Creating hope (or, when rage becomes the norm)

Michael Onsando
9 October ,2018

“You will begin to forgive when you understand the many ways in which the world has killed those who try to survive it.”

“We’re not evolving emotional filters fast enough to deal with the efficiency with which bad news now reaches us”

It’s easy to lose hope these days. Especially when one gets themselves sucked into the cycle of rage and the restorative labour necessary in nation building. When looking around yields nothing but stories of stolen money, unnecessary projects, rises in taxes and a debt problem we are yet to solve it hard to start calculating positive outcomes.

It becomes even easier when you begin to notice that the people who are supposed to be fixing those problems are often the major cause of the problems, and those who stand up to “fight the good fight” turn on the people in the end.

Eventually, we get tired of throwing ourselves at the windmill over and over again. And the pain that we carry from the numerous battles we fight carry on into the next one. In this state of rage fatigue, it’s easy to lose sight of the cause and begin to lash out.

“Part of the privilege of a privileged identity is being insulated from things that people who don’t have it often face. A shadow of that is immediately checking their tone when they express their truth.”

When dealing with intersectionality it is important that we are able to organize bodies into groups. The way a body is perceived will often define the experience the body is allowed to have. To go against this experience is to have your body act in ways that people do not expect from bodies like yours. To have a large intimidating body is to work extra towards not being seen as aggressive. To have a smaller, frailer frame is to work extra towards being seen as capable of aggression, and so forth.

I use the word body very particularly because it speaks to something that one largely has no jurisdiction over. Modern science allows us to change our bodies to fit our perception of ourselves rather than the ever moving shadows of how other’s perceive us. This is particularly helpful for those who are most affected by this discrepancy in identity but these operations are still far outside the financial and imaginative reach of the general population.

And bodies speak in many ways, most of which are involuntary – or at least impulsive. They fold, they turn away, they swell, they shiver and so forth and so forth. Tongues fail to form letters properly, shaping language that points to a history. A history that tells a story of class, of tribe, of upbringing. Faces show echoes of who your people are.

“Babiness signals a beingness in place. To call oneself a babi in Kenya is to declare one untouchable. To ask, “Mta’do?”  Without the arrogance of Kenya’s political class. Without the violence of a country at war with its own. It is to say, “I am telling you this, and I am aware of the risk I take with an articulation of this kind but I am not afraid. Because I have no reason to be afraid”. It is to say, in many ways that even within one’s vulnerability (because there’s an ever-present vulnerability embodied in queerness) one’s body is not available to the violence it attracts if unbabied. Also, it is to say, “You might not like what I am telling you about me right now but you are going to have to listen to me because babiness is listened to in this country”.

In this way there is no running away. What this means is that, no matter how much you do, your body will be recognized as your body. And whatever memory your body evokes will be how you are seen, which will affect how people relate to you, depending on their own relationship with that memory. And how you relate to that perception will create the image that people have of you (perhaps this is what we mean when we say step into your power – navigate your perception with knowledge of that landscape).

Those who do the work of remembering take notes on bodies. These bodies carry violence. These bodies carry deceit. These have a tendency towards shame. These ones are not to be trusted.

It hit me yesterday that I have been, for a long time, uncomfortable with my identity as a Kikuyu man and what comes with it. Because that identity has been translated to me as an abuser, as competition, not just by other Kikuyu, but by everything.

The rise of identity politics brings more significance to this. In order for identity to exist there must be a body to be identified. Bodies are the markers of identity. And of course we remember. And, in a time like this, it’s easy to lose hope. For the bodies themselves to become the enemy, to lash out in the name of calling out. To forget the collective labour of undoing, unearthing and pursuing to better each other and focus on the destruction.

But the truth is indifferent.

The truth just is. It bears no ill will, it carries nothing with it other than itself. And in knowing this, we know what to listen to when trying to hear the truth and know how much of ourselves is between what we are trying to say and what the truth is.

“We need stories of belonging that move us towards each other, not from each other; ways of being human that open up the possibilities of being alive together; ways of navigating our differences that deepen our curiosity, that deepen our friendship, that deepen our capacity to disagree, that deepen the argument of being alive. This is what we need. This is what will save us. This is the work of peace. This is the work of imagination.”

Perhaps in seeing how far away we are from each other, buried by whatever blindnesses surviving in our bodies lived experience imposed upon us, we can begin the work of moving together, towards unburdening, untangling and rebuilding the systems of perception that oppress us all, creating new truths and, possibly, hope.

 

Rafiki – A Kenyan Love Story

Guest Writer
2 October ,2018

by Sheena M

I arrived about 20 minutes early, and already there was a large gathering waiting to see Rafiki. The moment I walked into the waiting area at Prestige Plaza cinemas, I felt the stares. We were all sizing each other up. Who are you? Do I know you? Are you a threat? Do I have to be concerned about your presence?

It was all nerves, muscles tensed and ready to spring into action. It was like we were all doing something we knew our parents would not approve of. This feeling wasn’t unfounded. I mean, you only need to look at Ezekiel Mutua’s tweets about this movie to how bad it is. So being at the cinema waiting to watch a movie about two Kenyan girls falling in love felt like a risk in itself, whatever your sexual orientation.

The movie’s director Wanuri Kahiu has already given various statements in the media about why she chose to go ahead with Rafiki, despite it not being welcome in its own home. She insisted that she wanted to make a love story and “contribute to that language of softness.” I can confidently say that Wanuri accomplished that desire.

Rafiki is the first Kenyan feature film to be screened at a Cannes Film Festival –it was filmed earlier last year. To have a Kenyan film, about Kenyans, made by Kenyans, showcased at the largest international showcase of cinematic art is a feat to be celebrated. Wanuri is no stranger to the movie scene. Her first feature film, From a Whisper, won awards at the Pan African Film Festival and the African Movie Academy Awards. While that movie was based on the events of the 1998 bombings on the US Embassy in Nairobi, Rafiki’s inspiration was drawn from the 2007 Caine Prize Winning Short Story “Jambula Tree” by Ugandan author Monica Arac de Nyeko.

Watching Rafiki was a reminder that we are really all the same. The 83-minute film was so captivating that I did not want it to end.

The Plot

Set in a fictional place called Slopes in Kenya, Rafiki tells the story of Kena (played by Samantha Mugatsia), a young tomboy living a regular Kenyan life. As we watch Kena skating along and meeting up with her male friends, it’s clear that she’s been accepted as ‘one of the guys’, even though one of the guys calls her ‘his number one girl’. When Kena’s not hanging out with Blacksta, she’s helping her dad run his shop or making sure her mom’s fed – a good Kenyan girl doing the good Kenyan girl thing.

Then one day, Kena notices a girl noticing her. This girl is obviously different – you can tell from her long, multi-coloured braids and the makeup. Even though this girl is the daughter of Kena’s father’s political opponent, Kena can’t help but be drawn to her. A friendship quickly blossoms between Kena and Ziki (played by Sheila Munyiva) and just as quickly grows into something more.

“The courage that you have when you’re in love is really what I hope resonates.”

~ Wanuri Kahiu

The opening scene of Rafiki is like an ode to all things Kenyan. Kiosks, campaign posters stuck on walls and the noa noa guy sharpening knives at the corner all blend together to paint the picture of a local Kenyan neighbourhood. As soon as the movie started, whatever tension we all had within us began to dissipate. Watching such familiar scenes drew us into a sense of comfort, a feeling of being home, even before we heard anyone speak onscreen.

As an audience, that bound us instantly. Kena may as well have been one of us – going to church with her mother every Sunday, hanging out with her boys at the local spot, eating chapo dondo. It only made the tender moments more tender and the harsh ones more painful, more alive, more real. We laughed as one at the funny parts, held our breaths when we didn’t know what was coming, gasped at the moments that shocked us and cried silently as we watched Kena and Ziki struggle to stay true to themselves.

The music was on point as well. From Kena skating along to the gentle moments between Kena and Ziki, the songs that played throughout the movie matched the mood perfectly.  It was no surprise that the artists featured include some of Kenya’s most dynamic musicians. Muthoni the Drummer Queen, Blinky Bill, Mayonde, Chemutai Sage, Mumbi Kasumba, Njoki Karu, Trina Mungai and Jaaz Odongo all lent their musical prowess to the magic of Rafiki.

Wanuri’s directing shines brightest in the use of vivid close ups shots and nothing but facial expressions, showing us a lot of what is said through the unsaid, the sneer, the turn of the check, looking away and so forth. The first time Kena and Ziki share an intense staredown, it lasts long enough to undeniably feel the emotion behind it. It also lasts long enough to deliberately make us uncomfortable.

Not for any other reason other than the guilt of intruding on a moment of intimacy.

The movie tells the story of how Kena and Ziki find love and then face opposition from their family and friends because of it. Wanuri’s creative storytelling and the actors’ in-depth portrayal of their characters pull us in.  The mirror image given by Rafiki is such an accurate reflection of our society that it’s impossible not to be moved.

All things 254

The hairstyles, the clothes, the buildings, the boda boda guy with his pimped out ride and even the local neighbourhood gossip were all familiar to anyone who’s lived in Kenya. Seeing all of them in cinema in a high-quality movie was surreal. It made everything seem possible. And the dialogue was so typically Kenyan we couldn’t help but relate. If anything it’s the way we say things that made many of us laugh out loud. Like Ziki saying, “A nurse? You? Why?”

Wanuri was right.

We don’t get to see as many moments of tenderness in cinema as exist in real life. Rafiki removed the veil from things we normally distance from ourselves. It helped us see that we are just as capable of love as we are of everything that is not.

And that is what makes Rafiki a powerful movie.

 

Sheena M is in love with words and how they shape themselves. That’s why she keeps a blog that’s not as ‘organised’ as most. To see her musings, check out her blog What She Thinks

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.”

Forgettingness

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 survival is the only option

Guest Writer
18 September ,2018

Ed’s note: On the eve of publishing this piece the governor of Nairobi found 12 bodies of infants hidden in boxes in Pumwani hospital. 

Rationally, I think it’s more profitable for this country if I stay breathing. I was – until recently – gainfully employed. A large chunk of that salary went to various government bodies. I file my tax returns on time. I am, by most accounts, good for the economy. If asked on a date and/or job interview, I would say I’m also a good citizen: I read the papers and watch news; I reflect on national politics/gossip, and often argue about it.

And yet, all this considered, I have a sneaking suspicion that Kenya is trying to kill me off.

Certainly, living in Kenya today has its inherent risks: you could die in the hundreds of accidents that happen monthly; your kiosk could be demolished and your entire family uprooted; you could be robbed and killed; you could die in some natural and/or manmade tragedy like your apartment building could collapse with you and your entire family inside, and so on. Let’s think of these as congenital Kenyan problems; if you are born here, perhaps there are some ground assumptions you must* eventually accept.

These congenital dangers are not what I’m talking about right now. I’m talking about what happens when a good samaritan pulls you from the wreckage and rushes you to the nearest hospital. Or when your children are get cholera and you take them to the local clinic. I’m talking about what happens when your wife goes into labour a month before your loan comes through, when your sister has a mental breakdown and must be committed. I’m talking about what happens when you start coughing up blood and need to see a specialist.

Let me explain.

Our national health policy is straightforward: don’t be sick.There is no gesture more characteristic of our medical infrastructure than a silent shrug. Raced over here at 3am with a sick baby but don’t have cash? Shrug. Performed major surgery on the wrong patient, or neglected them? Shrug. Have to travel across the country from your village to access one of the three specialists in Nairobi? Shrug. Raped women who just gave birth in a national medical institution? Shrug. Can’t bury your family until you clear the enormous medical bills? Shrug. Require access to medication or equipment not available in-country? Shrug. Seriously injured in an accident but medical staff on strike? (your guess)

For all the people who have been advocating for better healthcare for decades, this is old news. In fact, it’s in line with what appears to be our broader national ethos: don’t be poor. The difference between our congenital Kenyan problems and the growing urgency of our (lack of) medical infrastructure may not be too large. Both are engineered and sustained for profit. Both are wide-ranging and seemingly intractable. But I do sense a difference, minor perhaps, but enraging. While both problems are stealing Kenyan lives, the health crisis disgusts me primarily because it strikes me as so profoundly preventable as to be malicious. If I survive a car crash only to die in a queue at a referral hospital, hiyo ni uchokozi. If a nurse gives me the wrong name tag and I don’t receive appropriate care, hiyo ni uchokozi. When a pregnant woman dies giving birth in a rural clinic because there was no ultrasound machine, that is preventable.

Here’s what we know: we don’t have even a third of the required number of medical specialists in the country. The current staff are underpaid and overworked. Those in public hospitals, in particular, are decamping at an alarming rate. All the same, the future workforce – medical graduates – are not finding placements. Of those being placed, the distribution across the counties is uneven despite decentralization; over half of medical specialists are in Nairobi alone. Only a quarter of  all Kenyans are covered by health insurance. The National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) recently downgraded its cover to a maximum of four hospital visits per family for an entire calendar year. In the region, Kenya spends a comparatively small fraction of its GDP (~6%) on healthcare. The entire sector is rapidly becoming privatized, with marked government support for foreign investment. All this is to say: we are nowhere close to achieving universal healthcare. Yes, several other countries are in a similar position. However, given our current resources, and varied happy coincidences of history, our failure is not justified.

But remember, don’t get sick. If you are a patriotic Kenyan, you’ll get malaria, or a bad sore throat. You’ll go to a chemist, pick up coartem or strepsils and be on your way. If you are a rebel, you will break your arm, or contract an STI. You’ll go to a clinic near you, wait, pay, see a GP, get a quick diagnosis, pay again for the medication, and be on your way. If you are at my point or higher then you make it to enemy of the state, and you’ll do something our government seems unwilling to consider but happy to profit from: you will acquire a chronic and/or severe illness.

I used to consider myself lucky. When I first fell ill, I was a consultant and could thankfully afford my own health insurance. In the time I began to worsen, I had shifted to work that provided me with medical cover. Throughout this time, I was still paying monthly for NHIF. Over the past two years, I have been foisted from one doctor to another, crawled from one hospital to another, first trying to get clear diagnoses, and then to find effective treatments, and compassionate care. I’ll spare you the horror of the inbetween. From January to July this year, I accessed over half a million shillings’ worth of healthcare. This does not include the ‘experimental’ or ‘unconventional’ treatments I tried, like additional physiotherapy and testing, that I had to pay for out of pocket.

I have stopped calling myself lucky because I was employed, had insurance, got diagnosed relatively faster than others, received passable care, and responded well to the treatments. Luck should not have to factor here. Let’s go back to the quick maths I started with. Maybe my frame is too narrow. Taxes on my income, and each of my individual purchases may not be enough to earn my keep as a Kenyan citizen. Maybe I’m worth more sick; my being constantly unwell certainly profits a few big clusters: pharmaceutical companies, private hospitals, government official and unofficial coffers. Don’t be sick.

If this country isn’t deliberately trying to kill me, it is, at the very least, not actively trying to keep me alive and healthy. Something has to give. We will continue to be frail humans and if the government insists on not only ignoring but profiting from this fact, then we are playing a fatal game of chicken; whoever blinks first loses. If you don’t get sick, you win. If you don’t get in an accident, you win. If no one in your circle gets ill or injured, you win. Lucky or not, those odds are tough to beat – and no one wins.  I did not.

Alexis Teyie is a writer and editor at Enkare Review

Changing Landscapes

Michael Onsando
28 August ,2018

“The thing about saying something is happening is that change comes to everyone in its own time. And so to say that something is happening is to forget the millions that it is yet to happen to. It is to forget those who will die before that thing happens. And if the thing that was supposed to happen doesn’t happen in time for you – then did it happen?” 

It’s been particularly well known that, while Kenyan elections run on tribal math, this has always just been a narrative used by people in power to maintain their status as the ruling class. Still, tribe has been to blame for most of the problems facing Kenya’s political landscape. So much so has tribe been at the root of our problems that “tribless Kenya” is a movement hoping that, in organizing across tribal lines we can work towards a united country.

It makes sense that we can be herded around using tribe. The concept plays on our base ideas of “us” “ours” and a “sense of belonging.” (and participates in creating “them,” “theirs” and a “sense of unbelonging.”)

“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.” 

So what happens when the tribal numbers stop making sense? When it increasingly becomes apparent that “our man” will not help us?

“When my competitors are through with(mon-sun)sponsored headlines, paid opinion polls & fake news they are welcome to the real contest based on real mwananchi issues SGR, roads, connecting people to electricity, equipping our hospital &Tivets and matters water. Nawangojea huko.” 

The narrative changes.

“Siasa ya 2022 imengoa nanga (…) hii siasa si ya monarchy ukiamka asubuhi enda kwa huyu, jioni kwa huyu, kesho kwa huyu – hapana. Hata sisi maskini tutazaa kiongozi wetu maskini 2022 William Samoei arap Ruto” 

Mohammed Ali

It’s impossible to ignore that sanitizing effect that the defection of Mohammed Ali has on William Ruto’s character. How can you claim that a person is corrupt if the very person who was voted into government to fight corruption has aligned themselves with them? Buildings are destroyed, commissions are called, rumours are started, reports are written, life moves on – we forget about corruption.

Instead we focus on kiongozi wetu maskini.

Wetu.

The new narrative is the same old narrative. Just the objects that hold space of fearing the “other” have been changed. We begin to see battle lines drawn along the story of the people versus the empire.

“As three generations of firstborn sons, our childhoods couldn’t have been more different. One lived through the early years of colonialism. The next through the Emergency years. I lived through the austerity years of Nyayoism, in the dying embers of the political revolution that begun in the early 80s. Did that define our chosen crafts? From a health officer to a teacher to a writer?” 

It’s worth understanding why these narratives are sticky. One theory states that the independence struggle, while won, took its toll on the country. The only hope left on the other side was catching up with an ever-moving world. In this sense the goalposts shifted from self-determination to gathering resource (I imagine because it became more apparent that resource was the key to this self determination). It is from here single career stories were birthed (be a lawyer doctor engineer or embarrassment to the family). This kind of thinking thrived strongest in the Moi error where following a template and keeping your head down was a surefire way to success. But time passed and we are looking for different definitions of freedom, beyond the pursuit of capital to sustain a life that hadn’t been chosen. Increasingly people are looking for agency over their decisions and looking to where this agency will take (would have taken) them. And the gaps in infrastructure are becoming more apparent.

And the people are getting impatient (Africa is rising, why are we being left behind please?)

Juxtapose this emotion onto the landscape with dwindling tribal numbers and the stage is set for the class to thrive as a key driving story.

And it’s not that hard a story to sell. Kenyatta the first’s government systematically grabbed and redistributed resources amidst the political elite. Every government that has come after has participated, to some degree at least, in this tradition of creating wealth for the elite. And this wealth never translates into proper economic growth because it is not created with a plan or structure but rather through pilfering public funds and redirecting public resources.

So in this way, the Kenyan populace remains vulnerable to the “working president” as a narrative. Change looks like having a president who did not come from legacy and has no ties to empire to the Kenyan people because this is something we have no experience of.

Elections, however, are in 2022 and this is only 2018 – a lot can happen in 4 years. And it is impossible to say the age of political patronage is over. But it might be worth pointing out that it will not be enough to get by on “my people” alone moving forward. Already loud declarations are being made about holding the value of labour over identity so much so that the president had to say that he will not protect his brother if found guilty (he said he will, whether he will well…)

So how can the current landscape be used to the advantage of the people?

First, as already explained the narrative is strong because it is true. Kenya is long overdue a leader that is not part of empire (that leader is not the guy who stole land from a primary school or sold the country’s grain). Look around and find ways to support the leaders you think are actually working.

Second, use the narrative and circumstances to create pressure for the people currently in power. Remind them that the tribal numbers won’t help them next time and that it is the current scorecard that matters. Keep track of the things you and members of the community need done and present them to the people who need to get them done (you can email, tweet or whatever). Make sure your issues are heard – then watch for who is listening. If the battle is for who is listening to the people – then speak your truth.

Kenya’s Media Problem

Guest Writer
14 August ,2018

by Robert Munuku

When I turn on the television, I am not sure whether I am watching the news or a travesty of the same in the name of a glorified show of beautiful men and women dressed up in dashing tunics and layers of make-up smiling before our screens telling us what we should care about. I fear for journalism in this country, and flinch at the thought that the deterioration of one of society’s key institutions will be to our detriment.

Mainstream media in Kenya is far from politically neutral and this in itself is enough stir concern. A quick recap at the major mainstream media houses in our country: The Nation Media Group (which owns The Nation and NTV, Mediamax Limited (which owns K24), Royal Media Services (which owns Citizen TV and Radio, among other radio stations), the Standard Media Group (which owns The Standard and KTN), and Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC).  I am intrigued by the ownership of these media houses, their board constitutions and their implied affiliations.

The Nation Media Group (NMG) is owned by the Aga Khan Foundation, founded in 1959 by his Highness the Aga Khan. At face-value this seems okay, after all, the foundation is more or less an autonomous entity. But when we take a look at the board members of NMG we see some familiar faces; allow me to pick one – Professor Olive Mugenda. Prof. Mugenda served as the Vice Chancellor of Kenyatta University (a public university) and was later appointed by the current President, Uhuru Kenyatta, early this year to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). This may not mean anything and one could say she was vetted and therefore qualifies for the job. However it is often the case that such nominations are done based on trust and a history of loyalty.

The Kenya Television Network (KTN) was founded by Jared Kangwana, a close ally of retired President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi for years. This affiliation was accentuated in a land donnybrook four years ago where Kangwana stated that the former President had allocated the land to him.  Going by the former President’s endorsement of our current President in 1997 as KANU’s (Kenya National Union party) presidential flag-bearer, it would not be a far-fetched assumption that KTN and its mother company, Standard Media Group, leans more towards government. The former Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) parastatal boss, Dr. Julius Kipng’etich, also sits as a board member of the Standard Media Group.

K24 TV is owned by the Kenyatta family to the best of the public’s knowledge; no need to say where their loyalties lie. The same goes for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) which is not only the pioneer media house in the country, but also a parastatal run by the government. We are left with one more mainstream media house to look to for authentic unbiased journalism – Royal Media Services or, if you prefer, Citizen TV.

In the 2013 general elections in Kenya, the owner of Royal Media Services, Samuel Kamau Macharia (popularly known S.K. Macharia), was seen standing next to the former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, in a press conference at which the election results were being contested. Moments after the famous press briefing, several articles arose from independent media houses claiming that he was in fact using his media house, Royal Media Services, to support the former Prime Minister’s election bid.

Fast-forward to 2018, Royal Media Services conducted what is arguably the largest poaching drive in the industry’s history, literally milking-dry all their competitors, especially KTN and NTV (Nation TV of Nation Media Group).  Among those poached were KTN former Managing Editor, Joe Ageyo, whose new role is not clear yet given we have seen him intermittently reporting features for Citizen. Joe Ageyo was also one of the 2 journalists who moderated the 2017 Presidential Debate alongside the then Nation T.V. Managing Editor, Linus Kaikai. It is worth noting too that Asha Mwilu, an award-winning journalist who worked closely with Joe during his stint as Managing Editor at KTN, was poached together with him to join Royal Media Services. Another personality to note among the poached is Yvonne Okwara-Matole, from KTN. Like Joe Ageyo, she too was a moderator for the running-mates’ debate in the 2017 general elections.

Linus Kaikai, Larry Madowo and Ken Mijungu were summoned to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) headquarters for allegedly refusing to comply with a directive regarding the airing of the former Prime Minister’s ‘swearing-in’ ceremony. One month later, Larry Madowo resigned from his post at the Nation Media Group. Linus Kaikai, who was accosted with him, also resigned shortly after the summons to CID headquarters. He later moved to Royal Media Services.

It is said that “grand alliances between two great powers are generally the least effective.” Could this apply to the infamous ‘handshake’ between our President and former Prime Minister? Would it be so absurd to entertain the possibility that the shake-up in the media is connected to this?

When I turn on the news, all I see is tragedy; rape at Moi Girls Secondary School, the recent demolitions by NEMA, hordes of corruption cases from that of the National Youth Service (NYS) to the more recent of supposed misuse of office by the former governor of Nairobi. I know when a dog bites a man it is no news and ‘news’ would only constitute the opposite, but have we taken ‘bad news’ too far? Has our news been reduced to insensitive sensationalism of even the most tragic moments of our times? Do journalists care about telling the truth – about sharing honest stories from the same masses that the media fraternity serves, or is winning an award for a story more important for them?

Has mainstream journalism in our country been co-opted by the political elite?

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. Follow him on Twitter @robertmunuku

Loving in mono – dreaming in stereo

Michael Onsando
7 August ,2018

“I surrender this isn’t love it’s torture” 

  • Hold me down

Love, or ideas of what love can be, has the ability to bring us to our knees. With our backs against the wall and confronted by the harsh truth that no one is subject to your will – that illusions of control are just that. Love, we are reminded is a battlefield for preservation of the self, in a landscape that continuously asks for compromise, for a little letting go for a little more space – just a little.

My first encounter with the album “Dreams in Stereo” happens in Eric Wainaina’s studio. I have wandered into the space on other business and Eric has just come from recording “Okay,” the opening track on the album. The song takes us to all the places we know and trust Eric to take us. Heavily layered choir like melodies over intricate piano and guitar with the trademark tenor that brought us “nchi ya kitu kidogo” immediately let’s you know one thing – you’re listening to an Eric Wainaina record.

But if love itself has the ability to bring us down to our knees then what does its absence do? At what point in the process of unraveling and bringing back together does one decide enough is enough? And, post this decision, what does it look like to put oneself decision in the absence of the person they had decided was supposed to be with them for the rest of their lives?

I miss my second encounter with the album. Having made it to the album launch I barely make it through Sage Chemutai and Tetu Shani’s great openings before a my body decides that it has had enough of my nonsense. The migraine has me in bed before Eric takes the stage.

Speaking at an interview this is what he had to say about the album,“It is an even more personal and intimate album in many ways, where I felt freer to just be myself. It also explores a wide range of musical genres that are close to my heart.”

“Nilikukosea nini, ukanichukia?” 

  • Don’t bury me

The tapestry takes us through a variety of sounds, with each song painting a particular place in the landscape that our attention is being drawn to. There is clear evidence of very deliberate thought about where each note is placed, where every sound effect resonates and every echo. Even when he brings other artists in, we see why they are where they are. A personal favourite is how the diverse style of John Nzenze, Kendi Nkonge and Blinky Bill come together on “don’t bury me” creating a bouncy, snappy track that moves at the everyday rhythm of life – in a song that talks about moving on, moving forward without anger or angst, but rather letting go to move forward.

Can we fly away together, tell no one – don’t leave a number.”

  • Fly away together

I spend the week after the concert streaming the album almost every day. Not only because I was supposed to conjure up a few words about it, but because I am drawn to find more in every listen. To find more of the narrative, to move through the nostalgia and hope once again – I tire my kid brother on one such listen – so perhaps the music intended for more errr mature audiences.

Life has a way of not stopping. No matter what happens, life trudges on. And even as we tell ourselves that love is irreplaceable, we find ourselves slipping once more. We find ourselves loving, despite ourselves. We find ourselves caring, despite ourselves. And, no matter how careful we are, we find ourselves asking, once more to love and to be loved.

“Paid my dues, now I’m ready for the loving, ready for loving – no substituting.”

  • Long time coming 

As I write this essay I am still listening to the album. At 41 minutes long, the piece of work lends itself to a long drive, a long walk or the mindless listen at your work desk as you wait for 5pm. Packed with lyrical and musical content, this is more than the songs you play in the background and ignore – this music demands being listened to, demands being heard – again

“I need you to take me to a brand new day”

Brand new day

“Perhaps it is the role of art to put us in complicity with things as they happen” 

  • Hejinian

Perhaps this is why we turn to art for the answers. When love pushes us to our knees we already know what we are supposed to do. We already know that there is little to be done. Instead we need someone to remind us that, eventually, it gets better. Eventually, we see the world as beautiful again. Eventually we love – again.

Dreaming in stereo by Eric Wainaina is available on Songa, and iTunes. 

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.

Blockchain Technology and its Role in Real Estate Transactions

Guest Writer
3 July ,2018

by Jeff Kinuthia

A blockchain is a digital database or ledger distributed across a network of computers which is protected by coding the data to prevent editing and removal, and blockchain technology is the underlying application that enables all of this. Importantly, a blockchain records and stores all the transactions that occur within the network, essentially eliminating the need for third parties to confirm the validity of the transactions.

Until recently, blockchain technology was largely utilized and associated with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin but more and more jurisdictions are slowly opening up to its use in different areas such as financial asset management and in land registration systems.

Which is timely because aggrieved citizens voiced their concerns with the government for years regarding the poor management of the lands registries. In 2016 the Ministry of Lands finally embarked on a digitization exercise of the 57 land registries across the country which have been keeping manual records since 1895. This exercise is ongoing and is aimed at improving the delivery of services through electronic land transactions.

While this effort must be lauded, it came at a period when the developed world appeared to be going one way and Kenya the other. However, the recent announcement by the ICT Cabinet Secretary that blockchain technology will be applied to supplement the digital database is a welcome relief that places Kenya firmly on the forefront of the blockchain revolution.

Blockchain’s advantage over traditional databases (such as the one being implemented by the Ministry) are numerous. First, under blockchain, a central database or settlement system maintained by the Land Registry for example, is replaced by multiple copies. This is great because the problem with a centralized system, especially in a country with endemic corruption, is that ill-intentioned bureaucrats often infiltrate and tamper with the system and a digital database is not be exempt from such tampering.

In a land transaction utilizing blockchain, multiple copies of a blockchain will be held by any number of interested parties such as owners, potential purchasers and agents. These copies continuously and automatically update their contents via a complex consensus mechanism that means that they are always identical. By using hashes to identify every real estate transaction (thus making it publicly available and searchable), proponents argue issues such as who is the legal owner of a property can be remedied.

Secondly, Blockchain technology also underpins ‘smart contracts’, which are programmable contracts that self-execute when certain conditions are met, and offer the possibility that transactions could complete much faster when combined with a blockchain registry.  For instance, title to the property could be transferred to the purchaser automatically on receipt of funds into the vendor’s account.  The result would also be to speed up the registration process.  With the ledger updating immediately, the registration gap would be eliminated.  This, in turn, would also lead to greater efficiencies and cost savings for land registries.

Third, nothing on the blockchain can be changed save with the consensus of the network. Any confirmed transactions on the blockchain cannot be changed.

Lastly, what happens on the blockchain stays on the blockchain. A public blockchain will act as a public ledger meaning that as long as the blockchain remains operative, the data on it will remain accessible.

Globally, other countries are already in various stages of exploring blockchain-based land registries:

  • In Brazil, the government partnered with a blockchain start up to overhaul the land registrar at two Brazilian municipalities by embedding land possession data into the bitcoin blockchain. The pilot program begun in August 2017 and is ongoing. 
  • Sweden is the country that’s furthest along in putting land registries on a blockchain. It is a country with an already well-established land registry system and believes blockchain could save the Swedish taxpayer over $100 million by speeding up transactions, reducing paperwork and minimizing fraud. 
  • Republic of Georgia has already agreed to use blockchain to validate all government related property transactions. Since its launch in February 2017, Georgia’s blockchain provider has helped implement property registration and has registered more than 100,000 documents.
  • Closer home, Rwanda recently announced that a Swiss cybersecurity company, in partnership with Microsoft, will soon offer support to the Rwandan Government in adopting blockchain technology in the country’s land registries.

Challenges facing the implementation of blockchain

Regulations have always struggled to keep up with advances in technology and blockchain is no exception. One of blockchain technology’s challenges is that it reduces oversight. There is thus a strong argument for blockchain applications to work within existing regulatory structures not outside of them, but this means that regulators in all industries should understand the technology and its impact on the businesses and consumers in their sector. New regulations will therefore need to be formulated to govern this intergration.

Second, many potential applications of blockchain, such as in land transactions, require smart transactions and contracts to be indisputably linked to known identities and thus raise important questions about privacy and the security of the data stored and accessible on the shared ledger. A key question that will always be raised is who has access to the ledger and how is access controlled?

Further, in Kenya, the current data protection laws we have in place are inadequate and we needed greater legislation with regard to accountability of persons and institutions that hold data. The relevant legislation, the Data Protection Bill (2013), has been stuck in Parliament for years now. Adequate data protection laws will therefore need to be implemented.

Finally, cost. The cost of implementing blockchain technology in a country like Kenya might prove to be a great challenge. This is firstly due to the fact that we are yet to digitize the land registry. Blockchain can only be implemented on a digital platform. The exercise, which begun in 2016 is still ongoing and there is currently no indication as to when the exercise will be completed. Once the digitization is complete, we will then need to set up the infrastructure which will involve acquiring the right software and computers with great computing and storage power.

What now?

The announcement by the ICT Cabinet Secretary on blockchain and land registries, and the setting up of a digital ledger and artificial intelligence taskforce by the ICT Ministry is an encouraging sign that the government is open and willing to adopt blockchain technology.

In the private sector, numerous startups have begun already begun implementing blockchain in their businesses. Examples include ‘ChamaPesa’, a blockchain savings application for savings groups set to officially launch in 2018. ‘Land Layby’, a real estate firm, recently announced that the firm is set to roll out an application for a blockchain-powered land registry by April 2018. The initial role of the platform will be to provide a mirror reflection of the Government Land Registry systems.

In the cryptocurrency sector, numerous companies relying on blockchain technology such as ‘L-Pesa’ and ‘Belrifics Global’ have gone a step further by launching Initial Coin Offering (ICO’s). ICO’s are a funding mechanism similar to Initial Public Offerings (IPO’s) in which startups sell their underlying cryptocurrency tokens in exchange for bitcoin.

Such advancements and application of blockchain locally appears to have contributed greatly to the fact that Nairobi was chosen as the host of the 2018 World Blockchain Summit in March.

Blockchain technology is a revolutionary tool that will change the way we do business in a lot of different sectors from the land registry to the financial sector and practically every industry that has great data management needs. The ultimate question therefore is not if, but when will this technology’s application will become widespread in Kenya.

 

Jeff Kinuthia is a lawyer specializing in corporate and commercial law. He can be reached on njeffkinuthia@gmail.com 

Social Shifts That Mark the Present State of Kenya

Guest Writer
19 June ,2018

by Wangari Kibanya

Conversations around the word millennial make me wonder, why would we need to contextualize our social and economic shifts from a very US American lens yet our nation is only 53 years old and did not undergo some of the shifts that mark the demographic markers on that end? What happens when the word millennial is deployed in the larger Kenyan discussion? When we label young people and how they act or contribute to society?

When we discuss the different generations, we use the terms – Baby Boomer. Generation X, Generation Y or Millennials and Generation Z /iGen (yet to be crystallized.) This illustration shows what characteristics have been assigned to each of these demographic groups, and the language we currently use to describe people within our workspaces. It shows US American centric culture dynamics. What makes each generation unique? According to US Americans, it is differences in technology use, work ethic, values, intelligence, among others.

The thinking behind all the demographic labels we use to define our workforce dynamics are informed by the United States. Maybe it is time to localize these labels and develop the language and apply a different context for the Kenyan workspace (which may also hold true for a lot of African countries).

The recent history of Africa can be defined as pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial. How has the Kenyan workforce morphed from independence to post-independence? What are the demographic characteristics that we can use to shift the conversation around how we develop strategies for understanding context and the role it plays?

Kenya gained independence from Great Britain’s colonial rule in 1963, and this ushered in the Africanisation policy. Pre-independence dynamics saw colonial Kenya define and demarcate drastic social shifts in systems of production, culture, religion and economies. Different communities that were merged to make the Kenyan project moved from agricultural, pastoral and gatherer means of sustenance to a money economy – new crops, language, religion and vocations.

This is the starting point of a change that brought Kenya into the world. The different markers for each generation also determine expression, how ideas spread, their conversations and world views. A person born in a certain time period may have more privilege that one born in another time. This privilege is rarely acknowledged. Maybe this is why talk of younger generations having it easy crops up in conversations about the good old times. According to many, younger generations are “spoilt”.

How can we think about the Kenyan workforce in a new way? What are the educational, political, and social markers of each generation? Within each of these broad categories, you can also map and expand different sub- groups and cultures to get more nuances on each demographic label.  The main consideration for the social, cultural and political characteristics what happened around them as they made the leap from childhood to adulthood.

1963 – 1978: Uhuru generation

This generation came up during the Africanisation of labor market, and took up jobs in the civil service, leading to rapid expansion of formal economy. Africanisation ensured that new jobs were created in Kenya’s post-independence economy. They had (and still have) jobs for life in the civil service, and there were limited education opportunities. This led to the wide availability of jobs. Public services were functional in their time.

First and second generation Kenyans were able to get through formal education system, from 3R (reading, writing, arithmetic) to university education. There were airlifts to the United States and Soviet bloc countries to train a professional class, as well as expansion of education facilities in Kenya, and Kenyan music (Benga especially) dominated the airwaves with influences from the Congo – they even had global recording studios such as Polygram set up shop here.

1978 -1982: Early Generation

This generation was born into a constitutionally embedded one party state, and witnessed succession from the first president of Kenya as well as a coup attempt, which radically shifted Kenya’s character.

1982 – 2002: Nyayo Generation

This generation experienced a change of education system from 7-4-2-3 to 8-4-4. We have experienced state repression, currency controls and price controls. Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) have had a great impact on our experiences of public services such as education, health and infrastructure.   We saw the liberalization of the Kenyan economy, including the free market, privatization of public services, and a public service hire freeze.

We have witnessed the rise of Information Technology as an industry, boosted by computerization and dial up internet access. There was increased uptake of opportunities abroad by Kenyan students and professionals (which led to “brain drain”) due to political and economic conditions. We experienced news from a monopoly broadcaster (KBC), and Congolese and vernacular Kenyan music defined our audio experience.

2002 – 2010: Children of democracy

This generation has witnessed the expansion of democratic space. Freedom of expression and creativity in the film industry, art and music was burgeoning at this time. The Kenyan Hip Hop scene grew due to the presence of labels such as Ogopa DJs and Calif Records, and there was an increase in literary output from collectives such as Kwani? TV and radio frequencies were liberalized, leading to a rise in independent/commercial media houses.

There was a geopolitical shift to engage more with the East, leading to the entry of China in megaproject infrastructure funding. This generation has experienced the enhanced use of technology for everyday life, as well as increased global connections due to internet use (due to the landing of fiber optic cable on Kenyan coast.) This led to better connectedness of Kenya to the outside world – more Kenyans got online as the cost of internet significantly reduced. Mobile telephony grew rapidly with the entry of KenCell Safaricom.

There were many diaspora returnees at this time, and new constitution was promulgated at this time. There were also curriculum changes in primary and secondary schools, with a reduction of examinable subjects.

2010 – Current: Digital natives (Generation Z/iGen)

This generation is experiencing an even greater merge of Kenya with the global space on the digital frontier. They have grown up using mobile devices, high speed internet and broadband. There is an immediacy in the adoption of global trends, making it to almost every part of the country. There has been a screen shift to mobile rather than legacy media, and a change in news dissemination and cultural trends in the age of viral news and trends on Kenyan Facebook and Twitter (#KOT.)

This generation is coming up in a time of unemployment and underemployment, leading to a growing gig economy and the emergence of the “hustler.” There has been a demographic shift in the makeup of our population, and an expansion in the creative economy (we have photographers, videographers, writers, actors, poets, fashion influencers, Instagram and Facebook popup shops.) This generation has seen a rise in self-publishing on platforms like WordPress, and self-promoting created content on platforms like YouTube. There has been more privatization of services, and the rollout of a new curriculum in 2017.

*

With this basic frame of the different slices of the demographic shifts and labels, perhaps we can reimagine and develop strategies that blend both global thinking and local dynamics that underpin our interactions with Kenyan youth, and understand why it is important to contextualize demographic labels.