This Will, That Will and the Other Will

Michael Onsando
23 December ,2014

“They say I’m going crazy, but I’ve been here before”

– Kanye West


“…a few hours later it was passed into law.”

I write this from a time when the sentence above doesn’t need to be explained. Our government has just fast tracked the Security Bill into law. We are confused. What do the people do when their elected leaders act completely against the will of the people? Are the people willful? Do we have will?

In Willful Subjects Sara Ahmed opens with a story about a child. This child would hear nothing that her mother told her. Having angered God, he lets the child fall ill and die. From her grave the child’s hand keeps reaching out – no matter how much dirt they throw on it. Eventually the mother has to come and strike the child’s hand after which it retreats.

The hand, Ahmed argues, is a symbol of the will. “If authority assumes the right to turn a wish into a command then willfulness is a diagnosis of the failure to comply with those whose authority is given.” I find it impossible to think about this hand without thinking about another hand. The hand in the Tumechoka campaign. The raised fist symbol that dates back to the Assyrian goddess Ishtar and was made popular by the industrial workers movement.

“even if fists are only just hands”

Sarah Kay, Hands

In Kenya I see hands folded in silent resignation. I see thumbs rub against index fingers in matatus. I see itchy fingers reaching for clothing on other bodies. I see palms meet palms in applause. I see palms meet palms in praise. I see palms divided by a few hundred shillings. Mechanic hands inside BMW engines. Fingertips spin a chapati on the karai over the charcoal fire. I see hands functioning, greeting, but not questioning. On tv the president points. Over and over he points. His hands echo his words “you, you, you, you.”

“To eliminate willfulness is thus to eliminate not only the will defined as independence from what is willed by others but to eliminate the very memory of this will or at least to aim for this elimination.”

Willful Subjects P.65

“To ‘re-member’ is to make a member again, to bring that member back into the community of imagination, re-awakening past trajectories and giving new momentum along new paths of the present. More prosaically, if your name is in the headline of a nationally-circulating newspaper, you are re-presented, recalled from absence and made present again, millions of times.”

Wambui Mwangi, Silence Is a Woman

I find it impossible to read one of these sections without the other. If to eliminate the will of the people all memory of this will must be eliminated, then to remember is to hold on to our will. To remember is as willful as we can get. In maintaining the idea of remembering we maintain ourselves as willful people. And, as Wambui adds, in willing ourselves to remember we are willing others into being. In remembering we force others to remember

Sometimes, when we will – we will others.

In our willingness others are willed.

When others will, we are willed.


What does it mean then, to be part of a forgetting nation?

The ICC Witnesses Project:

“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.

To achieve forgettingness it is often necessary to create national obsessions such as scandals and heroes.

Scandalous heroes work even better.”

Interlude #3 – Forgettingness


“a process of extraction from being,” speaks a lot about the will. The poet notes that the kind of forgetting here is willed. It does not just happen. We do not simply forget, we will ourselves to forget. We see this kind of willful forgetting everywhere. When we raise these topics in company we are reminded that most people are just “out to have a good time.” When you will the past into existence, you will people into the past. The work of forgetting needs to be done by an entire people, just like the work of dying must be done by the entire body.

I’ve been going back. Searching the past for clues about the future – what is this new thing? Are there ways to counter it? Has it been before? Instead the past has shown us dead bodies. The past has also shown me willful hands. People who have insisted on remembering even when the past is buried under the ground.

People who have refused to do the work of dying.


perhaps insisting to exist

is part of your revolution.

The world wants to destroy you

but you refuse to die.

Instead you stand

“I am here.

I will always be here.”

They laugh

and continue to cut grass

“yes, you will.”

– Michael Onsando, Going Home

We are confused. When elected leaders act completely against the will of the people, the people need to be willful. When people are willful, more people will. Today I celebrate the people who will. The hands. The people who refuse to do the work of dying, the work of forgetting. I remind myself that we are in good company. That, as long as a finger keeps peeking out of the ground we are not dead. And, as long as we’re not dead, we continue to will. Then if we keep willing, maybe we’ll find a way.

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