Focus: Kenya view.
When you find yourself talking with several guests of the morbid situation of your country during the wedding of one of your friends, you quickly realize there is something wrong with your country. When your National broadcasters show men being dragged out of public service vehicles and hacked to death by a mob of young men who do not even hide their faces from the police a few metres away, and such scenes are repeated more than the advertisements and commercials, then your country is doomed. When you hear that people are chased from their homes into a church for belonging to a particular tribe, and then followed into the church where women and children are locked inside and then burnt alive, my friends, you are no longer in a country, you are living inside hell on earth.
The Swahili (oh, that language that was supposed to unite us and now has been rendered impotent in its intended super-glue powers) – the Swahili say that when you see your friend being shaved with a razor, start wetting your hair in preparation for your shave too.
I do not intend to go gently into that dark beyond without saying a word of goodbye. Friends, (and those who consider me an enemy because of my tribe or lack of it), being of sane mind and in charge of my mental faculties, I bid you goodbye. I chose to write you an orbituary, which you should read as a love letter to my country that has died in that critical moment when its dreams were giving birth to a beautiful bouncing future.
I know not the hour of my death, for no one knows the hour of their death in this country anymore. That man on Naivasha, who was dragged from the car and his speech as he answered questions betrayed him as belonging to a tribe the highway blockers were hunting down, he did not know his death. I have seen myself trying to run from the mob the way he desperately tried, machetes raining on his back, and yet he ran on, three desperate steps, before his body disintegrated into huge chunks of human flesh and fell down. Upon which they cubed him. I too, my friend, am about to face the same death. My tongue, when I try to speak, shall definitely betray me as a targeted tribesman when the mob does come to me. For I do not belong to any tribe.
My sister, Rozi, called me yesterday trembling with fear. She lives in Western Kenya, on the Eldoret/Kakamega border. They had taken a patient to Moi Referral Hospital Eldoret. On their way back, the ambulance was stopped by youths bearing all forms of crude weapons. They demanded to know which tribes everyone in the ambulance belonged to. The driver was of the local tribe, so he was told to step aside. As the others showed their National Identity cards, my sister realized that all around them were corpses of human beings freshly chopped to death. Her turn came and she said she was Luhya. They told her to speak in Luhya, but my Sister doesn’t know Luhya. “I really can’t speak it because my mother is a Taita!” she pleaded. She had to desperately show a photocopy of my mother’s National Identity card which she had in her purse, a photocopy my mother had given to her the previous week to use as a referee for the bank account she was switching to. That photocopy saved my sister. The only language my sister can speak, apart from English and the National Swahili, is Gikuyu. The tribe the youths were targeting.
My friend, I know no tribe. I only know languages. My mother is Taita, my Father is Luhya, and we were raised in Kiambu among the Gikuyu. It has never been important in our family to know which tribe we should belong to, my sisters and brothers have names from both sides of our parents communities. In this chaos, if the hunters of fellow humans were to find us in our house, would they really believe we are brothers and sisters from our names?
If I say am Luhya, the Gikuyu with whom I have lived and now am engaged to one of their daughters would kill me as they have gone on a mission to revenge the deaths of their kinsmen in Western Kenya. If I flee to my parent’s home in Luhyaland, the neighbours will barbecue me alive for I can’t speak their language and of course my mom is from a foreign tribe. Not to forget that the guy who sold us that piece of land where my mom and Dad saved so hard to buy is known to come and insist on grazing his cow on our compound claiming “my cows used to feed here, buying the land doesn’t mean I don’t own it!”
Now in this Nairobi where I stay, I am wary of my neighbours. The guy opposite my flat is a Luo with whom we argued amicably during the pre-election period on which party we supported. Maybe now, given that friendly neighbours have been the ones killing each other, he might remember our political chats over my litres of coffee and come chop me up?
That is why friends, I have decided to write this obituary. I know not my tribe, I have only known myself as Kenyan, and others as fellow Kenyans. In these times, belonging or not belonging means not being dead or being seriously dead. What chances does a person like me have?
My friends have their tribes mates to protect them. The cosmopolitan Nairobi has now been balkanized with residential estates being exclusive reserves of certain tribes. Complete with murderous gangs imported from up-country to protect their own. Mungiki for the Gikuyu, Chingororo for the Gusii, and the Baghdad Boys and Taliban for the Luo. Where, pray I, is the estate Balkanised for those of us of mixed heritage who know not their war cry of their tribal warriors? The only two tribes I can run to don’t have such armies. And claiming my Dad’s Luhya identity, and a Bukusu at that, is problematic in itself. The Gikuyus are hunting them down claiming they voted ODM together with the Luos, and the Luos are hunting them down too claiming they voted for Kibaki together with the Gikuyus. So such is my fate for my father belonging to this tribe that voted 50-50!
My friends, I have prepared myself for my death. I don’t know how it will be, but since as a Film and TV drama person I believe in rehearsals, I have rehearsed all possible scenarios so that when my moment comes, it won’t be so hard to take it. Chekhov’s method acting manuals are no longer needed. I just turn the TV on during news time or read the papers, and from the several images of people who have been killed in various ways, I choose one to dream and perfect that night. I have dreamt of being locked into a church or building with several others and torched alive. I have smelt the petrol fumes as its being splattered through the window onto our bodies and then round the building. I have seen the flash of the matchstick being lit, and smelled my flesh burning to ashes.
I have rehearsed how I will smile when I am dragged out of a public vehicle and hacked to pieces by the marauding youths who pop up in our numerous roads. I want to die smiling bravely, but just like the guys I see on Al Jazeera and other International TV channels, the moment I get to that part where a red eyed bearded man pokes his head into the bus and shouts “everyone wave your ID cards in the air!” I wet myself and start screaming for mercy, instantly easing their work of identifying foreigners for the blades to work on.
I have rehearsed how best to gasp when a barbed arrow strikes my chest. Or a club smashes my brain out of my skull. Or a spiked plank of wood is driven through my mouth. I have died so many times, my friends, that now I must be immune to the real death when it comes.
I used to laugh at tourists buying maps of Nairobi. I bought one recently. It is stuck in the wall of my bedroom where small pencil marks indicate all the escape routes I will try to walk in to get out of town once the mayhem knocks on my door. Unfortunately, to the west are roadblocks where my Luhya name will mean instant death. If I go Mombasa Road I might run into a roadblock where Kamba’s and all coast people are being cubed. To the North I can’t even dare. To the south I might pass, coz I can speak Gikuyu, but my name would be my passport to the grave yard. That map, my friend, directed me to writing this obituary.
Maybe if I was a famous poet I would go down in history alongside Chris Okigbo, the Nigerian poet who went to Biafra seeking to actualize his poetry but found bullets instead. My friends abroad are asking me if I am safe. Maybe if I had been bright of mind like they were I would have faked a bank account statement immediately I cleared my o-levels and fled to the United States to wash toilets in between my degree courses, but no. When they told me America is the land of dreams, I swore to them I am an Africanist, a believer in the African dream. When they filled scholarship forms to get away from this dark continent, I laughed at them. Now my faith in my country has faded faster than the newness of the news year.
So, friends, some of us never really thought that our tribe was that important. Simply because we were from the tribes that make up Kenya. Some of us have lived in every province of this once great nation and learnt the local languages, drank the local brews, danced the local songs-so well that the locals even gave us the names of their tribes to fondly call us by. I have been called Kamau, Mwanganyi, Wambua, and even Bayelsa in Nigeria. (I should have known, when Dudun told me that Bayelsa is the troublesome state of Nigeria where the Delta is, that it was a premonition of the war in my country.)
I have nowhere to go. No tribe to run to. No tribesmen to protect me. Except the grave. Which is what my fellow country men are intent on sending all those who don’t belong to their tribe. Goodbye, friends.. Seeing that all fast food restaurants have a notice ‘pay in advance’, let me take the cue and say Goodbye in advance. When you see a pulp of human flesh in the tarmac with youths dancing round it waving their bloody matchetes, look closely. That ear might be mine. That grinning upper lip might be mine. I loved you, my fellow countrymen. I loved without thinking of your parental lineage. I loved Kenya. But look what this country has done to me: sodomised my sense of humanity and pride.
Jan. 30th, Nairobi