Whispers in Verse 1

ABSCESS IN STATE – by Nduko o’Matigere

My state’s lower abdomen aches

Paining in gnawing unending pangs

Each movement a spell in acute pain

Like a branding rod: red hot; frightening

Pressed coldly atop sections of the country’s buttocks

The sores and pain and itching mingle

My motherland’s lower abdomen is swollen

A congealed collection of ugly yellow-brown abscess

Gathered and drummed in protective muscle

Capsules of pretense

Neighboring organs are evicted

It stings and spreads pain to the entire nation

Some in vascoverticular positions

Others in anteroperpendicular rabid straits

Those with mouths scream

Those with tears weep and wet their cheeks

My motherland’s lower abdomen

A haunting region of hazards

Grips my whole state

Stoops my proud walk

Frowns my cheerful face

Frails my healthy body

The yellow-brown abscess

Right here where I touch.

(October 30, 1998)

Goodbye 2013: If it were as simple as that

2013 was an eventful year for Kenya. Today, the air is filled with mixed emotions depending on individuals’ experiences of the past year.

For those that the year heralded good tidings, their emotions when bidding good bye 2013 could be nostalgic and clingy. If only the good year could last longer.

For those whose experiences were terrible: Good riddance and a quick hopeful dash to 2014 could be the feeling.

For me, I will remember the following about my country in 2013

  • The March 2013 general elections were the most divisive. Social media warfare related to the conduct and outcome of the elections must have reached genocidal proportions. The leadership of the country, both in government and opposition is still ratcheting up campaign-type politics and doing little to unite the country. Ethnic bigotry appears to have hit its worst level since independence;
  • 3000 Kenyans lost their lives through road carnage. Not even well presented rhetoric by officials on new measures and counter measures reduced the killings. Unqualified drivers, petty social arrogance and bad road manners, poor law enforcement, corruption, poor road design and state of repair/maintenance, impunity, greed and alcoholism sent so many early to their graves. We forgot quickly;
  • The authorities bungled the response to the Westgate terror attack. When state operatives were not lying about the siege, armed forces were engaging each other in friendly fire and the army expelling the better placed Recce Company from site. may so that KDF cadres could loot better? The year has ended without the public knowing if or not the mall attackers were killed or they escaped. The presidency has retained all the officers that failed in the response. The Chief of General Staff was secretly promoted last week for another one or two years. Mediocrity got rewarded;
  • Insecurity raged throughout the country, unabated. Socioeconomic challenges like radicalization were interpreted as militaristic problems and ineffectively countered as such. Those that are failing our policing services and quality had their jobs secured and they got feted even as they faltered, sometimes deliberately;
  • Only elected and nominated politicians, tenderpreneurs and big businesses appear to have been happy with the economic showing of the year. The average and poor Kenyans got slapped from all sides and their progress either stagnated or shrunk, what with the high cost of living. The economic trajectory of the new administration is still not very clear but a preference for heavy investment in infrastructure seems settled, with all its shortcomings in real economic growth and progress terms;
  • We marked 50 years of independence with pomp and pageantry. Throughout the celebrations, any thought of encouraging introspection that could help lift us off with greater momentum going forward was dismissed as a party-poop proposition. So the theme that carried the day was JUST CELEBRATE. We failed to learn from our history of under-performance and romance with mediocrity. If only we could have spent even an hour of national soul searching and identified some of the NEVER AGAINS for our country…;

If it were so easy to say goodbye 201without thinking of its pending business: Or without realizing that the promise of newness by the new administration was actually lip service and freshness seldom went past wardrobe choices and copied speeches and business marketing.

If only I was not the one to report that countries and their people can be conned, abused and repressed digitally. If only it was a lie that we might have started another stretch of smallness in the hands of quick money makers and leeches posturing as new generation visionaries.

If it were as simple as discarding the past year only because our experiences in the year were localized one-offs.

My hope for 2014 is that it will be a period of deeper introspection and more public interest pursuits. A year when Kenyans, in one accord, all of us, strive to make a difference and cause the heralding of a new way of doing things that grows us into a greater, more caring and just nation.

Happy 2014. Pamoja!

Of false logic, lies and the impostors that Dr. Mzalendo Kibunja and his team are

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) could as well be a hoax. It appears to me like an organized imposter operation.

Coming at a time when imposters haunt Kenya’s public service spheres – starting even with the Kenya Police Service who’s rank and file are trained to detect and apprehend imposters – Dr. Kibunja’s NCIC appears to as a Committee version of this suspect called Waiganjo.

Those that approved its establishment are, to me, the institutional representation of that sinister man called John M’mbijiwe who chaperoned Waiganjo as the Rift Valley police boss until he was reluctantly shown the door last month.

The NCIC falls within the long continuum of how easily our politicians lie to Kenyan citizens and interested richer nations that they are doing something to sort out a nagging problem. Such lies drip faster when, say America and Britain get grumpy about things that could scratch their strategic interests in Kenya. But that’s the less worry for now.

The truth of the matter is that organizations like the NCIC are erroneously founded. Right from its inception the Commission was neither needed nor was it headed anywhere. At best, it provided day jobs for a few cronies of the ever feuding families that have dominated Kenya’s politics and commerce since independence.

No wonder Dr. Mzalendo Kibunja’s team has, right from its start failed to convince what it’s been up to. A part from the salaries and allowances the Commissioners draw, the writing on the wall is that the NCIC has not advanced any public cause.

To say the least, the NCIC has been, and continues to be a waste of public time and funds. It should have been disbanded before its office space was identified. The idea of its creation should have been struck off the agenda of the meeting where it was first discussed.

Cohesion and integration are fruits that serious nations reap after their leaders and citizens have invested their politics and economics in the right places. Cohesion and integration are not seeds committees such as the NCIC plant and tend, however well choreographed or intentioned.

Evidence of the Commission’s irrelevance continues to pile, even when one is not digging deep to find it. Take for instance the latest advice to the nation by NCIC’s Chairperson Dr. Kibunja. Today he urged politicians and the Kenyan public to halt discussions of Kenya’s historical injustices until after the March 4 general elections.

In the usual preachy incantations Dr. Kibunja is famed for, he pleaded that such discussions could cause inter-ethnic tensions, even violence as election campaigns hit their homestretch. So, his logic is silence about past injustices yields massive peace dividends, and ultimately the vision of the NCIC – cohesion and integration of all Kenyans. So conversation about our unresolved past issues and attempts by whoever cares to explore ways these could be best dealt with and rested is, to Kibunja and his NCIC, the single most toxic thing that could affect peaceful elections this year.

Such is absurd logic.In fact I believe Kibunja merely wants a positive project evaluation report at the end of the tenure of the NCIC.

Let me speak from my personal experience and what I want to base my choice for president on. Today I want to hear who among the presidential candidates offers the most solid and convincing evidence that historical injustices perpetrated against my family, my multiethnic childhood friends, their families and myself will be dealt with in a manner that those responsible are held accountable and justice is justly delivered to all of us affected.

The injustices I speak about were first committed in 1991, through 1992 when the first bout of pre and post election violence was planned and executed under the watch of then president Daniel arap Moi. Despite existence of evidence upon evidence of who were behind the violence that got my family, neighbors and friends illegally displaced until now; families’ investments in land and productive farming destroyed; social relations permanently severed and dreams scattered – no one has been held to account.

In fact what has turned to be the case is that the crimes of 1991-1992 and later 1997 by politicians were successful pilot projects upon which the grand violence and crimes of the 2007-2008 elections were modeled and executed. Due to their scale, publicity and apparently high stakes, the latter have become the main reference point every time and everywhere Kenya’s election-related violence and displacement is discussed. The 2007/8 crimes also happen to be the basis upon which Kibunja’s NCIC was established.

Back to my original point: I opine that nations cohere and integrate when their people agree to certain significant minimums about what constitutes the common interest. These are solidified when there are strong guarantees that no one individual or groups of individuals can subject the rest of the population to situations where crimes go unpunished; laws are twisted to advantage criminals and those in power; human rights mean nothing and impunity is a reward for the famous who thrive on illegality for personal gain and power.

Serious nations do not set out to plant cohesion and integration in the first place. Instead, they invest in setting reasonable basic rules of political, economic and social co-existence and make sure everyone is subject to those rules. In our case, those rules have always been with us through constitutions and laws.

Even at our weakest moments as a country acts of arson, murder, rape, assault, destruction of private and public property, robbery – all have been clearly defined as crimes punishable by law. Even at our darkest hours as a country, we had a police service, we had courts and we had governments led by people that swore allegiance to the people of Kenya and to upholding the constitution. Never mind that these people might not have meant it when they took oaths of office, but we had institutions that could deal with the many unresolved historical injustices.

So Dr. Mzalendo Kibunja proposes a national ‘mute mode’ on our long history of assassinations, state sanctioned economic crimes and sabotage, corruption, misuse of police and judicial processes for personal gain and preservation, illegal and violent evictions and displacement of populations, land grabs, political corruption and oppression spanning decades and generations.

He preaches that we suspend reference to our own experiences as we debate and vet candidates for the March 4 elections. He leads a Committee that seems to have embraced the fallacy that to solve our problems we need to resign to silence and postpone the difficult conversation of what we need done to embark on a journey of heal our scarred, wounded souls.

When he spoke like that today, he gave me perspective of why the NCIC has had as its strategy private, quiet meetings with tribal elders in the name of securing promises that their ‘tribes people’, actually men, will not butcher each other next time there are elections.

This is plain silly as we know politically instigated violence in the past did not happen because older men of selected tribes were not convened at hotels, fed and made to blubber before media cameras that they were now best friends with those butchered by militias of politicians believed to be sharing their first language.

We know political violence has persisted since 1991 because a political and economic environment had been manipulated by those in power in a way that their own criminality would go unpunished. This way, the power barons of the Moi and Kibaki era would structure security services as organs to advance their political agenda and blunt their law enforcement roles no matter who the offenders were. Political violence has turned out to pay, and pay very well to those who use it to either ascend to power or cling to it. Impunity, at both high and low places is now culture.

Yet this history is what needs to be faced in the eye and ways to make sure its harm to the Kenyan nation is dealt with and prevented from persisting is what any serious presidential, and may be parliamentary candidate needs to be probed about.

How our historical injustices are dealt with could perhaps determine how we let go of our pent up tensions and unlock our march forward as a people who have, in large way come complete with their disturbed pasts. Silence, at any moment of our nation building project is not an option.

For Dr. Kibunja to preach, pray and plead that we give up the subject of historical injustices in the lead up to the next general elections, he has exposed the false logic upon which his NCIC is founded.

We need to plant the right seeds for our nation’s release from its shackles to an unjust past. Never will integration and cohesion be a seed we plant. These are fruits that we could harvest if we invested our politics and economics in the rights places, now. Silence about our past is not one of those fields we should sow our dreams as a people.

In my view, the NCIC has no job to do – we will not lose anything without it.

by Nduko o’Matigere, Nairobi February 4, 2013