...although we have walked a thousand seasons from you and are yet to walk a thousand others to get you, we have to start somewhere, to get to the Nation of Africa

Saturday, May 4, 2019


The calm shadow sauntered behind him and he could feel the angle where the imposing presence stood. It would be just behind his earlobe five paces from him to the right of an acute angle. He could not hear its footsteps as if the ghoul was walking on a soft fluffy carpet that could tapper off even the noisiest clatter. Should he turn and come face to face with the moving figure, an anxiety of imminent danger seized him. And he turned too quickly to face the assailing motion. And he was alone. The room stretched into corners away from his sight like a cubicle suddenly filed with tense air but vividly empty.

Its an anxiety that has been seizing upon him lately. Like the pain of his arthritis fingers he can sense it tearing through his tendons clamping around every joint like a drawing curtain of pain, stiff and rigid searing. When he was younger he could bear pain, he could transform it like darts of acupuncture and distribute it so the level of intensity would ebb into waves and wash away. But not anymore, pain perspired him, made little tears at the edge of his eyes and left him breathless.

When he was younger he could do a lot of things. He could chase the anxiety following syllables and pictures on a mobile phone every ten minutes or so trying to catch moments captured every second and prismed through their likeness to each other than anything else, fed behind by a computer formula written by a regretting scientist. It kept the Quylph away, or just at bay long enough that he would fix himself on the dark screen all day afraid to look away or he would face the medusa who would turn him to stone.

But he had exorcised the gadgets since it had given him a twitching hip, some form of cancer that migrated in his body like nomads chasing seasons and cleaved a layer of blindness when he was barely old. He had built castles in the air to replace his docile life, a house of cards, a story line but all that came crushing as the fa├žade fell apart.
The peace he had anticipated would be as calm as the sea drawn and humming in a clam sunlit day. But what he got was the harsh rough tempest of stormy anxiety, his patience rocking violently as if he was anticipating something. Waiting for the purr of vibrating pheromone that never came. He would move his hand to his pocket to fish out the phone but it was not there and he would search for it frantically at first until his frail mind would snap back and realize he no longer had it. Then Quylph would giggle just behind his head where he could not frame the amorphous edges. 

Age counts down memories like a school kid on a chalkboard, starts very fast until it gets to a point when the numbers get fuzzy repetitive, boring and it cannot wait for death. Is the Quylph his angel of death waiting for him to stare at depths of darkness before finishing him off? Toying with his conscience like a satisfied cat with a mouse. He tries to remember when he first noticed the unacknowledged presence at his side. Was it when he was a child talking to his imaginary friend that Quylph had grown from his head to take an unwavering presence. Had he created him in his image like a god and given him form and emotions. All he knew is that Quylph came and went at his bidding often when he became intensely lonely or anxious, or too happy that it would remind him of the impending loneliness or anxiety. He knew its presence when he felt shivering cold. Goosebumps would crescendo over his skin and his balls would shrivel and itch. The film of atmosphere would fall over him so heavily he felt like Atlas holding his world by the shoulders but collapsing beneath the pressure. Then he would crave reassurance, her warm hand on his nape, the edges of her nails against his aroused skin. But then instead the Quylph would make a sudden rushed movement, and he would realize he was not only alone but being jested. 

He tries to move but there is a stiffness in his hip, he has to use a lot of effort, if he could only get to the window and stare outside, his loneliness would go away. He craves the tangy taste of alcohol at this time but he knows his liver cannot take anything more than water. In those younger days he could plunge at Quylph’s obstinacy with enough alcohol to blur his senses. In its retreat he would be a murderous god impressed at the demise of his creation and gloat powerfully to his inviolability. But now his mind is a maze that requires distraction, anything but the emptiness inside and around him, a song would do it. A slow monotone Somali dirge maybe, strum oud and sung poetry flashes incomprehensible images of the past so attached to some forgotten importance.  But first he has to reach the end of the room and the radio, maybe have to tune it knob by knob. He had lived most of his younger life without the need for a radio, maybe in the car where it boomed from a memory stick or listened to online music from home fibre. But he had exorcised that too, the wifi wavelength twisted his head and confused him. He had to search for months to get a transistor radio. He finally got one, a medium range cackling Chinese box that caught static rather than sound waves. He would rather get to the window and stare outside, maybe he will see a bird today.

It first started with bees, when he was young he used to catch the buzzing little things dangling from flower to flower mating inside the chemise of gaudy petals and extracting ambrosia. Maybe the flowers went first or the bees followed. Maybe the burrowing bumble bees followed suit. Then the spotted red tortoise shell of the ladybird or its food the arachnid went first. Maybe the ants went too and so did the millipede. He had not noticed, having grown up he had not checked beneath rocks or tussled bushes looking for interesting things. He had grown bipedal with age staring straight at worldly worries. When the he stepped off the rat race bent by age he had stared at the ground and found it inanimate. The pellets of sand stood motionless like sentries and nothing else moved. The manicured synthetic grass looked like a football pitch in greenery and thickness but nothing moved in between them. Where had all those animals gone too. 

And the birds, he remembered fondly the sole parrot he had known as a child which used to live in one of his neighbours houses. What was his name? he cannot recall. The parrot would repeat everything you said, unless it was grumpy and would just mockingly stare at the children who coaxed it, begged it to say even a single word. He had hoped to own a parrot when he grew up, a talking companion. It would have been nice to have one now, he could speak his memories and it would repeat as though understanding, sharing his loneliness. But they had just vanished. So did the noisy gaudy weaverbirds, the pointy heron, the dashing flamingo, the cooing pigeon, the Superb Starling, the stocky egret. Did they disappear all of a sudden like a sudden migration or had they succumbed one by one to a mysterious fate. If only he could have his laptop here and internet, he would google. Gone in space and time but preserved in 1s and 0s of the master internet.

Everything could be found on the internet during the good days that there was no time to look at the real things. Reality shifted in dimensions so quickly that no one noticed. You could go on a fantastic holiday through virtual reality, see every nook and crack of every corner of this world. You could buy anything without having to find where that thing was or came from. You could meet everyone without touching them and they would come alive in high definition hologram. Everything was possible without doing anything. You could be a pilot and fly simulation and soar the skies. Every now and then some new challenge would be designed and it would be repeated, perfected and evolved until the whole world had managed the trick like choreography before anew distraction was found. He lived for the rate race, getting ahead of the curve, the best picture glossed over like a painter, heck you could take the talents of Leonardo da Vinci and make Monalisa from the gadget. 

So he created himself in his own image. Let there be light, on the front and back camera. Let there be a dome to divide the water and to keep it in two separate places where one would be for the public gallery and the other for withdrawn depression and anxiety of relative deprivation. Let the water below the sky come together in one place, so that the land will appear, like a footnote on an instagram photo complete with search engine optimized hashtag. Let the earth produce all kinds of likes, those that bear shares and those that bear retweets. Let night vision appear in the sky to replicate day at night. And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us.
In all this the Quylph kept tapping at his shoulder whenever he got too immersed into the trend as if trying to remind him of something important. He turned and saw nothing.

The emptiness stared back and there was truth in it. There were victims of his make believe, real and imagined. She was his biggest victim created for the public zoo where he had built his tyranny and power over her like a scientific experiment. His double life mirrored the desire to appeal to the gallery and the haunting call of the Quylph to aspire to be true to self. 

“Was God’s error in creating human in an image that craves creation?” Quylph asks.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The trouble with tribe politics

Someone wrote a list of names of loafers in Bulanda junction and took it to the police.
Now from what I gathered, the more responsible citizen, did not like it that the men calling themselves Bulanda boys sat at a small shed called the ‘yard’ did nothing all day but managed to eat, wait for it, meat without working. They also managed to get drunk everyday without jobs. So I guess the assumption would rightly be they were stealing.

The yard, is a small wall-less shed under tin iron roof that has been rented by Boda to sell timber which he stores at a closed shed besides it. Boda, an unassuming Luo lets them sit there perhaps only to show solidarity or have them on his side in case of political temperatures. It is a sentry point as you approach Bulanda on Okamari’s property where the Bakhone clan younglings watch fortress against the advancing town. Here I sat with them to get to know their daily lives, to be part of this brotherhood of the neighbourhood and they welcomed me.

But someone put a list of them, men who call themselves boys and boys who were joining the ranks of this notorious group of youths in my home area and took it to the police to probably investigate them. Mark you these youths who are on the national watch list of criminal gangs that were read out by the Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery ahead of the elections warning them that the long arm of the law was dangling above them.

I later found out who did it, but could not get his motivation, had he been sent or was he just your upright responsible citizen. How I found out is that the police or one among their ranks sold him out. We will come back to him in a bit.

Well I managed to eat the meat and this ritual not only convinced me that the gang status they had was either overrated or they had taken fancy of my naivety and a sense of wanting to belong to the boys of my neighbourhood. Firstly, most of the made money though Sports betting and during this time of the elections cycle as political crowds. Some were remnants of the dying smuggling trade, or worked customs or were local masons and carpenters hoping for periodic jobs. The centre of power was around Ombiji, a muscle by every sense of the word asked all of us to contribute to buying of the meat and we did. There those who afforded Sh50 to those who graciously gave up to Sh500. Once the kitty was complete some of the money was set aside for meat, Uganda Waragi satchets and Mrija the porridge like traditional beer native to Uganda and Western Kenya.

My idea of a gang was probably more fancy like Sons of Anarchy type of shit. But this gang was primarily made of lack of work. Ombiji a felon was a calm composed muscle who rose from selling ice to kids into the gym and made his name during the reign of the previous MP Chris Okemo. He was among the fiercest ‘body guards’ or goons so to speak. During that time elections or party primaries were indeed violent times and getting a certificate to run or actually winning an election would only require enough muscle to throw out your opponents, hijack the certificate, hijack the returning officer or even ensure some polling stations at your rivals strongholds did not vote by raining chaos.

The other Centre of power was Kakaya, now bowed and calm as if contemplating oncoming death. He was famed for being a gun totting robber in his days. Now he only attracts reverence in his calm respectful ways as someone who had no fear left in him. The boys pay homage to him, they listen to him they like to hear him reminisce of his days in the dark and his usual assertion that he may still have ‘the metal’.

I met a new or maybe the future centre of power or a peripheral figure to Ombiji. Padiri, a corruption of a catholic priest by Luhyas, his reputation was that he was muscle with little sense of afterthought. He is famed for being able to make all the people in the junction scuttle. “That one all of them fear, he stands up with a club and calmly walks to the junction and suddenly there is no one and all shops are closed, you cannot tell it with him, he might be calm but  the next thing he is whipping you clean,” was the way one described him.

All these characters and the lankier ones trying to prove their mettle are the sons of the soil, Bakhayo, trying to protect what is left of their ancient homesteads swallowed by the town. They want invaders to pay homage and politicians to pay rent during this period.

That is why they have an animosity with the list writer, Baba Caro, aka Mjaluo. When we settled in Busia Bulanda was a vast emptiness spreading on either side of a cross junction looped into greenery.

There were only three shops at the time one which was a furniture shop, a fast consumer goods shop and a salon at the front of a row of buildings set up by Mzee Okamari the biggest land owner in the area. But as people settled in and bought land more buildings were set up overlooking the road and Majluo set up a retail shop. At the time my father also set up Jolodos, a retail shop and a posho mill but a bit in the interior since hi land was not next to the main junction.

 Now the first shop, kwa Nyanya, was not braced for competition since it was more often than not understocked and due to monopoly overpriced and was quickly overran. And the new settlers were soon in control of business. I say this to let you understand that in this case we, me and my family, are also considerably settlers.

But Mjaluo who was quite successful even managed to purchase several parcels of land and diversify his business to selling maandazi that were most popular at the time. He was convinced by his customers that he should use this popularity to vie for a council seat which he did and lost. Now elections are not a good thing as people tell it to your face what they think about you so he got to hear all manner of things including how they would turn him out of the property in the slightest chance.

Fast forward to today he still bears differences of opinions with the locals and speaks his mind. Now when Raila Odinga’s ODM party held botched nominations that saw the incumbent governor Sospeter Ojamong win on contested votes, some claimed that Luo’s supported him even threatening not to support Raila’s presidency. So you understand Mjaluo’s anxiety swamped by dissenting Luhyas who have albeit threatened him anyway. So he does a list of those who have probably threatened him maybe in hope that the police would protect him in case things went south.

But that now has isolated him as he is now accused of writing the list and they want to go to the owner of the building and ask him to turn him out lest they burn down the building with him.

This whole country has taken up a sad turn towards those considered alien. If you settle all they would want is that you should lie low like an envelope and pay homage. You should not be successful in business and you should not have a political opinion which is a sad state of affairs. The whole idea of being settler is to look for untapped opportunity and utilize it where people with bountiful resources have not enough exposure to know that such opportunities exist.

Say they burn down Mjaluo’s shop, mark you my father closed his down, and discourage other people to set up. Will they go back to Nyanya’s understocked and overpriced alternatives?

My father thinks that the current hunger killing this country is not just that the rains delayed, or that army worms attacked farms, but that well-meaning Kikuyus, known agronomists were turned out of their Rift Valley farms during the 2007 post poll violence and no one has been able to take up their hoes after them and plant maize.

We are too quick to follow mindless political overtures for tribal exclusivity to understand that the basis of this country is not driven by overlords but by small settler commerce and small settler agriculture that is intertribal and comes undone at the cost of the communities politicians claim to represent.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Busia Boda(boda)

I was nimble child, shrunken by rheumatic asthma and spoilt by an overacting mother, on a slope cut out in Kisumu that dipped from Tom Mboya estate into the squalor of Obunga below. We were the no-man’s-land between the plush lawns of cross wire fences and gates towards the plunging of salty yellow stone, where pregnant women assembled for a feast of baked earth, into mud hut slums. We were under instructions not to go to either side, stay in Usaid (You said) said in that luo accent that does something to letter ‘s’. Our unsecured houses that parched on the slopes in different angles, gave us a lesson in respecting fences. The best was when once playing bringicho-banture- Hide and seek, whatever that meant one child hid near a hedge with an electric fence and learnt shuddering lessons without cold. The fences were also marked warning plates mbwa kali and the thought of a rabid dog setting upon you proved more efficient than our mothers’ warning.

My nimble senses understood border along that line, it meant a fence, a wall, a separator and sitting on the fence meant practically having to withstand the gashing spikes of thorns or glass on stone walls, throes of indecision.

On the day my father decided we were going to Busia, I slipped out a blue Atlas that had fascinated me with its attention to details and it lurid landscape impressions. I located where we were, in Kisumu and went West to Busia. This presented a great discovery, the dot was invariably split by the international border line.

Would we belong to two countries? How would we live so close to the border? Would there be rabid dogs or even rabid police and electrocuted wire fences? I did not grasp what to expect and my father had not bothered explaining. Probably because the consultations were well above my league and I was just part of the ceramic cups to be packed last minute.

My sisters got this old picture of a huge stone house from an aged photo album that had my father’s pictures drinking tusker or dotting an ‘Aliko Kenya’ shirt or with a football team much slimmer in an afro and bell bottom trousers. This house is where they said we would live, twice the size of our two bedroomed squat. Our Kisumu watchtower was suffocating in the acquisition of new property (My mother never threw anything away she still doesn’t, OLX probably is something I should introduce to her). In the sepia aged photo my father then thinner and sprightly youthful posed with some men, proud owner of a new house, a huge metal tank above the house. So we had a house in Busia and we would go live there, I eventually grasped the magnitude of the decision.

We were on holidays so I would not get to see my classmates ever again which was tragic. What about the neighbours, the playmates. Habib and his wisdom of adult things to whom we consulted like an oracle of truth, who knew how babies were made. Syombo with whom I had just struck what looked like a promising friendship since they had DSTV that showed more TV channels than our one KBC. What of the whole pack; we had even started a football team and in fact had a match with Okore estate the next week.

When I told my cousin the news he gave me UGSh1000 Ugandan note that his father who had been to Busia had given him. We could not spend it in Kisumu but now I had a chance to, slipped it between my attempt at a diary I was keeping. Slipped it between the crevices of my packed clothes, sure that I was the only one privy to the buried treasure.

Busia became a fascination that woke me up, after coming to terms with the expected loss, I was facing something unique and exotic. A life outside the imagination of all my friends, something even Habib, the sage of adult things did not know. All he knew was that the Ugandan president ate people. Idi Amin Dada, the huge black man in a movie he had watched about Uganda. But that was not the man on My UGSh1,000 and I was not going to raise that fact and let them know I had so much money.

I imagined a secured border with police on either sides marching along its stretch to keep watch complete with bowl huts.

I was hoping to walk along the perimeter wall, like Berlin or Greatwall of China and see what strange people lived across it whose president had eaten people and dumped lame men into Lake Victoria that when you fished you were more likely to get a watch or a ring in a fish, so fish were carnivorous? I was learning fast.
I asked Bab Paulo, whose face was a shape shifter between a smile and sternness. He had a face for all situations, the one to greet my parents so coyly and the angered look with which he withdrew Paulo from the play pack.

He told me I would have to learn Kiluhya. It took a lot of explaining to comprehend the enormity of the insinuation that I had just transformed from a luo speaking boy to a luhya. I had not really appreciated what it meant to be a Luhya or why we were going to Busia. We had suffered the inferiority of an English and Swahili speaking parents and carried the handicap as we were going home, to our people. So Baba Paulo gave me introduction to Kiluhya 101 classes that included greetings and basic curtsies. I never benefited enough from his free classes since we had to pack and go.

Crammed at the back of our old covered pick up truck, the family was transplanted to its new nursery where we should flourish as new people having acquired a new identity. Where I would be expected to remember greetings for all occasions, Bukhiere in the morning, Bwakhera in the afternoon, there was still, Mulembe and Orie so many versions for mere greetings.

Watching Busia through a small window as we entered it, rancid air after a tropical afternoon rain, dissipated my big ideas of the place and reinforced the fears that we had been brought into the back waters.

There was only one tarmac road peeled at its sides like a moulting snake, jagged and unkempt. Storey buildings were separated with patches of greenery thick and unattended, even abandoned. Matt paint faded of the virgin luster, done when probably the buildings came up. Only one aspired to reach above the rest, and even the Ambitious Amukura Building was contented to be tall among dwarfs and bathe in this ‘short’ victory.

Swathes of boda bodas flounced past each other in blue uniforms with more bicycles than I had seen before, completely ruling the tarmac. The people were easy, a laziness settled squat on their ongoings with little impetus in the way the peddled on the metallic frames. An occasional fight between two bodabodas would attract a crowd and the news would spread far, a typical smallness that made trivialities prominent.

The town had countable buildings that showed the decay of a foiled attempt at setting up the magnificence of a District Headquarters. The president’s office that had ignored potential tribal claims, now at the centre of a row between Busia and an ambition to create Tesso District, hid among aged shade trees.

An old monument, a peeling pyramid with the message of ‘Peace Love and Unity’ barely recognizable stood misplaced at the side of the road. An open red dusty field named after Kenya’s monumental Kasarani stadium served more of a shortcut to Kasarani market than as a soccer pitch.

The white Jogoo house, slacking of a flailing political power housed an old national commercial bank and some of its empty offices prying its broken windows. The famous Scorpion pharmacy sold brackish pills in a building with incomplete first floor that it looked a jagged crown of brown porous stone.

Our house also disappointed, its renovated insides doing little justice to the ten years its old outside espoused, singled out between shrubs and farms next to neighbours in small one roomed houses like a sore thumb. Hidden in the foliage of Bulanda where a dirt road that had scuttled through Karibuni and Marchi, (the most populated area of the town) to the junction where a hospital had attracted a few settlements opened up. Bulanda had only two shops one with gaping shelves un-stocked yet attracting no qualms from the old woman who sat on its pot holed veranda and watched boda boda riders pass ferrying smiling faces waving frantically Njia Busia-Am going to Busia. The other owned by an ambitious man known only as Mjaluo at least had essentials in the smallest sizes that they could be possibly divided including brownish cake soaps cut into tiny pieces, powdered soap divided and tied in tiny knots of transparent polythene. The rest of the merchandise smuggled from Uganda especially the cigarettes, oil, sugar, salt, toothpaste. Smuggled through the absent borders by bicycle crews known for their sweaty fearsomeness led by one unloaded bribing guide.

Busia was land unbothered with the bustle that surrounded it, and the future it would be forced to hold, too unprepared for the like of our family strangled from other towns by World Bank dictated retrenchment. Unprepared for the majimbo proposal, its ambitious plans, to scuttle people from the city with the promise of devolved wealth.

The Border too disappointed I met a gate, then nothing. No fence on either side but slouched tracts of farmed land joined at the spine with a river, unguarded. Here their land stretched, panned down and rose up, split by rivers and ownership, but no line nothing air kaput. Here they called Uganda Ingerekha -the Other side, vaguely, there and not here. The clan is everywhere the other side and here and there.

There were four old gates two to each side. Kenyan policemen wore jungle Administration Police jacket and their Ugandan counterparts wore plainly boring jungle green khaki. This was no border no fence, no strange people in fact they were too familiar, spoke my own language better.

These were the real East Africans. The Baamani clan of the Bakhayo. They are the Maasai across Kenya and Tanzania, the Somali sprawled in space across Kenya and Somalia, they are the Teso  on either  side of Mt. Elgon, the Hutus and Tutsis and Rwanda and Burundi, the Merile and Karamoja. As Mwalimu Nyerere taught in his Ujamaa ‘no true African socialist can look at a line drawn on a map and say. ‘The people on this side of that line are my brothers, but those who happen to live on the other side of it can have no claim on me’; every individual on this continent is his brother.

Here they shared an even stranger tribal etymology. The Samia who were a sub-tribe of the Luhyas in Kenya but a standalone tribe in Uganda, imperially split by colonists and conveniently merged by tibal politics. Maybe we might still have been the Bantu Kavirondo-warriors who sit on their heels.

They told me what makes one a Kenyan or a Ugandan is an Identity card which Ugandans lacked and Kenyans could have it arranged with the local chief who was the benevolent giver of country of belonging. In fact residence and belonging were rarely a locus thing, it’s where for convenience you think you have a better shot at life. So a son can be a Ugandan a father a Kenyan a brother both. Well it doesn’t change where they live nor what they know about themselves.

A young man I met at Mayenje Primary school where my afther soon enrolled me among bare feet children; five kilometers from the town and practically undefined or uncertain where the real border line crossed. The boy failed in Kenyan form four exams, he went to Uganda for form five and six and became a Ugandan.
Here currency operated like the neon display at forex bureau, you do not have to mind the money which you have as long as you understand the exchange rates and you know a little arithmetic. Either side operates either currencies. Anyway they are both shillings if you get rid of the prefix (Uganda and Kenya)
I saw a man with a wad of notes he could barely hold within his fists; such a secure country, a thought of spending mine overwhelming me. When I fished out the UGSh1000 my cousin gave me I was told it was worth KSh40. Terrible news after I had seen the denim hanging off the shops stacked like a headless millipede on the Ugandan side.

Then there were the moneychangers who hawked currencies for those who did not understand the floating rate of Ksh1 for every UGSh25 (has since gone to 29). They are however vultures on the travellers using their confusing calculations and the bulkiness of the Ugandan currency to their advantage. They particularly slip you less notes or small denomination to astound Kenyans and are known to lie about the exchange rates to defraud Ugandans who are not cognizant with the system.

Here politics is also twofold, with the feeling of lack of democracy felt just within a year of the feeling of chaotic elections, Uganda votes just one year before Kenya. Terse antagonism and a feel of powerless-left-outism on the Kenyan side. Rumoured traded voters who vote in two elections to beef up numbers for local politicians with relations abroad

Their symbol of authority towering democratic dictator playing patron on a yellow NRM (National Resistance Movement) poster above the Ugandan gate as you enter Uganda giving the feel of Big brother is watching and effectively so. Filling Ugandans with fear of gliding back into the entrapments of war ‘He brought us order’ hoping the generation that knows nothing of the war would be scared to tow by the tales passed down. In Kenya, a towering allegiance to the legacy of a political enigma; BABA, overseeing an arranged democracy, merit notwithstanding. A Tesso governor, a Marachi deputy, A Samia Senator, a Mukhayo MP and  Manyala MP whose disenfranchised sensibilities are appeased by leadership of  parliamentary committee and un-elected party leadership. The absence of tangible say compensated by compromise that even the long held contest for the President’s office between the Tesso and Bakhayo is long forgotten.

My Return
Four years in Secondary school another four in University and another two in the city spread a decade between me and the land on red soil and yellow bananas. When I returned this year, Busia was as strange to me as it had been fifteen years ago.

People had changed, acquiring an impetus I had not noticed before, worried about ending up thirsty in an ocean of plenty (only a fool does that). Fences going up where land was rumoured to have belonged to the county council as the prices of land shoot through the roof with parcel after parcel being gobbled up with culture of Luhya’s sole ambition to settle at home. The plush trees and green foliage of its hinterland had opened up like a pod to grabbing fingers as concrete outstripped the farmlands. Churches and stalls, shops and a streetlights hanging like erections on electric poles lined the road to Bulanda. Mpesa and retail shops nudged each other into bars and wines and spirit outlets and young people crouched from under the rocks of their reserved homestead to play billiards and gamble between the cheap gin.

Pulled from their receding presence and demanding recompense for the raw deal, their short sightedness got them on the bargaining table. They now grumble, that they sold land at half prices and feel invaded. Their election battle cry is to flush out foreigners, out of tune with me when I realized that being a luhya was not enough and as a sub tribe, a Manyala I could also face similar fate. Probably the benevolence of the party leader managed an unsettled compromise in the arranged democracy.

The borders had blurred out the formality than I could ever remember. Shop owners had demolished buts of their shops so that they stared at both ends like a tunnel of merchandise to deal with customers from both countries. Police posts had been reduced to two officers standing any corner of each country not minding the milling of people that went undetected and unregulated. While a government health official in Nairobi maintained raincoat dressed Ebola warriors with fever sensing guns were keeping Ebola and its new cousin Marbug at bay.

The Customs yard that had served as the only reminder of the British partition right through Busia town  (into Busia Uganda and Busia Kenya)led the way in encroaching into an imaginary no man’s land setting up towering immigration offices and tax checkpoint to feed off the throes of people that had suddenly invaded the town.

So had branches from almost all know banks and micro finance companies in Kenya suddenly showing an interest in the once sleeping town. Money is rumoured to be everywhere. The County government has heard these rumours and is taxing anything that moves including  a handful of clothes from posta market days every Monday and Thursdays.

I had sought to know why Amukura was the tallest building when we moved to Busia Kenya a decade ago, I was told it was the Idi Amin war (with Jomo Kenyatta!), distrust on each side that had scarred investment. No one dared to go past two floors. Then, Amukura must have been such a defiant feat that it attained a deserved landmark status awing people miles away from the town that they would come during Christmas just to see it.

Now columns from each country were reaching for the sapphire skies successfully dwarfing Amukura  House and its sole prestige it had held for years. Cranes perched onto mammoth buildings were still lunging up cement for more crates of space towards God like the tower of Babel. Luxury entertainment spots charging more than Nairobi rates are on the mouths of the middle class here, demanding piqued tastes picked up in forays at the capital who in turn borrow the swag from racist magazines and consumerist deluge on social media.

A new phenomenon, a long traffic jam of petroleum cars that dangerously ran through the stretch of the town as drivers wait for clearance filled the one way tarmac. The information office, one of the oldest buildings in the town offers a first row seat to the confusion of clogged traffic playing itself.

New Boda Bodas on motorcycle in multicoloured reflective second-hand jackets were fighting for space with the more historic blue uniformed bicycle porters. The slacked restrictions punctured the dam letting in pink uniformed bicycle boda bodas from Uganda, bleeding their crimson into the mish mash. Lorries and trailers packing and unpacking timber and maize stood rigid at the centre motionless except for the black masculine men darting in and out with merchandise. Personal vehicles making drinking forays away from Mututho to less restrictive Uganda, honking their way painfully slowly. Then the minions of people mucking like disturbed ants in an open anthill darted through each other.

In the evenings travellers flocked the booking offices for Nairobi bound country-buses that line the border next to each other. The huge monsters with an ever increasing promise of unnecessary comfort with little utility packed outside them. This one has wifi a tout would try to entice you, this one has air conditioner, or sockets to charge your phone. Young men whose nationality you cannot tell selling an admixture of sweet smelling coffee to travellers, chips and roasted chicken on charcoal grills make an addition to the organized chaos. Yam spread out in small heaps for Nairobi people at a bargain along bottled water from dubious brands. Chapati rolex Fried eggs laid like a wretch on fried chapatti and rolled hot, a Ugandan delicacy finding home here

The town has opened up to the influx that perhaps started when we came here fleeing the wave of retrenchment. It has build up as East Africa continued to take shape unmasking its potential for trade as a border town. Suffered a momentary setback during 2007 post-election chaos but has quickly picked its feet and simply grown up overnight. But now, it has baffled its authority who did not plan for the robustness who sold off parcels that would have served as roads and room for expansion. It is blood pilling pressure in veins that cannot hold.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Kenya National Archives

The swept floors are tiled neatly, so long ago. The high walls rise like ghouls that can eat your heart. Inside silence, high end louvers that can’t keep the hum away.

The throb of people outside trying to breach the pristine walls of history. There are no crowds here, just wait till you step out. And the throngs of human bundled up together in multicolor second hand clothes like a market merchandise. Thumping into each other calling each other to board old rusty busses, smearing sweat on each other, wiping lip balm on cheeks in feigned curtsies, gnawing flossed teeth with pieces of potato fries stuck uncomfortably in them. Anxious, worried unhappy sad.

Inside is history, vanished wood rails on the staircase gleaming. Tall windows like warriors of light. Dust on iron weapons, glass over bleaching newspapers about Joseph Murumbi.

Host of people who used proclaim cups from Phoenician ships, dead sweat of old skin that slept on salvaged mats from Persia the patterns, hand sewn.

Washed away bloods that must have been on the Turkana spear, or the rough texture of the palms that wielded the Luhya shield.

The last works of West Africa bronze smiths, Gods masques with slit mouths that remain open like sores, raffia that mimics synthetic hair, chopped nipped sand scrubbed crowns sitting on a pantheon of Kingship hierarchy.

Iron work that was done in kilns whose fires were not lit by matchboxes, beadwork that is half submerged into the stool of an ancient chief for the comfort of his arse, a headrest with dead moth eggs when it was still with its Maasai owner. A Somali knife slipped forgotten into its belt sheath.

Wangari Maathai recently dead, on pictures under glass display smiling. Tom Mboya dead long ago on this very street where the box building stands.

And paintings.

The painting.

The first flight of stairs to your left when you enter. Past the mosaic of Dedan Kimathi, and the attempt at the nooses and crevices of Kenyatta in pencil.

The gleaming staircases solid. The polished stair case rails. Deep brown like good mahogany. Simple lines for patterns.

And at the landing. An orange painting. An outcrop in the middle of a dusty desert. Stones about it scattered at the discretion of the painter. Insipid blue skyline, empty and probably hot. But loneliness, deep sad insignificant loneliness. Standing alone in the middle of nowhere the huge sore rock ,dusty in the desert, a shadow here and there a promise of relief from its locked lack of meaning. A painting like no other, sand orange, blue and rocks.

Visit the Kenya National Archives. Know your history.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

AU Security summit

African Union Peace and Security summit meeting in Nairobi came to a stark realization on the threat of terrorism posed by inter-border loopholes, but is it too late?

While the meeting toyed with the idea of setting up a fund with Kenya’s President Kenyatta admitting that ‘no single state can tackle this threat alone and it is particularly worrying in Africa today that terrorist organizations have grown both in terms of number and capability’.

Even Spy chiefs and the police who met last week are thinking of crafting a regional approach that might craft cross border partnerships and legislations, it begs to understand whether this counter move is not only anticipated by the terrorists and impractical in the dynamics that are changing by the day.

Why I think both are the case are two incidents that preceded this meeting but were never put in context at the summit.

One is the declaration of a Caliphate on all territories under the Boko Haram by Abbubakr Shekau. While it might be seen as an imitation of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdai’s Islamic State Caliph, the creation of the state even if hysterical at most is a sure effort at blurring borders of the current countries as we know them.

It is not unimaginable especially for the ‘horn of Africa’ where Al Sahab operate across a border of ethnic Somali to declare make a similar move. Disenfranchised and already branded terrorist by virtue of their identity and religion it is also unsurprising that such a move to create a state will be appealing to Al Shabab sympathizers.

If such states pop up than it will be hard to see how a regional force will effectively battle the insurgents without legitimizing the states and the operational dynamics on territorial integrity plus a mish mash of military ranks will facilitate such a franchise.

Another problem is the discovery of a Laptop in a village in the Syrian province of Idlib from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which have since rebranded themselves as the Islamic State during an attack in January.

The Laptop believed to be of a Tunisian Named Muhamed S. a chemist student, contained 19 page document in Arabic on how to develop biological weapons including Ebola and weaponize bubonic plague from infected animal.

While the discovery of a dusty laptop in a remote village in Syria is not a doomsday indicator since even experts believe weaponizing the Ebola virus is too complex and unlikely even in sophisticated laboratories, the issue should not be let out of context.

This even as the Philippines defense department confirmed that it will pull out more than 100 troops from a UN peace-keeping mission Liberia amid concerns over the Ebola virus. What this might result in is a withdrawal of troops in a domino effect that will effectively counter any intergovernmental military action as long as the virus exists.

If and whether to keep populations safe from the virus that has already claimed 1,400 lives with a further 2,600 suspected or confirmed cases, countries seal of area around these Caliphs then they can only morph and gain legitimacy and in effect counter any international help thanks to the Philippines.

The terrorist know little come out of gatherings like this Summits than statements of intent and if any action a bureaucracy that will see it take time. And they will be ready by the time any sound action is actually taken.

It has taken long enough to realize that we need cross border warfare, and even then military procedure still dictated that Cameroonian soldiers disarm the hapless Nigerian outfit that was fleeing Shekau only recently.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Between a calloused looked spinning a storm on a tall glass with a chipped pattern bottom, the ones you buy as wedding gifts for lack of imagination, a thought escaped me.

I asked a friend hoping his intoxication would have filed off his reservations and numbed his calculations for sounding intelligent. (He thinks too much)

What do you want out of life?

A simple question that I wanted an answer myself. Was it a constant thing a pristine goal that one is born to pursue, per-determined even.

Was it lots, a fatalism or chances that when we go into that evening drenched in dick-purple blood of dusk to an eternity/reincarnation/ or just lights out, we would have fit into purposes like gloves designed for us?

Or was it a morphing thing changing in its manifestation like a salty nipple to a child to a stick finger nipple to a man. changing with growing or diminishing need and attitudes.

Maybe it was with the people, left to tell if you got what they want in life. An outside thing determined by other peoples perceptions, ability or inability to see themselves in your shoes, empathize or worse still judge.

Did anyone ever get what they wanted out of life?


It came out wistful, unlikely as I first thought. I'd expected better bigger. at least from him. A domineering pantheon I could add to a character in my book, a strong lurid but thoughtful character. But all he wanted was so achievable so within his reach that he had set his 'high-jump' beneath his heels.

I was wrong.

What he wanted tells a lot, its a statement of intent. A unique desire to compensate. It is history, his, or lack of. It is how he wants to fashion his life but is incapable of. His life is a dreary film  he has watched, inspiring but just for the brevity of it. His life, our life demands that confidence a monumental courage to accept the vanities we hold but do not acknowledge.

I still had four fingers around my glass of brown brandy. Fiery for its ability to make us do the wrong things and pass blame to 'Oh the spirit of wine, let me call thee devil.' My one free finger pointed at another friend.

What about you.


I swung the brandy up my throat my head bent backwards repulsed, hoping, maybe the drink would jut out through the sole of my brain like spewing retch.
Simpleton, I concluded, Jolly monkey African too content with the moment to notice the clock of time winding off those tiny wheels and cogs in de ja vu. I thought of him too crass to base such a mournful span of time to a simple single emotion that was at best unachievable if not feigned. An emotion that was fleeting in its folly and tempered by its antithesis at all times. Reggae-like calling for Peace when we know how awfully conflicting the world is even in its theoretic formation as an explosive star.

But I realized it was in itself not just a childish dream for grownups but an essence that escapes those who think they are climbing the lofty clouds of self awareness. The missing piece after Zarathrustra conquers knowledge. A dark moment even after we have discovered the light bulb in all colours. We remain base animals that need more often than not to be just that. Not tombstones but rotting corpses beneath swallowed by our insignificance. We remain prisoners of the soft human desires of perfections gladly imbuing the admiration and vanity of shared stupefaction. We need to be happy the irony is we will not and thus makes it a purpose a goal worth pursuing.

My friends turned and asked me with their eyes. I had sourced writing material from them, at least I should offer something in return.

"What? Living beyond my bones"

Reincarnation, I thought, wisdom something lofty to tell humans eons from now that there once lived a fool so full of himself. Something important enough to get people to awe at the gaudy brilliance I exuded while I lived, the most intelligent man in the room, the self importance, itself the greatest vanity.

But maybe I longed for an intrinsic biological logic. Desire to see my genes re-written in another being. Engineering something entirely non existent and dependent on my action. A child not only to bear my name but my race, my essence. Siring a human being.

What if am impotent?

What do you want out of life?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Prescriptive philanthropy

Listening to a radio appeal about contributions to a drive to raise money for congenital heart problems if felt moved to act.

Maybe it’s was the way they said it, the way you talk about someone’s misfortune that triggers apathy and vulnerability at the same instance.

Maybe being a victim myself of insistent bouts of asthma and sinuses at an early age I could relate.
Or maybe just maybe am a victim of selective or prescribed philanthropy.

I have never been able to justify why I walk past beggars my whole life. My reasons have varied, from the futility of my effort to the need to instill hard work among beggars.

I have doubted the honesty of their plight especially in Nairobi where I have been informed that beggars are richer than those actually giving them alms, facts I have not been able to substantiate in actuality.

I have held that since they are so many my ten shillings would make no difference in their lives, in fact the next day they will be there the next day begging more fervently than before.

I have also peculiarly held them as junkies. I have my own alcohol issues that gobble up my scanty finances yet I still imbibe with abandon. Knowing they are pre-disposed abusers of some substance to survive their plight I feel that financing their drug habit is not so philanthropic. So I don’t give beggars money.

Then I hate it when my maker is used to extort me. Whenever a beggar appeals to my sense of guilt or fear of hell I switch off. Keep my God out of it.

But generally I do not have a definite reason why my philanthropy does not extend to those crawling beggars with tin cups or babies spread to appeal to the little humanity townsfolk are left with.

This moment has however made me rethink my presupposition. Why is it better for a company to do Corporate Social Responsibility in a cancer clinic and not the homeless?

What would could justify the millions of shillings in targets for formal interventions that are usually surpassed yet we barely give a beggar a dime.

Has the capital franchise found a subtle way to exhaust a universal humane feeling by channeling our philanthropy through formal undefined causes while alienating us from the direct individuals seeking help.

Would it not better to help those we are most disposed to share their gratitude because helping is just a  base vanity of sharing gratitude.