#IAmKenya Essay Series – Peace, Cohesion and Reconciliation by Doreen Mugambi

So, Community Media Trust (CoMeT) received 38 essays from young men and women from Changamwe and Kisauni constituencies of Mombasa. They want to be considered to join #IAmKenya media project as volunteers to undergo a 4-day training in videography, photography and community journalism and thereafter use these new skills to promote cohesion, diversity and reconciliation among youths in their areas. Pretty ambitious, many would say. It will require tonnes of ambition, creativity, patience and sacrifice from all Kenyans to bridge the ethnicity, politics and socio-economic divides which prevent Kenyans from thinking, acting and being as one. #IAmKenya. For the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing, word for word, some of the essays written by these young people who have a passion for bettering Kenya.

The first such essay is written by Doreen Mugambi, a 21-year old girl living in Mishomoroni in Changamwe, currently a part-time student of Community Health and Development at African Institute of Research and Development Studies

“Peace, Cohesion and Reconciliation”

“Peace, this word may seem foreign but to people from countries where violence is the order of the day, it’s (sic) actually a vocabulary. Peace simply means security, safety and trust in ones neighbour or better resolving conflicts without violence and working together harmoniously.

Peace comes with its own advantage and disadvantage. When it comes to its advantages, business prospers, tourists visits the country and there is foreign exchange. With peace, foreigners are willing to come and invest in our country hence growth in the country. And most importantly, peace ensures that people do not live in fear.

Majority of people take peace in their areas for granted. This should not be the case because achieving a peaceful environment requires both trust and selflessness. This can be achieved if we be our brother’s keeper.

Kenya is a diversified country with over 40 tribes. This poses a challenge on achieving peace and reconciliation. Imagine coming home one day and finding your whole family murdered in cold blood just because you are from different tribes or have different political views or more (sic) are from different religions?

Always a country that sticks together grows together;cohesion is another factor that goes hand in hand with peace. It can be achieved through sports, national celebrations like Mashujaa Day, education etc. All these factors join us and make us one country.

Reconciliation is an issue of great importance particularly in areas that have experienced brutal violations of human rights due to ethnic differences, religious differences and political differences and views hence should be upheld by any means.

And this begs for the question, what has our government done to maintain or uphold peace and reconciliation in the country? Organizations like National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) which promotes Uwiano at the grassroots level was introduced with the aim of bringing national healing and cohesiveness among the Kenyans. Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) was also formed to promote the process of peace and reconciliation in areas which have experienced violence and more to ensure that people who are involved in fuelling violence among the people are dealt with by the Kenyan law.

What about the media? The media has a role to play in making sue that there is peace in the content they air. They have code of conducts and ethics that prevents them from sharing war and violence content in a way that it can trigger violence all over the nation, a good example is during the SabaSaba day where it was not aired live in any station. They should air effective peace related and reconciliation programs and activities so as to ensure transparency. Media houses should also ensure that journalists and reporters have received quality training for maximum covergae.

In order for all these to happen, #IAmKenya and Wenye Kenya need to look out for each other in order to build this great nation called Kenya.”

Doreen has been selected to be a participant in #IAmKenya and we hope her voice will inspire many more young girls to speak out for their communities. Visit https://www.onepercentclub.com/en/#!/projects/sisikamakenya for more information on this project or to donate to support it.

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#IAmKenya!!

Ethnicity. Tribe. Class. Politics. Socio-economic. Divide. Post-election violence. Reconciliation. Cohesion. Unity. Marginalized. International Criminal Court (ICC). Tyranny of numbers. Seems like quite an odd repertoire of words to bandy together, but these have been buzzwords in Kenya for almost 5 years now. Each word, however, when dissected on its own merit and applied in the Kenyan context, invariably has a similar narrative to all of the others, their plots and characters chillingly the same. The meta-narrative however, remains one of idyllic beaches, panoramic views, color-clad Maasai warriors, wildlife, smilingly generous locals and hakuna matata*(no worries). Welcome to Kenya.

Now, some interesting and fun facts about Kenya. There are 42 tribes, each with their own language and cultural identities. About 41 million of us live in the country, which is organized into 47 counties or districts each represented by a Governor, a Senator, one or more Member(s) of Parliament and a Women’s representative, making us easily to be the most over-represented, underserved and taxed people in the world (30% of the earnings of average Kenyans is taxed). A bit oxymoronic you say? Certainly. Kenya is achingly so. Our biggest problem, in my opinion is identity. We don’t appear to have one. And that is a much bigger oxymoron. How can we not? In 2004, the State sponsored a search for a national dress which to their chagrin, Kenyans said no thanks to. There is no Kenyan cuisine or Kenyan music. Or Kenyan art. There is however music, food and art from Kenya. And therein lies our biggest problem. We have no national identity apart from the symbology of the national anthem or flag. Or when our famous athletes break world records and our chests puff up with pride, and we hug each other indiscriminately, tears welling up, smiles lighting our weary faces up. But these moments do not last long, easily quashed when one politician from the aforementioned counties says something asinine to another from another county. Everyone retreats back into their tribal shells from where they contribute towards national discourse. Newfound social media patterns support this theory because it is easy to aggregate reactions to particular stories or issues depending on one’s tribal groups as determined by tribal names.

Can we as a country dissociate our identity from a polarizing ethnic one? Are we even aware of our identity biases? Can we generate authentic and personal narratives to displace and disrupt mainstream ones? Can we displace mainstream media as the sole source of narratives and cultivate our own, independent, specific, local, agile distribution sources and influence our local interactions? #IAmKenya seeks to do just this. By providing an opportunity for voices of women and girls to pass through these barriers and promote peace; By catalyzing positive social action that fosters national cohesion and unity among Kenyans; By recognizing and celebrating our beautiful diversity and creating points of convergence around this diversity for nationhood to prosper; By including divergent views and voices and building a foundation of dialogue, openness and tolerance, for cohesive communities; By providing young people the means to generate their own content, to embrace their own biases and prejudices, to challenge and disrupt common narratives and displace them with a new way of thinking, acting and being, we will succeed in beginning the arduous task of dismantling this ethnic monolith that prevents us from being Kenya, the land of the great.

For more information about this project, and if you want to donate to make this happen, visit https://onepercentclub.com/en/#!/projects/sisikamakenya.

Maad City

Our beautiful city Nairobi..maad city county…

SISI Simpletons

Nairobi County Council. Sounds like a bellicose brutish toad about to OD on a sackful of flies. If such a toad was to belch, and one was unfortunate enough to be passing by at that very instant, the resultant waft of smell and grossness that would collapse on the poor one like Kisumu’s Moi Stadium walls would begin to paint a picture of what Nairobi County Government is about. From where I am standing of course. Chances are a majority of you have different and even joyful experiences with The Toadies. Yes. That’s what I am calling them. Majority here, of course excludes the hapless street people, female hawkers and their babies. Come to think of it, why isn’t Nairobi referred to as The City of Nairobi? That would send the bellicose brutish toad image diving deep into sewage drains. But seriously, have we ever paused to think about this?…

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Maad City

Nairobi County Council. Sounds like a bellicose brutish toad about to OD on a sackful of flies. If such a toad was to belch, and one was unfortunate enough to be passing by at that very instant, the resultant waft of smell and grossness that would collapse on the poor one like Kisumu’s Moi Stadium walls would begin to paint a picture of what Nairobi County Government is about. From where I am standing of course. Chances are a majority of you have different and even joyful experiences with The Toadies. Yes. That’s what I am calling them. Majority here, of course excludes the hapless street people, female hawkers and their babies. Come to think of it, why isn’t Nairobi referred to as The City of Nairobi? That would send the bellicose brutish toad image diving deep into sewage drains. But seriously, have we ever paused to think about this? It seems as off as New York County Government.

As a rule of thumb, I avoid the CBD as much as one would their mother-in-law, and various other in-laws, to the extent that I can count the number of times I have driven to the CBD this year on the fingers of one hand. As another rule of thumb, it is believed that lightning hardly strikes the same place twice. What am I going on about? Well, has anyone of you tried to retrieve bulky cargo sent from upcountry from Coast Bus’ downtown Accra Lane premises? First of all, it is a nightmare to find, as usual, and has 2 unmarked parking spaces which are ringed off by metal rods impaled on old car rims, joined together by a rusty metal chain and painted Coast Bus’ official unsettling green. This is where the trouble begins, trying to maneuver into their parking ‘lot’ from the main street, especially when they are both occupied and one has to drive round and round the narrow congested downtown thoroughfares without signage. So it was quite a relief to find one unoccupied slot on a Friday afternoon. The other problem is Coast Bus has either a deaf or daft or both, watchman, who despite our incessant hooting for him to let us park, was busy having an animated conversation with someone inside the cargo area. Because we were holding up traffic, I jumped out to alert Deaf and Daft to let us park. And then Nairobi County Council descended.

Ubiquitous and anonymous, circling overhead like vultures, ready to swoop down and descend upon unsuspecting hapless city residents, pecking at their tired flesh, ripping the meat off their bones, gorging themselves, sweat, blood and fat dripping off their pudgy hands, their breath reeking of carrion flesh, their belch bellicose and rancid. What me and Kamau, my poor cab driver, had imagined to be pedestrians waiting impatiently opposite the Coast Bus ‘parking’ to cross the road to retrieve their precious cargo were in fact the dreaded county toads. They quickly entered the car in a seemingly flawless and seamless fashion such that my exit and their entry could be captured in one frame of a millisecond, were it being recorded on video. Such is their efficiency in their well-rehearsed and executed maneuvers. Poor Kamau did not know what hit him. His car was now under the control of 3 county toadies, and my futile explanations and pleas fell on deaf ears. I could swear I caught a whiff of meat under their breath. The 2 slightly overweight slightly hysterical women were in the back, with the worst hairstyles on earth, one resembling a bird’s nest in a state of disrepair, bits of what shouldn’t be sticking out doing so, and an obvious half-hearted attempt to pat it down; the other looked like a whiplashed tragedy, stringy and without form, dazed and uncomprehending and it was difficult to determine whether the owner picked it up grudgingly from a store shelf or whether the whiplashed form descended upon the owner’s head and sublimely planted itself upon her head. The guy was in the front, a toothpick hanging loosely from his mouth, one of Nairobi’s flourishing tabloids clutched in his left hand, and wearing such a hurt and forlorn face for our transgression had so invaded his sense of civic propriety. “Drive!!!”, he barked at no one in particular. Poor Kamau obliged. Well, we retrieved poor Kamau from the jaws of the city pound and their tow-truck in the nick of time, otherwise his car would have spent the entire weekend there, robbing him of a livelihood for that period, not to mention the hefty 12,000 bob fine to pay on Monday to secure its release. Let’s just say that Kamau is not a happy Nairobi resident and does not ever want to contribute whatsoever to the county government’s kitty. Pretty understandable.

Anyway, about a week earlier to our fateful encounter, on a fine Saturday morning I found a parking slot in the Kenya Cinema Plaza parking lot, locked the car and engaged the parking boys’ services, all in the while hoping for Yellow Jacket NCC Parking Attendant to appear with the magic parking ticket. Of course they did not appear, and I could not wait forever, so dashed across the busy street to attend to my affairs. I mean I would cross back 30 minutes later and find it sticking on the windshield, right? Wrong. Came back to a clamped front wheel, notification for payment of 2,300 bob sticking on the windshield and Yellow Jacket smiling asininely at me, apologetically even. Don’t look at me, he said. I did not do it. Some other unit did, and I don’t have the keys. Apparently Nairobi County Government has a Padlock Unit. So, where is the Padlock Unit, I ask? City Hall, where else could they be? responds the Sage in Yellow. Good one, I say as I walk off to City Hall, where I queue to get a slip from a stenographer looking lady behind a dusty counter who operates an equally stenography looking machine which whirrs and purrs and conveniently hangs. All around her are old people clutching polythene bags and receipt books. Only that they are Yellow Jackets who having finished their shifts for the day, are bringing the loot home. Yes, you guessed it, the loot is in the black polythene bags, and they are manually reconciling the receipt books with the cash at hand, getting a slip with the amount printed on it from Stenographer and queueing to drop it off with the cashiers. I wonder why Yellow Jackets can’t just deal with the cashiers directly. So, one pays the 2,000 bob to the cashier, gets a slip and then walks across the banking hall, to the other side of the building where you meet a sea of yellow clamps, and Yellow Jackets milling menacingly about, up a flight of stairs where on a patio like landing, behind a massive desk, sits King Yellow, Master of Keys of Padlocks. I started to explain that there was no yellow jacket in sight and it is unfair what the county is doing, and they should install parking meters just like they do in civilized and modern societies and have they ever heard of smart technology? King looks up disinterestedly (at least he is reading a ‘respectable’ daily) and drawls, I don’t make the rules. Give me the slip. And 300 bob. What is the 300 bob for? I ask resignedly. The parking fee which you should have paid in the first place, King drawls back. I suppress a maniacal laugh. King opens one of his drawers and reveals keys to padlocks stuck on a long oval shaped wire. I can’t resist asking how he knows which key will open which padlock. He looks up and smiles the Master of Keys of Padlocks smile. A minion comes for the key and walks me back to my car, cheerily extolling the virtues and ingenuity of their padlock system. After he unclamps the wheel, he asks whether I could offer him a soda for his hard work? I officially hate this city, and feel like pulverizing my head into little bits for having allowed myself to be a resident of this awful place.

Governor Kidero, Jonathan Mueke, please reclaim the city from The Toadies. My name is Kendrick Lamar. Maad city.

Why I can’t celebrate Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Very interesting disruptive perspective on Malala and the Nobel Peace Prize

middle east revised

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded this Friday to India’s Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai for their struggles against the suppression of children and for young people’s rights, including the right to education. That is great news, and it might almost mean Nobel Peace Prize makes sense again, after being awarded to Barack Obama in 2009 “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”, and to European Union in 2012 “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”.

Still, there is something that really troubles me. How come we (meaning the West) always recognize the “devils” of the East, the torments children like Malala had to and have to go through (in her case, with the Taliban), but always fail to recognize our own participation in creating those “devils”? How come we never…

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The Kenyan Passivity: An Ode to The Sameness of The Summer of 69

Kenya has remained the same for the last 50 years. Here’s why

SISI Simpletons

It’s been a while since my last post. The one about Fish, Firewood & The Almighty Bullet. Believe me when I say it hasn’t been because of lack of ideas for content. Infact, the converse could not be more true. Barely can one collect oneself to react to an issue or situation before another completely knocks it out of contention for the World’s Dumbest trophy. And so on and so forth. Ad nauseum. Well, some things have pretty much remained the same. Actually, Kenya’s biggest issue, remains, unsurprisingly, sameness. Pun intended. 

If you could stretch your imagination 50 years ago, when all our forefathers (for lack of a better generational terminology or nomenclature, let’s just say Ohuru’s Dad, Agwambo’s Dad and Baba Jimmy’s lot) wanted to do was obliterate Poverty, Ignorance and Disease, other than social media (especially Twirra), the EPL, terrorism, LGBT rights, MPesa and the much vaunted Thika…

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The Kenyan Passivity: An Ode to The Sameness of The Summer of 69

It’s been a while since my last post. The one about Fish, Firewood & The Almighty Bullet. Believe me when I say it hasn’t been because of lack of ideas for content. Infact, the converse could not be more true. Barely can one collect oneself to react to an issue or situation before another completely knocks it out of contention for the World’s Dumbest trophy. And so on and so forth. Ad nauseum. Well, some things have pretty much remained the same. Actually, Kenya’s biggest issue, remains, unsurprisingly, sameness. Pun intended. 

If you could stretch your imagination 50 years ago, when all our forefathers (for lack of a better generational terminology or nomenclature, let’s just say Ohuru’s Dad, Agwambo’s Dad and Baba Jimmy’s lot) wanted to do was obliterate Poverty, Ignorance and Disease, other than social media (especially Twirra), the EPL, terrorism, LGBT rights, MPesa and the much vaunted Thika SuperHighway, all of which are foreign technocultural supremacy emblems, what else has significantly changed in Kenya? Or changed Kenya?

History implores us to examine our past in order to get a grip of our present and somehow influence a better future, ostensibly for our kids and their kids. Fair enough. So let’s take a stroll down Kenya’s memory lane. The Brits show up, discover mountains and rivers, jack our style and lord it over us until 1962 thereabouts, and we kick them out. Or so we think. In reality, we only inherited Christianity (the bane of our existence), this thing they call Democracy (which kills more Africans annually than HIV, TB, malaria, cancer, road and boat accidents, wildlife, alcohol, drought and disease combined), Education (ideally an assembly line which churns out uniform-minded-all-we-wanna-do-is-get-employed-and-pay-taxes labor force) and Tribalism (etched along their philosophy of how to divide-and-rule natives). And last but not least. Shiiiit. I mean it. Last and least. The Police Force or Service or whatever the in-between force and service outfit there is. The police force of the colonial era was this tunic-wearing, baton-swinging, khaki-shorts and socks adorned, swagger-stick carrying native who was supposed to control and suppress the other natives. 

As Bryan Adams was making The Summer of 69 famous, back home, Kenyatta’s KANU and Jaramogi’s KPU was making history of their own. Which would define Kenya’s politics, and Kenyans’ lives for decades to come. 45 years later to that day, modern day Kenya is still reeling from the Summer of 69. And grappling with realities for which it is ill-prepared, in part due to the Brit’s patronage and inheritance, and in part due to  Kenyan passivity. Kenyan gullibility. Kenyan optimism. Kenyan ability to Accept and Move On. Kenyan sameness, in mien, character and attitude, honed in the universal school of 8-4-4 system of education.

45 years to that summer, Poverty, Ignorance and Disease still courts us, and mocks us. There could be only one or two dialysis machines in all of the district hospitals in Kenya. The average Kenyan still survives on a coupla shillings a day. Half as many Kenyans may not know how to read and write. Sameness.

45 years to that summer, Christianity still uplifts us, and is the single most progressive industry (the proliferation of churches and ministries far outstrips that of industries, and still don’t attract taxes). Archbishops, prophets, reverends, Dr Pastors and Pesas, Range Rovers and BMWs, Mercedes Benzes and Tithes, Glory and Mansions, Panda Mbegu and Mpesa to the number appearing at the bottom of your screens.Sameness.

45 years to that summer, tribalism still defines and rules us. Hashtags like #WeAreOne, #TyrannyOfNumbers, #LastName, #EthnicityinKenya still abound on Twirra, indicative of how pervasive and divisive the cancer is even among the so-called elite, educated, exposed sub groups and how deeply ingrained and entrenched it must be among the voting mass of rural, illiterate holloi polloi. Sameness.

45 years to that summer, democracy continues to entrench the ruling elite deeper into the fiber of society, and widen inequality and divisions between the haves and the have-nots and claim lives, hopes, dreams and futures of its foot-soldiers, the so-called Walking Dead. Sameness. 45 years to that summer, the education system continues to churn out too many, ill-equipped-ill-mannered-awkward-can’t-write-CV’s-or-application-letters-let’s-drink-and-party-till-we-drop-OMGing-EPL-addicts for graduates who can’t invent or create.

And 45 years to the summer, other than the Khaki shorts and socks, the Kenyan police is as emblematic of the colonial era as ever. In dress, character, raison d’etre and modus operandi (round up the natives and beat them to pulp until they snitch on the MauMau). They may be the only police service in the world that still carries those ridiculous swagger sticks. What on God’s good earth are those for!?! From cops happily sitting on IEDs under trees in Dadaab, to boarding suspicious mobile vehicles carrying potential terrorist suspects driving down the wrong side of highways and getting blown up, terrorism is a new found global threat that must be fought with brains more than brawn. Sameness.

And finally. The peace-loving, placard-waving, singing-and-dancing-to-politicians hysterical masses that are the voting public. Passive and impervious. Oblivious to the cause of their suffering. The incessant fertilizer and drugs shortage. The high cost of tilling an acre. The dismal price millers pay for a bag of maize. The street lights that never work. The jobs that are never there. The cost of bread and sugar. The recurrent drought and piles of bodies on the Kenyan roads. The insensitivity of Parliament and the devolved rapacious units. The indignity of poverty and vacuous statements of affirmations from the Executive. Passivity. Ugali mezani tu. Sameness.

In totally unrelated news, my 11 year old daughter has joined FaceBook.