Monday, November 2, 2009

Kwani? Open Mic - Tuesday 3rd November 2009..yaani kesho!

Kwani Trust is inviting you to Kwani? Open Mic on Tuesday 3rd November 2009 7 pm at Club Soundd, Hamilton House Kaunda Street

Entry: Ksh 100/- only.

Featured Poet: Kennet B

MC: Our lovely Cindy Ogana


Born Odongo Kennedy Leakey at the shores of Lake Victoria,Kennet B wrote and recorded his first poetry piece in 2003 at Chuqua Records in Kisumu where he was also mentored to become a sound producer.
He also gained music arrangement skills and mostly worked in underground studios helping young artists musically grow up. He moved to Nairobi after hearing of Slam Africa Spoken Word Poetry competitions; he won on his first trial.

The win motivated him to produce a seven-track poetry album “Coming Of Age” of which he wrote the lyrics and was the chief sound producer. Each poem in the album is backed up with sound effects, which are skillfully placed to create the desired suspense to the listener. The authenticity of the album is supported by the fact that “Kitambi ya Sugar daddy” a poem dispelling girl child abuse by married men is receiving good airplay by various local radio stations.

Kennet B has gone an extra mile and produced the first Luo Poetry album,”Twak Galamoro Mokwongo”which has not been officially launched to the public, though a single from the album has been released to a Kisumu based radio station.

As a performing artist, he has been able to execute his delivery at Kwani? Poetry Nights,Wapi Hip Hop and Spoken Word Festvals,Lafesta in Kisumu, PEN international just to mention a few.

Currently, he is writing the scripts for the “Coming Of Age” album which he expects to be out by April next year.

Kennet B writes on social issues relating to Church and State. He believes that with the power of the word all is possible even when the pen has run out of ink.

Open Mic slots are open from 6pm all are welcome to register.

Also get copies of Kwani? 05 part 1 at bookstores and get the best of Kenyan Writing.

KARIBUNI!

NB: Reduced prices on your favorite books.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

letter from a contract worker - Antonio Jacinto

Few poems have been written as raw and truthfully as this,well according to me,but this here is an African masterpiece..

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
a letter that would tell
of this desire
to see you
of this fear
of losing you
of this more than benevolence that i feel
of this indefiable ill that pursues me
of this yearning to which i live in total surrender

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
a letter of intimate secrets
a letter of memories of you
of you
of your lips as red as henna
of your hair as black as mud
of your eyes as sweet as honey
of your breasts as hard as wild orange
of your lynx* gait
and of your caresses
such that i can find no better here
I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
that would recall the days in our haunts
our nights lost in the long grass
that would recall the shade falling on us from the plum
trees
the moon filtering the endless palm trees
that would recall the madness
of our passion
and the bitterness
of our separation...

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
that you would read without sighing
that you would hide from papa Bombo
that you would withhold from mama Kieza
that you would reread without the coldness
of forgetting
a letter which in all Kilombo
no other would stand comparison...

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
a letter that would be brought to you by the passing wind
a letter that the cashews and coffee trees
the hyenas and buffaloes
the alligators and grayling*
could understand
so that if the wind should lose it on the way
the beasts and plants
with pity of our sharp suffering
from song to song
lament to lament
gabble to gabble
would bring you pure and hot
the burning words
the sorrowful words of the letter i wanted to write you my love...

I wanted to write you a letter...

but oh my love, I cannot understand
why it is, why it is, why it is, my dear
that you cannot read
and I - oh the hopeleness! -cannot write!


MISS CAFFEINE ADDICT-ASANTE SANA!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Poetry Open Mic- Tuesday 7th July


Kwani Trust is inviting you to Kwani? Open Mic on Tuesday 7th July 2009 7pm at Club Soundd, Hamilton House Kaunda Street Entry ksh 100/- only.

Featured Poet; Wanjiku Mwaurah

“Spontaneity is my middle name and being a dreamer is a strength I have.

I hail from central Kenya born was raised there!

Poetry…? I like thinking a lot… the special thing about my thinking is that I like thinking in short sentences. And the best way to put that down is through poetry. Poetry is a way of relaying a message through in short and precise and sometimes intense manner.

How did we get started…Poetry and I, go back a long way. As a kid, I would go for solo verses but there, I only experienced a prescribed form of the art, where I did as was asked and but not as I would have wanted. However, being on stage for poetry stopped for the four years I was in high school though I was composing poems, more of a way to express my self than for performance.

Premier show: It started as a favor for a friend who needed a poem for scrutiny and I performed for the people present and Wham!!! A Eureka kind of feeling engulfed me and I realized that I had to keep at it…. Or lose it (the talent) for life. Since then I normally have a poem for every occasion.

Inspiration: I get deep warm feeling that provokes me to write every time, from different things in life like an experience, a person I have met, a social vice or simply a good feeling from within. Also from neo-soul artists and other poets like Thea Monyee, Georgia me, among others who have contributed to an expansion in my poetic horizon. That also explains why I normally carry a note book with me… Coz I never know when the inspiration will strike.

Aspirations: I always dreamt of being an astronaut…There was something out of this world (literally and not literally) I felt, as I envisioned myself up on space. Now the dream has changed to an innate desire to express my self as eloquently as I can, through the spoken word! And that is just a comeback from my past which I am pursuing.

Achievements: There is an inner satisfaction that comes with being able to follow through with your dream and that is the first achievement I have. Others include sharing a platform with great poets like Pepe Haze, Wanjeri Gakuru, the Kenyan poet, and many more great poets, and doing the spoken word in motivational forums in the city.

Last word: There is so much simplicity in life if only we would learn to see it, revel in it and indulge in it!”

KARIBUNI!

Poetry Anthology Launch; Postponed, Date to be confirmed.

Get Kwani? 05 part one from all leading bookstores and Uchumi Supermarket.

Friday, June 12, 2009

kenyan music's day out...



There is a new Poetry Spot in town: the Discover Restaurant at the top of Kenol petrol station in Koinange Street

First event this Saturday at 5pm, featuring speCified, reigning Slam Africa Champion

Entry: 100ksh

check this out...

Monday, April 27, 2009

ALMOST.

I almost had her
almost had one to stick by me,
to lay low
and run mad with me..

I almost had one
to tell my issues,
to listen to her issues
and to share my issues..

I almost had her...

free-doom

Mama didn't tell,
she never taught me,
she simply let me
run and fly free..

but mama didnt tell
she never taught me
that to run and fly free;
I must first know no peace

Friday, April 24, 2009

the injustice they do their hair..


"They cook their hair
with hot iron
and pull it hard
So that it may grow long.

Then they rope the hair
on wooden pens
like a billy goat
brought for the sacrifice
struggling to free itself.

They fry their hair in
boiling oil as if it
were locusts and the
hair sizzles.

It cries aloud in sharp pain
as it is pulled and stretched
and the vigorous and healthy
hair, Curly, springy and thick
that glistens in the sunshine
Is left listless and dead."


"The Graceful Giraffe Cannot
Become a Monkey,"
Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol,
1988 Okot P 'Bitek,

Sunday, April 5, 2009

music...


She strums
Like her snaky fingers
were meant for no other
than her guitar,
While
she sucks in the air
In a way so divine
then lets it all go
In rhymes that
marry her wailing guitar
So faithfully and
So truly..

so truly that her tears flow;

tears that are her soul’s dew
thawing away
Washing,
cleansing
and bathing her..

Eroding away
the muck
that describes her life.

The beats
remain the only drug
that her troubled world
knows and understands

Music…

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Road To Eldoret - Tony Mochama

The scene from his hotel room screen in Nakuru still fills his mind. Let’s call him M. He’s from Muranga, he still drives the Datsun 120 Y that he bought in 1972 when he was a twenty two year old boy, and he’s got a family in the outskirts of Eldoret where his wife runs the family farm (cows and wheat) that he bought in 1982 from a white man fleeing the coup that “never happened,” as he is fond of saying. “So I got the farm cheap.”

That was 1982. M was a sharp hustler from Muranga, now he’s grown into an old-ish respectable farmer, 57 years in age, a bit of a sage and a scrooge who in-spite of his Shs.3 million in cash in Equity Bank (savings, he takes no loans) still drives a Datsun 120 Y, and why, till last night, he had never stayed at a hotel! He did now, in the fiery first days of 2008, at a place called Midlands Hotel because he has heard that the land is no longer safe.

There was a television set in the hotel room with one of those fancy new satellites that one finds everywhere these days, even in tiny little bars in Muranga where the boys wear foolish ‘Manchester United’ and ‘Arsenal’ T-shirts like silly English blokes and speak with animation of ‘van Pussy Cats’ and ‘Lonaldo.’ In his days, this excitement was exclusively reserved for the girls – who was “digging Muthoni’s mo-go-do” or Njeri’s, that’s what got the lads hot in his hay-day, not weird African men with curly kits on their heads and Croat sounding names like Drogba.

M fell asleep drinking White Caps, which he has drunk from 1975, in his fancy little hotel room … and dreamt of the peaks of Mount Kenya.

When he woke up, that funny American station called Cable News Network (the only ‘cables’ M knows so far are the troublesome ones that disconnect the carburetor in his 120 Y) was showing a burnt church, with fifty dead, somewhere in Eldoret.

‘Elsewhere.’ That’s how M always envisions those pictures – burnt churches in Rwanda, skeletons on the hard, sandy faces of Darfur, long endless ant-like lines of refugees in the D.R.C., and those other unpleasant images from Inside Africa that Western media seems so very enamored of.

But the burnt church was in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The fifty or five dozen dead were Kenyans of a certain community, there were no ‘Interhamwes’ or ‘janjaweeds’ or other exotically named murderers in this mix, it was Kenyan jinns …

And M was on his feet, and out of the hotel, before one could say the words “balkanization” or “ethnic tension” – and now, with the sun just coming up over the horizon, M is on his way to Eldoret to get his family and take them back to the safety of his house in Muranga.

In the blur of the blue-purplish-golden light of dawn road ahead, M notices what he thinks is road-side bush and bracken. At first. Bushes do not grow on tar-macadam roads, bwana!

As he gets closer, he notices that the obstacles are actually stones – little rocks that prop up bushes, like ominous flowers in menacing vases. M does not stop to wonder why this is so, why anyone in their right mind would bother with this weird fauna-and-floral arrangement, in the middle of a road to nowhere.

Well, not ‘nowhere’ exactly – Eldoret!
Like the practical man, and farmer, that he is, Mr. M, 57, gets out of his old blue Datsun 120 Y, looks up to the sky, then gets to work – pulling at the bracken to clear the road.

And from behind the tall grass on either side of the road, columns of men emerge … somewhere between ten and twenty men. Some are tall, some are short, some are rugged, some wear Western T-shirts with improbable messages like “Rainnkonnen Rules,”– and “Vote for Al Gore, 2000” They look like refugees from a beer budget movie called Old Sierra Leone. And in their hands, Mr. M. notes, they carry elongated shadows.

No, not shadows! It is the silhouettes of machetes, and suddenly Mr. M’s insides turn to maji. Now he can see the faces of some of the men, hate-contorted contours that appraise him savagely.

“Haka hakana pesa,” one of the men, dark brown snaggle – toothed snarls, and the mob looks at his old blue Datsun 120 Y, and laughs. The laughs aren’t merry. They are blood-sodden, sanguinary, somewhat liquid and hungry “Niko na chapa,” Mr. M hears himself mutter in a strange voice. He has never spoken sheng before, but terror lends lips new tongues “Twende ATM ya Equity …” he hopes they are highway robbers.

“Hapana!” one of the men screams, raising his panga to the sun, “Chomoa ID!” with trembling fingers, Mr. M. ‘chomoas’ his I.D. It falls to the ground. Another man, in tattered red and white shirt, snatches it up, dirty nails scraping the grimy road to Eldoret. “Huyu mbuyu ni mmoja wao waliiba kura,” the man yells, and his companions close in on Mr. M., who realizes he has wet himself for the first time since 1955, when he was just five.

Elongated shadows rise and fall in the sun.
The road to Eldoret is no El Dorado! In the middle of the murderous commotion, no-one notices when the driver’s side of the door of the 120 Y is slammed shut in the movement of the mayhem, or the exact moment that Mr. M becomes 1950 – 2008, R.I.P. The short rains are over. January will be hot and dry. And the rivers, for once, will run red and riot.

This piece is an excerpt from a longer story, ‘The Brinkipiece of Genocide’

Poetry Open Mic -3rd March 2009

Kwani Trust is inviting you to Kwani? Open Mic on 3rd March 2009 7pm at Club Soundd, Hamilton House Kaunda Street .
Entry ksh 100/- only.

Featured Poet will be Patroba a participant of Kwani? Krismas who came in 4th.

Patroba is a 22 year old Nairobi based poet and a college student. He has been writing poems for the past three years, but started poetry perfomce in 2007. He has performed at forums such as Nu metro Poets club at the Junction, Kwani Open Mic at Clubb Soundd, Amplified Tongues at Mai Loan, WaPI amongst other venues. He has also participated in the Kwani Krismas slam and the Slam Africa poetry competitions.

Open Mic slots are open from 6pm all are welcome to register.

Also look out for Kwani? 5 part 1 launch on 5th March 2009 6.30pm at Nu Metro Junction, Ngong Rd. Entry free

KARIBUNI

NB: Books to be won at Kwani? Open Mic

Kwani? 05,Part 1,Editorial

Kwani? 05,Part 1,Editorial
Written by Kwani · March 1, 2009
An Apprenticeship in Ethnicity: A Time Beyond The Writer

Never let the facts get in the way of the truth. Old Creative Non-Fiction truism …

In the first week of November 2007, Kwani Trust held a series of creative non-fiction workshops - the purpose: to discuss and reinforce elements of storytelling in of reporting the Kenyan elections of 2007. A group of budding journalists and writers unpublished in Kwani were invited. Though excited with the premise of using ‘fictive’ and ‘literary’ elements in reportage, the journalists present were firmly held in the thrall of the 5 W’s and a H, ‘objective journalism’ school’s mantra. With minds tuned to: ‘Police are investigating reports of a man who was reported to have bitten a dog on Kimathi Street yesterday’; they were skeptical of the whole ‘literary’ premise. The workshop, if anything, for them was a vacation from police/City Council beat reality; at best, some hoped the workshop would make them better writers for the outlets they were working for. For Kwani?, it was an ambitious exercise that would produce, at least 8, creative non-fiction reports from each of the participants at the workshop. I even had a collective, if not pompous, name for the exercise – Dispatches From The Campaign Trail.

We have long been interested in politics rather than politicians; and as human affairs not demagoguery. We are in the business, hopefully, to tell the individual’s story as a citizen in the space called Kenya, their relationship with serikali or state or whatchamacallit, (in Pokot, Kenya is the Other) rather than build one-dimensional narratives from sound bites of Big Men. What is the relationship between Kenyans and government is a question we perpetually asked ourselves, especially in an elections year. The last elections were in 2002, Kwani? was still in its infancy. Another 5 years would be too long a wait. So, we waxed lyrical on the relationship between citizens and manifestations of power; how Kenyan men and women related to parliament, government and their MPs?

We asked ourselves how their incomes related to the state (were they in agriculture, tourism or were they shut out from the 6% growth economy) Excited about the 2007 elections, we did not know how sheltered we were in our little keyboard spaces, our computer screen world, even as we thought the elections would provide the most optimal moment for that answer. Elections, thus, became the catalyst for our controlled experiment; a lab in which we would judge how Kenyans come to grips with what stands for government, state, Kenya, be it the Benz convoy, the Big Man being taxed in various ways as he asked for votes. Government, we suspected, for many was the five year party where you tried to make good through myriads of ways. So, the story was all there, the right elements in place - Character, Plot and Conflict.

Arno Kopecky, Millicent Muthoni, Kingwa Kamengcu, Tim Queresenger, all working for mainstream media at the time, frequently interrupted the workshop with the most pertinent question of all: ‘How do you narrate reality with fictive elements – isn’t that problematic?’. ‘I’ve been taught at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication that reality takes place within the 5 W’s and a H’ someone else asked. The workshop was also attended by Stephen Gazemba, a novelist; Samuel Munene, a poet who had been a runner-up in Kwani’s 2007 poetry competition; Mwas Mahugu, a member of Ukoo Flani who wrote in Sheng; Peter Chepkonga, a sportswriter who worked for a magazine that published in Kalenjin; Victor Oluoch, a KBC reporter. Guest lecturers included former E.A Standard Editor, Kwamchetsi Makokha and writer, Parselelo Kantai.

The journalist/literary artist binary turned out to be false. Luckily, all the writers, including two Canadians, present represented what I see as Kenya’s Generation X. Born between 1968 and ’82 and coming of age as Kenya went through its single party shenanigans in the late 80’s, and in the 90’s with all the politico-economical and socio-cultural upheavals of that time; this is a generation built of citizens who have had to struggle with their own identity, or had to embrace many identities and forced with a monumental preoccupation of all the problems the preceding generation have left them to fix. The need to survive a tough and changing Kenya has resulted in multi-identities, a schizophrenic or rather, contortionist bent, as a friend of mine would have it. Simply put, they were ready to dive into such a project.

The reasons for these are myriad. Most of the writers inherently understood that the complexity of the spaces they were delving into required all the tools that could get. Also, Gen X’s parents are, of course, responsible for Kenya’s baby boom in the early 80’s when Kenya led in the world’s population growth. These ‘boomers’ grew up in a ‘softer’ Kenya – like many of my generation I am very tired of hearing how good it was 30 years ago when all graduates got jobs and life was good. Kenyan Gen X has now been succeeded by Generation ‘Y’, individuals born in the late 80’s and 90s, also referred to in the West as the ‘Post-millenials’. In Kenya, this is the crowd that has been largely accused of the post elections slash and burn, and is also, generally referred by media, the church and all public forums as Yoouutths. Therefore, Generation X finds itself sandwiched between entitled dreamers comfortable with mono or dual identities (I am a Kikuyu, and a Businessman, period, I am Luo and a doctor); and ‘anarchists’ (I am a DJ, and I come from ‘Langa’ Nakuruu, Buru, and my shags is Coast, or Muranga. I’m also in Strath). X’s identity struggles waver between ‘my primo, my high school’ and ‘the estate, mtaa’; tribe is but a third concern. And inherently interested in explaining and learning of things Kenyan, all the workshop participants were willing to try and go out there and do what we asked of them. After all, they are, so far, an unsung generation, hardly recognized as a social force or even noticed much at all. They, unlike Kenya’s baby boomers did not have placid ‘missionary school’ childhoods and teens in the 1960s and ‘70s; they did not become Ministers and Permanent Secretaries in their twenties. They grew up in a time of drugs, economic strain, HIV/AIDS, rural-urban migration, matatus, fracturing family networks and urban class divides.

This was reflected in the stories the writers pitched: the urban tale of a street kid made good, now a civil society activist turned into a civic councillor wannabe; that of rural women in Chevakali, Western Kenya, who have an incredible knack for foretelling national political outcomes; the narrative of a generational electoral battle between a venerated banker and an alleged drug dealer seen by the youth as the local Robin Hood. Many stories reflected a generational clash. But that was then. These discussions reflected a far more innocent time.

One month later, Kenya did a neck-breaking cartwheel. The stories of the street kid turned councillor et al, became, in retrospect, prescriptive and normative discourses of that time in November. The commissioned stories had to be re-evaluated. The deadline of January 7, 2007 was not to be. Kwani had asked each writer to send an online diary entry of 300 words, every three days, between December 21st and New Year’s. A few days away from the elections, those already in the field were already talking of the ‘Fire, This Time’. Then, some of the writers reported that they could only work in ‘friendly zones’ based on their tribe. Their Gen X badges didn’t matter after all. In all their array of identity tags, ethnic origin came before writer, Kenyan citizen, Kangemi-an or Mathare-an. They were caught in the bloody mistakes of their fathers and grandfathers. Gazemba had to leave Kangemi for a few weeks where he had lived for all his working life. Our two Canadian writers, Kopecky and Queresenger, who had been in Kenya for just months could, however, roam the breadth of the land just like their forefathers had done at the turn of the last century. Munene had to watch where he trod in Mathare and Kariobangi.

While I was grappling with this ‘problem’, a writer friend of mine excitedly called me during the first week of 2008 and declared: ‘this is the time of the Kenyan writer. We can now move beyond ‘pretty’ stories about our relationships with our mothers, and write about ‘real’ things. We now have a chance to occupy the centre.’ When I asked him what he meant by real things, there was a silence over the line. ‘War and conflict are and have been the great contemporary African themes that we’ve been locked out of. We soon might be able to write about child soldiers. Imagine that.’

Ah. Child soldiers. Like many a Kenyan contemporary writer, part of me has always wanted to have a Soza Boy child soldier, Half-English warlord or a Jerry Manda Big-Man-in-exile type in my work. Like Brer Rabbit, Bigger Thomas, Ellison’s Invisible Man and a long gallery of other ‘authentic’ stereotypes, they never seem to tire the countless Western glad-handing who swarm around ‘conflict’ writers even after 40 years.

I called back to every one of the writers out in the field and sold this vision to every one of them. At long last, I explained, with the post-elections conflict to draw upon, the Kenyan writer need no longer watch from the sidelines – we had stepped off the high middle-road into darker territory, joined the machete and A-K canon. They all bought it. And that turned out to be a good thing because before we even enter the conflict-writers game, I realize we have to explain this recent past to ourselves. The Kshs 64,000 question is: what texts can we turn to for an explanation of the first few weeks of 2008? It is our instinct, as writers and readers, to seek out stories that help us understand what just happened to Kenya. What are our, or will be our defining texts in the light of what happened during those 100 days of 2008? Well, the writers in these pages have started writing them down.

Unfortunately, few reference points exist – we are without precedents. Having apprenticed at the knee of Ngugi and Marjorie Oludhe-McGoye (also appearing in these pages), whose lenses were focused at either an ethnic or regional level, the contemporary writer is now naked and new born – an offspring of recent events. And though there is always an argument for ‘regionalism’ in literature as a model for capturing the universal, this seems indulgent during a time when the volume of ethnicity has been turned to the max. Yes, our greats went a long way into illuminating particular ethnic spaces, and all we contemporary writers are indebted to them; but we are now at a point where we need to question whether those many lights can possibly make a collective vision.

Our literary cannon is a river that has run aground downstream. Its emphasis on the distinguishing characteristics of this or that ethnicity is perfect for cooler climes, upstream. We need to take up that early impetus. Today, without more contemporary defining texts of Kenya, in the absence of stories, narratives that count, demagoguery, the politician’s voice that claims that the crisis ‘was a small thing’, and that which claims that bands of criminals and killers were fighting for democracy has taken over. Our defining text, our national moments are the politician’s voice on the 9 o’clock news. We hope what is held in these pages goes some way in righting this frightening reality. Never let the facts get in the way of the truth, is a creative non-fiction dictum I hold in high regard. The fact that blood has been spilled, that politicians played a role in the latter, that, especially, ‘yoouottths’ took up arms against each other does not overcome the truth of a possible and real Kenya.

Kwani has collected enough essays and analyses, creative non-fiction, fiction, poetry photographs, cartoons and illustrations, sms’s and posters to this end, enough to literally fill two volumes: a double issue of Kwani 5 – Parts 1 and 2. In these pages the Kenyan writer, brings questions of Kenyan-ness to the fore, even as ethnic trajectories are explored.

BILLY KAHORA
Kwani Editor

Friday, February 13, 2009

Excerpts From Kwani? 5


Truth does not set you free. Instead, truth sets loose. It risks what we hold dear. And there are no assurances.
Daring truth entails risking all we might want to preserve. It means daring to break with family and friends. It means disturbing the fragile peace we inhabit by having difficult conversations. It means telling our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, lovers, and friends that their political choices are unpalatable.z

When I speak with truth it creates opportunity for everyone. -Excerpt from ‘Daring Truth’ by Jeremeiah Okongo.

I saw someone being killed in town at the matatu station called Kalenjin airport because the matatus there carry people heading into the North Rift. The IDPs who had been evicted from Eldoret were very bitter and were going around looking for Kalenjins to avenge their losses. They came to Kalenjin airport because they knew that’s where most of them board matatus to go home. Unfortunately, one man was caught by the group. They beat him up and stabbed him to death. I was not noticed because I look like a Kikuyu.- Kevin Koros, a 20-year-old actor from Lakeview, near Nakuru.

When my uncle saw some people approaching his home, he called the chief again who didn’t answer the call. When the Kalenjin youths reached my grandparents’ compound they said they were looking for my uncle to kill him. When they spotted him running away they tried to shoot him with arrows, but luckily none hit him. My uncle and grandparents moved to Nyahururu to start a new life. - Gladys Maina, currently living in Kikuyu, Central Province.

We spend most of our lives listening to every word of those politicians. That’s why we are suffering, especially the middle class and poor people. The rich from Westlands, Lavington, Runda are very safe. -Alvando Msamani, electronics salesman. Dandora.

I was born in Baringo. I’m a Kikuyu, but I learnt Kalenjin before my mother tongue. Most of my friends are Kalenjin. But today I don’t want to see any one of them. I really hate myself for saying that.

I cannot go back to Central Province. The language they speak there is totally different from the Kikuyu I speak here. When I speak my Kikuyu there, they start laughing at me. And when I go to Baringo, where I grew up, they look at me as a foreigner. If I don’t belong in the Rift Valley, where else can I fit? I am married to a Luhya! - Jesse Njoroge, Nakuru

bado nip nipo sana..

I've been gone for a minute but I'm now very back...

Kwani ? 05 Full Editorial

Kwani ? 05 Full Editorial

Written by Kwani · February 10, 2009

An Apprenticeship in Ethnicity: A Time Beyond The Writer

Never let the facts get in the way of the truth. Old Creative Non-Fiction truism …

In the first week of November 2007, Kwani Trust held a series of creative non-fiction workshops - the purpose: to discuss and reinforce elements of storytelling in of reporting the Kenyan elections of 2007. A group of budding journalists and writers unpublished in Kwani were invited. Though excited with the premise of using ‘fictive’ and ‘literary’ elements in reportage, the journalists present were firmly held in the thrall of the 5 W’s and a H, ‘objective journalism’ school’s mantra. With minds tuned to: ‘Police are investigating reports of a man who was reported to have bitten a dog on Kimathi Street yesterday’; they were skeptical of the whole ‘literary’ premise. The workshop, if anything, for them was a vacation from police/City Council beat reality; at best, some hoped the workshop would make them better writers for the outlets they were working for. For Kwani?, it was an ambitious exercise that would produce, at least 8, creative non-fiction reports from each of the participants at the workshop. I even had a collective, if not pompous, name for the exercise – Dispatches From The Campaign Trail.

We have long been interested in politics rather than politicians; and as human affairs not demagoguery. We are in the business, hopefully, to tell the individual’s story as a citizen in the space called Kenya, their relationship with serikali or state or whatchamacallit, (in Pokot, Kenya is the Other) rather than build one-dimensional narratives from sound bites of Big Men. What is the relationship between Kenyans and government is a question we perpetually asked ourselves, especially in an elections year. The last elections were in 2002, Kwani? was still in its infancy. Another 5 years would be too long a wait. So, we waxed lyrical on the relationship between citizens and manifestations of power; how Kenyan men and women related to parliament, government and their MPs?

We asked ourselves how their incomes related to the state (were they in agriculture, tourism or were they shut out from the 6% growth economy) Excited about the 2007 elections, we did not know how sheltered we were in our little keyboard spaces, our computer screen world, even as we thought the elections would provide the most optimal moment for that answer. Elections, thus, became the catalyst for our controlled experiment; a lab in which we would judge how Kenyans come to grips with what stands for government, state, Kenya, be it the Benz convoy, the Big Man being taxed in various ways as he asked for votes. Government, we suspected, for many was the five year party where you tried to make good through myriads of ways. So, the story was all there, the right elements in place - Character, Plot and Conflict.

Arno Kopecky, Millicent Muthoni, Kingwa Kamengcu, Tim Queresenger, all working for mainstream media at the time, frequently interrupted the workshop with the most pertinent question of all: ‘How do you narrate reality with fictive elements – isn’t that problematic?’. ‘I’ve been taught at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication that reality takes place within the 5 W’s and a H’ someone else asked. The workshop was also attended by Stephen Gazemba, a novelist; Samuel Munene, a poet who had been a runner-up in Kwani’s 2007 poetry competition; Mwas Mahugu, a member of Ukoo Flani who wrote in Sheng; Peter Chepkonga, a sportswriter who worked for a magazine that published in Kalenjin; Victor Oluoch, a KBC reporter. Guest lecturers included former E.A Standard Editor, Kwamchetsi Makokha and writer, Parselelo Kantai.

The journalist/literary artist binary turned out to be false. Luckily, all the writers, including two Canadians, present represented what I see as Kenya’s Generation X. Born between 1968 and ’82 and coming of age as Kenya went through its single party shenanigans in the late 80’s, and in the 90’s with all the politico-economical and socio-cultural upheavals of that time; this is a generation built of citizens who have had to struggle with their own identity, or had to embrace many identities and forced with a monumental preoccupation of all the problems the preceding generation have left them to fix. The need to survive a tough and changing Kenya has resulted in multi-identities, a schizophrenic or rather, contortionist bent, as a friend of mine would have it. Simply put, they were ready to dive into such a project.

The reasons for these are myriad. Most of the writers inherently understood that the complexity of the spaces they were delving into required all the tools that could get. Also, Gen X’s parents are, of course, responsible for Kenya’s baby boom in the early 80’s when Kenya led in the world’s population growth. These ‘boomers’ grew up in a ‘softer’ Kenya – like many of my generation I am very tired of hearing how good it was 30 years ago when all graduates got jobs and life was good. Kenyan Gen X has now been succeeded by Generation ‘Y’, individuals born in the late 80’s and 90s, also referred to in the West as the ‘Post-millenials’. In Kenya, this is the crowd that has been largely accused of the post elections slash and burn, and is also, generally referred by media, the church and all public forums as Yoouutths. Therefore, Generation X finds itself sandwiched between entitled dreamers comfortable with mono or dual identities (I am a Kikuyu, and a Businessman, period, I am Luo and a doctor); and ‘anarchists’ (I am a DJ, and I come from ‘Langa’ Nakuruu, Buru, and my shags is Coast, or Muranga. I’m also in Strath). X’s identity struggles waver between ‘my primo, my high school’ and ‘the estate, mtaa’; tribe is but a third concern. And inherently interested in explaining and learning of things Kenyan, all the workshop participants were willing to try and go out there and do what we asked of them. After all, they are, so far, an unsung generation, hardly recognized as a social force or even noticed much at all. They, unlike Kenya’s baby boomers did not have placid ‘missionary school’ childhoods and teens in the 1960s and ‘70s; they did not become Ministers and Permanent Secretaries in their twenties. They grew up in a time of drugs, economic strain, HIV/AIDS, rural-urban migration, matatus, fracturing family networks and urban class divides.

This was reflected in the stories the writers pitched: the urban tale of a street kid made good, now a civil society activist turned into a civic councillor wannabe; that of rural women in Chevakali, Western Kenya, who have an incredible knack for foretelling national political outcomes; the narrative of a generational electoral battle between a venerated banker and an alleged drug dealer seen by the youth as the local Robin Hood. Many stories reflected a generational clash. But that was then. These discussions reflected a far more innocent time.

One month later, Kenya did a neck-breaking cartwheel. The stories of the street kid turned councillor et al, became, in retrospect, prescriptive and normative discourses of that time in November. The commissioned stories had to be re-evaluated. The deadline of January 7, 2007 was not to be. Kwani had asked each writer to send an online diary entry of 300 words, every three days, between December 21st and New Year’s. A few days away from the elections, those already in the field were already talking of the ‘Fire, This Time’. Then, some of the writers reported that they could only work in ‘friendly zones’ based on their tribe. Their Gen X badges didn’t matter after all. In all their array of identity tags, ethnic origin came before writer, Kenyan citizen, Kangemi-an or Mathare-an. They were caught in the bloody mistakes of their fathers and grandfathers. Gazemba had to leave Kangemi for a few weeks where he had lived for all his working life. Our two Canadian writers, Kopecky and Queresenger, who had been in Kenya for just months could, however, roam the breadth of the land just like their forefathers had done at the turn of the last century. Munene had to watch where he trod in Mathare and Kariobangi.

While I was grappling with this ‘problem’, a writer friend of mine excitedly called me during the first week of 2008 and declared: ‘this is the time of the Kenyan writer. We can now move beyond ‘pretty’ stories about our relationships with our mothers, and write about ‘real’ things. We now have a chance to occupy the centre.’ When I asked him what he meant by real things, there was a silence over the line. ‘War and conflict are and have been the great contemporary African themes that we’ve been locked out of. We soon might be able to write about child soldiers. Imagine that.’

Ah. Child soldiers. Like many a Kenyan contemporary writer, part of me has always wanted to have a Soza Boy child soldier, Half-English warlord or a Jerry Manda Big-Man-in-exile type in my work. Like Brer Rabbit, Bigger Thomas, Ellison’s Invisible Man and a long gallery of other ‘authentic’ stereotypes, they never seem to tire the countless Western glad-handing who swarm around ‘conflict’ writers even after 40 years.

I called back to every one of the writers out in the field and sold this vision to every one of them. At long last, I explained, with the post-elections conflict to draw upon, the Kenyan writer need no longer watch from the sidelines – we had stepped off the high middle-road into darker territory, joined the machete and A-K canon. They all bought it. And that turned out to be a good thing because before we even enter the conflict-writers game, I realize we have to explain this recent past to ourselves. The Kshs 64,000 question is: what texts can we turn to for an explanation of the first few weeks of 2008? It is our instinct, as writers and readers, to seek out stories that help us understand what just happened to Kenya. What are our, or will be our defining texts in the light of what happened during those 100 days of 2008? Well, the writers in these pages have started writing them down.

Unfortunately, few reference points exist – we are without precedents. Having apprenticed at the knee of Ngugi and Marjorie Oludhe-McGoye (also appearing in these pages), whose lenses were focused at either an ethnic or regional level, the contemporary writer is now naked and new born – an offspring of recent events. And though there is always an argument for ‘regionalism’ in literature as a model for capturing the universal, this seems indulgent during a time when the volume of ethnicity has been turned to the max. Yes, our greats went a long way into illuminating particular ethnic spaces, and all we contemporary writers are indebted to them; but we are now at a point where we need to question whether those many lights can possibly make a collective vision.

Our literary cannon is a river that has run aground downstream. Its emphasis on the distinguishing characteristics of this or that ethnicity is perfect for cooler climes, upstream. We need to take up that early impetus. Today, without more contemporary defining texts of Kenya, in the absence of stories, narratives that count, demagoguery, the politician’s voice that claims that the crisis ‘was a small thing’, and that which claims that bands of criminals and killers were fighting for democracy has taken over. Our defining text, our national moments are the politician’s voice on the 9 o’clock news. We hope what is held in these pages goes some way in righting this frightening reality. Never let the facts get in the way of the truth, is a creative non-fiction dictum I hold in high regard. The fact that blood has been spilled, that politicians played a role in the latter, that, especially, ‘yoouottths’ took up arms against each other does not overcome the truth of a possible and real Kenya.

Kwani has collected enough essays and analyses, creative non-fiction, fiction, poetry photographs, cartoons and illustrations, sms’s and posters to this end, enough to literally fill two volumes: a double issue of Kwani 5 – Parts 1 and 2. In these pages the Kenyan writer, brings questions of Kenyan-ness to the fore, even as ethnic trajectories are explored.

BILLY KAHORA
Kwani Editor