Friday, February 01, 2008


"I have no intention of retaliating or looking backwards. We are going to forget the past and look forward to the future." Jomo Kenyatta, 1964 made following Kenya's First National Elections

Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first President and a member of the Kikuyu people was also one of the forces behind the establishment of the Pan-African Federation (along with Kwame Nkrumah).

Ngugi Wa Thiong'o is a Kikuyu novelist in exile from Kenya for both his political work and insistance on writing in his native tongue, Gikuyu. He was first arrested by then Vice-President Daniel arap Moi in 1977 for his play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want), also written in Gikuyu.

These are two of the visionaries whose narratives are embedded in the language of the Kenyan nation, whose live are inextricably linked to a legacy of revolt against British colonialism. Who suffered, have suffered persecution for their thoughts. I first and foremost bring their names into the circle.

Today I was talking with Mama C. We were talking about Kenya and both the language and reality of ethnic cleansing. That genocide and ethnic cleansing are terms that have entered our language as symptoms of a modern era beginning with the onset of the Spanish Empire 516 years ago is heartbreaking. That we are now faced with the language of ethnic cleansing with regards to yet another African nation is devastating.

How to speak of connections born of chance and circumstance? Having spent a significant part of my childhood in Nairobi, I cannot make claims to understanding the deep intricacies of Kenyan nationality, culture or politics. However, I recall my family's friend A., a member of the Luo people in Western Kenya, calling us to tell us her two eldest sons were dead. They were both poisoned by local Kikuyu authorities after their full scholarships to universities in Sweden became public. And I recall other incidents gathering in the wind, whispered to my parents at parties when the adults thought the children were not listening. Of Luya, Luo intellectuals being poisoned. Of Kikuyu sent in their place. I remember the various trips that we made across the country, and the landscapes the Masai had come to inhabit - by force: dry, arid lands. Savannah covered in flies. This was not Masai native land. The Kalenjin were also displaced by Kikuyu eager to occupy the skeletal remains of British colonialism: the homes and farms of former British merchants.

How then to understand the rage that leads to hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu fleeing Western lands, in the trails of severed limbs and charred remains? Is this a pent up rage released after 30 years of slow, spotted deaths? Who is rushing to Kenya's aide, and with what conditions? Is this a strategic political violence aimed at forcing a shift of power into the hands of another people? Is this violence funded? By whom? Or is this hunger? I repeat, is this hunger?

We cannot accept what the media has given us as truth anymore. We must search for deeper truths and more complex renderings of history. We must, must, must! I rarely speak in imperative terms, but with regards to our information and what we receive, I am becoming increasingly uncompromising about the necessary act of searching for multiple viewpoints and deeper histories.

I cannot help but wonder what will become of the brokered talks and deals proposed by Kofi Annan (to date, I have found no information of his affiliation - reports merely read "former Kofi Annan - is he speaking on behalf of the African Union? the Global Humanitarian Forum? as a member of the Global Elders? or as an independent agent brokering his power?). Will deeper truths come to light? Will the talks uncover the deeper tensions that seem to be a latent symptom of the post-colonial nation state? Will ethnic cleansing be avoided, unlike what occurred in Rwanda? Will Kenya be linked in the imaginaries of the American public to Barack Obama at this critical point in U.S. electoral campaigning in ways that are unconscionable?

Ergh. I would be lying to say I walk into this weekend without Kenya on my mind. I hold peace and a light for truth in my heart for the people of Kenya.

2 comments:

k. terumi shorb said...

thanks for this post. it is poetic yet urgent. my thoughts are also on kenya.

Lisa C. Moore said...

I saw a bumper sticker yesterday—why is truth posted on the backs of cars, anyway?—that said "The way to peace begins with feeding the hungry."

Nuff said.

This is a very nicely balanced, well-written piece, Ana. Thank you