Something Somewhere Didn’t Click

Michael Onsando
13 May ,2014

Dear Mr President. It has been 6 months since our performance at Kenya@50! Please pay us our dues. @UKenyatta #kenyaat50

Sauti Sol

There is something oddly symbolic about that tweet and, more particularly, the reactions to that tweet. It now comes to light that the Kenya at 50 celebrations were rife with corruption, dodgy bookkeeping and, generally, a great deal of underhandedness. This is not “news” in the strictest form of the word – we always knew that the process through which government awards and rewards these things leaves much to be desired.

And, because we knew, we are hearing people say stuff like “It’s their fault they didn’t have a contract!” (Did they? Did they not? I don’t know). Or “Did the president personally call them to perform? Why are they harassing him?” (Does he read his Twitter account? I read the tweet more as a way to leverage public pressure than anything else). This, of course, is classic victim blaming. It is the fault of the band that they got swindled – they should have known better.

There is something oddly symbolic about this situation.

Eight years after Uhuru gave an eloquent speech against the government honouring payments to “shadowy Anglo Leasing contracts” he now finds himself having to defend his government making the same payments. The culmination of a nation is that of one whose past seems present seems future. During (then opposition leader) Uhuru’s speech, he warned that such scams would not just hurt that government but future governments as well – and that’s exactly what happened.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Just after the blasts on Thika Road, a friend told me that talking about it was futile. Her argument was simple: All the government will do is arrest someone irrelevant. We’ll then get angry and call for their release. They’ll do that and move on with their lives. That is exactly what happened.

In 2011, Kenyan writers and public intellectuals wrote a letter against the incursion into Somalia. A part of it reads:

“The army will claim, as invading armies always do, that they have courageously engaged the enemy, when they have really killed innocent civilians.

All of us are paying already for this bout of blood-thirst. We will go on paying, for many years to come. We will pay with our taxes, our un-built schools and hospitals, our unpaid teachers, our still-jobless youth, our rapidly deteriorating security situation, our shattered relationship with our neighbours.”

There is something oddly cyclical about Kenya.

Aleya takes us further back, talking about the 1982 coup. She writes:

“It was like that and worse Aleya. So much worse. They went from house to house, forcing their way in. The stealing was one thing, but they raped every woman they found. Every single one. In front of their brothers, fathers, grandfathers. So many of our Asian women.”

It is impossible to talk about the Asian Kenyan without talking about the complicated history of their place in society. Thankfully, I’m not talking about the Asian Kenyan.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Alphonse Karr

Over the last ten years, the government has strived to become the Kenyan “employer of choice” – you can feel free to vomit at any time. How can this be when they can’t even get round to paying contracts within a timely fashion? How can we endorse this government?

In another conversation, I was reminded that I’m talking about the same society that blames rape victims for their rapes. We can’t really put any kind of blaming beyond this society. “Why are you still surprised?” Even in this kind of framing  – that I’m guilty of as well – I see another kind of victim blaming. Those who expect more from society are told to lower their expectations.

The real problem, they have been told, is not what the problem is, but their expectations. And thus the hurt inflicted by society is, really, their fault

“How dare you expect better?”

How dare you not?

Are we really at the point where an elected official can call a voter a cow in a public space and have nothing done to him? In fact, when the lady goes ahead and writes this up, the debate becomes about how she could have written it “better”(as if the real problem here is the literary aesthetic), or how this had nothing to do with her gender (when it had everything to do with it).

These are the kinds of fights that we need to have every single day. And then be called repetitive.

We have to keep repeating the same things because they keep doing the same things.

Wambui Mwangi

When Sauti Sol sent that tweet, what happened is that we saw something that we have seen before. Something that we are tired of seeing and, hence, dealt with it in the only way we knew how – we quickly hid it under the rug. The shame of a nation that is unable to pay out on public contracts was not something we wanted to discuss.

Instead, we would like to listen to rumours of jobs that the government will create –250,000, 600,000, 700,000 – are just numbers. Numbers that, without action are worth less than the 3 seconds it takes to type them out.

In Kasarani, we are holding people in cells – stacks of stories stream in everyday talking about what is happening there and, again, we have decided to look away. In fact, not just look away, but actively stop anyone who tries to talk about these things. We have criticized, mocked, taunted and insulted the people who insist in looking in directions that we have since decided not to.

If you don’t use your humanity, are you sure it still works?

Shailja Patel

The citizens of a state need to leverage public pressure to get paid by the state for the work that they did for a state function. It is safe to say that this state is not doing well. There is something oddly symbolic about that Sauti Sol tweet and I know what it is. That, when it comes down to it, it really isn’t odd at all.

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