Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Creativity,Leadership and Politics

Oslo- A city vibrant with literary events

When Mohammet Omer stood to receive the Ossietsky award on the day of Writers in Prison at the House of Literature in Oslo, many people wept listening to this young man who at the age of 8 began to record the horrors of war for a news editor who run a column titled 'eye witness'. Mohammet received the prize with much grace and he told us he knew where the founder of this prze would be if he were alive today. Ossietzky, he said would be in Palestine at that front, reporting. It was very moving to watch the slides of violence Mohammet showed and more moving still to hear him say of a man lying down dead.." that is my friend so, and so, he managed to film the grenade that took his life on that day!" And of course some young boys lay beside the journalist taken by fire thrown at a truck clearly marked TV. Children, women, journalists and all died in the horrors and are still dying in the east.

Mohammet spoke of guns and their power with precision. Every time he saw a weapon, when he was older and was reporting from the field, he knew its potential and all that. He showed us a car, a truck bullet ridden and where he sat as the fire flew around. At that point, he was trying to reach to boy he could see outside calling for help. Both the legs of the boy were blown up. He only had a torso and a head and yes, he was calling for help! Mohammet meant to reach him but he could not because of the bullets. He had many such things to tell and it was a miracle to see him standing there before us so to speak in full health. No, Mohammet has suffered much torture and pain. He is receiving treatment to help him cope with life after arrests and terrible beatings. I was also surprised to hear that the company he was working with, which should undersand human rights, sacked him as incapable after he had received his wounds for reporting on human rights.

So, on that evening of the 16th of Nov. 2009, many of us cringed just to think of how much this man has endured and how terrrible violence is. It was not surprising that Kjell Olaf the former head of PEN Norway received the words of praise on his award, also given that night of writers in prison with a reaction of he wished all such words would be addressed to the likes of Omer and he also mentioned me, because he said these are people who have risked their lives for another's freedom. We were all very touched and our spirit of freedom was enlivened and of course the need to carry on in the struggle by this event.

I was honoured to read that evening after the prizes were awarded. I read two poems one on writers in prison remembering Dawit Isaak who languishes in prison in Eritrea, Aung San suu Kyi and Xia Liu Bou in China. I asked Obama, not just to speak but to do something that makes sense in a world so full of torture and violence. I also read an excerpt from my novel, Kenya will you marry me?. In this book i speak of our begging the earth to accept us for we all have been too violent. I plead with Mother earth, before i take on politicians who glory in violence as a way of getting to power and staying there.

In the hall downstairs that day, The Africa Literature week begun. A good representation from most parts of Africa but the horn were present. Tjis discussion on a different post below.

In literary Oslo, the Bragen Pris was also awarded to novels of many categories but the novelist who received the award of honour later that night, blew my mind with his opening speech. He aruged that words can also make a thousand pictures.. coming from the saying that that a picture is worth more than a thousand words. He also said it is very sad that rich business people and politicians often say they do not have time to read. If they do not read he said, then they have no time to make pictures, to imagine, and how can people without imagination be in charge of governance and power. I thought this was very powerful a thought for today anywhere in the world. I am waiting to read Obama's next big book. I can see him in the future reading stories to his grandchildren. I know he is not a Kenyan as such.. and that is not why am saying here that I cannot see many old Kenyan politicians at home reading to children.. I cannot see some of them quitting politics to make more pictures with words.

Monday, August 20, 2007



2:08 pm

Yes. I sit here at this second level of a wide flat
With a glass of hot water in my hand
It has lemon for my cleansing,
And honey for my healing and freeing.

I am looking outside at tall trees
And I get their energy that frees,
There is no sting in this bee.
If you ask, I will say it is just me.

I see the strength of the Nandi Flame tree,
I say to you who plays in my teamColour me freedom!
Now you have got my nameThere is nothing to tame,
It is I, of the family of the Mugumo.
I long for your burning flame.

Colour this body I feel freedom
Colour me freedom in my bosom
Colour me freedom that does break
Colour me freedom when I wake
Colour me freedom in my choice
Colour me freedom when I sleepYes,
colour me freedom when I swim.

Yes, I sit here and see the middle of the trees,
You have heard me of the freedom that cries,
Colour me freedom like the eagle,
That swoops and hovers over the bugle,
Colour me freedom of that little bird black blue,
That hops from branch to branch without a please.
Colour me freedom when I leap,
Colour me freedom when I dance,
Colour me freedom all the time.

Yes, colour me freedom and you will find,
All I have is freedom in me,
Freedom of colour just the ad,
Freedom within me bought with blood.
Freedom of our people in one.

Colour me freedom so I grow,
Colour me freedom like a straw,
Colour me freedom in my voice,
I am freedom in my choice,
I will speak politically free.

Colour me freedom when I speak.
Colour me freedom where I live,
Wihout a landlady or lord,
Coming to give me blows so sad,
it is not her little money that I lack,
She will not stand the freedom of a woman,
Who says don’t paint me house am in.
She wants to colour me nose no freedom,
Firm is my no, she cannot take it,
I dare live on a tree.

Well she would if it came from a man,
But here I am without a ban
For couloured freedom is my name
Bearing freedom was I born.
Birthing freedom my mother’s crown.

So colour me freedom with my pen
Colour me freedom in my den,
Colour me that, colour me this,
None will stand it save the colour of my freedom.
Colour me the freedom of a victor!
Colour me freedom it’s our right!

IKONYA,NJERI PHILO Aspiring Member of Parliament,Kiambaa constituency/2007 addresses her constituents


I went there that Monday morning,
The day they told me to go.
They told me what time to go,
And register as child of a Mau Mau winner.
I went there with more faith than money.
Time, virtue and gains are the essentials.

I met them.
Matigari ma Njirungi.
They love their children,
They love one another,
they love their colleagues who are long dead.
They love me, because of my fighting father, our spirit.

Matigari ma Njirungi never tell lies.
Truth is what they teach me.
It can break a mountain,
We share a Maasai proverb.
They fought for Kenya.

They ask me to be like them.
Nobody paid my father for fighting,
Nor wrote his name down.
These survivors of bullets – Matigari,
Write his name on my soul in truth,
They give me virtue, the best gift.
They give me the bread of peace.
So long unrecognized,wonderful people
And others like my father for-never,
These people give me good spirit.
Good bread and love in poverty.
We toast our living life.

I treasure why I went there.
I went there because my father died.
I went there because I sat next to a man who saw his spirit in me
When I took books to the village on a Saturday,
Fighting for new freedom

And looking keenly he asked,’
“And who are you?”,
And before my answer,”
But I know.Just wanted to make sure.”
You are the child of a fighter, a freedom winner.

I went there on Monday because King heh,would not hear of my absence there.
Those who suffer have no time for Monday blues,
They there meet every Monday morning.
There on a Monday,The litany:
Your father fought.We know it.
We know therenda (surrender).
Those who wanted to fight but gave up lifting their arms- No honour!
and we know ngati (homeguards).
And real fighters, we miss them.
IKONYA, GEORGE Njuguna was a fighter.
His blood flows in you.
And I add, “and the blood of my grandmother, brave woman,
and of my Mother too,
She fought all her life!

In hush tones, the women and men Matigari continued:
We live here quietly,We dress like you,
We look like you, walk, move and talk.
But we know the Secret.We know the heat,
the cold, the sound of birds singing.
Telling of foreboding, the eerie moments of reckoning.
You John M and you John N,
We know who you are.And you and you and you!
We know who of all of you, fought the real fight.
We know not just ngati, betrayers but,
also the fierce fighters, women and men!

Monday, June 21st, 2005


Philo Njeri Ikonya, is the future of leadership in Kenya. I will use Philo’s political leadership as an example of how she engages many people on many different economic, social, and ethnic levels in a dialogue on a very explosive topic. Philo’s leadership skills and ability to listen, understand, and lead people affect all areas of her life. Leadership does not mean forcing one’s opinion loudly and intimidating. A truly effective leader should be able to listen, dialogue, and then engage those around one to take action. I have seen her grab the attention of all those around her and effectively engage them in constrictive conversation. She interacts and dialogues with people not by force, or yelling, but through grace and a gentle nods.
Kenya is in need of a drastic change in the dialogue of political power between the leaders and the people. This dialogue must begin with leaders who can engage a dialogue about leadership and power at all social levels. The elite group of leaders in Kenya have not fully used Kenya’s vast amount of resources—intellectual, agricultural, labor, entrepreneurial spirit. As long as the wealthy and connected men continue to remain in power, Kenya will not be able to excel in development and rise above its state of financial, social, and gender inclusive poverty.
In the past two and half months I have accompanied Philo to her constituency in Kimbaa, I have attended political rallies, political party and civil society meetings with her. I have seen Philo interact with politically and economically powerful men and women, and men, women and youth at the grassroots level. She has amazed me with her ability to connect with people, regardless of their social class. She can engage the village chief, the local banana seller, the leaders of political parties, and competing politicians in a dialogue about a what political power should bring to Kenya and Kenya’s many possibilities. At the grassroots level, you can actually see people start to question their situation. You can see them trying to understand that instead selling their votes for 50 shillings to buy one meal, they can improve their life by voting someone to power that will be a servant of the people. Even at the grassroots, politics is about power, for everyone involved. A candidate can buy a poor farmer’s vote because for one brief instance, the farmer feels like he has power over the wealthy politician. What is starting to change in Kimbaa, because of Philo presence and lessons, is that voting for someone who will serve them is the ultimate political empowerment. Philo’s leadership is not just about politics, she is changing the way people imagine their future. She is bringing them hope, a change, and a new view of power.

Letter Sent to Oprah BY Jennifer Vollmann

Ikonya, Philo Njeri
Publicity Information

She is an extraordinary women leader who is working to be a transformative voice in Kenya. Her name is Philo Njeri Ikonya. She is a successful writer, community mobilizer—organizing women, the youth and the poor in her community of Kimbaa just outside of Nairobi. She strongly believes in the potential and possibilities of organized communities to improve and change lives. Philo gives motivational talks to the community secondary schools describing how through education, she grew from poverty to be a successful writer and community leader. She works closely with the youth to help them build entrepreneurship programs. Philo has raised textbooks for a school whose books were stolen at the start of school year and she has helped to send countless children back to school after they were expelled for unpaid school fees. The most impressive aspect of Philo’s work is she is able to mobilize her community through her networking, personality, and compassion, not through her bank account. In Kenya, the money, land, and political power belong to a select group of wealthy men. The common mentality is that nothing can be down without these strong, wealthy, men. Philo is changing this dialogue. She uses her compassion, her intelligence, and understanding of community needs to help change peoples lives.
Philo is a strong, courageous, and passionate woman and since 2002, she has dedicated her life to transforming Kenya government by implementing the many programs she as begun in her community to benefit Kenya as nation. Philo ran for parliament as a representative of her Kimbaa community in 2002, and is currently running in the December 2007 elections. The current incumbent is a very wealthy and powerful man, who won the 2002 election through bribery and corruption. She has a tough struggle a head of her, but she is truly changing peoples’ view of politics, power, and community. In her they see the voice of the people, they see the possibility of democracy, where the elected are the servants of the people. They are seeing that power can come from compassion, and not corruption. In her work, Philo is faced with financial hardships, possible violence for being a woman candidate, and ridicule and criticism those in her community who laugh at the idea that the government can ever change.
Philo is a true leader, she has inspired me to start my life’s dream and she is sacrificing financial stability, her safety, and her reputation, to inspire her community and her country. If the Kenyan government and African governments are going to change into effective, transparent, and compassionate governments, they must be lead by people like Philo, who give their life to the nation because of their love for their people.


Goree Island.
Isle Goree, Senegal.
How shall I return to Goree after a decade?
Should I walk over the waters like Peter?
But pray who calls me here?
Should I fly like a bird and cry?
But I have no wings.
Perhaps I never left Goree.
My heart I left there in the sand, a decade ago.
It was buried in salty tears. I still cry.

This is the door of no return.
They showed it to me.
How do I return to Goree today?
My Sister from Zambia,
sings with me a dirge.
My Malawi Sister,
Call our Brother from Uganda.
And the others from the world over:
Cuba, Japan,Turkey, Swizerland, Mexico, oh America!,
Bengal, China, and all the others there.
Tell them we must better doors make.
The doors of return.

The smoothness of the boat,
I fail to feel, Only nails I see.
How shall we return to Goree?
How meditation en masse?
I speak to myself quietly:
Senghor asked for their forgiveness,
Is it granted?, My Djibuti Brother cries on my shoulder,
The women are hiding tears in happy beads,
They are hiding blood in colour and cloth,
The men haul the boats,
They hide their sweat of blood in their clothes.
And all in their song and smile
Dress their love
Children cry as they wish,
Do they see slavery everywhere?

Yesterday, you saw the people dance and drum.
Who dared imprison their joy and cuff their hands and feet?
We still ask questions as we admire their art,
Let’s buy them to keep our sweat of blood away.
How shall we return to Goree?
We leave through the door,
The door of no return.
Stand with me and sing,
Nkosi s’kelele Africa!
Sail on.

Have you now sailed to Robben Island?
It’s Mandela’s birthday soon; eighty-nine.
Do we forgive them too?
What say you Shaka Zulu?
There is no freedom without tearing of skin?
Is freedom still coming tomorrow?
I want to go home.My heartaches.
Let me fly home. Like a bird.

How shall I walk past Freedom Corner?
Here in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park?
Here our old mothers stripped naked.
To curse the oppressor who stole freedom,
Mothers wanted their prisoner sons back,
Their daughter showed how to skin freedom,
Skin it, till you reach the kernel- Wangari.
Do we forgive the slavery that continues?
Why so many doors of no return still?
Trafficking here on Koinange Street?
Here on Uhuru Highway?
Shout: Uhuru and let me sing!
Am in love with freedom!
Must I my skin give?


When they hushed them, I said

let the journalists,bring out their lists,
so that the people,
may keep their fists to themselves,
as we get to the gist,
of matters so grave,
that those days gave.
let them tell us,their story,
we will hear.as long as they tell it wholly,
it need not be of glory,
let them speak and write,
if there are breaks,
we shall tell them to read,
their own story,watch their own sets,
be their own market,
and speak to themselves.
But they speak to us,
they see with us,
Let them free.