The Year of Finding New Paths to our Freedom(s)

Michael Onsando
27 December ,2016

We close the year to a doctor’s strike that has no end in sight and a call from the opposition that there will be civil action early in 2017. In many ways, the world seems grim. Our president himself told us this year that there is nothing that can be done about corruption in a kind of throwing his hands up kind of way. And these are just the problems that we must focus on because they exist here in front of our noses. We have not even begun to talk about the election of he who shall be named too often  in the land of the free.

It causes us to question – what is it of this freedom? Is it then too much to demand proper healthcare and a functional government. Will the world come stop because people are demanding accountability? The moment only asks that we wait, and try to make sense of the chaos.

Here are a few moments of stillness from 2016, click on the title to read the full piece:

Sofia’s Nine Lives

by Isaac Otidi

“My friend’s father – who never failed to attend Sunday mass, and had a rosary hanging above the dashboard of his old Toyota saloon  –  had built his house exactly at the border between Kenya and Uganda, such that to get to his house, one had to use the earthen road which was used as the border between the two countries. If one left the gate to my friend’s home – which was in Kenya – and crossed the road right outside their gate, then one was in Uganda.”

The City as a Photograph

by Ndinda Kioko

“A matter for consideration in this is how between the 60s and the 80s, the state attempted to articulate a national architecture. Buildings like KICC and the parliament not only became a central feature of urban topography but they also shaped how the city is consumed and articulated even now. One then wonders what it must mean to shape the images of a city with a symbol like KICC that is sanctioned by the state. What happens when state sanctioned buildings become urban icons?”

Killing Asnina: The Trouble with Investigating Murder in Northern Kenya

by John Allan Namu

“Eyewitnesses claim that four days earlier on Thursday the 2nd of December, at about 1:15pm, Asnina was picked up and bundled into an unmarked vehicle by a group of not more than four men, in full view of all her fellow stall operators at the town’s main market place. She ran a food kiosk there. Once the car drove off, a KDF Armored Personnel Vehicle that had been perched at the edge of the market slowly followed the unmarked car. That same evening, her father, Omar Mohammed made a report of her disappearance to the local police. Her name was now part of an open inquest file. Four days later, on the morning of the 6th of December 40 kilometers away in Omar Jillow, it’s said that a herdsman was grazing his goats when he saw her body, half jutting out of the ground.

It’s alleged that he saw twelve more mounds like Asnina’s.”

The Vinyl Man of Kenyatta Market

by Anton Spice

“Right here, between the stalls selling beef and goat meat, is one of a handful of places in Nairobi trading in vinyl records. Although the city was once the musical hub of East Africa, with scores independent record labels and multinational record companies establishing their regional headquarters here and a pressing plant which was in operation until the early 1990s, vintage records are hard to come by. In downtown Nairobi, off a noisy street by the bus station, is Melodica Music Stores, one of the few places other than Jimmy’s place that sells records. Established in 1971, Melodica recorded and produced hundreds of East African records, many of which can still be found, piled high and unplayed, in the shop’s storage room. But while Melodica is a treasure trove for original, untouched African singles, Stall 570 is the only place in the city which has a large collection of used LPs and singles for sale.”

Decolonise da Police: How Brutality was Written into the DNA of the Kenya Police Service

by Nanjala Nyabola

“The fact that the AP system survives means Kenya is still policed by a colonial service and is more proof of the country’s stillborn independence. Kenya may have become politically free in 1963, but the ruling elites’ interests in maintaining and profiting from colonial structures led to several incomplete transformations.”

The politics of Koffi Olomide, music superstar who leaves cheers and tears in his wake, and tells of a different Congo

by Christine Mungai

“But there’s something else. Although Koffi Olomide is the apex of a huge pool of talent coming out of DR Congo, the spread of Koffi fever in East Africa followed a familiar route that others had travelled before him – through western Tanzania and then, western Kenya, finding fertile ground in cities like Mwanza, Tabora, Kisumu and Busia. There, the rumba sound – and its local iterations, often broadly called benga – is the region’s bona fide pop music.”

Garissa University Attack 1 Year On: Not Just a Number, Not Just a Hashtag

by Samira Sawlani

“The trial of the five men accused of being behind the Garissa massacre continues, while criticism of the Kenyan authorities’ response to the attack has been swept aside by the Government. Kenyan commentator and journalist Patrick Gathara says, “I think the government has been rather opaque about what happened that day and why it happened. As for the victims and their families, it is clear that they feel abandoned by the government”.”


And here are your favourite pieces from Brainstorm this year:

Dear Uhuru Kenyatta

by Brenda Wambui

“It is true that this issue frustrates you.

That is, if your facial expressions whenever you address the issue are to be believed. What is not true, however, is that there hasn’t been an administration that has taken action on corruption like yours has. You see, in the work most of us do, we measure outcomes to establish effectiveness. Thus your colleague could have worked for 2 hours and she generates 20 sales, while you worked for 5 and generate only 10, and you would not be able to tell your boss that you work harder than she does. Because that doesn’t mean anything for the bottom line. It’s sad, but that’s how things work. You sir, have corruption at between 25 and 27, (out of 100) based on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index. This is similar to Daniel arap Moi’s era, which many (including myself) would call a dictatorship. Do you work harder than Mr. Moi? Perhaps. But your results are the same, and given the direction we are going in, yours are getting worse. This is not a comparison we should even be able to make.”

Entrepreneurship is Not for Everyone

by Alan Ong’ang’a

“But why do many young enterprises fail? The pressure to become entrepreneurs perhaps is too great for some to weather the storm. Many young minds will launch startups without enough managerial experience to help navigate the murky waters of the business world. When this happens, what follows is an array of poor business decisions, one-man show approach and a tendency to suffer founders’ syndrome. Coupled with poor financial management, since most can barely afford to hire financial experts to manage their books, the businesses’ only path is an assured oblivion.”

The Rise and Rise of Nationalism

by Brenda Wambui

“This income inequality thus creates new challenges, such as welfare and other social support structure concerns on the part of the government. And, we must never forget that globalization only continues to exist due to the goodwill of populations around the world, which has been on the decline since the 2008 global economic crisis. Fringe right wing nationalist groups, also known as the far right, have quickly become mainstream due to their capitalization on the pain of those affected. They have positioned themselves as against “the global/liberal elite” who are the only ones to have benefited from globalization and increased multiculturalism. They practice extreme nationalism (nationalism is the shared belief that your country is great and superior because you, and the other people in it, were born in it).”

This list is not exhaustive – much has been written about Kenya or in Kenya in 2016. Any other pieces that we should have included? Please share in the comments. Thank you for your contributions, support and critique – we are now three years old, and appreciate you all coming along for this journey. We look forward to an even better 2017. Happy new year!

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