Report & Essay

Report & Essay


 Poverty is the worst form of violence. At its own worst, it is a form of slow genocide. For an example, take the fact that the vast majority of the Native Americans “rubbed out” in the American genocide died (and still die) not from settler bullets, but from poor diets, disease, poor-on-poor crime, stress-related illnesses caused by predatory lending and the like. In short, they are killed by the condition of being poor.

Girls are affected the worst, as it exposes them to all sorts of deprivations that lead to temptations and inducements resulting in angry, enervated young women. Even as an adult, a person raised in poverty often suffers a certain furtive sense of shame and anger that they can never quite shake off. Years of “no” and “not enough” force them to ingest a bitter diet of silent rage, frustrations, thwarted dreams, hurtful choices and humiliation as their parents age prematurely before their eyes, and their siblings learn to mask all feelings of disappointment. It is violence at the deepest psychological, spiritual and emotional levels, long before it becomes physical. I know. I’ve been there. In Kenya.

If Kibera is indeed the world’s biggest slum (I don’t know who measures these things, or how), then it is currently also the biggest single act of violence against African people, carried out over the longest period of time.

The recent magic tricks at Electoral Commission of Kenya (how to breed votes and then count them in the dark; how to speak out of both sides of your mouth, and other marvellous wonders) and the subsequent orgy of gratuitous blood-letting, have given rise to expressions of grief, shock and anger from the Kenyan intelligentsia, in a way that leaves me truly mystified. Have they not been paying attention? If money and land meant for the poor can be stolen from them, then why not votes? If it became a four-decade normality for children to grow up sharing the eating of rotting oranges from garbage skips, why on earth should they not share more direct forms of violence? Having grown up witnessing Kenya’s normalising of the grotesquely abnormal, my only surprise was that these acts -from the rigging, itself, to the rape, pillage and murder- took so long to reach this particular nadir. Kenya was and is an atrocity a long time made and a catastrophe a long time coming.

“There are no stories in the riots, only the ghosts of stories”, as some wise black British woman said of Brixton and Handsworth, a long time ago.

I should declare an interest: though I spent some critical formative years living both near the top and the bottom of Kenyan society, I am not Kenyan. I was a refugee from another atrocity called Uganda, and part of a very politically engaged community that was actively fomenting armed rebellion back home. Since our flight was political, we came to Kenya with a heightened interest in politics generally and were fascinated by the way in which the Kenyatta and Moi regimes were achieving through “sowing acres of cynicism” (to quote Okot p’Bitek, another Ugandan refugee) what Amin and Obote could only attempt through planting killing fields.

Honourable Mwai Kibaki was a particularly interesting study for us. As a graduate of Makerere University, we would wonder if he participated in politics with Ugandan or with Kenyan sensibilities. For me, he answered the question most eloquently when on tour, as a Seriously Big Government Man, of (I think) Kamiti Prison way back in seventies. There had been media talk of increasingly horrific conditions in the prisons, and his visit was supposed to be a fact-finding tour. At one point, as Big Man and Entourage walked through the prison complex, a prisoner displayed incredible dignity and courage by stepping out in front of him, and trying to hand him a letter sealed in an envelope. The prison official next to Hon. Kibaki intercepted the convict’s outstretched hand, took the envelope and pocketed it. According to the news report, Hon. Kibaki paused, watched the entire incident, and then carried on with his “fact-finding”.

Forget about the botched attempts to write a new constitution, forget about the failure to follow up on the Canary Patni Goldenberg song, forget even about the indignity of swearing-in at twilight (quick question: was that really a Bible he was holding up? It looked suspiciously like a pricey desk diary to me. You never know, given the indecent haste), as kids watching their elders paying a much higher price to be in politics, we felt that was a most pathetic display of craven indifference. In truth, looking back, it was at that moment that Hon. Kibaki for me disqualified himself from being president of anywhere or anything. It’s just that nobody realised it, or thought about it hard enough. Now look where we have ended up.

EDITORS NOTE: The views expressed here are those of KALUNDI SERUMAGA and do not in anyway represent the political stand of Kwani? or that of The Concerned Kenyan Writers Initiative.

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