, is a historical process: that is to say that it cannot be understood, it cannot become intelligible nor clear to itself except in the exact measure that we can discern the movements which give it historical form and content. Decolonization is the meeting of two forces, opposed to each other by their very nature, which in fact owe their originality to that sort of substantification which results from and is nourished by the situation in the colonies.

Their first encounter was marked by violence and their existence together–that is to say the exploitation of the native by the settler–was carried on by dint of a great array of bayonets and cannons. The settler and the native are old acquaintances. In fact, the settler is right when he speaks of knowing “them” well. For it is the settler who has brought the native into existence and who perpetuates his existence. The settler owes the fact of his very existence, that is to say, his property, to the colonial system.

Decolonization never takes place unnoticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally. It transforms spectators crushed with their inessentiality into privileged actors, with the grandiose glare of history’s floodlights upon them. It brings a natural rhythm into existence, introduced by new men, and with it a new language and a new humanity. Decolonization is the veritable creation of new men. But this creation owes nothing of its legitimacy to any supernatural power; the “thing” which has been colonized becomes man during the same process by which it frees itself.

If decolonization is the removal of shackles, what does that mean for the trauma of colonization? I believe that this is the first point at which the paths of decolonization and Africanization cross. The memory of colonization should remain alive, just not centred as the main memory. We should think about the trauma, and everything that can possibly be done to alleviate it should be done.

It is important that reparations be made by colonial powers to the people they harmed. These amends should be direct, except when doing so would lead to more harm. The most vivid example I can think of in Kenya is when some members of the Mau Mau won a settlement of 20 million pounds against the British government for their crimes during colonialism. If we are to truly have justice, all the colonial powers must atone in a similar way to the peoples they colonized, because many of these countries remain shackled years later, relegated to the “third world” due to the pillaging of their economies and the presence of extractive, oppressive institutions that have their roots in colonial times.

It is also important that we address our new colonizers, the elites in African countries that continue the oppression that stemmed from colonialism. Many African countries merely switched colonizers. One only needs to read the 2013 Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report to see the violence that our very own have occasioned on us. They too must pay reparations, and be held accountable for their crimes if we are to truly decolonize.

Decolonization involves the removal of power structures and symbols that serve to keep us subjugated, disempowered, and forever at a disadvantage. Much of this includes denial of access to the public of what should be theirs.

Access to education, for example. The mere fact that only about 1% of the children in Kenya who start primary school go on to complete university is evidence of colonization. Especially because we place high importance on university education. We are denied access to public spaces, which we have already paid for using our tax money. The Nairobi Arboretum, for example, now charges KES 50 for access. We are denied access to land, which many of the rich and politicians grab from the public and privatize, when it does not belong to them in the first place.

It becomes apparent that it is necessary for us to both Africanize and decolonize. It is important that we remove others from the centre and place ourselves there instead. That we assert that blackness is not a backdrop against which white lives play out. We are living in an age when identity politics have gained new importance, and it is important that we claim our identity and our narratives. In this endeavor, we must prioritize freedom, and human dignity. We must accord everyone their rights, and avoid creating new strata which will only serve to oppress us. If all oppression is connected, then our freedom is intersectional, and it begins at the crossroads of Africanization and decolonization.

Back to Basics: The Value of History

Guest Writer
30 August ,2016

by Robert Munuku

Often, while growing up in primary school, we challenged each other to name the capital cities of African countries, and it was a thing of pride to be the child who could name the most. There was one boy called Kieven Yu, of Chinese origin but born and raised in Mombasa town by his mother. Kieven could name ALL the capital cities, not only of African countries, but of all countries. Many times, I would sit for minutes on end with the Atlas trying, not only to cram the capitals, but also trying to look for that one country Kieven did not know about. I mean, how could he possibly know all capital cities?

At the time, this exercise would be compartmentalized into the subject Geography and was taught & examined as such. I however now feel that History would have been the more appropriate subject to teach the capital cities. What I’m alluding to here is a general observation (that has become more pronounced in recent times) that many Kenyans (especially youth) do not know much about Kenyan history. Moreover, most Kenyans do not know a lot about the general areas in which they live.  For instance, many youngsters born and raised in Nairobi do not know much about other areas in Nairobi other than those areas that they reside in, work at, and more importantly, that fall under the scope of their ‘class boundaries’.

I grew up in Eastlands, went to school in Westlands and now live in what one would call ‘Nairobi South’. Those who are aware of the class stratification dynamics in Nairobi know that Eastlands is the place where (according to many who are not from Eastlands) all the riff-raffs, the scary robbers, and vagabonds hail from.  Eastlands is also ridden with street litter, and is home to what is arguably the largest dumpsite in East Africa – the Dandora dumpsite.

Eastlands is also next to the Industrial Area, where dozens of factories manifest themselves as grey clouds of copious waste emissions from a forest of chimneys.  Eastlands further lives up to the stereotype by having itself dissected in sections by railway lines – a thing affluent areas are never close to. How could they be?  Imagine Kitusuru (upmarket Nairobi) being butchered topographically by railway lines – unthinkable!

Now, a majority of my Eastlands compatriots have never lived, been schooled, worked in or even visited the upmarket suburbs of Westlands just as (is more often the case) most of the upmarket Nairobians (most of whom comprised my schoolmates) have never visited Eastlands. It’s not surprising, they would be mugged on the spot, no? Besides, how can they enter a matatu and go to Eastlands, that’s risky!

My sister, part of the same ‘born in Eastlands, schooled in Westlands’ sub-culture of children, almost choked on her shock when she overheard her classmate ask, “You mean matatus have (route) numbers?” What seems like a very naïve and annoying remark is actually further testimony to the class reclusiveness that exists not only in Nairobi, but in other parts of the world as well in its many variations. A remark like “You are from Eastlands? Aren’t you scared of being mugged when walking home?” is as severe a display of naivety (or what some have described as ‘class blindness’) as the remark, “You are from Africa? Do you guys see giraffes and lions walking in the streets?”

What knits the above phenomena together is a failure to access, or desire to access, information & knowledge. I have never been to Turkana in Kenya yet I am a Kenyan. I want to go to Turkana, partly because being a Kenyan I should, but also because I acknowledge the value of universality and moreso the need to continuously gain knowledge of others other than myself.

This is especially so when these ‘others’ are fellow countrymen. I often talk to my friends about Pan-Africanism but how can we talk of it when we have barely grazed the surface of knowing our own history as Kenyans? Worse still, when we do not know Nairobi in its totality (for those who hail from Nairobi)? We are busy indulging our peculiar appetite for what is foreign, constantly seeking to satiate it with accolades, scholarships and fellowships to the Western World as we dance to the fiddle played by overly benevolent donor agencies.

I want to attend a fellowship in Africa; I want to visit people in Turkana and Moyale before even contemplating a visit to Berlin & New York. To discuss Pan-Africanism as a philosophy is to presuppose an already achieved premise of a complete understanding of the very elements you wish to synthesize with this Pan-Africanism. This has not happened yet, but can.

Back to History. History for me is as important as Philosophy. History as a taught subject in the formal education system must be revised thoroughly. I will not get too much into the education system, but a curriculum that elevates History to a compulsory subject at high school level (and as a core compulsory course unit at university level) is critical. This, however, must be done accordingly – content has to be continually updated, diversified and revamped. In short, know about your city (say, Nairobi), then know about your County, and then know about other counties and the people who live there. Then only can one consider breaching the borders to venture into other African countries (hence a move towards Pan-Africanism).

African Fellowships – my new area of interest. How do we make these possible? How do we get Africans to interact with each other and share their rich experiences which, as diverse as they may be, still bare threads of similarity that make the very same experiences not too far removed from each other? How do we celebrate our own artists, musicians, poets, journalists, photographers and writers without first waiting for them to go abroad, win a prize, get foreign validation, then return home and finally get a clap from us?

To be able to make a difference in your society is to be able to first acknowledge the need for change. To acknowledge the need for change is to first become aware of your society, such awareness is not automatic and takes conscious effort only made possible by knowledge whose appetite to pursue stems from information, which then comes from knowing your history.

I urge all Kenyans to learn their history if not anything else.

Robert Mũnũku is a visual artist, writer & filmmaker based in Nairobi. Mũnũku is also the founder of Mau Mau Collective which is an organization that seeks to create a strong network of independent visual artists, filmmakers & performing artists on the continent with the shared goal of independence and art-driven, community based creative education.

Some Dance to Forget

Michael Onsando
17 November ,2015

Last week I found myself in of a conversation where a friend talked about how artists failed the country post the 2002 election (not that everything was perfect before that though). Gidi gidi maji maji had just released their song unbwogable and it had captured the emotion of a nation fighting to put an ugly dictatorial past behind it. Whether or not that was achieved is an entire essay on its own. However, the song became a sort of mantra. If this one thing could be done then surely anything could be. If this one thing could be done then we, as a nation would be unbwogable.

It is no secret that the work of art is primarily memory work. In fact, the term memory work is often used to refer, in a larger scale, to the work of documenting, transcribing and presenting both pasts, presents and several versions of the future to the world.

To give this a little context we also need to think about the flood of articles in mainstream papers, that I’d rather not quote talking about how Kenyan writers are useless and tearing them apart. (Here’s one of particular bile if you really are curious)

“The task of preserving memory is difficult when it comes to art, because there will inevitably be tension between an object invented by a subjective mind and the objective fact or event it is meant to depict. Even a map can be inaccurate when drawn from just one perspective. Knowing this, many artists use art to tell stories about personal and cultural memory that are open to interpretation, that reframe the past not as a fixed narrative but as a multiplicity of voices from diverse points of view.”

Even as I write this I’m trying to tread the line between explaining something about the work of memory and “telling artists what to do.” Given the fact that experience, and thus the documentation of this experience, is subjective and we all have to choose what parts of ourselves we show, then all I can ask for is consideration.

“The fact that more often (official) history is based on written rather than oral evidence has meant that women, peasants, the under classes, the ‘silent majority’ have been left out. In addition, traditional forms of upbringing have generally encouraged those who have been left out to remain obedient; until relatively recently during the Moi years questioning the nature of things hasn’t been a crucial part of Kenya’s culture.”

Further I’m reminded that the artists who do this work are largely ignored for the  above reasons. Shailja Patel’s migritude, for example, is still largely seen as a non Kenyan book. More recently Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor is still trying to gain traction. Ukoo Flani Mau Mau paid their dues, but one wonders where they went, which is as much our fault for lack of consumption as it is anyone else’s.

But it is upon the people creating to consider the impact of their creations. I write this again for clarity, it is very important for the people creating to consider the work that they’d like their creations to do. And, in thinking about this, then it is also important to think about what kind of thinking goes into the work that is being created. What histories are we telling? What are we trying to propagate? Whose stories are we telling? These are just a few of the many questions we must ask ourselves before we even begin.

Beyond the rhetoric we have now about telling our own stories, I’m more concerned in how we frame them. While the importance of telling our own stories can’t be diminished the framing of these stories, if ignored, goes to perpetuate further misinformation.

The real question then becomes: through what channels do we receive our history? Do we challenge these channels? Do we find ways to go outside what has been taught to us by the official channels Caplan spoke about? Do we listen to stories that come from outside accepted modes of historical data collection? I ask this particularly of artists because art has room for the imagination and is not bound by the rigour of citation as is other forms of memory work like academic research (while still not keeping other forms of this work completely exempt from these questions). How many times have we paid attention to the silent majority? Or do we just continue complicit in the sanitization of history designed to make legends of “big men” and completely erase the human experience?

The same conversation meandered, as conversations do, to the every day experience of colonialism. One that tried to imagine the everyday nature of the struggle and not just something that happened as pin points in history as we have been led to imagine. The fact that something that seems so fundamental now (of course independence had to happen) was actually a series of longer debates about method, people and, very much, life or death leads me to heavily consider what was said. What is the challenge? How is it framed? And, who is doing the framing? And, if these are the questions, then how many artists have asked themselves that?

Having been in conversations with many artists I know that there are artists actively working towards this goal. It’s a thing of delight every time I find someone else. But – and I insist on this – they seem to be more the exception than the norm. That bothers me.  And, if art is as important to the formation of identity as we tell ourselves, then why do more young people identify with the work of J Cole or, (worse?) 2 chainz, than they do to the work that is being produced here? What histories are not being captured? What aren’t we demanding? Where, exactly, did we fail as artists and what can we do to fix that? How do we create art that forms unbwogable identities? Or will we continue to tell ourselves that, somehow, the work of memory will do itself?

I Quit!

Guest Writer
10 November ,2015

by Patrick Gathara

Editor’s note: this following piece was first published in 2011. Still, it continues.

On my way to work today, I had an epiphany. As I sat in one of the unending traffic jams that have become part of the daily ritual of trying to get to work, fuming as matatus “overlapped” the queue, it occurred to me that it wasn’t they who were the stupid ones.

The rule of law, whether we’re talking about the highway code, commercial law or criminal statutes, assumes a universal application. So, when I accept to religiously abide by it when others consider it only as a guideline, to be discarded whenever it is convenient to do so, then it is I who is refusing to see the reality as it truly is.

This notion was reinforced when I finally got to my office and read in the papers that Rift Valley MPs were planning to ditch the National Accord in a bid to replace Raila Odinga as the Prime Minister with William Ruto. According to The Standard, the plot is an attempt to shield Ruto from potentially facing charges at the International Criminal Court relating to the 2008 post-election violence. “If it means repealing the Accord, then we will act and move with speed to replace the PM, ,” the paper quotes the chairman of the Rift Valley Parliamentary Group, Dr. Julius Kones, as saying.

Putting aside for one minute the questionable wisdom of the move (after all, Omar al-Bashir’s position as President of Sudan didn’t save him from similar indictments), the statements simply emphasize the fact that there is one law for some and another for the rest. Just like the enlightened matatu drivers, our politicians believe that the rules do not apply to them and can be discarded whenever one of them gets into trouble.

Our whole system of governance aids and abets this logic. So when Cabinet Ministers are forced out of office after being caught with their hands in the till, the government creates a new taxonomy in which those who “step aside” are allowed to keep their fat salaries and allowances without actually having to work for them. That, they tell us, is how we will win the war on corruption!

I now believe that it is the ordinary, hardworking, tax-paying, law-abiding Kenyan who is stupid. We agree to faithfully pay our taxes, even celebrating when the government exceeds its revenue collection targets, while those who actually pass our tax laws do not feel obliged to live under the same regime. We accept that the leaders of the same government supposed to ensure roads are properly built to cater for the booming numbers of vehicles and that traffic rules are obeyed, should not themselves be inconvenienced when they fail to do their jobs. We allow them to provide our children with a failing education system -at our expense, naturally- while they take their kids to private schools and elite universities in the West. We acquiesce when they tell us all is well with our public hospitals but they fly abroad at the slightest sign of illness.

We insist on believing that a new constitution will somehow magically apply the law to them. Our politicians, like our matatu drivers, are not Kenyans. Kenya is their creation, not ours. Its policies, rules and laws only apply to Kenyans, the wananchi (the people of the nation), not to the wenye nchi (those who own the nation). They are designed to perpetuate the power and wealth of the latter, to transfer resources and dignity from the former. It explains why none of our systems work, for the wenye nchi have no interest in us spending our money on ourselves. It is why no one goes to jail when they steal maize while a third of the country is starving, why no one is punished when people are sold contaminated food and when public funds go missing. It is the sole reason that the fate of 6 of them is of more import than the deaths of 1,500 Kenyans.

I, for one, am tired of this charade we call Kenya. I am tired of countless commissions that only produce paper; of a Parliament that only represents itself. I am tired of the cycle of prosecutions that produce no convictions and reforms that generate no change. I am tired of being poor and having to work hard to fund the excesses of a wealthy few. I am tired of carrying a leadership, a state, a country, that is nothing more than a parasitic infection.

I am tired of being a Kenyan.

In 2008, after being treated like crap for years, Inetta the Mood-Setter, a part-time DJ in the US, refused to take it anymore. Her parting words to the radio station, delivered live on air: “I QUIT THIS BITCH”

So do I.

Patrick Gathara is a cartoonist, writer, columnist on. Kenyan and International affairs. Follow him on twitter @gathara.

The More Things Seem to Change

Michael Onsando
9 December ,2014

“We asked ten years ago. We was asking with the panthers. We was asking with them – the civil rights movement. We was asking. Those people that were asking, they’re all dead or in jail. So what do you think we’re going to do? Ask?”

– Tupac

Moments only exist within context. To imagine about the current situation in Ferguson without the context of racial oppression in the United States is to fail. To think about the Kenya’s silence without thinking about the far reaching consequences of speaking is to fail.

Gukira writes:

We have no Darren Wilsons because we have no suspected criminals. Or, to be more precise, we have no suspected gangsters. A shoot-to-kill policing strategy means that every newspaper report featuring suspected gangsters inevitably includes the phrase “gunned down.”

The Independent Medico Legal Unit (IMLU) puts extrajudicial deaths within the first 300 days of this year at 176. On Thursday December 4th 2014, another two people were shot and killed in the Nairobi CBD; four more in Nakuru. On Twitter, users from Eastleigh remind us that the police are back to asking for IDs and demanding bribes.

No one else seems to worry, as I do, that the money demanded by someone whose finger nurses the trigger of an AK – 47 is less a tip than a ransom.

– Teju Cole, Every Day is for The Thief

Police brutality is not something that is new to Kenya. It’s difficult to speak about police brutality when state sanctioned brutality has been all you have lived with. Is it brutality if it is all you know? Who will you shout to? Who will listen? And, if you already know no one will listen – what is the point of speaking?

It’s not a stretch to wonder about how Moi’s Kenya lingers in Kenya’s collective conscience. Slowly we feel the return of a whispering nation. Stories go round – missing bloggers, disappeared witnesses and many more reach us. There are protests – as with all protests – they are problematic. We hide behind this. We are reminded that speaking has consequences. And, in being reminded, we are silenced.

At 2 am on August 22nd 2014, the police stormed into a house and killed 14 year old Kwekwe Mwandaza. Their argument being that she attacked them with a panga. Eight trained officers argue that a 14 year old with a panga is impossible to disarm without killing. After much public outrage the officers are charged.

“I think our country has three forms of government: one that meets in secret, plots in secret and implements things in secret, another government where leaders meet to flatter each other and the government where people work”

– Chelagat Mutai, 2011

In a vile video, the president asks the parents of a three year old girl where they were when their child was raped by her uncle.

What is the price of speaking?

Aisha Ali writes:

Women were never believed, and they were made to feel it was their fault they were sexually assaulted. Yes, a lot has changed. A lot of people have worked hard to improve this. But women are still made to feel like it’s their fault. We are now silencing them by saying we’ll only listen to them if they report. And that unless they report, their experience, their word, isn’t valid. Never mind that even when they report, they still get silenced in other ways.

In 1992, Wangari Maathai led a group of women that occupied “Freedom Corner” in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park, demanding the release of political prisoners arrested and detained by the Moi regime. The government sent armed police to evict the women, who stripped naked in protest and defiance. Wangari Maathai was beaten unconscious and hospitalized, but the women of Freedom Corner eventually won.

– Wambui Mwangi, Silence is a Woman

But the report by the parliamentary select committee says Mr Ouko was bundled into a government car and driven to State House lodge in Nakuru, where he was killed.

– Robert Ouko “Killed in Kenya State House

I’ve been wondering about how much we demand of a people. Human rights activists are asked to look more hurt. To sacrifice more. Disposable bodies are asked to expose themselves to further disposability to protect themselves.  At what point do the persons matter to the people? At what point does the welfare of the individuals in a movement matter to the movement? Whispers reach us, people have been threatened. People have been spoken to. The media is compromised – all oppression is connected.

I have to duck because I don’t want to land in a coffin for the wrong reason. One wrong reason is to get shot by a policeman who was taught in Kiganjo that the leg is located in the same place as the heart. The same policeman in this Jua Kali republic will shoot that leg to stop you from escaping.

– Wahome Mutahi, Welcome to my Share of Jua Kali Life

Militarisation is a long word. Death is a shorter one. Death is one that is easier to understand. Death is a word that is easily seen, easily imagined, easily known, easily feared. At some point, we must see these deaths as deaths. We must see these deaths as a price. And, in being a price, we must ask what  they are paying for.

– A Shot in the Dark

It is impossible to think about Darren Wilson without thinking about the police man who put his gun to my head one night near Wilson Airport. It’s impossible to wrap my head around police brutality without thinking of #KasaraniConcentrationCamp. It’s impossible to think about Uhuru Kenyatta without thinking about the complicated link to Moi:

The most prominent stage in Mr Kenyatta’s political career under the tutelage of Mr Moi came in 2002 when the outgoing president anointed him as his successor on a KANU ticket.

– Uhuru Kenyatta: Indicted President

It is impossible to think about the present, without thinking about the past.

So we dig into the history books, blogs, archives, oral narratives – looking for ourselves. And we find dead, imprisoned, erased and forgotten bodies. We find bodies burned in forests. We find bullets ripping through bodies. We find bodies discarded on the side of the road.

What do you think we’re going to do? Ask?


Michael Onsando
4 November ,2014

“The burden of identity is upon the identified”

– Chuma Nwokolo

“I say ‘I am a God’ and you go around saying ‘who the hell does that guy think he is?’ I just told you – I am a god”

– Kanye West

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”

― Audre Lorde

People have histories.

Histories create our uniqueness. No single person’s history is linear. It’s a blend. It’s a thing from here, a dinner there, an argument there – this forms us. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of the beginning. Where do things/people start? A more interesting variation of this question is: how far forward can our histories take us?

Sara Ahmed writes:

“Words are hard. There is no doubt; words are hard. We know the troubling history of race. We know how race came into being as way of making a hierarchy out of being.

The words are reminders of this history. Some of us don’t need reminders. The words can be directed. They are directed.”

George Gathara was arrested. His charge was filming without a license. Uhuru lied to Kenyans. JKUAT is on strike, closed indefinitely. These are pieces of history.

Victor Wanyama scored a great goal. Okwiri Oduor won the Caine Prize. Fena Gitu is making music. These are pieces of history.

These things weave, mix, create, grow and trade to end up being what we know as Kenya. In conversation with a friend, he reminds me to be realistic with my claims – all this can’t just change overnight. I’m bothered by the constant claims to be realistic.

I wonder who “reality” protects.

Again I ask: Who is allowed to be?

When Moi turned 90 in September, his history was sanitized. I’m worried for the children who will grow up reading about our “benevolent” statesman. I’m worried for myself, for the lies I’ve been fed. I’m worried for the writer who will argue 50 years from now and be told to be realistic. Moi’s time wasn’t that bad. Kenya is ‘not as bad as…’

I’m worried about what pieces of history we are using to define ourselves.

What does it mean to have a whispering state?

One begins to imagine how Wahome Mutahi ended up calling his column “Whispers” – and what this says about Kenya. This is another documented part of Moi’s Kenya. The whispering state. Where gossip ruled the land. And even that was controlled. Where an identity was constantly being constructed.

Identity is impossible

– Nduta Gathoni

In “Not Yet Kenyan” Aleya Kassam writes:

“I have always wondered what happened to make my grandmother so frightened. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about the inherent fear so many women in my grandmother’s generation feel towards black men. This prejudice they then pass on to their daughters, and the daughters after that. It is ok to be friends with black women, but not ok to be friends with black men. Because you never know. The demonization of all black men. The fear of which, the basis we ourselves don’t understand, but we so often blindly adopt.”

Identity is impossible…. to shake off?

Diary of a mad Kenyan woman writes

“You are not really, real, actual human beings.  You are maybe-terrorists.

You are the threat.  We shall throw you off your own balcony.  You are the threat.


Who do we erase? How many times do we erase them?

“an eight-year old is an eight-year old is an eight-year old

Wagalla is Waziristan is Westgate


a pregnant woman is a pregnant woman is a pregnant woman

Garissa is Kismayo is Nairobi”

– Shailja Patel

“I wanna live, I wanna live, I wanna live.”

– Dela


Those words stay with me. The song War in my Heart is a powerful social commentary. It reiterates thoughts of black disposability that have long been heard by black artists across the globe. To want to live, we must already be unliving. We must have already been removed from the narrative of liveable lives. We must have been removed from the identity, removed from our history.

If two non persons have children, are they non children? If we do not write ourselves into history will we ever be? Or will we always be the legislated against, the displaced, the disappeared, the disposables?

‘If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.’

– Zora Neale Hurston

Silencing is an important part of perpetuating the current power structures. When a woman says “Men oppress!” it is important to remind her of “not all men.” When homes are destroyed in Kibera, it is important to remind everyone of how “these people were warned.” When a poet is harassed,it is important that the internet puts her on trial.

But you can’t silence art, can you? Art has a persistence. Slips of poetry will be passed under desks. People will gather in basements to listen to spoken word or music. Blogs will be opened; Instagram pages and Twitter feeds. We know because we read Mwakenya. We know because we listened to Ochieng Kabaselle.

‘later that night i held an atlas in my lap ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered where does it hurt? it answered. everywhere. everywhere.’

– Warsan Shire

I’ve been tired. It can be tiring.

Recognising the pain of the earth means realising this pain.

Creating art that challenges means facing challenges created by that art.

And it is tiring.

And we get tired.

But we won’t stop.

We can’t stop.

We want our histories back. Like Dela, we want to live.