Tag Archives: kenya

Biashara Street

Biashara Street
February 5, 2012
From WeekendWordsmith.com

Step away from the
odour of bodies and exhaust into a

chutney of cardamom
cinnamon
ginger
garlic

Sacks of
cashews overflow onto
floors covered with boxes,
cartons,
and more heaps of
burlap bags
full of jasmine rice,
basmati rice,
long brain brown rice
from exotic places I
dream of going, some day.

In this quarter mile of
dusty street
are gathered all the spices of the world,

from Sri Lanka,
Singapore,
and far-away San Francisco.

Tea, coffee and
cocoa pods
lend their aroma to the
general cacophony of smells,
discordant, but, somehow

a symphony in a thousand voices.

Knowing that school uniforms
are only a street or two over,

I stand and breathe deeply
of the cloves,
curry powder,
and saffron.

For the Weekend Wordsmith – Chutney

Terrorists and Freedom Fighters

Today is Jamhuri Day – Republic Day – in Kenya, the day when we celebrate Kenya’s establishment as a republic in 1964.

Yesterday I was reading the Wikipedia article about it, and it stated that the day is often associated with Dedan Kimathi. I found this very odd because I had never heard that it was associated with him, and I had only ever heard of him as a terrorist, monster, and murderer. I had never once considered him as a national hero.

But it turns out that in 2006 the Kenya government erected a bronze statue of him right across from the Hilton. I was completely unaware of this, and it strikes me as revisionist history in the worst way.

However, this morning I was thinking, as I often have before, how the distinction between freedom fighter and terrorist is entirely one of perspective. After all, Castro, Khadaffi, Mugabe were all freedom fighters, and George Washington was a notorious terrorist.

It also makes me wonder how much of my understanding of Mau Mau is based on the fact that I was myself a white person in Kenya at a time when most people still remembered Mau Mau. The Mau Mau were savage monsters who massacred indiscriminately out of unrestrained bloodlust.

And of course that is most assuredly a grossly slanted view, too, with the truth being somewhere in the middle, as it usually is. Kenyatta, one of the early leaders of the movement, was arrested in 1952 and remained in prison for the entire period of the ‘Kenya Emergency’, as it was called, but after that he became Kenya’s first president.

It used to be that history was written by the winners. In the day of Wikipedia, history is as often written by people trying to clarify old oppression. I think I should finally read Facing Mount Kenya, and whatever other first-hand accounts of Mau Mau I can find. I’d really like to know how much of my “knowledge” about Mau Mau is just the British perspective I got in school.

Tempest in a chai-pot

Apparently a bunch of very ill-informed people are filing lawsuits, claiming that Mr. Obama wasn’t born in the USA.

What’s amazing to me about this entire article is that nowhere in it does it address the actual constitutional issue – that a candidate for president be a “natural born citizen.” That means that they were a citizen at birth, rather than naturalized later. Regardless of whether Mr. Obama was born in Kenya or Hawaii, he is a “natural born citizen.”

Now, he has provided his birth certificate, and that’s a legal document, so there’s really no case to begin with. But it bugs me that so much fuss would be made over a non-issue. As it happens, every president so far has been born in the USA, a fact about which I was apparently mistaken. However, the constitution does not require this – merely that they be a US citizen on the day of their birth.

I, for example, was born in Kenya, but I am a “natural born citizen.” Not that I’d be crazy enough to want to be president. But the fact that the question even arises is troubling. Are military kids, born overseas, automatically ineligible? The constitution says that they’re not. And are we really so terrified of foreign contamination that someone born to USA citizens on foreign soil is automatically suspect in some way?

Xenophobes really, really irritate me.

Kenya agreement

While I am, of course, pleased that Kibaki and Odinga reached an agreement, I’m a little disgusted at the way that they are acting like they are great heroes for it.

I hope that, some day, they have the decency to be ashamed of themselves for their shockingly selfish behavior, and the more than 1000 of their country people who lost their lives due to their consuming hubris.

Remember, if you will, that they haggled over this agreement for nearly 2 months, while the people burned, murdered, raped, and generally destroyed the world’s image of what has always been the greatest nation on the continent. Remember also that the agreement that they have arrived at is very close to what was proposed in the first week – that Odinga is the PM, and that there be some limited power sharing while they work towards a new election.

So, while you celebrate, Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga, remember that those 1000 lives are on your hands. Also remember that you have a long road ahead of you to heal the wounds that you have caused. I’m sure you’ll spend the next 6 years trying to shift the blame, but rest assured that the rest of us won’t forget.

Kenya still burning

4 weeks ago, the elections in Kenya went sour, and people were, justifiably, it seemed, angry with the seemingly obvious fact that the elections were rigged. I mean, 115% turnout in even one precinct is sufficient to call foul.

If, at that moment, the leading candidates had stepped forward, together, and said, something’s not right here, we’re going to get to the bottom of it, stay calm until we can get everything sorted out – if they could have just done that, postponed the anger for a day or so, gotten things worked out, perhaps we could have avoided this.

As it is, it took them more than 3 weeks even to talk to one another, and by that time, more than 700 people had been brutally killed. Now, things are escalating more each day. Rumor is that there’s a convoy of buses and trucks going from village to village, burning, killing, raping, anyone who appears to be from the “wrong” ethnic origin. Families that have lived next door for years are now bitter enemies, willing to kill each other with machetes, arrows, knives, rocks, whatever they have handy.

The optimism I had in the first days that things could be fixed, the problems could be resolved, there could be peace and reconciliation – I’m afraid that’s all gone now. With each passing day, the chance that things can get back to the way they once were gets slimmer and slimmer. The damage to the economy is devastating. Tourists won’t come back for years. The hotels that have already closed will discourage others from opening. Shipping companies are avoiding Mombasa, because it’s not safe. Nairobi has always been a hub of commerce for the surrounding nations, and folks are starting to look for somewhere else to go through.

And the violence is getting more and more organized. Weapons are being distributed. Strategy meetings are being held, and more and more people are being killed.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kibaki, the so-called president, continues to insist that there isn’t in fact any problem, and that it will all be just peachy if the opposition takes their complaints to court and lets the (Kibaki-appointed) judges decide what needs to happen next.

Where will it end?

Another marathoner killed

My heroes have always been runners – Sebastian Coe, Eric Liddle, Steve Prefontaine, Jesse Owens, and many others.

And, of course, Kip Keino, who won gold in Mexico City and Munich, and then went home to start an orphanage, where he’s got more than 100 kids who call him Baba. Not only a great athlete, but also a great man.

Most of the Kenyan distance runners are from the Kalenjin family of tribes, and they are in the center of the recent violence that’s going on in Kenya. Another one of them was killed this week, having missed his flight out for a race due to the fighting. Lucas Sang was killed the week before. And Luke Kibet, who’s the world marathon champion, is in the hospital recovering from being struck in the head by a stone.

I have no profound thoughts to add to this. Just continuing sadness at the methodical way that the greatest nation in Africa is tearing itself to pieces.

Update: Now the government is targeting these folks, claiming that they’re funding the “ethnic cleansing.” Who knows what to believe?