Michael Onsando
4 November ,2014

“The burden of identity is upon the identified”

– Chuma Nwokolo

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

– Kanye West

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

― Audre Lorde

People have histories.

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

Sara Ahmed writes:

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder who “reality” protects.

Again I ask: Who is allowed to be?

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

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

What does it mean to have a whispering state?

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

Identity is impossible

– Nduta Gathoni

In “Not Yet Kenyan” Aleya Kassam writes:

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

Identity is impossible…. to shake off?

Diary of a mad Kenyan woman writes

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

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


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

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

Wagalla is Waziristan is Westgate


a pregnant woman is a pregnant woman is a pregnant woman

Garissa is Kismayo is Nairobi”

– Shailja Patel

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

– Dela


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

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

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

– Zora Neale Hurston

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

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

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

– Warsan Shire

I’ve been tired. It can be tiring.

Recognising the pain of the earth means realising this pain.

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

And it is tiring.

And we get tired.

But we won’t stop.

We can’t stop.

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

Spread the love
%d bloggers like this: