Friday, April 16, 2010

A Yes from Apathetic Facebook 20 Something Twitterers?

A Non-Fictional Short Story by Onyango Oloo

Claire M is a beautiful, ebony complexioned, twenty-something petit-bourgeois British accented Kenyan employee of a certain tech firm who commutes daily between her middle class neighbourhood in Nairobi’s east end and her posh upscale office in the capital city’s west end.

She is also a very good friend of mine.

Vivacious should be her middle name, so effervescent is Claire’s good natured spirit.

We met purely by happenstance about two and a half fortnights ago.

There she was, slightly after ten in the pm, sitting next to me on the Number 33 matatu on a Furahiday, Embakasi bound.

A spontaneous conversation sprung up in a matter of minutes and within days we were certified Facebook friends who turned out to be residing within mere hectares and baby wails of each other.

A few days ago, I hooked up with her and one of her girl friends for an evening after work beer sip upstairs at the Verandah, across the street from the Stanley-the old Cameo cinema for old Nairobi hands.

In the course of our random chat, she casually mentioned that she had seen my status update on Facebook urging Kenyans to vote Yes come the Referendum on the proposed new constitution.

“I am NOT voting and YOU can’t make ME!” she declared with an air of finality which startled me, being totally unexpected.

I didn’t even know she had seen my earnest online constitutional exhortation in the first place.

“Remember the last time in 2007, I woke up very early in the morning and voted for Raila and look what happened! We Kenyans started killing each other! Over WHAT? I am NOT voting for ANYONE! And you can’t FORCE me!”

Yawa Maembe”, I tried to butt in, gently pointing out that this time around Kenyans were not voting for anyone, just for the long sought after constitution, twenty years in the making and stained with our blood, sweat and tears.

“Well, the only person I will be voting for is the Man Upstairs. And in case you didn’t know, the world is COMING TO AN END. All the signs are there.

Have you looked at

Jay-Z’s latest CD?

Or wondered why Beyoncé Giselle Knowles calls herself

Sasha Fierce these days?

How about that thing with

Kanye West and Taylor Swift?

or Rihanna's new outfit?

There you go.”

Let me hasten to add that Claire M is perfectly SANE and quite intelligent, in case you were wondering.

At this point she reached deep deep into one of

those humungous mobile ward robes that women call handbags
these days and fished out a slim volume with a silky, smooth, soft, shiny glossy black cover featuring a smiling handsome African man on the cover.

The booklet was captioned He is Coming.

I think the author was referring to the world famous dreadlocked Holy Nazarene nicknamed JC, but the image was more reminiscent of one of those Nollywood hunks that litter our television screens and have taken over our DVDs these days.

“You see this?” she said, thumping mercilessly on the poor innocent book.

“It is all in HERE. Tell him Sheila!” she said, turning to her bemused best friend who had been staring, wide mouthed, as this delirious conversation unfolded amid quaffs of this or that variety of Kenyan malt product among the trio of us.

“I am not particularly religious”, I offered, meekly.

“The last time I stepped into an actual Church to formally worship was waaay back in May or June 1982”, I explained, shocking Claire M, who was not even conceived back then when


Ray Parker Jr, Odyssey, The Whispers, Kool and the Gang, Lakeside,

Earth, Wind and Fire
and the Gibson Brothers ruled the world’s disco floors with their curly kits, afros, box tops, bomber jackets and tight jeans-the future Retro/Old Skool gear and wear of decades to come.

“You mean you DO NOT BELIEVE IN GOD???!!!”

Reluctant to start another raging, never ending Kenyan sectarian edition of the Crusades right there at the Verandah-a veritable den of iniquity if I ever saw one- I carefully skirted the religious inquisition, side-stepping a possible urban, nocturnal lynching at the hands of an irate, determined and capable potential Kenyan female executioner by reverting back to the need for a Yes vote among all Kenyans with a functioning brain.

“Well, like I said, WE are NOT voting, are WE, Sheila?” Claire M hissed defiantly, turning to her hapless bosom buddy for solidarity and assurance.

“And you can write that on that BLOG of yours! And tell the WORLD that Claire M said SO! It is NO for ME and THAT is THAT!”

“Are you SURE????!!”

I tried to verify, knowing how far around the world the Kenya Democracy Project blog travels these days.

This morning I got an update from my Neo website counter which informed me that the blog had reached 11,950 cities in 186 countries around this

Blue Marble.

“Yes! And I am waiting to read it!”

So Claire M, in sunny Nairobi, here you go.

You did insist and demand that I put your views on this blog of mine.

And I am sending you a link via my Facebook wall so you can read this on your mobile phone my Kenyan digital sister. I will also email you the URL so that you can carefully jot down the put downs and rebuttals for our next Verandah soiree.

My generation and this Twittered, Digged, RSS Word Pressed Facebooked Twenty First Century Viral Marketed Kenyan Generation of Claire, Sheila and Co. Ltd are Worlds Apart I tell you.

It is like Mercury and Uranus.

Back in the 1980s-Yes, when David Onyango Oloo was still a deceptively innocent looking, fresh faced, slim, twenty something student cum political prisoner and not this bloated twenty first century Kenyan Rip Van Freaking Winkle with sprinkles of salt on my head and chin- it was a badge of honour among the Kenyan youth to be political, to be conscious, to be democratic, to be patriotic, to be militant, to be vigilant, to be a voter.

These were the days of Daniel arap Moi and his side kicks like Okiki Amayo, Kariuki Chotara, Mulu Mutisya, Jackson Angaine, Ezekiel Bargentuny, Sharrif Nassir, Philip Leakey, Stanley Oloitiptip, Krishan Gautama and John Joseph Kamotho.

The days of one party rule.

The days of detention without trial.

The days of the one finger salute.

Not that finger you are thinking of.

The KANU one finger is what I am talking about.

The days of silence, the days of terror and the days of fear.

The days of Fuata Nyayo.

The days of KANU Tawala, Tawala.

The days of fake peace, counterfeit love and non-existent unity.

And also the days of defiant university student demonstrations and courageous lecturers’ symposia.

Not to forget fearless editorials.

The era of George Anyona and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

The hey days of Willy Mutunga, Al-Amin Mazrui, Micere Mugo, James Orengo and Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

The political coming age of the Njeri Kabeberis and Mwandawiro Mghangas.

Some university students declared in public kamkunjis that it was time for Kenya to be ruled by Marxist-Leninists.

Others were abducted off trains to be charged with sedition because they had dared to draft in their hand written chicken scrawl, earnest essays about the role of youth in fighting for democracy and justice in this country.

Still others were thrown down flights of stairs by angry secret police torturers for celebrating the attempted overthrow of the Moi dictatorship.

Back in those seemingly long forgotten days, Kenyan youth, Kenyan students, Kenyan post-independence patriots yearned passionately to kick the status quo’s hind quarters swiftly, repeatedly and viciously.

Back in those yesteryears, Kenyan students and youth spoke out loudly in protest when spooky sycophantic fascist neo-colonial comprador politicians led by our current septuagenarian head of state wanted to declare Kenya a de jure one party dictatorship.

And back then, there were no cell phones, leave alone the internet, forget email accounts, scratch Messenger, ICQ, online forums, chat rooms, Facebook or Twitter.

Back in that recent technological Stone Age, when you spoke of a telephone you was either referring to an old gloomy looking black contraption which had a PADLOCK firmly attached to it or a relative of the same intimidating device trapped in an outdoor cage, looking like a forlorn statue which required you to feed it with numerous coins if you wanted to talk to anyone for a few hurried minutes- at the top of your lungs, obliviously unaware that science and technology had already carefully considered your vocally needs to communicate clearly and therefore taken care of the volume and modulation functions in that teleinstrument.

But we were MORE networked and pumped up those days-politically speaking that is.

If there had been a proposed draft constitution waiting to be passed as the country’s supreme document, Kenya’s militant and patriotic youth would have already formed kilometre long queues, snaking around entire villages-urban and rural- to vote YES, YES, YES! months before the actual referendum!

What a contrast that generation of mine is to the apathetic, blasĂ©, cynical, bored out of their skulls, hip hopping techno Kenyan chini kwa chini ohangla wiggling genge kapukaring smoked out dazed raggamuffins of the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Ten who have more passion for Arsenal and Man U than for freedom or socialism; Kenyan youth who know more about the subliminal Satanic sub texts in Rihanna’s latest dress than which reproductive rights side to take on the raging debate about where life begins; Kenyan youth who can recite the last 98 minutes of the last episode of Lord Of The Rings or the 23rd Season of Sex in the City verbatim from their photographic memories while being totally clueless about the actual contents of the Bill of Rights in our new constitution; Kenyan youth who can tell you the exact alcohol percentage in a bottle of Kingfisher or Smirnoff Red, but totally blank out when you ask them about what percentage women of seats have been allocated in the projected Senate chamber.

Do I sound harsh, bitter, angry, judgmental?

You tell me.

Forgive me for this Cardinal Sin of having seen Better Scenes for Kenyan Youth in this very country, in this, my very own pays natal.

But frankly some of us, aging grey beards, the Kenyan youth of yesteryears, expect more, much, much more, from our younger siblings, cousins, nephews, nieces, and for some of us now delving into our fifth decade of existence, our own sons and daughters.

We expect them to reap the harvest of our blood stained youthful endeavours for a more democratic dispensation.

We expect them to be more emboldened about defending our social justice gains.

We expect them to be more conscious than us, their prehistoric predecessors.

And yes, Claire M, that is why I expect YOU to VOTE YES for the new constitution come the referendum.

And I am talking to you too, Sheila.

But first, you have to register as voters my two Kenyan sisters.

And you can do it electronically these days you know.

So Claire M, there you have it.

You did ask me to write this, didn’t you?

Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Crisis Intensifies at the TJRC

Some Observations from Onyango Oloo

The afternoon of Tuesday, April 13, 2010 is one that the commissioners and staff at the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission are not about to forget in a hurry.

This was the afternoon when a scheduled press conference had been convened at the 3rd floor, Delta House offices, located off Waiyaki Way in the Westlands suburbs of Nairobi.

I was there, along with other denizens of the Fourth Estate- this time wearing my media hat as a representative of News Xtra the new free, Kenyan daily evening paper that is just starting up.

On arrival, I found a battery of television, radio and print journalists hovering before the locked doors, even as various commissioners flitted in and out in preparation for the media briefing.

Soon the doors were flung open and we dashed in- a horde of humans stampeding across this concrete urban Mara while simultaneously hoping to smash Usain Bolt’s sprint records. After the usual scramble to arrange and rearrange the microphones and heavy duty broadcast cameras, we were set.

Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat took charge and without reading from the prepared statement briefed the media that all the nine commissioners had unanimously decided the previous day to write to Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo requesting the setting up of a tribunal to probe the serious allegations against the TJRC Chair in relation to acquisition of land and real estate; involvement in the Wagalla Massacre; questions around the death of former Foreign Minister Robert Ouko and participation in the Moi regime.

He then abruptly left his chair, announcing that he would not be taking any questions. Which of course did nothing to stem the barrage of strident, even angry inquiries from the assembled reporters. In the ensuing confusion, another commissioner, Berhanu Dinka from neighbouring Ethiopia, fielded some of the questions.

Would Ambassador Kiplagat be resigning as TJRC Chair?

Were the Commissioners united or divided?

Why did TJRC CEO Patricia Nyaundi walk out just before the press conference?

Why hobble taxpayers with a greater financial burden with this tribunal?

Is the TJRC able to function and deliver its mandate given the controversies swirling around the commission?

You could have hacked the tension in that TJRC board room with a panga.

As Mr. Dinka was in the process of attempting to answer some of the above questions, Ambassador Kiplagat came back and resumed his position at the table and started answering some of the questions!

No, he would not be resigning because he was not guilty of the allegations leveled against him and he wanted the rule of the law to be followed to the letter.

Yes, he would be stepping aside if the tribunal was set up because according to the TJRC Act, he cannot remain in office while his conduct was being probed.

More hard questions.

Other commissioners chipped in, but I remember former Vice-Chair Betty Kaari Murungi unleashing a terse no comment when she was invited to speak by the media.

Another commissioner, Ahmed Farrah from Kenya moved to reassure the journalists that all the commissioners had signed the letter to Mr. Mutula Kilonzo and that there was no division among their ranks.

Abruptly, the press conference ended-in disarray in my opinion with many of the journalists grumbling in obvious disgruntlement with one woman reporter saying loudly that the healing and reconciliation should begin within the TJRC itself.

And there I was, shaking my head in befuddlement.

I find myself in the unique position of being a former political prisoner and active social justice campaigner who is on good terms with many of the commissioners as well as the staff people at the TJRC. I have met and conversed with Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat on numerous occasions throughout this controversy around his continued stay at the helm of the commission. I am very familiar with his positions and where he is coming from. It is not a secret that I have become a virtual pariah within certain civil society circles as a result of some of my public interventions-which I will not rehash today.

At the same time, people like Ms. Betty Kaari Murungi are comrades of mine from a long time ago and I have also discussed and consulted with her about her perspectives on the way forward. This I have done openly and on at least one occasion I have been the emissary between Ambassador Kiplagat and his former Vice-Chair when things were particularly tense between them- that is before she stepped down.

Yesterday I managed to speak to both of them.

When the TJRC Chair called me after I had left the press conference, I was very blunt with him. I told him that in my opinion, it was a mistake for him to have chaired the press conference whose main purpose was to announce that a letter had been written to the Justice minister- with a direct implication that he would stepping aside temporarily as the tribunal probed his conduct. I also informed him that I had spoken to some people at the Commission- both staff and commissioners who were quite upset at the turn of events.

What I owe to myself, my comrades and readers is my usual honest candour.

I have maintained that the way we as civil society have handled the TJRC matter has been wanting. I have kept a critical engagement with the besieged Chair in the course of which I have earned his trust and respect, and I believe it has been reciprocated.

I therefore want to address myself to my core constituency in the human rights and progressive community as well as the folks at the TJRC including Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat:

1. April 13, 2010 was a low point for the commission. It is my understanding that there was an attempt to cancel the press conference. It is my further understanding that a very distraught TJRC CEO Patricia Nyaundi left the building in tears, not attending the press conference.

2. In my conversations with at least one commissioner and some other people at the TJRC, several of the stakeholders within the TJRC feel betrayed by some of the actions of the Chair, Ambassador Kiplagat in regards to how the press conference was conducted. It is my understanding that Commissioner Berhanu Dinka was supposed to preside over the press briefing and field the questions. It is my further understanding that the TJRC Chair was supposed to comply with the unanimous decision of the commissioners that he would step aside once the tribunal was set up. Even though he did say that eventually at the press conference, it sounded contradictory to his earlier assertion that he would NOT be resigning.

3. I am made to understand that at least two commissioners and one staff person are seriously considering quitting altogether from the commission if the TJRC crisis is not resolved forthwith.

4. While I understand the pressures, tensions and insinuations that have bogged down Ambassador Kiplagat- and having spoken to him, I am largely convinced that he is INNOCENT of the serious charges leveled against him- especially as regards Ouko and Wagalla- I think that yesterday’s press conference did not do anything to help his case, cause or course. If I were him, I would take immediate steps to undo the damage done at the press conference. If this does not happen, there may be a scenario that he is left presiding over a commission without half of its commissioners and some of its key staff.

5. From a victim’s/survivors’ perspective, I remain convinced that the TJRC, even in its current form, composition and structure is VITAL in the quest for seeking truth, dispensing justice and laying the groundwork for healing and reconciliation. In my ongoing work with the National Victims Network, whose National Convener is Wachira Waheire and Chairperson is Wafula Buke-both former political prisoners and torture survivors- we have fore grounded the need for the TJRC to be victim centred and victim-based. Those of us who are currently critically engaged with the TJRC process have strongly grounded principles, values and ethics- some of which has pitted us against some of our own lifelong comrades, but all of which are predicated on social justice. I support the TJRC and will continue to do so while at the same time insisting that none of the controversies can be or should be swept under the carpet. In this connection I have sought and secured an audience with both Ambassador Kiplagat and Ms. Betty Kaari Murungi so that, face to face we can dialogue further on this as I try to contribute to a way forward.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Killers of Our Dreams

By Onyango Oloo

An interesting thing happened to me the other day. On Thursday April 8, 2010, I was walking along Kijabe Street-on the other side of Norfolk Hotel and the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation- trying to get into Longonot Place to meet up with my pals
Douglas Okwatch and Alberto Leny who recently invited me to be part of News Xtra- Nairobi's new and free daily evening newspaper- when I was hailed by this friendly guy who introduced himself as Maina Joseph. He turned out to be a veteran artist involved with drama, drumming and a whole lot more. He was convinced that he knew me from NAKURU. That struck me as kinda strange, since apart from being born in that Rift Valley market town, I have NEVER lived there for more than two days. A thought flashed through my mind. Did my mischievous dad spawn a sibling who is my spitting image, with this unknown identical near twin brother eking out an existence with a parallel Oloo family in Nakuru totally unbeknownst to me and the rest of my immediate family? That thought was brief, and like I said, it did FLASH through my mind on its way out. Anyways, Maina ended up telling me when he had just given me his business card and was about to go on his way that actually there was a poetry night starting up at the Wasanii Restaurant which is upstairs from the main stage at the National Theatre. Being an aficionado of things thespian, verse and all literary matters in between, I dashed to the venue to find buddies like Steenie Njoroge, Sophie Dola, Ksmall, Jack and other Wasanii mainstays settling in, sipping their various liquid selections as they waited for things to rev up. Khainga O'kwemba, a writer whose work is often featured in the Star came up and we chatted. He happens to be one of the main officials of the Kenyan chapter of PEN- the international association of writers. PEN Kenya was hosting the event in conjunction with the Wasanii crew. He asked me if I could contribute a poem towards the end. I immediately agreed only to start panicking instantly when I realized I did NOT have a single poem on me, not even one floating in my cranium. Quickly excusing myself, I hurried to a cybercafe to see if I could retrieve one of my old poems from one of my half a dozen blogs. But not one was appropriate for me. So I came back, fretting of what to do. I was invited to the semi-high table where all the officially invited poets and spoken word smiths were. After about seven and a half minutes Khainga sidled up to me and whispered, "You are on after the next two". I felt my tummy churning somewhat moderately. Still no poem. But I did have a writing pad and a pen. So I set off composing a poem on the spot. I had barely finished the second last line when I was officially invited to go on stage and read it. Well, here it is, modified slightly from two days ago....

the killers of our dreams

don’t want us to dream

the killers of our kenyan dreams

our dreams of peace

our dreams of national unity

our kenyan dreams of justice and equality

our kenyan dreams of a new democratic constitution

the killers of our dreams

don’t want us to dream

the killers of our kenyan dreams

want to kill us

that is why we should rise above the trivia

that is why we should transcend the inertia

the dementia of updating our facebook walls

with inane, lame and tired lines

drivel like

oh, I am so bored

limpid lines like

gosh, I am so drunk

throw away trash like

look at me, I am so fly

silly whines like

poor me, I am so dry

let us not be twittering twits

twittering tweets about

our ex romantic partners

and how we accosted them

doing the nasty stark naked

in the living room

with esther arunga doing ktn at one

let us not commit suicide

because our favourite

english premier league club

lost out to a superior la liga opponent

or was turfed out in a heartbreak concession

to a resilient bundesliga adversary

while we here in kenya

wallow in neo-colonial unglamorous squalor

let us remain

each and every one of us

not just mere

run of the mill

sometimish day wet dreamers

but focused, stubborn

hard working dreamers

never letting go

dreamers of dreams

dreaming undreamt dreams

dreaming forbidden, forsaken dreams

dreaming ex-communicated dreams

and I am not talking of x-rated dreams

of lusty fantasies and fornication orgies

but as we dream

let us wake up at the same time

and start moiling and toiling

struggling and working

day in, day out

week after week

month after month

year after year

decade after decade

struggling to make all those dreams

see the cold light of day

fellow dreamers

see yourself perched atop

the highest peak of mount Kenya

proudly hoisting aloft

our victory flag

visualize yourself

riding the most precarious crest

three hundred metres deep

into the kikambala beach

clinging tenaciously

to our banner of liberation

some of us started dreaming big

way back in our mid teens

in those half-forgotten

bell bottomed seventies

dreaming back then of freedom

of justice, of democracy

before we clasped hands

with other young dreamers

to start organizing

in the clandestine subterrains

for revolution, for socialism

now in the second decade

of a century some of our comrades

never got to see

we are now on the other side of forty five

smiling wistfully

as we observe our teen daughters

and twenty something sons

stirring with angst

as they too, dream their own dreams

in this digitized, networked, facebooked

viral marketed twenty first century

twittered demi-monde

and still we dream our dreams

meshing with their dreams

and musing their children’s future dreams

some of us

dream not of palatial dream homes

we dream not of cavernous garages

chock full of imported dream limos

we dream not of billions

stashed away in dozens

of overseas bank accounts

we dream not

of faking it

in that surreal charade

of allegedly making it

instead we still dream

stubbornly of that better world

we have been steadily yearning for

we dream still of another just society

we dream of a new day dawning

where women here and everywhere

will cherish the guaranteed equal rights

as we move beyond

the old disney world of misogyny, patriarchy and sexism

we dream of local, regional, national, continental

and global peace and prosperity

we hold on to our dreams

of international solidarity

even as we hanker fiercely

of a socialist milieu

overcoming this imperialist dystopia

so my sisters and my brothers

my comrades and my compatriots

let us be proud, confident, stubborn dreamers

dream if you are a dancer

for it will help you

choreograph your future

dream if you are a singer

as you lyrically weave today’s melodies

and tomorrow’s harmonies

dream if you are an actor

bringing dialogue and drama

to life in living colour

dream especially if

you are a poet

for your life is an epic

which has just barely begun…

composed by Onyango Oloo at the table near the bar at Wasanii Restaurant in Nairobi at approximately 8:36 pm on Thursday, April 8, 2010 while waiting to read the same unwritten poem...