Category Archives: Seriously…

Justice. Outrage. Reality Check

From the first time Mr. Cholmondeley appeared on Kenyans’ radar (after he shot and killed a KWS ranger), the public anger unleashed against him has always seemed interesting to me. In no way do I think that outrage at the death of any human being is unjustified. I found disingenuous the reaction to Mr. Cholmondeley’s acquittal in the Samson Ole Sisina murder trial and his subsequent 8 month sentence for manslaughter in the Robert Njoya case.

Almost every comment I have read on different Kenyan news sites has centred on his race, his wealth, his ‘untouchability’ and not on the legal merits of the cases filed against him. In both instances, to me, the conclusions of the trials seem to fit what evidence has been provided.

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Kenyans- Take a Leaf

It’s over- the US Election. Barack Obama is President. Kenyans dance in the streets of Nairobi. I’d like to think that they don’t just dance because he is half Kenyan, but because they have heard Obama’s message and it resonates with them.

I would like to hope that Kenyan voters will take the message of hope and change to heart next time it comes to making decisions about the country’s future. In the crowd at Grant Park was a mix of people. It was a multi-generational, multi-ethnic crowd that stood and listened to Barack Obama speak. I hope Kenyans can see that it’s not what we are but what we believe in that really matters. I hope that this man has inspired a new generation of leaders in Kenya. Not the kind that buy people’s votes, run negative campaigns, use tribe to divide, proceed to parliament to earn fat paycheques while their constituents suffer. But the kind of leaders that show courage, have vision and a passion to serve others. The biggest failure of leadership in Kenya is usually attributed to the elected leaders themselves, but I think it should be attributed to us, the citizens who have given the mandate time and again to a cadre of people whose united desire for personal gain/power/fame outweighs their love and pride in Kenya.

I hope that if one thing comes from Barack Obama winning, it is a change of focus by Kenyans on what true leadership means and what they deserve from their leaders. Surely amongst the 32 million or so of us, there are some true, great leaders to choose from? I dare to hope.

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10 Years On…

The radio was on. Background noise as I lay napping on that hot August day. As the news came on, I began to blank out when the newsreader began to read the report of a bombing in the KENYAN capital NAIROBI…that was all I heard. I sat bolt upright, heart pounding and got off the bed, rushed to log onto the Internet (in the days of dial up…it was the longest I ever waited to go online!) to see what was going on, then I began to frantically dial home. Luckily for me, the phone lines were not yet too busy. I got through on the first try and spoke with my sister. Our house was ‘Command Central’. Everyone was calling in to report that they were OK. I really wanted to be in Kenya at that moment. I wanted to be there with my family. Much as it was so good to hear their voices, I eventually had to end the call because other family members would be trying to call in. (This was before cellphones).

At first it seemed like nobody in our family had been caught up in the madness that was the Embassy Bombing…then people started wondering why my aunt hadn’t yet called in to say she was fine. The family realized that she worked in the Cooperative Bank building. She had gone to work that day. My uncle, fearing the worst as he drove into town from Eastlands abandoned his car somewhere near Machakos Bus Station (engine running, keys in the ignition) and ran the rest of the way to try to find his wife. In all the chaos there was no hope or any news for a while.

Sitting in Montreal, I called all the Kenyans I knew. I tried getting through to Kenya again to no avail (I’d been lucky. Most of my friends were not able to get through for hours). I worried about my aunt. I called my sister in Philadelphia. I watched the news compulsively.  As Kenyans in Montreal we reached out to each other,  reassured ourselves that it would be OK. Over the next few days the picture was clear- it was a terrorist attack. Many Kenyans and Tanzanians were dead. I wondered what was the point in killing all those innocent people. In hindsight the attacks were probably a trial run for future terrorist attacks.  

Finally, they found my aunt at Kenyatta Hospital receiving treatment. Apparently when the bomb went off she wound up trapped by her desk. Her colleagues, clearly shaken and in shock had run off and left her to her own fate. One had told her “We jaribu kujitoa tu” (just try and free yourself) before she clambered over the debris and out of the office- not sure if they still exchange Christmas cards 🙂 .

There was no predicting who had been affected…anybody could have been walking past the US Embassy at that time (god only knows how many times I did so on my way to Moi Avenue after getting off a bus at the ‘Agip’ bus stop). There were always people hanging out around the front steps of the Cooperative Bank building whenever I walked by there…I wonder how many were there on that day. The images that stay with me to this day are of the burned out shells of the buses and cars in the street, frozen in time; makeshift stretchers being used to haul victims out of the ruins; Joseph Kamotho being helped out of the Embassy, his face bloody; and the poignant story of Rose, the lady trapped in the debris for hours awaiting rescue.

Human beings have been committing acts of violence against each other for centuries. We never learn. It does nothing but breed more violence. It has been 10 years in which the world has seen so much more turmoil (granted peace has come to many places in that time too). So many more acts of violence continue to take place. I feel that we, as human beings have not made more progress to safeguard the lives of more of our fellow men. When you think of all the people that were affected on that one day in Nairobi or Dar es Salaam you cannot help but extrapolate that number to Somalia, Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan…then multiply this by the number of days that these areas have been in conflict. In commemorating this day, I am asking myself what I will do, as 1 person so that one less innocent person has to be affected by another’s violence.

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International Women’s Day- March 8, 2008

If you have wondered what this day is about, here’s a quick primer on IWD from The Official International Women’s Day 2008 website:

[…] Annually on 8 March, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate their achievements. While there are many large-scale initiatives, a rich and diverse fabric of local activity connects women from all around the world ranging from political rallies, business conferences, government activities and networking events through to local women’s craft markets, theatric performances, fashion parades and more. […]

[…]So make a difference, think globally and act locally!! Make everyday International Women’s Day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.

There are women that are truly inspirational to me. Some are famous, like Wangari Maathai, Katharine Graham and Eleanor Roosevelt. Others are not famous, but they have had an influence in my life that they may not be aware of, or underestimate. Ranging from my maternal grandmother who was just fabulous in her zest for life, to my paternal grandmother whose zen-like existence is my definition of being at peace with oneself, or my mother whose lack of sentimentality has taught me how to deal with tough choices when they need to be made.
I have always been inspired by my sisters (though I’d never, ever admit this when I was younger). They forged paths for me so that I would tread more easily when my time came along, they fought my battles, they encourage my creativity (even when my games of ‘what if’ or ‘imagine if’ drive them nuts). I am always awed when I am reminded of their achievements. You sometimes forget that the girl you fought with over the placement of furniture in your bedroom when you were ten is now fighting for human rights with the same zeal, or that the skill used to devise a plan for who-gets-to-read-the-newspaper-first when you were seven would be put to plotting clever corporate strategy.
I am inspired by my women friends. I do not think of us as ‘girl’friends anymore because we are now living women’s lives, and though the frivolity of our twenties is not gone, we have grown up. We can be close without needing to be together all the time, without needing to be the cool kids, without needing to stay out all night. Whether six months or one year goes by before we meet again it does not matter because we have learned to make every second, every lunch, every dinner and phone call count. We celebrate our successes, we fuel each others interests, we make blunt assessments of our ‘issues’ and focus on the concrete matters of our lives.
For me, IWD 2008 is about my relationships with the women who enrich my life with joy, love, hope and wisdom. They make me curious, bring joy to me, push me intellectually, keep me grounded and make me passionate to live this life that I have. To the women in my life: I Salute You.

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Wading Into the Fray

We’re halfway there. Halfway to Nairobi. In a few hours we’ll leave Amsterdam and land in a city that I don’t recognize from the news online. People waving pangas, policemen all geared up and ready for battle…I won’t lie, I am scared about where we are headed.

I’m mad as hell that we have a self-appointed president who cares more about occupying State House than in ensuring that no more innocent blood is shed. Is there anything worse that Kibaki can do to us? He’s already gone out and erased all the gains that Kenyans paid for dearly while Kibaki dithered about leaving KANU, he has already shown us that voting doesn’t count, he has already shown us what a coward he is- if he feels he was genuinely elected, why can’t he be ‘the Man’ and go address the country from Kibera? Or better yet, why doesn’t he go to Eldoret to explain to the families of the victims of the church fire how he appreciates their vote? Who does he think he is? Shame on Kibaki…I refuse to recognize him as President of anything.

As for all our other so-called leaders, how about for once you do the right thing and use the same way with words to get those who claim to support you to put down their arms, to use peaceful means to express their displeasure? Which way forward?

The countdown to takeoff continues…what will be awaiting us when we get to JKIA? I don’t even know any more!

For once, this agnostic theist prays that a miracle happens and we wake up free of the anger, the pain, the rigged results, the hatred, the stupid/selfish leaders, that we wake up to Peace…for once, man, can’t god cut the innocent in Kenya some slack?

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Jamhuri yangu?

Heading into the holidays, Jamhuri day celebrations will be the start of the festivities. Many Kenyan communities across the world will probably do something to mark this milestone. Being too young to have stood and watched the new Kenyan flag be hoisted for the first time, I can only imagine the thrill that must have been. The joy of being free from Colonial rule was probably unstoppable, heady, intoxicating, sexy, pregnant with promise.Growing up, public holidays were just holidays to me. There was not much contemplation or even thought as to their origin or meaning. Now, older, and more interested in the state of affairs in the world around me, I’m sitting here wondering about the meaning of Jamhuri day.

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Spammed…

Yesterday morning I opened my “official” e-mail address i.e. the e-mail address where no spam ever goes because I don’t use it to sign up for anything, or enter it as my address on any old website. Sitting pretty at the top of my inbox was an e-mail from AMREF. Now, I’m a supporter of AMREF’s work, because it is indigenous, it generates local solutions for local problems etc. Friends of mine work at AMREF so I thought the mail may have come from them. Upon clicking on it, I realized it was part of a campaign of sorts by AMREF, but that it had been sent to me because ages ago I subscribed to the Nation. Or as stated at the bottome of the e-mail:

…”This information has only been sent to Nationmedia.com subscribers, who agreed to the Nationmedia.com Privacy Policy when giving their address through our website. All emails we send you will contain unsubscribe information”…

Now, one thing I know for sure is that I never, ever, click on “Send me information on products yadda yadda” whenever I set up a profile. This is one sure way to get spammed. The company that sent the e-mail is not AMREF, it’s a third party that I have no ‘agreement’ with. It appears that the Nation may have ‘sold’ my e-mail address to a third party! That’s when I decided to hunt for the privacy policy (pasted here)…please note, I’m not a lawyer, but from what I see, nowhere do they mention selling our information to third parties in order to receive product information.

Privacy Policy for Nationmedia.com

What does Nationmedia.com do with the information it gathers/tracks?Statistical Analysis and Banner Advertising: Nationmedia.com may perform statistical analyses of user behavior in order to measure interest in the various areas of our site (for product development purposes) and to inform advertisers as to how many consumers have seen or “clicked” their advertising banners. Personal information about you as an individual subscriber will not be provided to any third party without your consent, except under the circumstances described in Compliance with Legal Process below.Compliance with Legal Process
We may disclose personal information if we are required to do so by law or we in good faith believe that such action is necessary to
(1) comply with the law or with legal process;
(2) protect and defend our rights and property;
(3) protect against misuse or unauthorized use of Nationmedia.com; or
(4) protect the personal safety or property of our users or the public (among other things, this means that if you provide false information or attempt to pose as someone else, information about you may be disclosed as part of any investigation into your actions).

E-Mail: If you so select at registration to receive eNewsletters, Nationmedia.com will periodically send you various types of emails including daily headlines updates and communication regarding your particular interest. Additionally, the email address provided by you at registration may be used by Nationmedia.com to contact you regarding (1) account status (including confirmation of registration), (2) major changes to the website and or to the Subscriber Agreement and Privacy Policy, and (3) participation in user surveys, asking for feedback on the website and existing or prospective products and services, as well as information to better understand our users. User surveys greatly help us to improve our website, and any information we obtain in such surveys will not be shared with third parties, except in aggregate form.The E-Mail This Article feature is an easy way for Nationmedia.com users to send articles through email. The e-mail address(es) that you supply to use this service will only be used to send the requested article.

Except as permitted by this policy, Nationmedia.com does not send unsolicited e-mail.

Discussion Forums: Any information you disclose when posting a message in our Discussion Forums becomes public. Please refer to our Terms of Use for more information on expected behavior in the Forum.

While AMREF is a worthy cause, how long will it be before I start receiving mail from ODM, or Tinga Tinga? Or maybe Dodgy, Dodge-em and Dodgier may start sending me info on how I can buy overpriced plots in Mlolongo! I am also worried because personal information like date of birth is also in the profile, so it’s out there if you put in your real birth date.
I am very disappointed by the Nation. So, I’m changing the address on my profile, then writing to them to remove my e-mail from whatever list they sold (yeah, I’m skeptical that they’ll do anything, but this is just wrong…and contrary to their ‘privacy policy’). Has anybody else received this mail

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Don’t Get Me Started…

When Binyavanga Wainaina’s piece “How to write about Africa” did the rounds of inboxes everywhere, finally landing in mine, I read it cheering along, nodding in agreement, loving it. It should be the first thing that comes up when you Google Africa. I would like to forward it to several people just for ‘future reference’ should they wish to comment/write about “Africa”. I put the “Africa” in quotation marks because I’m not talking about the continent as such, but I’m talking about this Western idea that you can replace the name of any African country with “Africa”, the rationale being that the whole continent is this wild/savage/dark/brown/poor/dangerous/hopeless/other-similarly-depressing-sounding-description place. Basically, “Africa” isn’t even like a place, it’s an idea. Here are a few examples:

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The Here, the Now

I hate truisms. The irksome thing about them is that they are true!!!! There are always lifestyle coaches and gurus encouraging people to live their dreams, and on the whole, most people have a life they’d be living if only they didn’t have schoolwork, if only they were younger, if only they were richer, if only they had studied, if only. Last year I asked myself: “If I could be doing anything, if there was nothing stopping me, what would it be?”…of course the answer was something that would probably send any Kenyan parent into paroxysms of incredulous laughter: all I want is to be a storyteller.

Digression: I have chosen to define myself as a storyteller because there are so many forms of story-telling media I want to explore, that I am afraid of pigeonholing myself.

Being from a family of master raconteurs, storytelling is one thing I’m good at- among other things- one that I truly enjoy. For my generation, our Kenyan upbringing has never really been about what makes you happy. It’s been about what will keep you in shoes, put a roof over your head and (for this daughter of the soil) a title deed to your retirement farm in your hands. Happiness is just a bonus, a byproduct of hard won success at conventional careers. You choose a career purely on ability and if you’re lucky it coincides with your dreams.

All through school, my report forms were decent (OK, they were pretty darn good for the limited effort exerted), but I’m sure I caused my parents grief with my enthusiasm for extra-curricular activities…I lost count of the refrain “if you focused on mathematics the way you focus to get those certificates from your music…” or “so you got an A in fine art, how about physics?”. Each time that school bus drove out of school for some arts based competition you can bet that yours truly was in it (plus, life would have been unbearable without the chips from restaurants- ranging from Kuku Mfalme in Naivasha to Mapa house and Amani hotel in Kiambu, or Topaz in town). I was never more energized than when involved in the music, acting, writing and directing work away from the structure of a classroom. This participation was always taken to be something that would not really pan into a career. There was an unspoken agreement that I had to ensure that I had a ‘fall-back career’ i.e. I had to go to University and become an upstanding, taxpayer- preferably a professional.  It’s not that my parents didn’t think you could be an ‘artiste’ for a living- after among the members of our extended family are a thespian, there’s a playwright, and several are published.

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Dodging Bullets

Once again the press is full of stories about crime in Nairobi including the deaths of numerous innocent victims. Before I advocate going out and start looking into lawfully purchasing/possessing a firearm, it would be good to look at crime, all crime in Kenya and the impact it has. The press pointed out (rightly) that when the gangsters shot Prof. Job Bwayo, a heinous crime was committed against all people living with HIV and AIDS in Kenya, and millions more of their counterparts around Africa. Prof. Bwayo could have, just that very evening had a brainwave that would send the search for an HIV/AIDS cure over the tipping point and closer to success. We will never know.  

Every day such callous crimes occur, and one can only wonder the reach each death at the hand of a gun-toting gangster or policeman has on life as we know it. The woman they shoot next might be a foster parent to AIDS orphans, the man they gun down might have been a leader to whom young people looked for guidance. It is senseless, it is heartless, and it is not only the gangsters who are guilty. Each economic crime that takes place in Kenya probably kills more people through direct cause and effect than each shooting death. Consider the amounts of money that have been lost to Goldenberg (both the scandal and the subsequent investigations), and how these sums could have been used by the Ministry of Health to treat the sick, and by the Ministry of Education to improve schools. Think of the damage to the environment caused when nationally owned forests are hived off so that some kleptocrat somewhere can build another mansion, or so they can sell the bark of endangered species to the highest bidder in order that another celebrity endorsed perfume have ‘notes of sandalwood’

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