by Joash Onsando
Read part 1 here.
“Power is like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.”
Frank Underwood, House of Cards.
In part one, I spoke about Interior CS Dr. Fred Matiangi’s meteoric rise to power in the Jubilee administration. Today, few would question the “property value” of the man who many now refer to as “Chief Minister”. I picked him, the subject of this article to illustrate the precarious nature of proximity to power in Kenyan politics.
If the history of Kenyan politics has taught us anything then that lesson would be that smart power is exercised indirectly, through trusted aides. Any politician of note will tell you that highly risky political maneuvers are best carried out by an agent. That way the principal can walk away without egg on their face in case things don’t go according to plan.
Our political past is littered with several examples of such agents. Typically, the agent is a highly effective, zealous and fiercely loyal individual. The principal will normally pick them and elevate them over their peers with resultant perks and trappings of power. The agent is normally a means to an end and as such is quickly disposed of as soon as the end is met. The fierce loyalty of the agent is hardly reciprocated by the principal.
The agent must know their place. They must not let newly acquired power get to their head. They must always remember that they serve at the whims of the principal, and therefore must always remain subservient and accountable.
By virtue of their position, the agent normally attracts envy and admiration in equal nature. Because of the high risk nature of the political maneuvers tasked to them, the agent inevitably makes many enemies, some very powerful enemies in the course of carrying out their assigned duties. It is these factors that make the position of agent, a blessing and a curse.
“Proximity to power deludes some into thinking they wield it”
Frank Underwood, House of Cards
No politician in history used this agency relationship as cunningly and effectively as former President Daniel Arap Moi. The August 1 1982 coup attempt transformed Moi from a soft spoken, amiable character whom some had described as a passing cloud to a seemingly intolerant political chess master who demanded unquestioning loyalty from the rank and file of KANU – the only party then.
It therefore came to pass that on December 17, 1986, after a series of provincial KANU conferences and a national conference at the Kenya Institute of Administration in Kabete, Moi unveiled the KANU Disciplinary Committee, KDC, chaired by one David Okiki Amayo to purge any dissent and disloyalty from within the party.
The committee’s formal brief was to grill members on discipline issues and punish those found to have flouted the party’s code of conduct or brought it to disrepute.
The KDC would quickly gain notoriety as a platform through which political scores were settled with little or no regard to due process. Its grilling sessions began with those summoned stating their name, occupation and whether they had pledged loyalty to the government, the party, the president and the ‘Nyayo Philosophy’. What would follow thereafter would be a charade of trumped up, comical and sometimes childish charges against respondents who were almost always found guilty. For many the best outcome of appearing before it would be writing an apology letter to the party with the worst case scenario being expulsion from the party. With Kenya being a one party state at the time, said expulsion was a death knell for many political careers.
The Amayo led committee was a law unto itself, paying no regard even to the constitutional protections accorded to sitting members of parliament. In 1987, the then Labour minister, Peter Okondo , himself a victim of the committee described Amayo’s conduct of party affairs as “boisterous, bloated and so bombastic as to make utter nonsense of reality and the truth”. Such was the notoriety of the KDC that a cabinet minister would have no recourse but to lament of its excesses in parliament.
On September 10th 1987, upon returning from a trip to Finland and Romania, President Moi unceremoniously disbanded the KDC at JKIA with a few terse words; “I want to dissolve the KANU Disciplinary Committee and it is hereby stamped out. I want wananchi to live without fear!”
And thus ended David Okiki Amayo’s reign of terror. Whilst he had served his purpose, he had also allowed power to get to his head. He had become too big for his breeches, punched way above his station and effectively become a thorn in Moi’s flesh. His political fortunes would slowly dwindle after that having more enemies that he could count. His loss to Phoebe Asiyo in the Karachuonyo Parliamentary race in 1992 ultimately dispatched him to political oblivion.
“For those of us climbing to the top there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted”
Frank Underwood, House of Cards
If I were to pick a historical figure with whom to draw parallels with CS, then it would be Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya. Like Matiangi, Mboya was intelligent, focused, intense and arrogant to boot. Mboya had a way about him, he got things done by employing charm and his exemplary oratory skills. With little effort he managed to cut himself a niche above his peers at the Lancaster House independence negotiations and thereafter. His unique set of skills did not go unnoticed by founding President Jomo Kenyatta who appointed him in his cabinet, first as Minister for Labour and later on as minister for Economic Planning where he is credited to have authored, alongside others, the Sessional Paper Number Ten which defined the country’s economic policies.
Mboya’s first rather overt show of loyalty to Kenyatta, came in response to a report written, ‘Who Rules Kenya’, written by Nigerian journalist Zeeky Rukari. Rukari wrote: “Kenyatta is today one of the biggest land owners. He possesses 6000 acres of choice land”. This statement angered the Kenyatta administration and Mboya, leveraging on his international connections, volunteered to reach out to the Nigerian government, ostensibly to avoid similar embarrassment in the future.
After independence, Kenyatta and Odinga, his Vice President, clashed on many issues, key among them being land and the East- West divide, an ideological rift. This was a far cry from a few years back when Odinga had declared Kenyatta his “next God” whilst demanding for his release before independence! Tables had now turned and Kenyatta needed to neutralize Odinga. He knew Mboya was just the man for the job.
In a genius move, Mboya – then KANU’s Secretary – proposed amending the party’s constitution splitting Odinga’s party vice chair position to eight positions, one from each of the provinces. The rhetoric accompanying the changes was that KANU needed a more inclusive, national face and not seem like a Luo-Kikuyu affair. After long drawn political intrigue expertly managed by the young Secretary General, Odinga’s fate was sealed on March 9th 1966 at the Limuru KANU conference. The eight Vice Chairmen were elected with Odinga, who was absent, missing from the lineup.
Odinga then resigned as Vice President and formed his own party, the Kenya Peoples Union. Not one to take things lying down he planned a motion of no confidence in President Kenyatta in parliament. This was after a slow yet deliberate defection of MPs to the opposition benches in parliament. To forestall the vote, Kenyatta once again turned to his fixer in chief, Mboya. AG Charles Njonjo had crafted a legislation requiring any defecting MP to seek a fresh mandate from the electorate.
The house was called from recess and Mboya was tasked with ensuring that the legislation passed. From the dispatch box, Mboya managed to defend the legislation with such charisma and charm that it passed. The defections from KANU stopped as quietly as they had begun. Faced with the prospect of having to spend resources in fresh campaigns, many MPs simply stay put. In a master stroke Mboya had helped forestall the no confidence vote and significantly weakened the KPU and Odinga.
Unfortunately however, with Odinga out of KANU, Mboya was now more vulnerable to the political intrigue within the party. For being such an effective fixer and by extension a frontrunner in the Kenyatta succession race, he had managed to paint a bright red target on his back, so to speak. Mboya would fall to an assassin’s bullet outside Chhanni’s pharmacy, along the then Government Road (now Moi Avenue) on 5th July 1969.
Whilst it is unlikely that Jomo Kenyatta sanctioned Mboya’s death, it would be foolhardy to assume that he did everything in his power to protect his dear fixer.
The cases of Amayo and Mboya illustrate that proximity to power is a cup containing sweet yet perilous wine.
Granted the consequences of drinking from it could mean a step up to higher political office, an exception to the rule (at least according to history), but are more likely to result in political oblivion or worse!
This is the cup that Dr. Fred Matiangi holds today. He has no choice but to continue sipping on the wine, once you hold the cup, it is difficult to let go. If indeed President Uhuru has elected to neutralize his deputy, William Ruto, as his father elected to neutralize Odinga, and if indeed Uhuru has chosen him as his ‘Mboya’, then the peril increases several fold.
For Matiangi, this cup is a high risk, low return affair. He must develop eyes at the back of his ears, he must build bridges in the most unlikely quarters across the political landscape. He must understand that because perception matters, sometimes more than reality, DP Ruto’s friends are now his foes, and his foes are now his enemies. He must always be stoic even in the most challenging times. More importantly it would be helpful to derive lessons from the late Nicholas Biwott. He should never come too close to the fire as to get burnt, at the same time; he must not go too far from it as to freeze.
In conclusion, if nothing else, those close to power, the agents, must realize one thing, that the power derives from elsewhere. It is akin to the wings Daedalus crafted for himself and his son Icarus. They are wings made from feathers and wax. As they navigate the political scene, from such a precarious position, they must remember not to fly too high, lest the sun melts their wax, nor too low, lest their wings get weighed down by the spray of the water. Ultimately, it seems they are doomed to strive relentlessly until either happens.
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.
by Joash Onsando
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.
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.
Having the perfect handshake is one of those things we are taught to obsess about. How we shake hands reveals who we are. Handshakes are very political. Hands themselves are not. Hands simply carry out the will of the mind, express what has been felt. Perhaps this why handshakes are seen this way – hands, carrying the will of two minds meet and, depending on what they learn of each other in that moment, they may never meet again.
The handshake above is one we are all familiar with by now. Following a closed door meeting at Harambee house Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga spoke and shook hands in front of the press for all to see. The president(s?) spoke about the ideas of building a better future and putting a final end to the ethnic division in the country.
Of course, we remain wary when two men meet and tell us that the solution to all our problems has been found. A point that was driven home in the several speeches given by NASA co-principals before they fell in line with the conversation sometime yesterday.
“Through its research and hearings, the Commission identified several causes and drivers of ethnic tension in the country.”
“This process has reminded us that as a nation there are more issues that unite than divide us. We have been reminded that we must do all in our power to safeguard our peace – that is the foundation of our national unity, social cohesion, economic growth and political stability.”
Watching the two speeches alongside each other one can’t help but notice how Raila has changed. His dynamic, almost upbeat body language in the 2008 video is more comparable to what Uhuru looks like now, while his current speech, read and delivered in a monotone is more like Mwai Kibaki’s body language from the earlier video.
The one thing that doesn’t seem to have changed is the idea that this is a process that need to be started afresh.
That Kenya needs a fresh start, a platform from which to launch ourselves into the future. This begs the question – what happens to all the work towards cohesion that has been done? Do we cast it aside and start again? Do we imagine that the TJRC report doesn’t exist and clearly outline the things we should address? Do we not talk about the Ndung’u report on land allocations? And, if we do, how does that affect the nuances and the parties involved?
How does this process of social change that will ‘find solutions that will (…) give us a life cycle that is beyond the five years that we have established for ourselves’ actually work? How deep will this introspection go? And what makes it different from other introspections that we have had in the past?
In the speech the president(s) called for the moment to be seen as a moment that we should view with hope for our country. This was impressed heavily upon us under the invocation of independence and the metaphor of a sinking ship. This moment, they say, is to be seen as the moment when, led by the two, Kenya was moved into a better future.
I am hopeful.
But not that much will come of this process. Rather I am hopeful because of the what we have been through over the last half year or so. I am hopeful because we saw the elections annulled, we saw the cracks in the systems, we saw how firmly people held their positions, and we have seen how easily that these things change. I am hopeful because there are mixed feelings about this meeting – and Kenyans are disappointed. I’m hopeful because we are asking questions and refusing to take this ‘resolution’ at face value.
It’s here that I choose to place my hope.
“It is not forgetfulness, but the state in which it is deemed necessary or at least desirable to go through a process of forgetting.
Through this process, issues and people are washed clean of their identity and significance.”
But even this hope is frail. Given our history with memory one can only wonder if this time we will remember to hold ourselves, and our leaders, accountable to the betterment of this country. Or whether this handshake will slowly slip its way into the past as we fill our hard drive with unread PDFs.
As the year ends, I am reminded of the highs and lows we have been through as Kenyans – two presidential elections (one which happened during the 2017 general election), an election annulment, an election boycott. a doctors’ strike, a nurses’ strike, the election of Kenya’s first women governors, the refusal of parliament to pass the two-thirds gender bill, the collapse of Nakumatt, the ban on plastic bags, extrajudicial killings by the police, to name a few.
As Charles Dickens would say, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. These are the pieces that stood out to us in 2017 [click on the title to read the full piece.]
by Marilyn Kamuru
“Whether from ignorance, ineptitude or misogyny, the silence and complicity of these groups means that they lack the moral credibility to offer non-partisan leadership to Kenyans. The current administration’s de facto policy of violating the Gender Principle, and the acquiescent brand of leadership practised by the business and religious community, are largely to blame for our current situation.”
by Isaac Otidi Amuke
“Karl Marx’s last public engagement was on the evening of Thursday, 5 March 2009. A group of University of Nairobi students witnessed the execution of two men riding in a white Mercedes Benz. The students had chanced on the killings on State House Road while walking back to their hostels. One of the students, assuming that the two, shot at point blank range, were dangerous criminals, asked the shooters, already in flight, why they weren’t taking the men’s bodies off the scene. The usual police ritual is to throw the bodies into a truck and dump them at Nairobi’s public morgue. The shooters, dressed in identical suits, looked like members of an elite death squad. One of them replied that “others” would do the cleaning up.”
by April Zhu
“That particular sunset marked the end of that day’s heavy demonstrations throughout Nyanza. And cruelly ironic in its magnificence, it marked the end of another life taken by police brutality. This time, his name was Michael Okoth. At approximately 2pm, the eighteen-year-old died near Kondele in Kisumu City with a gunshot to his neck. At the mortuary, his grandmother wept and wailed, speaking to him over his body. ‘We thought you were home. My child, we thought you were home. We didn’t know you had gone out to see the protests.'”
by K’eguro Macharia
“In many cases, “this is Kenya” is uttered at a scene of violation and exhaustion: after a demand for a bribe, after being told a file is missing from a government office, after being insulted by a state agent, after attempting to use legal channels and being frustrated, after being sexually assaulted and attempting to seek help from friends and family, after witnessing police brutality, while paying more for food, while struggling to afford private healthcare because the public system is broken, while trying to afford school fees for private schools because public education is broken, while reading yet another report about theft of public land, while reading yet another report about theft of public money, while trying to navigate Kenya’s rape culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s heteronormative culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s misogynist culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s ethno-nationalist culture.”
by Nanjala Nyabola
“But beyond establishing high democratic standards for elections in Kenya, this ruling was also about reaffirming judicial independence. It put Chief Justice David Maraga in history books as the first African chief justice to oversee the annulment of election results. Less than a year into his term, there were already strong indications during a testy pre-election period that judicial independence was of utmost importance to the Maraga-led court. At least three times in under 12 months, the chief justice and the judicial service commission issued statements defending the independence of the judiciary after attacks from the president and the National Assembly majority leader.”
by Matt Carotenuto
“In a country where political elites are known by the fancy cars they own (wabenzi — those who drive Mercedes Benzes) and roughly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, Kenyans recognize that, while they don’t all have a common language or religion, they share a landscape of growing inequality. “Super highways” in Nairobi cut right through informal settlements that lack running water. Colonial-era country clubs sit against sprawling slums, where golf balls routinely ping off the roofs of makeshift tin shacks. The same elites strolling the nearby fairways often collect rent on the properties behind the concrete barriers.”
by Ivy NyaYieka
“Nairobi was liberated from British colonialism by female prostitutes who procured ammunition for Maumau fighters. However, it has been reluctant since independence to let women into public spaces— let alone political office. The Truth Justice & Reconciliation Commission report developed after Kenya’s 2007/08 post election violence to examine historical injustices puts it eloquently: “Women are over-represented in the poorest social segments of society and underrepresented in decision-making bodies.” Every morning, Nairobi rises on the backs of bent women, opens its eyes hesitantly, yawns, stretches and stands up, looking taller than it is because it has low-income women below its feet. These elections will be a test of whether Nairobi will recognize these women’s contributions.”
And these were your favourite pieces from Brainstorm this year:
by Brenda Wambui
“What is it about maize that makes it so susceptible to such scandals? It’s our consumption. Our average maize consumption per person is 60 kg a year, according to our Bureau of Statistics. Maize accounts for a quarter of our food consumption in terms of calorific intake, 56 per cent of our cereal calories and 47 per cent of our starchy food calories. Maize is also the best value for money starch that is widely available. It’s also easy to dispose of as it is a staple food not just in Kenya, but in other African countries as well. As a thief, you can sell it quickly and have your stolen money.”
by Brenda Wambui
“These sentiments are, to put it simply, elitist. And many people are elitist. It is what motivates most of us in our work. We want to move as far away from poverty and as close to richness as we can. As we do, we develop a disdain (both subconscious and conscious) for poverty. As a result, we do not want reminders of poverty in the nice, clean spaces we believe we have worked so hard for. What are these reminders? Kiosks, matatus and second hand clothes, of course. We forget that most Kenyans continue to have them as hallmarks in their lives, though. Where do the rich expect their workers to buy their supplies, for example? When someone works from eight to six at your home, where do you expect them to shop? Do you feed your workers? If not, where do you expect them to eat? Do you provide private transport for them to and from your home? If not, how do you expect them to get there and go back to their homes?”
by Brenda Wambui
“Our feminism, first and foremost, must target the end of rape culture and violence against women. Why? Because it is intended to limit the extent to which women can participate in society. It is intended to keep women small, and in their place. They can only go as far as men will let them. Venture any further and what happens? Violence. Which is why women politicians are permanently being threatened with rape, stripping and other forms of violence. Why they have to have more security. Why their entourages are heckled and even stoned. It is also why men harass women on the streets, and why the go-to threat for many men towards women is ‘we will rape you.'”
As usual, this list is not exhaustive – so much has been written about Kenya or in Kenya in 2017. Any other pieces that we should have included? Share in the comments. Thank you for coming along on this journey in 2017. We look forward to an even better 2018. Happy new year!
It’s been less than a week since Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as president and already we can see the questions slipping slowly into the past. The NSE has been steadily gaining the shilling growing stronger and the political discussion is shrinking. Even the arrest and release of David Ndii didn’t seem to get as much circulation as it would have a few weeks ago.
Soon names like baby Pendo and Chris Msando will disappear as well. Just like the names from the previous elections have. It won’t be long before we begin to classify this election as “not that bad” or “could be worse” even as families continue to count their losses.
Eventually (if not already) we will make peace with the fact that the country is largely mismanaged and, save for the periodical cycle of scandals, all will be back to “normal.” I return to forgettingness:
“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.”
In essence it seems moot to try and insist that we remember when there’s little evidence that we actually will – and even less that it will make a difference.
Instead it seems important to talk about what politics is. Because it is around this time that we begin to lose interest in politics. As if somehow politics is this cage match between two principles and we come out to fiercely show our support and, once there is a winner, we go back to our apolitical lives.
But there’s no such thing as an apolitical life.
Because politics is not abstract – politics is tangible, measureable and important. It is access to a steady water and power supply. It is a question of how well schools will be equipped and how much they will cost. It is a road outside your house that is repaired every 3 months – because it breaks every three months. It is whether you can go to sleep knowing that were you live is secure. And, in this sense, politics is never over (and neither should our engagement with it be)
Do you know who your MCA is? Have you asked them about the sewer that’s always bursting and flooding the roads? Have you asked them about why your water is always being rationed? Have you asked your governor what they are going to do to better improve your living environs for yourself and your loved ones?
It is this kind of self-centered approach to politics that will allow us to build stronger societies. If it is about negotiation of need and proper allocation of resource to meet those needs then, have you made your needs known?
Writing this is not to say that we have, or are working with, the most competent, efficient government. Known for questionable procurement methods and faulty accounting one can’t say that Uhuru had a brilliant first term – and odds are not high that he’ll have a great second one either. And maybe this is exactly why we can’t stop engaging. Consistent pressure and letting the government know that we are watching and are aware of what is happening (in large numbers) is one way to insist that we get at least some of the things he promised.
And, even as bleak as that sounds, even ‘some of the things’ might be too much to hope for. The school laptops, youth development centers and stadia from 2013 are yet to be seen. This without even mentioning the several scandals that plagued the administration, with the president himself wondering what can be done about the problem.
So it is not without knowledge of how helpless the whole process can feel that I write this. Letters to your local government will probably go unanswered for a while. And you are not guaranteed that your complaint will be passed on by whoever you speak to on the phone.
What I’m proposing is that we give these people who we leave in the past significance. Significance in the shape of actively participating in the building and strengthening of institutions that safeguard against this in the future. In ensuring that your politician passes whatever law needs to be passed in order to have better computer systems – and avoiding another Msando during the next election. In ensuring that police reform and training programmes are supported within your county so that another Pendo is not shot. In questioning the legislative actions of your member of parliament and asking whether they align with your position, with your beliefs, with your values (and the compromises you’re willing to make – because without compromise there is no such thing as a shared space).
We can’t change the things that have happened. It is impossible to bring people back to life – or undo the trauma and the violences that we have seen and heard. But perhaps it is about time we began to think about how to create an environment where they won’t happen. To properly equip ourselves with the tools we need to create stability and some form of habitable peace – otherwise we’ll be right back here in 2022, mourning yet another series of unnecessary deaths.
On 1st September 2017, Kenya’s Supreme Court made history by annulling the August 8th presidential election. In a 4-2 decision, they determined that the recently concluded presidential election was not conducted in accordance with the Constitution and was invalid, null and void. The election was not transparent, and could not be said to be free, fair and credible. There were also errors in the tallying system that compromised its integrity. As such, the Supreme Court ordered a fresh presidential election within 60 days of the ruling (the date set by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission was originally October 17th, but has now changed to October 26th 2017). This was a win for justice, credibility and democracy; it was also an assertion of judicial independence and a moment of pride for many Kenyans.
Initially, Uhuru Kenyatta seemed to accept the ruling, albeit bitterly, but that has since changed. He held a rally at Burma Market in Nairobi where he called the Chief Justice and other Supreme Court Judges wakora (crooks), and said that they should know that they are dealing with a sitting president. Funny, former Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza was witch-hunted for a scuffle with a security guard in which she told the guard that she “should know people” but the president of Kenya did the same to the head of the judiciary and was met with cheers. I await the witch hunt.
He also said “Let those five, six people know, since the Kenyan people will still decide, they should wait for us to act after the people have made their decision. We are keeping a close eye on them. But let us deal with the election first. We are not afraid.” He has accused the Supreme Court of carrying out a judicial coup and subverting the will of the Kenyan people, and has threatened to cut them down to size and teach them a lesson when (not if, note the confidence) he gets reelected. He has said that there is a “problem” and we “must fix it.”
The Chief Justice, on behalf of the Judiciary, has since responded to these attacks in a statement, saying that they would not allow anybody to dictate to them how to discharge their mandate as given by the people of Kenya under the constitution. He mentioned that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the body charged by the Constitution under Article 172 with the responsibility of promoting the independence and accountability of the Judiciary, took great exception to these attacks, which are a vile affront to the rule of law and must be fiercely resisted.
He further stated that the JSC and the Judiciary would not cower to these intimidating attacks, that they would remain steadfast in defending the judges and the institution from unwarranted attacks, and that they would always be at the forefront of defending the cardinal principle of decisional independence of judges, and would at no time direct any judicial officer on how to decide on the cases before them. He reassured Kenyans that the Judiciary was prepared to handle all election-related disputes, at all levels, swiftly and fairly and without fear or favour, and that they were willing to pay the ultimate price to protect the constitution (since the police had failed to protect them).
In all this, it has become apparent that Uhuru Kenyatta either does not have a firm grasp of the constitution, or that he does and simply doesn’t care what it says. When he accused the Supreme Court of subverting the will of the people and not having the authority to act as they did because they are not elected, I wondered if he was aware that the constitution from which he draws his authority was the same one that creates the Supreme Court. That this constitution reflects the will of the Kenyan people, and that when the courts make a decision, they act on our behalf, with the authority we have vested in them, just as when Parliament makes a decision, they make it on our behalf (this is arguable, though). The constitution that makes declares the president a symbol of national unity (it should read “symbol of national division” in Mr. Kenyatta’s case) empowers the Judiciary to render justice without fear.
The threats by Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party cohorts must also be treated very seriously in this country where lives are disposable, and in which people are disappeared for speaking and acting against the establishment. Coupled with the fact that the Chief Justice has stated that the police are not providing adequate protection to judges (he said that the Inspector General, Joseph Boinnet, had repeatedly ignored calls to act on the threats to the Judiciary), one can only imagine what the establishment has in store for them.
In this cut-throat world of wheeler-dealers, wealth and power are concentrated in a few, who re-write society’s rules to their own advantage. Issues such as environmental protection and social justice have become peripheral. Democratic institutions are being weakened and the media and intellectuals are being vilified. Fascism – the feverish exaltation of ethnicity, race, nation or religion above the rights of the individual – has become the new normal.
As a fascist, he finds great company in his contemporaries, chief of all Donald Trump. Both of them are champions of nationalism (ethno-nationalism in Uhuru’s case, in which the Kikuyu are chosen to lead. This is the foundation of uthamaki ideology). Both have a disdain for human rights, and rather than speak for their causes, they rally their supporters behind a perceived enemy (Raila Odinga and the Judiciary in Uhuru’s case). Both are sexists (Uhuru’s sexism and misogyny shines bright in his inability to move the majority he controls both in the Senate and National Assembly to pass the Two-Thirds Gender Bill). Both fight the media (Uhuru Kenyatta has famously said that newspapers are only good for wrapping meat) and are obsessed with militarization and “national security.” Both are known to call to God and religion when it suits them (while acting in decidedly “ungodly” ways the rest of the time).
Both Uhuru Kenyatta and Donald Trump fight for the rights and power of corporations while suppressing the rights and power of the workers. Both have a disdain for intellectuals and the arts (Uhuru Kenyatta’s government is currently overseeing a travel ban for academics), and are obsessed with talk about crime and “punishment” (as you can see from Uhuru’s threats to the Judiciary). Most of all, both are guilty of rampant cronyism and corruption (Uhuru Kenyatta’s government has been said to be the most corrupt in Kenya’s history. He even had the gall to ask us what we want him to do about it).
It is up to Kenyans to take up the example set by the Judiciary and resist our fascist president and his cronies. We have got to be active citizens and stand up for freedom.
“plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”
- Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
I wonder if Jean Baptiste knew that these words would later shape themselves into a phrase that would be echoed across the world and be widely relevant almost 200 years later. Although perhaps, the phrase itself would show that it was here to stay, like a self fulfilling prophecy, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
It’s particularly interesting to think around now in this time of entrepreneurs and artists. When, on the edge of frustration, people are beginning to try new things. When change is not only the thing that we see, but the thing that we are driven by. The need for change is suddenly more urgent, is here. Buzzwords like “digital revolution” and “second liberation” are being thrown around but what do they mean?
I ask what they mean in light of the memory a teacher’s strike that fizzled out with no real benefits to the teachers. I ask what they mean as government procurement continues to surprise us with soap and wheelbarrows. I ask what they mean to the 40 sex workers killed across the country every month. I ask what they mean for those in the shrinking space that is civil society.
I ask because this question only speaks to whose revolution is it anyway? Are the discussions that are happening about addressing the issues that we have centered or about creating a new elite? Whose revolution is it anyway?
It becomes even more interesting as this thing we are watching begins to take on a familiar shape. A shape/an energy that we have seen before. And, with the taking of this shape we must remind ourselves to look to those that worked using the same energy, and what that has translated to today.
To see Brainstorm, for example, in isolation is to ignore other forms of critical discussion publications that went into creating the general psychology (for lack of a better word) as we know it. Publications like Mwakenya, which worked in a highly policed Kenya by Moi had him issuing threats in public:
“From today you should keep quiet. I don’t want to hear anything again about Mwakenya. Keep quiet. The government will deal with them one by one. We will collect them so don’t mention Mwakenya again. Let’s keep quiet and go on collecting them. I am happy that we have uncovered them and they are naming their fellow collaborators. If you were involved in this thing you should be worried. I think you can hardly sleep because you are scared. When you hear a knock on the door, you think those friends have come.”
- We Lived to Tell, Pg 3 – 4
We know, because history exists, that Moi’s Kenya was not kind to freedom of speech. Giving room to then build off that fact it is not hard to imagine that there must have been a lot of organizing and trust around creating something that would scare someone who had spies everywhere. To even begin to come up with a structure to undertake that task would be a lot. Yet, it was done. Many people were involved.
But, even with the radical nature of Mwakenya, there is still need for a second liberation, for a reminding. For something to happen (and something is, indeed, happening. To be unaware of it is to be willfully obtuse to the inevitable). And, as something is happening, it is important to remember that things happen, and have been happening for a long time. Important to not carry the mistakes of the past models with us into an even more uncertain future.
The problem with saying “something is happening” is how ominous it sounds. Part of it is a coming of age, listening tongues collectively speaking. This, then makes it important to pay attention to what tongues are saying what, who is speaking? What that are they saying?
“We are also a political class with a unifying ideology”
“My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!”
Class is difficult to discuss. There is something pervasive and slippery about it. Because is not a “real” thing with tangible references in the world every space gives the word a different abstract definition – often with different dimensions. Given this then, what is class? How do we touch it? How do we imagine it?
“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”
And that bothers me. Are we doing the work of change or just looking for our kind? We are echoing speaking, listening and encouraging. This is important. And this we must continue to do. But are we also taking the path that involves doing the actual work? The work of engaging the work of exchanging, speaking and listening? Or are we, together in our knowledge carrying out an elaborate “let’s point and laugh?” Is the work we are doing intersectional, or is it bullshit?
As the flowers begin to wilt on the graves of the 147 people who were killed in the Garissa University attack, it is essential for Kenyans to reflect on the journey that brought us here. This journey has been one of many mistakes and very few legitimate successes.
The story of how the Northern Frontier District (NFD) came to be a part of colonial Kenya, and independent Kenya, is intriguing, if not sadistic. Borders were arbitrarily drawn on the map of Eastern Africa, cutting through communities and clans; boardroom deals with Ethiopia and Italy further divided the Somali people, with the British governing their part from Kenya.
A few years before independence, the British canvassed the NFD in an informal referendum. The question was simple yet powerful, as it would chart the destiny of the Somali people on the Kenyan side of the border. An overwhelming majority rightly knew they were doomed if they stayed in Kenya, and they voted to join the Greater Somali Republic. Somalia would be a large state incorporating all areas that had a majority Somali population, including Djibouti and Ogaden in Ethiopia.
Kenya’s founding fathers, however, made it clear that they would not cede an inch of soil to anyone. Anecdotal evidence suggests the British prevailed upon Kenyatta to consider the idea but he rubbished it, to them and to the government of Somalia. Instead of a peaceful transition for Somalia and Kenya, Britain’s ignorance on the impact of its lethargy marked the start of a decade of mayhem.
Contrary to common history, the Shifta War was a term only right in one aspect: it was a war. There were no shiftas (bandits), but revolutions. The Somali people of the NFD united behind a group called the Northern Province Progressive People’s Party (NPPPP). This ragtag militia eventually grew into a full revolution, calling for unity with the Somali Republic.
The Somali people had been marginalized by the colonial government, especially after World War II. If the idea of annexing Northern Kenya was an embarrassment for KANU, the idea that the revolutionary war would ever be branded as such was even worse. The government immediately launched a military and a propaganda campaign. It was this campaign that branded the NPPPP shiftas, Somali for bandits.
The NPPPP received military and financial assistance from the Somali government, who were in turned trained and funded by the Soviet Union. Winning this war was paramount for Kenya as a capitalist state, and a friend of Western powers. The NPPPP’s military wing, known as the Northern Frontier District Liberation Army (NFDLA), had battalions of a thousand armed men deployed in smaller units of about 30 soldiers. Until 1965, their armory mostly featured old European arms such as rifles and grenade launchers. With Somalia’s support, however, the strategy changed to employing mine warfare, allowing the NFDLA to extend beyond Wajir, Mandera and Garissa.
KANU drew its lessons from how the British had handled the Mau Mau insurgency. They had everything, including genocides and concentration camps, down to an art. The difference was that unlike the British, the Kenyan government was now dealing with an enemy who had sophisticated weaponry. Security personnel were allowed to confiscate and kill animals, and detention camps with kangaroo courts and dubious legal processes were founded in the region.
Partly, the goal of the war was to curb pastoralism and make the Somali people easier to govern. Innocent civilians were herded into concentration camps branded as villages. Inside such camps in places such as Garbatulla, the torture and massacres continued unabated. The Kenyan military was allowed a free hand in Northern Kenya. In the course of battling the secessionist body, it also encountered real bandits who would often be found with bows and poison arrows.
The agreement to end hostilities between Nairobi and Mogadishu effectively cut off the lifeline for the NPPPP and allowed the Kenyan military to vanquish its central structure. Kenyans of Somali ethnicity who escaped the fighting by crossing into Somalia found it impossible to get back in. This created secondary and tertiary problems for Kenya that would eventually bubble into an insecure border.
The counterinsurgency strategy had similar effects to the one colonialists applied against the Mau Mau; it targeted the larger Somali community, just as the Kikuyu community had once been targeted. The previously oppressed became the oppressor. These efforts effectively decimated the informal Somali economy. An unknown number of cattle heads were killed or confiscated by the Kenya military. From Isiolo alone, it is estimated that more than 15,000 heads of cattle were confiscated or killed. This made an entire population desperate, and most of them shifted to other economic activities such as business.
However, the attempt to ‘create Kenyans’ failed miserably. Although the experiment reduced the population of pastoralists and established the authority of the Kenya government in the district, it spelled doom for the son of the man who led Kenya during the Shifta War. It also meant that Kenyans of Somali origin would never feel as patriotic or enthusiastic about their country as their neighbors. That the NFD always voted for the government of the day was wrongly read as their acceptance of the political powers in Nairobi, and not as an indication of the collective trauma that roamed the region.
The State collapse of the Somali government also meant that there was little hope for the Somali people. Even with that, however, the Kenyan state that had been fighting to keep them within its borders continued killing them. Although the guns of the NFDLA died out in the 1970s, the instances of state-sponsored violence continued. There was a shoot-to-kill policy in the region in the 1980s, the same period when the Wagalla and Garissa massacres occurred. The 1980 massacre started as an effort to flush out a local criminal called Abdi Madobe, and ended with the deaths of hundreds of ethnic Somalis. In 1989, there was a nationwide screening of Somalis living within Kenya.
The period of relative peace in the late 1990s and early 2000s coincides with the time when Mohammoud Saleh was the provincial commissioner of the NFD. A Kenyan-Somali himself, Saleh tried to mend the fractured relationship between the Kenyan government and the inhabitants of the NFD. He was said to have zero tolerance towards abuse by security forces, although anecdotal evidence suggests he suffered stigma under unknowing security forces who frequently stopped him when he was in plain clothes.
In 1991, the Somali government effectively collapsed, leaving social units with the mandate of finding ways to govern themselves. A system of Islamic courts filled the judicial gap, and spread into other roles such as policing, healthcare and education. In the first decade, most of them worked alone with no system of collaboration. However, this changed in 1999 when they decided to work together. They formed an armed militia that immediately started fighting for control of Mogadishu. The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was funded by the Eritrean government and Ethiopian insurgency groups, making it an enemy of Ethiopia. In the next half a decade, the ICU grew in power and control, especially in areas around Mogadishu. Its military wing decimated warlords who had previously controlled the country. It was a time of peace and prosperity in Somalia, albeit short-lived. The Mogadishu airport and the seaport were reopened and the economy began to recover. Having a Sharia-based, largely informal government in Eastern Africa made Kenya and Ethiopia jittery.
At the end of 2006, Ethiopia-funded transitional government forces began attacking the ICU. By the end of 2007, the courts union was no more, mainly due to infighting and resignations that weakened its response to the concerted effort to remove it from power. It’s military wing, Al Shabaab, whose full name is Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahidin, did not die off with the death of the ICU. Instead, it moved in fast to fill in the gap, transforming itself to one of the most formidable powers in Somalia. It eventually controlled a significant part of inhabited Somalia, and tried to transform itself into a national power. Uganda intervened, as did Kenya, uprooting the Shabaab from all its lifelines. The group fled to the background and became an insurgency.
Kenya’s actual reaction to the Somalia situation began years before the 2011 invasion. It was a foolhardy plan, and would eventually bring a war that was not Kenya’s right into its borders. In an attempt to shield her borders from attacks, Kenya turned to what looked like a brilliant plan by a former Al Shabaab leader, Ras Kamboni warlord Sheikh Ahmed Madobe. The plan was to form an autonomous Jubaland on the Somalia side of the border to act as a buffer zone for Kenya. A small force of Somalis would be trained by Kenyan forces to help the transitional government bolster its position. It was a terrible plan, and Kenya’s security partners told its officials as much.
Kenya went ahead to recruit and train 4,000 Kenyans of Somali origin, contrary to reports that they were Somali nationals. Half of the recruits were sent to camps at Archers Post and Manyani. They were promised jobs and money, and a destiny in Jubaland. They were then transferred to Somalia and as the clan infighting killed off the plan, most disappeared with their weapons and training. Many of them ended up as members of Al Shabaab.
During the April 2nd 2015 dawn attack, the attackers used what they called ‘Kenyan weaponry.’ One was revealed to have been a Kenyan-Somali from Mandera, one of the areas where the Kibaki government had recruited young men for its secret mission in Somalia. Although it is unlikely he was one of those trained at Archers Post or Manyani, it is likely he has links to those who were. The exact number of Kenyan-Somalis who underwent training and then ended up in Al Shabaab’s ranks is unknown, at least publicly, and the Kenya government is unlikely to reclassify the war against the terror group as an internal insurgency.
While the government has continually portrayed the war as a war against illegal immigrants, and recently refugees, the real enemy is actually disillusioned Kenyans of Somali ethnicity. Born in a tormented land where their parents were traumatized and subdued, they were then given hope of finally doing something for the motherland. Whether Kenya’s officials actually knew the risks involved is another story, and one they are unlikely to be honest about because it would make them culpable.
The newest genius plan seems to be the construction of a border barrier on the border with Somalia. The border barrier, the government hopes, will solve the problem once and for all. The Daadab camp, the largest of its kind in the world, should be closed within the next year if the UN heeds Kenya’s demands. These efforts assume the enemy is a Somali national, and not a person who has a valid Kenyan ID card.
The level of ethnic profiling that goes on every time there is an attack, whether in Garissa or in South C or Eastleigh, is built on this security paradigm. It is a rather interesting way to look at it; that it is outsiders who spoil citizens. Yet, the truth is that Kenya will never know peace until the North Eastern region it annexed is peaceful and thriving socially and economically.
That peace will not come from police crackdowns and ethnic profiling. Fighting the Al Shabaab should stop being about fighting the Somali people, because profiling is not the solution. Neither is a border barrier or a closed refugee camp. Both ideas are as terrible as the idea of training Kenyan Somalis to fight in Somalia. It will only furnish Kenya’s enemies with new recruits.
The real battle is not in Kismayu or Mogadishu, it is right within Kenya’s borders, and it cannot be won with guns and armored tanks.
This essay is taken from Brainstorm’s new e-book, 127.0.0.1 – Thoughts on Home, which is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.
I am an IDP.
If you’ve lived in Kenya for any reasonable length of time, you don’t need me to define that acronym. My first stop when I came into this world almost three decades ago was Nairobi. Pumwani Maternity Hospital to be exact. But I find it difficult to call this city my home.
You see, I grew up and spent a significant chunk of my childhood in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County. My family moved to Eldoret when I was just a toddler. Thanks to my dad’s job transfer decades ago, Deputy President William Ruto’s backyard is where my homing thoughts fly whenever talk of home comes up in conversation.
When we talk about home, we tend to talk about “where we come from.” This implies that this is where we return at the end of the day, or the end of our lives. Even when fathers leave their homes in search of greener pastures, they will return where they came from with the fruits of their labour; and sometimes they return for the last time in a wooden box when their labour is permanently done. But I can no longer afford to harbour thoughts of Eldoret as the harbour where this ship will dock at the end of my life.
A harsh reality negates my nostalgia because I can no longer call Eldoret my home. I am an IDP. The closest I can come to visiting the house I grew up in today is in the caresses of old photographs and the familiar fog of fading memories. I remember that dark December evening in 2007 when a young man knocked on our door and asked to speak to my mother. Unforgettable is the look of terror on my widowed mother’s face when she turned from the door and slumped into the nearest seat. I recall the tremble in her lips and the quaking in my heart as she delivered the strange instructions: “We need to be out of here in the next 10 minutes.”
My family left Eldoret in a rather undignified manner. It never once occurred to me that that strangers would come to our home and break down our doors and help themselves to my favorite t-shirt and cap. I had seen it happen in movies and in the news, when rebel armies would invade villages and loot them of every scrap of food. The only time I had seen people smashing into a peaceful home and terrorizing its residents was within the confines of a 14-inch motion-picture frame. But here was my mother telling us that we had to move out, move fast and move now.
I never packed anything that night, because something at the back of my mind told me it was all a bluff. I walked out of the only home I had ever known in slippers, never to return. It was days before I swallowed the reality that that confusing night would be the last time I would step into the place I had called home almost all my life; that it was the last time I would see the faded walls that hooked the portrait of my father embracing his dazzled bride.
The months that followed were rather difficult for us – that is me, my mother and my little sister. My teen sister had to switch high schools because the school she had attended until that time was in the heart of “enemy territory.” It was not safe to go to school. I was in college, and the University of Nairobi campus hostels would be my primary home for many months that followed.
My mother (a widow at the time) was hit the hardest, as she fumbled to regain her footing and craft new dreams in strange towns. Over the next two years, she would try moving back to Eldoret, then relocating to Kitui, then Machakos until finally finding some firm ground here in Nairobi.
My home is in Nairobi now, but even as I say that, it feels rather superficial. I don’t feel like this is my home. It is not “where I come from.” There are no memories attached to this place, no geographical reminders of the knees I scraped learning to ride a bike, or the river I unsuccessfully learnt to swim in. That tree on which my teenage girlfriend and I carved our names is hundreds of kilometers away, and I am sure I will never see it.
Whenever I visit my mother on a random weekend I don’t feel like I am going home. “I am going to mum’s place” sounds more politically correct, more honest. It is not really my home because I have never lived there. Her neighbors are not familiar and I did not grow up with their children – at least those of my age. Mum’s new place is not my home.
Every time I go to Pangani, where mom now lives (which, ironically, is just a few meters from the hospital where I was born), I am forced to confront the solid possibility that Eldoret may never be my home again; that my children may never visit where their father grew up and went to school and had his first crush.
My children will also have to do with the stories I tell them of my childhood since virtually all my baby pictures were destroyed and lost when our house was looted in the post-election violence. Every time I go to my mum’s place, I am tempted to punch the sky and curse the gods for dealing me such a cruel hand. But over the years, in few moments of stark clarity, I realize that what has happened to me and my family is neither that strange nor that unique. It happens, has happened and will happen to all of us at different points in life.
The truth is that we all have to leave our homes and make new homes in new territories – be it literally or figuratively. Some of us have to reject our homes and even forsake those homes, not because of external violence, but because of an internal metamorphosis that is common to every man and woman walking on the surface of this earth. The forks on the roads of our lives often force us to abandon ideological homes that we would rather cling to forever. Every time I visit my mum’s new place, I am reminded of the dozens of homes I have had to leave before, and how painful and difficult each departure was.
My mum’s new place reminds me of my first crush, and how crushed I was when my infatuation went unrequited. I was in high school. I spent three years trying to get this girl’s attention and trying to convince her that I was the man of her dreams – she just didn’t know it yet. Eventually, I had to accept that she never felt the same way towards me, and I had to move on. Mum’s new place reminds me of this girl because I had to give up on the person I thought was “the one” for me. I had to wrest my heart from the clutches of her enchantment and persuade my mind that her heart was not my home. I had to move out and move fast, albeit three years too late.
Mum’s new place reminds me of a time when it finally dawned on me that my dad was not the best or the most powerful or even the wisest man to ever walk on earth. The time when I saw him wrestle with his inadequacies and unsuccessfully try to shield me from his tears of desperation. I am reminded of how much I idolized dad, and was proud of dad, and looked up to dad, until one day when his humanity hit me at 100 kilometers per hour, leaving me reeling with the realization that my dad was sometimes a wimp and a failure… and yes, just another weak man.
Leaving this kingdom of dad was difficult. Every dream I pursued and every goal I chased was somehow tied to the assurance that dad knew best and what he said was wiser than any advice I would get from the wisest of sages. But with every passing year, the scales from my enchanted eyes fell as dad’s tough exterior began to fade, and I knew I soon had to be my own man and that dad would not always be there. I had to move out and move fast, or else I would die the kind of death he did.
Mum’s new place can get lonely – especially for her. She doesn’t know most of her neighbors, and new friendships are hard to form in this fast-paced city, especially at her age. Speaking of age, the fact that mum is not at a point in life where she is raising her children alongside the women in her neighbourhood always makes her feel like an outcast. Many women her age are usually surrounded by an anthropological support system that has taken years, if not decades, to strengthen.
These pillars of strength may not always be her immediate neighbours, but for mum, even her distant neighbours can no longer be there because they belong to the wrong “tribe” and some of the damage that was done at our departure cannot easily be undone. You see, even my mum had to deal with the harsh reality that the women she had called friends for years had turned their backs when she needed them most. They were a home that she had to move out of, fast.
Mum’s new place reminds me of mum’s old place and why it is necessary for all of us to leave the places we have learned to love and call home. We must leave home for our own good, because most homes are only temporary. In fact, all homes, including our own physical bodies, are temporary. And I am not even talking about death. All of the cells in your body get replaced every 7 to 10 years. So the body that you currently have, the one that you inhabit and most probably consider your most permanent residence, will have to be vacated every decade.
Yet the homes we most need to leave are not always the literal spaces, but the mental spaces that prove no longer healthy to remain in. Just as my family had to leave our Eldoret home for us to survive and thrive, some ideas need to be vacated because the time has come to leave. We must leave in order to live, because that’s just how life is – a series of departures.
There are ideas that we hold at certain points in our lives, worldviews that grant us safety and the security that we need to pass through that particular stage in life. But a time comes when we have to grow out of those naïve notions and venture into new frontiers. A time comes when we have to find new homes because the old ones are no longer habitable. Biases and convictions that were cultured and cultivated under the roof of unquestioned authority have to one day face the world of harsh criticism and merciless reality.
A time will come, and has probably come many times for us, when we have to face the hard fact that home is not always best even though home is always first. That while some roots are necessary, they are not perpetual and someday the seed will have to break from the family tree and find new ground and form new roots.
Mum’s new place reminds me of the many goodbyes I have said in my brief time on this planet. Many were happy goodbyes, some were tense, while a few were painful and gut-wrenching. Take my second day in college, for example. I have never been to boarding school. Throughout primary and high school, I always knew that at the end of the day I would go home to a hot cup of evening tea and a warm dinner before burying myself under warm blankets – all courtesy of mum. I have fond memories of my mother waking me up with the words “Haiya, kwani hauendi shule leo?” (Aren’t you going to school today?)
At the time I would panic and jump out of bed thinking that I was late. But even then, I always knew that a clean set of pressed uniform and a sumptuous breakfast were waiting for me – the uniform for me to slip into and the breakfast to slip into me. So when I reported to the university, my first morning was rather disorienting. For the first time in my life, I had to figure what what I would have for breakfast, and then get or make that breakfast. I realize now that while this was a mild inconvenience then, it was a necessary transition. A breaking away from tradition that was necessary for my own survival.
I miss Eldoret, my previous home. I really do, to deny this would be to deny a key ingredient to the person I am today. But as the years pass, I realize more and more that my nostalgia is shifting from a sense of regret to a sense of gratitude. While I am grateful for where I come from and the place I grew up, I am careful not to get stuck there. Mum’s old place was just a launch-pad, not a landing pad, a place to begin but not the place to remain.
Mum’s new place reminds me that we are all IDPs. Every now and then, we are all internally displaced from the persons we used to be. We are internally displeased and discomfited by the person we once thought we were. Whenever the tides of life turn, I am reminded that in those uncomfortable moments I am just a caterpillar breaking out of the cocoon that was once my home and embracing the reality that even though I was once truly made and fully designed to crawl, I was never meant to remain that way.
What I once called home would one day become uninhabitable; and the birth of me would become the death of me if I did not release my grip on what I once called home. I must say goodbye to what I call home, in order to truly feel at home again.
Cornell Ngare is a contributor at GotQuestions and a Kenyan journalist. Follow him on Twitter.
This essay is taken from Brainstorm’s new e-book, 127.0.0.1 – Thoughts on Home, which is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.