Not a bird. Not a worm

My resistance to tuck in early is directly proportional to my easiness to tuck in until I’m fully sleep satiated. Unless there’s an emergency.

The fear and pain of sometimes having to wake up unnecessarily early because a market designed by slavers said so is something I don’t quite easily get over for a long time. But eventually I forget.

It always feels like I’d lose my mind and the world if I closed my eyes to sleep as early as the market recommends.

It also feels like – and I fear this one – that waking up so early is how people die and let the market win.

Markets can be bullish, yes. But they know nothing about what I know about the pleasures of my sleeping and waking up when I want or need to.

I’m more of friends with sleep that comes late in the night and refuses to leave early until both it and I are on the same page.

I’m neither a bird nor a worm. I’ve all my life resisted mortals who tried this on me. Let birds be birds and worms be worms.

And I’m neither a night person nor a morning person. Such people don’t exist.

The market likes to play many tricks on earthlings. There’s only a moment to retire for sleep and the necessity to not wake up until wakefulness takes over decisively.

Who Knows?

who knows?

the secret of the mystery of your life could be a lonely sand particle in the desert’s expanse

why do you fear getting out to go try find it?

who knows?

the answers you seek may be tucked in the ocean’s wave?

rushing to the shores as if to be in time to find you and kiss your feet

angsty and restless every day for finding you long gone

rising to hug you but finding rocks instead

losing strength and collapsing to be drawn back again to try again another time

why do you fear joining the wave for a hug

a dance

a swim

and flow?

from where you’d open pages full of the answers you seek?

who knows the sand particle soaked in your mystery and secrets

and the wave laden with answers to your many questions

ain’t me?

who?

i now remember

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when this dew dries

and the grass withers

when the chirping of the morning bird stops

and the smoldering morning smoke clears

when the earth dries up and swallows life

and the singing children go quiet in exhaustion

i will remember

the soothing ache of loving

the transient perpetuity of hope

the huddling sullenness of loss

the hesitant urgency in time

the hypnotizing vanity in certainty

the dew is drying

the grass is withering

the chirping of the birds is fading

the smoke clearing

earth is drying taking with it life in urgent gulps

the children stop singing

they snooze off in exhaustion from labor they knew nothing about

i now remember

AN EASY WAY TO DEFEAT MISBEHAVING POLITICIANS

So who wields real power? I found answers to this question in the most unexpected manner.

Some time back, at a funeral in the village, the bereaved family banned speeches at the burial of their loved one. If anyone so wished, they were free to privately condole with the family.

Through the ceremony moderator, the family also announced that there would be no harambee. All associated expenses had been settled.

The announcement caught the gathered mourners by surprise. It completely destabilized the waheshimiwa who had crowded the makeshift kibanda – the section usually reserved for a category of mourners who classify themselves as more important and entitled. All others of a contrary concept of self will instinctively occupy the open-sky grounds at such events.

In Kenya, politicians, especially incumbents and those aspiring to unseat them make it a point to make appearances at every burial ceremony in their constituencies. They are roundly called waheshimiwa, which means the ‘honorable.’ You would think they know and are connected to everyone that dies in their electoral areas of interest.

At funeral observances, the mission of waheshimiwa is not so much to condole with the bereaved family but to make political pitches and engage in verbal, even physical duels with their opponents.

Political points and blunders are usually made in equal measure through self-promotion speeches and cash donations – ostensibly to ease the burden of the bereaved family. This way, death is a potent political mobilization tool and burials a platform for campaigns.

Individuals that interpret their material possessions as leadership potential will use burials to either launch or cement their political careers. Routine has made politicians assume entitlement to campaign at funeral and later hand petty cash to the bereaved family. In return they expect cheers and even win a few more supporters.

Our politicians’ speeches at burials seldom have anything to do with the deceased and their families. Suddenly, with microphone in hand, the politicians’ faces brighten up and switch to carnival mode. They seem to say: Now forget about the bloody dead!

Displays of masculinity, however flawed, are perfected and they freely flow out of itchy, frothy, unguarded mouths. Opponents, real and perceived are threatened, insulted and humiliated.

The waheshimiwa get carried away in their bigheadedness and navel-gazing. They love listening to their voices. They work hard to outshine one another. The more humorous and abusives ones usually get away without giving as much petty cash.The less entertaining ones compensate for their inexperience with slightly higher cash donations.

But this was a different funeral observance. Those in charge of the program had ruled out speeches of any kind. The only exceptions were the parents of the deceased, one sibling to speak for the rest, the priest invited to conduct the requiem service and a relative who would give a vote of thanks at the end. The rest were to be silent, prayerful and honorably condole with the bereaved.

When the courteous but firm moderator announced this, two things happened simultaneously: stifled laughter and murmurs of support from the congregation and low-toned protestations from the kibanda group.

One politician loudly sold out on the real intention of the waheshimiwa by questioning why else they had come if they were not allowed to address wananchi. More self-crowning dignitaries averred in measured defeated murmurs.

The still calm moderator emphasized with a brief: “Waheshimiwa every family and gathering has its rules. We hope you will respect the desires of this family. Or you are free to leave.”

Embarrassed cackles of laughter from the kibanda and muted but firm agreement from the congregation followed. And then silence. Even engrossed contemplation and a mournful melancholy. Just how interments ought to be.

The requiem service was conducted in a record 45 minutes and the representative of the family thanked all for coming. This lasted about three minutes. The graveside rites were soon completed and people were free to leave at their convenience.

Only two of the waheshimiwa sought private audience with the bereaved family. Most walked off to their cars and sped off, their gusto punctured. The common swagger of invincibility and arrogance had fast sublimed. The manipulative allure of money had been rendered irrelevant; flat and useless when there are no takers.

From a distance many of the politicians appeared to be in intense consultations with their confidantes. I overheard a conversation where one mheshimiwa wanted to know who among his opponents might have enlisted the services of the moderator to humiliate ‘leaders’ in public. There were several offers to investigate.

A simple harmless action, from an ordinary struggling family, and an effective communicator, easily and quickly had outclassed and beat patronage at its game. The sense of entitlement by politicians to say anything, anywhere and in any way had been challenged and disrupted without any elaborate project with money allocated for civic education.

Later I spoke with members of the family about their decision. The crisp narrative came from the father of the deceased:

“We did not want the so-called leaders to abuse the memory of our beloved with their motives for power. They can call for rallies if they have anything to tell the people. Our respect for our son is bigger than the money they could have brought. We did not want them to violate that with their campaigns.”

Money, which politicians often use to manipulate the deprived and cement a patronage culture failed to work at this village event. A simple, yet strong message had been driven home to the waheshimiwa that their personal interests and money are not the only factors that validate their presence and participation in the lives of their impoverished constituents.

Away from somber spaces like burials, citizens are slowly withdrawing their support for patronage. This is shaking up those in public offices that have for decades taken ordinary citizens for granted.

I remember some time back, a senior politician, then serving as Vice President of Kenya was shown on TV beseeching a roadside crowd he had been addressing to clap for him for a remark he had made. The crowd didn’t think the remarks deserved applause. But the mheshimiwa Vice President a felt entitled to their claps. Just like that. They corrected him with their cold, unmoved stares and silence. And that was leverage by citizens.

Citizens can weaken patronage by withdrawing common favors they often feed politicians and public officials. Favors like abandoning daily work to listen to irrelevant speeches at forums where they are not allowed to ask questions; dressing up to entertain corrupt public officials with song and dance; allowing ill-mannered speeches at social ceremonies like burials and weddings; and accepting harambee donations from officials and business people tainted by scandal and abuse of office.

Political patronage should be among the most telling external signs of official weakness rather than power. Citizens can make quick gains and defeat it if they ignored its promoters and withdrawing their consent to feed their cravings for attention.

Once patronage is beaten back, power-shifts begin to take place. Political leaders and officials begin to take citizens more seriously. New power relationships start emerging – paving the way for greater opportunity for improvements in governance, public accountability, service delivery and higher quality experiences of citizenship.

Patronage is dead weak. It can be easily defeated when ordinary citizens decide to wield the real power in their minds, hearts and minds.

Nduko o’Matigere

Nairobi, February 1, 2017

NOT DRESS! IT’S MISOGYNY, SEXISM AND LAWLESSNESS

From verbal and physical attacks on girls and women in my life, it is clear to me that the stripping of women by some male scoundrels as recently witnessed in Nairobi, Bungoma and Mombasa had nothing to do with the dressing of those women.

These attacks are outward projections of a society drenched in misogyny, sexism and lawlessness. The attacks confirm that there exist pig-headed natives clinging to Stone Age ideas of masculinity and conceptualisation of women that make nonsense of Kenya’s post-modernist posture and dreams.

An unsustainably large proportion of Kenyan men are marinated with the lie that they own women’s bodies. They disrespect women and the laws that protect them. It takes simple listening to conversations of male relatives or colleagues to realise this.

These men arrogate themselves fake licence to women’s bodies. They even believe they can prescribe what girls and women they know nothing about should wear. I am a witness to this psychosis:

Once, at an upmarket Nairobi restaurant for lunch with my then pre-teen daughters, three older men who spoke my first language started talking about my daughters in most disrespectful terms. When I turned to confront them, they stared blankly and left without ordering lunch.

Now my daughters are in their early and mid-teens. Grown men on their way to work have catcalled at them almost every time we have gone out for a jog or walk.

A few years back, my cousin was molested at a bus stop in the city as she waited to board a matatu back to college. She had just come from a job interview with a bank. Two men out of the crowd pinned her to a wall as a third one reached under her bra and fondled her breasts.

More recently, a man brazenly groped my friend’s buttocks as she walked towards Yaya Centre on her way home from work. Police officers who witnessed the abuse laughed about it before driving off.

Many more of my female friends have been insulted, force-kissed and forcefully hugged by strangers. Not that it would have been any acceptable had they known their attackers. In all instances, wananchi who witnessed didn’t intervene.

All these abuses against girls and women are connected and they have nothing to do with the manner of dressing. Nor had they anything to do with place and time. They are sustained by law enforcement failure in Kenya.

There appears to be an epidemic of chauvinists in Kenya. They drive or tout matatus. Some dash by on boda bodas as others idle their time away at bus stops, malls and kiosks. Others haunt entertainment places. Many of them mimic civility as they walk or drive by residential areas.

Sexists and misogynists are as likely to be highflying professionals as they could be unemployed youth, schoolboys and illiterates. They are a colossus that straddles all faiths, classes, races, ethnicities, generations and occupations.

An even greater heartbreak is that institutions of public service delivery, including government technocracy, the National Police Service, Legislature and the Judiciary are habitats to some of the most decorated misogynists.

All this explains why sex offenders in Kenya are more likely to go scot-free than face justice. Fortunately, those Kenyans that believe in the non-negotiable equality of men and women; girls and boys in rights, worth and dignity are refusing to be cowed.

The #MyDressMyChoice street and media protests are a welcome first step in the right direction to deactivate sexism and misogyny in Kenya. This serious national task cannot be left to the police and politicians.

Organisers and protestors of the #MyDressMyChoice campaign must view this week’s activism as a first in many actions needed to address a systemic problem rooted in patriarchy – the worst, most lethal and persistent of all the ancestors of chauvinists.

The voices of those Kenyan women and men that stand for human rights, gender justice and the rule of law must not go silent. Miscreants like those filmed stripping women are doomed cowards. When challenged, even with simple questioning, they scamper for their temporary cover in anonymity.

The solidarity shown between activists and the media in recent weeks in defence of personal freedoms and gender justice need to be fostered and sustained into a strong movement against all forms of gender-based prejudices and crimes in Kenya.

It takes an unwavering stance by ordinary Kenyans, women and men, individually and in their organisations like the brave Kilimani Mums to start rolling back impunity and transform our country.

Only when we deactivate all forms of misogyny, sexism and lawlessness can we as citizens begin to experience true safety, security and progress.

Nduko o’Matigere

Nairobi, Kenya

29.11.2014

WESTGATE: WHY NO ONE WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE

Failure by government and state agencies at Westgate last year is no longer a matter of debate. Kenya’s political leadership, security and defence organs all failed, square. There is consensus about this across the political divide.

Yet no one will be held accountable. This is the outstanding matter that festers one year on after September 21. Without full accountability for the failings at Westgate, there is no reason why it cannot happen again.

Right from the top: the Presidency, cabinet, the police and Kenya Defence Forces – all these organs acted like hapless novices throughout the siege and terror at Westgate. They all failed without exception.

By virtue of the authority conferred them and job descriptions, Kenyans expected and deserved leadership, truthfulness, intelligence and effectiveness from these officials in their response to the terrorist attack.

Instead, the men responsible for national security resorted to blunt deception and ego flapping.

The military and police commands competed to outdo each other before the cameras, often giving unverifiable, conflicting information. For both commands, response was late, confused and ineffective. It got even worse and dangerous for first responders and those still trapped in the mall the moment KDF units got in.

President Uhuru Kenyatta promised Kenyans an inquiry but that still remains a promise, even a mirage one year later. I think no one will be held accountable over Westgate any time soon. There are simple, entirely personal reasons for this.

The most obvious reason is that all those that failed at Westgate are tightly connected individuals. Their ties to one another are not about their political nor professional duties to serve the Kenyan public but personal loyalty as bosom friends.

Their mosaic is that of a team of happy go lucky flops who can only lie to the nation to survive another day on the public pay roll. No single section of these public officers has moral command to hold the other accountable. They failed as friends and not as public officers. So no friend will get fired.

Secondly, it is highly likely that the National Security Council (NSC) already knew something about September 21 before it happened. But they failed to act. This will be too damning if let out in a public inquiry like the one promised by the president. The presidency is a part of NSC. So there will be no public inquiry. This is exactly how impunity looks.

Without a serious independent public inquiry on Westgate, we will never get to know, for example what the Presidency knew about September 21, when, and what the Commander-in-Chief did about the information. Kenyans will never know what the Inspector General of Police knew, when he got to know it and what he did with the information. We might never get to know what exactly led to the kind of operational and command irresponsibility witnessed at Westgate.

The last, and perhaps more worrying reason why we should not expect anyone to be held accountable for the failings at Westgate has something to do with the sex of the people in charge of our national security and defence. Retrogressive masculinity is a dangerous thing.

As devotees of outmoded masculinity, the men of power that failed at Westgate will never take responsibility for their failings. They won’t even apologize for letting Kenya down. That would be a sign of weakness and a betrayal to their medieval notions about manliness. They would rather die than own up.

So for these bunch of official flops, a cocktail of shameless deception, self-congratulation and arrogance are a suitable substitute for accountability.

I honestly do not see anyone among the Presidency, Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku, Inspector General David Kimaiyo, Chief of Kenya Defence Forces Julius Karangi and even other back room operatives like Mutea Iringo or Francis Kimemia stepping forward and admitting failure at Westgate; make a public apology; outline lessons and new measures to ensure September 21 does not happen again.

Accountability for Westgate will remain buried in the codes of private loyalties and friendships; the dark rooms of unprofessional conduct by those entrusted with the security and defence of Kenya and in backward masculinity that appears to be the credo of government and state officials in charge of national security and defence.

Without full accountability over September 21, there is nothing indicative that more Westgates cannot happen to us again.

 By Nduko o’Matigere

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)