The More Things Seem to Change

Michael Onsando
9 December ,2014

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

– Tupac

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

Gukira writes:

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

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

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

– Teju Cole, Every Day is for The Thief

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

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

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

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

– Chelagat Mutai, 2011

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

What is the price of speaking?

Aisha Ali writes:

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

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

– Wambui Mwangi, Silence is a Woman

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

– Robert Ouko “Killed in Kenya State House

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

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

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

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

– A Shot in the Dark

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

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

– Uhuru Kenyatta: Indicted President

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

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

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

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