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)

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