Ticking The Box

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At the precipice of the 2007 General Election, right before the winds of hatred and mindless pursuit of tribal hegemony hurled us over the cliff; I got a call from a friend. A female friend. We weren’t in a relationship but the thought had been marinating within us. We were flirting along that line that divides friendship and relationship. Tossing back and forth between friendship and relationship. Like a metronome. The politics of the day was, as always, divided along tribal lines and when I’d meet this friend we’d have friendly but sometimes almost toxic political banter. We represented different tribal persuasions as it were. I was Luo. She was Kikuyu.

It’s time for baba to get this thing, I’d say. He’s suffered enough for his country.

Aiiii..The prince of poverty. You guys are so blind. Look how poor Kibera is. And Kisumu? He’s just a war monger. 

She’d hurl the singed response back like a fireball.

On it would go. But we’d make merry and kiss enjoy our date. Little did we know that the seeds we were sowing in our hearts, in the air and the country were feeding off this. And were now sprouting menacingly above the surface.

Fast forward to Election Day and the country was invariably painted orange and blue depending on which section of the country it was. Less than a day into the ballots being cast and as initial tallying results started trickling in, the country inched closer to that infamous precipice. The weeds of hatred and war started to sprout all over choking out reason and love. That was when I got the phone call from my on and off friend.


Hey. Do you see what you’re people are doing?

Eh? Which people?

Si you’re relatives. I hear they’re killing and raping people.

I looked around the room to the relatives in sight. The chief had blacked out on the couch, snoring up a storm. Mom had the papers in her hand. Her eyes were closed. My brothers and cousins were outside telling jokes and laughing up the night.

Well, unless they’re doing it in their sleep I don’t know. I replied. You could smell the sarcasm.

Then I heard the gun shots. A cacophony of pop sounds ripping up the distant darkness. You see, we lived not far from Kibera (or is it now Kibra?) and so we were not far from one of the sites of the fracas that had begun to ensue. Soon a Breaking News banner was strewn across the television screen and news of violence erupting across the nation started streaming through.

That’s when I, and probably most of the country, realised the dark depths to which our ethnic alliances had sunk. When brother and friend turned enemy and foe. When neighbour turned stranger. Where the spilling of beer and happiness was replaced by the spilling of blood and animosity. Lives were lost and homes broken. Damage beyond the physical. A most unfortunate time that I hope never replays itself.

It’s now many years later. The country has moved on (and accepted. Hopefully), and so have I.

As fate would have it, yet another Kikuyu captured this Luo man’s heart. So much so, I decided to adorn her finger with expensive jewellery in an act of betrothal. That’s Luo for we got engaged.

In my family, this wasn’t the first inter-cultural marriage. In her’s it was.

To say that the process leading up to the wedding was smooth would be dishonest of me. It wasn’t. There were cultural misunderstandings, suspicions on both sides, anger and sometimes mindless posturing.

They’re the ones who want the girl. Let them figure out what to do. Her relatives would intimate.

The chief and his cohorts would tell me, My friend, there are many girls from the lake side we can choose from if this one is too much trouble.

But the heart wants what the heart wants they say. Or something like that. And so, the son of those rocky hills in Seme and the daughter of those drearily cold fields of Kinangop came together in holy matrimony. Everyone danced and laughed at the wedding. The struggles of earlier months buried under cake and cliché Kayamba Africa wedding jingles.

And now here’s another election cycle. Ten years from that eventful one. When voting lines were along tribal affiliations. Nothing much has changed. I am asked strange questions still. In 2017. Just imagine. Allow me to use that Kenyan colloquialism.

So now how will you vote in your house? Please don’t let us down.

Or people who wonder if I discuss politics with my wife. Or others who think I’m undercover to destroy the so called ‘tyranny of numbers’. Tupatie kura ata kama mama atakuwa Jubilee.

And when I tell them I just may vote for an independent because there’s no difference between the front runners I’m deemed to be lost and wasting my vote. That as the man of the house I should make sure my household votes the right way. My heart sinks at these times, realising that we have progressed in time but our minds not so much.

I have realised something though. Most people speak from their own reality. I know rice and spaghetti are snacks. Because that’s how I was raised. That ugali is the definition of having had a meal. I can however open my mind to other realities and experience a wholesome life. Those black beans, njahi, aren’t half bad for example. Or that you can have objective political discussions like I do with my father in law even; candidly over a glass of whisky. Not caring that our ethnic backgrounds put us into a pre-determined box.

Yes, I feel privileged to enjoy different world views, different foods and different culture. The world needs more of that. This country needs more of that. Our differences make the whole so much more meaningful. This is why I think we should more than just tick a box at the polls. We are one after all. And after that box is ticked, we shall remain one.



Rise – Part 1

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It was the month of drought. The heavens had held back and the sun raged on scorching the cracked ground like fire from a blast furnace . Even the medicine men had been rendered useless. The ground ceased to produce the special herbs and secret tubers that were needed to cure the ill. The head medicine man, who doubled as the Royal Medicine man was prudent and had these in storage but he was under strict instructions from the Chief and the Royal Court not to waste the herbs lest a member of the Chief’s family or those loyal to him were to fall ill. Save a peasant for a ruler? Never.

Needless to point out that in times of abundance those around the Chief and members of the Royal Court would seek diviners and healers from distant lands trading their sacks of wheat and maize and the vast salt rations of the chiefdom for the prized foreign healing . They still could, but these were times of drought.

The chief was losing support from key clans he had neglected in his reign and under advise from his council, could not have himself or members of his court away for long periods from the chiefdom. He had sent scores of the medicine men clan on sojourns to far off lands in order to seek herbs and tubers. Some of the medicine men had revolted and refused to go on the journey that would bring certain death. They were detained for their defiance. It was a well known fact that a rising tide of discontent had found in itself a potential leader who would dethrone him. The charismatic farmers leader of the Jopuodh clan. Aptly named Pidho, he was vocal and was growing in influence.

In the council court, the Chief sat patiently. His fingers interlocked except for his index fingers which were pressed against his lips. His young but trusted adviser, Kony,  speaking as the council listened intently. Seven old men seated on stools clutched their canes as they listened.

‘We must appease the people good Chief. The more they are unhappy, the more they shall turn to that farmers leader. He is gathering the other clans to his side and that can be bad for us’

He got more animated and offered solutions to the Chief.

‘Distribute some of the food from the royal stores. Let the royal medicine man see a few of the sick. The death of the young boy two sunsets ago has caused some discontent. People are wagging their tongues in the darkness. And as we know, tongues wagged in darkness become spears hurled in the daytime’

‘Are you talking a revolution?’ one of the old men spoke. It was Lweny. He spoke with a hoarse yet solid voice. A deep scar run the length of the side of his face. His left eye teared and he had a handkerchief on hand to dab the dribble. He had fought many enemies who had tried to take apart the chiefdom and had been on the right side of history so far.

‘We need to be ready for anything’,replied the young adviser.

The other old men nodded in agreement. It wasn’t the first time a Chief had been deposed. The father of the current Chief had had two attempts at his chiefdom, many years ago. Lweny had been on hand to thwart those attempts. The chief after him had not been so lucky and Lweny had the scar to prove it. Years later, the current Chief had rode on a wave of popularity and promise. The clans had elected him unanimously to lead them. But the promise and hope had dwindled over the years. A revolution was not out of the question. Wagging tongues were threatening to lead to hurling spears.

‘There is a health problem especially with the lack of drinking water. The wells for farming are being used for domestic purposes. The people are diseased and with medicine man available….’

Kony didn’t finish his statement. The chief glared at him. Was he about to blame him for what had happened to the medicine men? Everyone knew they had betrayed the chiefdom.

‘Enough’! The chief roared. The council walls reverberating as if in submission. The old men shifted in their stools.

‘Reach out to the clan heads. Find out their position as regards my leadership. If they are opposed to it, find a way to sway them and their people. Pay them. Entice them with a position in the Royal Court. Coerce them. Threaten them if you must. This is no way to treat their leader. A leader they elected willingly. A leader of promise and hope. For those that comply, tell them I will visit them personally. I will bring food and healing to their families. Those who shall not,well let it be known that they have failed their clan.’

‘Yes. Chief. Right away chief….But, what about the farmer leader. He’s meeting with a few clan leaders as we speak. The smaller clans, but the loudest ones. You know that even a mosquito in an empty room…’

‘Can be deathly troublesome?…I know the saying you fool.’ The chief barked.

He rose from his seat and continued, ‘You take care of the clan leaders. I will deal with that hoe carrying buffoon. He will not destroy all that I….that We….All that we have worked for.  For now, setup the entertainment for the people. Bring out the brew and distribute some of the grain and meat. Declare it a festival. To bring the rain or something. Ensure the clan leaders get some brew in them. Then determine their allegiance once they are well inebriated.’

As the council rose, the chief beckoned the old man with the scar to remain behind.

‘Uncle, we must talk about this farmer…’

‘Yes.’ We must the old man replied.

The rest of the council rose and shut the council door behind them as the Chief discussed his next moves with Lweny.