Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Road that always took me home took me to prison

This case has lasted from:

2007.... 2008..... 2009....2010

It was strange but again not so strange how the road that always took me home took me to the cells for the first time with all of you. We must not lose our faith even though we are so scattered. Even though we felt so betrayed by some whom we expected to understand and be by our side even if not on our side.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

A list of amazing photo-journalists in Kenya, Africa ... we owe them more...

I have found an article I wrote last year that reminded me what amazing hands have held cameras in my part of Africa! They risked life and limb to bring our eyes a thousand words in a photo. We owe them so much. On International Press Freedom Day (2009)we remembered them in a special way as Ramadhan launched his wonderful documentary- Uncovering the media.(Kenya) I published this article in the Daily Nation then.

No slight.. Please add missing names of photographers you know in comments to this article if you can. I notice it is so hard to find Kenyan Photographers on the web, you have to know the name first. There is facebook page but it only has a few active members of the group.

I am writing about photographers here from the point of view of the documentary "Uncovering the media", Ramadhan's life and the launch function.

From the Brave and ever inspiring Mo Amin, (Mohammed Amin) there has been a silent file of keen dedicated photo-journalists in Kenya and beyond ...I have great memories of meetings with some of them. When I google them in general and find them not on one good page from their papers, I wonder what their main media owes them in other ways. Read below an analysis on Uncovering the media by Ramadhan Khamis who has made many documentaries including one on the Nubi of Kenya. For some reason, reality has it that we owe so much to these Muslim brothers of ours.. and the others and sisters of course are no less.. but I must say this is impressive.

Mohamed Amin (Mo Amin, (died on duty on a hijacked plane on his way back from Ethiopia)

Yusuf Wachira
Yahya Mohamed
Baraka Karama
Noor Khamis

Rebecca Nduko (attacked during work)

William Oile
Stephen Mudiari
Mathenge Joseph
Paul Waweru

Joan Pereruan
Rebecca Nduku
Joy Wanja
Peterson Githaiga

Jacob Otieno
Liz Gichuki (attacked during work by City Council Police or askaris)
Robert Gicheru (cheated death but was hit on the forehead during the post poll violence of 2007/8)
and award winning... Boniface Mwangi

Hos Maina (the late, shot during work)
Dan Eldon (died serving )
Brian Tetley (died serving)
Anthony Macharia (died serving) (sound)

I was a special guest at the launch of Uncovering the media in May 2009

Uncovering the Media- Kenya

By Philo Ikonya

Behind Uncovering the Media- Kenya, a documentary a good audience watched to celebrate World Press Freedom before a discussion with an eminent panel is the strikingly unassuming photojournalist Khamis Ramadhan.

The documentary available on CD from Communityimages was hailed as a remarkable biography of media in Kenya.

It brings out the big questions on women in the media and the deprivation of local content as Kenyans are assailed by soaps and other features from the North and South.

Essential issues for development of media and unresolved legal matters that keep journalists checked as the fourth estate are addressed in Uncovering the Media.

Bantu Mwaura, a lecturer and poet interviewed in the documentary decries our alienation from our selves through our own media: “If we see so little of Africa and we are in Nairobi, what do the others get?” he poses passionately. The documentary rages on about what photojournalists do not get for all their good work.

Ramadhan is more than self effacing in gatherings and corridors believing that the images will speak if they are allowed to. Followed up for this interview at his office, it was hard to get the man to talk about himself.

All his family; wife Mariam and teenagers daughter Rahma and son Ruhullah, sat in the office doing different things but playing an active role in general discussion. My son and I have walked over to Chester House to meet Ramadhan Khamis on this Sunday afternoon. My son keeps nudging me since I had told him I had come to meet a Very Important Person and that is why I was ready to interview him on a Sunday afternoon. After that, I told him we could go for a walk.

Ramadhan’s family. I had to ask if this has got anything to do with one not praising themselves as a religious tenet and Mariam seemed to agree.

Khamis is a good example of those who journalists who put their life in the line in what is becoming the tradition started by the great Mo Amin.

The list is long: Yusuf Wachira, Yahya Mohammed and Noor Khamis. A number of such photojournalists have passed on but not leaving us, like Mo, because of their indelible images.

The late Hos Maina, Soundman Antony Macharia, Dan Eldon, Wallace Gichere, died in the line of duty; and the latter as an unforgettable icon of the struggle Kenya has had for media freedom.

But Khamis’s vision in life, “It is better to die on our feet than to live on our knees,” words of Kenya’s foremost freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi, reveals that there are photojournalists with a mission deep and sacred. These words emblazoned on a wall hanging greet you as you sit down in his office.

The click of the camera and the image we get preceded by such a vision are important in the struggle to live freedom.

Prof. Nyutho eloquently explained that these photojournalists and others in life discover and use their passion, not just brain, early in life.

Prof. Nyutho explained to younger Kenyans who are losing out on knowing their heroes who are not feted locally how Mo shook the earth with his images from Ethiopia, revealing the ravaging famine of the times there. Mo died in a plane crash on his way from Somalia in 1994.

All these photojournalists and others have, like Ramadhan contributed a lot, without expecting accolades and honors. But indeed they deserve them.

A fine example through and through Ramadhan like a number of self-taught photojournalists and cartoonists holds two awards one received in 2003 and the other in 2004 for his work.

Indeed, Mariam is right, Khamis appears to be at the service of some higher goal and patiently immolating his talent for our good.

Ramadhan nearly escaped recognition in the hall where the documentary Uncovering the Media was launched save for that the MC, the renowned writer and dramatist John Sibi Okumu had to blow the whistle, calling not just Ramadhan but also all those who participated in the making of the documentary for introductions.

The fast paced and well choreographed moving story told in 31 mins and 30 seconds, about Media Persons baring themselves begins with a touching account from local photojournalists.

The whole documentary becomes one big picture which if you agree one photograph can be worth a thousand words, becomes infinitely valuable.

A caption – Wallace Gichere died a few weeks after the completion of this documentary- flashes below Gichere’s image on his bed, explaining his tragedy.

Gichere is interviewed extensively in the documentary which he did not live to watch. He is the photojournalist who was thrown down from a fourth floor flat by Kenyan security forces and he got paralysed waist down.

Finally awarded money for damages; what will linger forever in his now silent mind and on our pained consciences, are the man’s pain and struggle to break the silence on his plight when the money awarded for damages was not forthcoming. Indeed he died fighting for he had to stage a hunger strike before he could get the damages awarded him delivered.

The images in the documentary will remain with you; the same way as photojournalists tell us images of pain, death and suffering remain with them and always revisit them before they go to sleep daily.

Stephen Mudiari’s call for counseling for journalists is not misplaced. One is touched for one by one, from Liz Gichuki; who tells of her beatings by City Council askaris to Jacob Otieno; whose pain is so alive on every nerve of his face will leave you in tears. Otieno broke down during the interview upon recalling photos he took at an accident scene ten years ago.

You ask, before you see Rebecca Nduku describe the pain a mother feels taking a photo of a hungry child out there, another hungry child, how journalists go so unnoticed in our society sometimes much in the same way as the hungry and silent child, voiceless and surrounded by cold stones and an empty bowl; startled by pain whose image they bring to us.

You ask many questions as Robert Gicheru narrates long moments in the gutter after a bullet skimmed his forehead. You see the dark days, and still the darkness remains. To the present, photojournalists who have done amazing work remain in background their merits benefiting others.

Baraka Karama’s brought Barack Obama’s Kenyan connections to the limelight but was shunted aside when Obama became known for who he is with a media house claiming the discovery.

The history of photojournalists just as that of correspondents, as Oloo Janak of the Correspondents Association says in the documentary has been one of misery thus far.

Beyond that, the documentary also raises all the fundamental questions facing our media today. From poor pay to lack of transport making reporters ready recipients of transport money from politicians and NGOs which could easily be abused to the Books and Periodicals Act.

Why should we tolerate a colonial prescription for the execution of a million shillings bond, came the well needed indictment of the law by David Matende. He queries too the unjust Freedom of Information which still protects government secrets.

Indeed, Mburu Muchoki bore the brunt of this law last year as he languished in jails. Just why have we allowed the imprisonment of the entire alternative media calling it gutter press?

Just how do such bonds leave room for people to create themselves jobs in the media and be free to express themselves without watching over their shoulders? Isn’t this already an abuse of freedom in a poor developing country? The questions shot from every corner in the debate that ensued after the show.

Why does Kenya, a country that led with community FM radios go so much for profit driven media neglecting this medium which could educate us out of poverty? Grace Githaiga, a community media trainer asks.

Women in the documentary speak of sexual exploitation albeit shyly; one of them charmingly winks to say yes, there is sexual harassment and sexual promotions! The wink calls for stronger voices on issues. But watch that space, Khamis is not done with the screen and other issues ranging from elections, violence and the legal issues that had the late Walter Gichere on the cross for so long.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Letter to Raila Odinga after he fails to uphold minorities in Kenya

Sunday 28th Nov 2010

To: Raila Odinga: The Prime Minister of Kenya

From: Philo Ikonya ( A Kenyan citizen)

I know that KiberaKENYA has been seen to change a little of late but - I do not wish to stigmatise those of us who live in such inhuman conditions - in more than slum cases most Kenyans also in rural areas live in terrible conditions too. I know it is still not possible to say that the high level of rape, incest and this includes defilement have gone dramatically down from as reported by (Lacey. 2001 ) in a study on combatting Aids. I am greatly disturbed by your priorities as vice president and would be President of Kenya. Lacey and most people have found rape, murder, incest are prevalent crimes there. I also know from experience that many people in Kibera suffer police brutality.

You have just given an order as the Prime Minister of Kenya that any homosexual men and women found engaging in sex must be arrested by the police. For me it is also important that I did not hear the words that after arrest people must be charged in court in 24 hours. We know that police in Kenya have often disappeared people after arrest. I am of the opinion that to a reformed and a reforming police force, you ought to quote the Criminal Code and the Constitution, not your office.

I know too that police are most likely not to find any man in the circumstances with another man nor any woman since already their matters are so stigmatised in Kenya.. ( you heard the crowd roar and this time there was no one to answer you, "Unga!" like that time when you were there and the people brought you back to basics from your excellent ability to hype them). But I know that police will arrest some poor innocent people in Kibera and in other places and tell them they are homosexuals, torture them and humiliate them as they do those whom they call prostitutes after arrest. When you left Kibera, there was more fear than the show of might and bravado that you saw in the early afternoon.

Since you have the power and the media and the umbrella of the AU and the UN, we are left trying to reason on how to make our Kenya a more humane society at the risk of being called all sorts of things and even not managing to live at home. It seems you are enjoying having the kind of police in place who tremble when politicians speak. The type who are promoted when they brutalise those who dare to say they want to and do defend human rights. You have opened another door for them to stigmatise human rights even before you answer to us why police and Kenyan intelligence have decided to lump human rights activists with those whom the nation fears and says they belong to proscribed sects. I still remember how many people rushed to your office and you received them when Oulo G.P. O Oulo and Oscar King'ara were shot dead on State House Road and you GAVE THEM HOPE. We know no one wears a sign of belonging to anything on their forehead and you also know that human rights are just that. HUMAN RIGHTS. I want to imagine that if your own child or relation were a homosexual you would not even know it and that if they were found by police.. strange thought... and let us just follow your mind, they would not even be arrested. I was told by police that when your child was driving without a licence (under age) and was in an accident at night, all they did was mention your name and the police left them alone. The kind of mentality you spoke from and the law in Kenya has always been against the poor and the ones without a name. Look how many they are.

The 3 000 disappearances of Kenyans ( Re: Philip Alston s Report) and the last five in Githurai, one extra-judicial killing in Mathare last week and one in Kisumu and the bodies found dumped in Lari and Kobatek are on my mind. The very recent violence in Kenya after the 2007 General election as documented by many and as in the Waki Report where it shows a high number of people were killed by Kenyan police is on my mind. The many Kenyans who never reach home in the evening, both women and men swooped for strange reasons until they pay bribes are on my mind. The many who tremble on their way home daily are on my mind.

Hitler is on my mind. Auschwitz is on my mind. The tall, blonde and blue eyed people.. are a story no one has forgotten.

Raila, you know who Kenyan police are. YOu also know what misused power is, you were in detention without trial under Moi.

Raila Odinga, the Boundaries Commission has is struggling on the verge of failure, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission is under stress for reasons you know well, the Committee for Implementation of the new constitution has not been set up. The work you have to do is laid out in the agreement you signed on our behalf during post poll violence. It is not part of your office to tell police what crimes to prosecute we do have a code... and even it is not friendly to all minorities and especially the poor and even if it penalises for sexual offences as defined therein so far no one has misued it the way you have done last Sunday. You are aware of what has happened in recent years in Uganda and even if it does not matter who he is and what you think of him, you are not unaware of Obama s reactions on the same. But you spoke for East Africa.

I remember you got the baptism of immersion, submerged in water by two preachers in two churches. In St. Stephen s Church on Jogoo Road you had a ceremony in which Ndolo then aspiring as always to represent Makadara. Before then you were an atheist and not that I really care what faith you confess now, if you do not mind my openness. I only want to remind you that you use the church and the church uses you whenever the two of you need one another for a purpose. After that, you dump each other. The church tries other politicians. The people remain with Raila the enigma.

But this is what a typical politician does in Kenya.... you sacrifice minorities, beliefs, religions, families and many, many people to get to power and you stay in power in the same way.

I was just remembering that

During the constitution campaign you wore green ith Kibaki and that was good. The people could not come for you on the basis of religion as some had in the last election... mind you, I did not side with them and Raila, the only time I felt I should never again try to politic in my village is when they said things about you that I will never say to anyone. I stopped them at my own risk. If I repeated such now, I would be no better, I would be tearing again a wound so unhealed. I felt so bad that you, then the minority in that conversation and so dignified on my mind as ever, even if I did not go there physically with you in spite of some calls from Mumbi Ngaru, were suffering this kind of thing stigmatisation, so neatly sown by the government. Would you turn against another minority so, now?

I know that you now need fundamentalists and so called believers who fought so strongly against this constitution for many reasons. It is time to use faiths and dump them again. I would like very much that you consider your accountability to all Kenyans. If you have an amendment to make to the current constitution, you and those who believe the same know how to go about it. To give us a new Kenyanness better than the one that is all the time shredded in us you might lead the people in following the constitution.

"Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said homosexuals should be arrested, saying homosexual behavior will not be tolerated in the east African country.
"Any man found engaging in sexual activities with another man should be arrested," Times LIVE quoted Odinga as saying at a rally on Sunday, in the Nairobi town of Kibera. "Even women found engaging in sexual activities will be arrested."

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/300828#ixzz16g5Df1ll"

Friday, November 26, 2010

Extra-judicial killings, have we given in? Kenya's impunity fights back..Human Rights Defenders

Sowing lies about human rights defenders to cover up extra-judicial killings and the ‘disappeared’- Not yet new constitution till we change!

By Philo Ikonya

“But eternal vigilance is not written in any of the world’s constitutions or ours. It rests in our beings. We chose to for -reasons maybe even unknown to us- to defend human rights. Let us not close our eye thinking that the letter of the law will keep vigil for us all the time. We must be careful. Light your candle forever, Philo” (speech to self)

This Friday afternoon, I received a message from *SA in Nairobi. He wrote:
26th NOVEMBER 2010

“Just came from mortuary to see the body of the young man. He was 21. His mother cant believe it. They had put all their wealth on his schooling and now it is gone by police bullet. We still have not received any support to profile the young man’s life. I am working on seeing how the family can profile the incidence. The police who did is still uniformed and in possession of a gun and going business as usual. My phone calls are now not only tapped but get hanged up just like that….”
The one who works with me on publicity is also in trouble, SA went on to explain. It is not yet new constitution back here.”
Just a week before another desperate cry had appeared on the same list serve. *UT said he would not be surprised if he got no response from anyone for informing that one young man was missing and was feared dead in police hands. This is so common an occurrence in Kenya, that maybe we are getting used to it.

24th of Nov 2010

Fellow comrades.

Its so sad that every time my mind thinks of posting on this mailing list,I always bring problems which some times nobody reponds and the system oppression advances and it also places me in a desperate state.
Any way i just wanted to bring to your attention that this morning i received another case of one Samuel Oricho from kisumu manyatta kandole who was arrested by Flying squad police one and a half months ago and he is know where to be seen.His family members have been going to central police kisumu to enquire more on his condition but the OCS chases them away and even threatens them. Samuel was a known matatu tout in manyatta and kondele and he had great influence in the area. There fore any one is willing to stand against this injustice and can contact ISAAC who was close friend to him through 0724 101013 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              0724 101013      end_of_the_skype_highlighting



The haunting calls of Mama Wainaina came back to my ears. That was in 2007, May. I have heard so many women and widows cry about this.
Mama Wai as they called her, cried in a way that suggested to me that she would cry forever and that soon, she would too be buried. For there are not so many people that can such sorrows face. I know that when in a poem I wrote that her voice was like filled with shards of glass in it, I was not exaggerating. Sometimes, the pain of such a terrible loss tears voices into pieces.
So, SA, soon the mother of this other young man from Mathare who cannot believe it now, will soon overcome initial denial and she too start crying and then her own cries will tear her through her heart and rip her body. It is not true that her son can RIP. Rest in Peace. What is worse is that it seems as if we have given up on these cases in Kenya.

Before W there was B and many others: one by one they left us

We made our noises, for which you get threatened yourself SA when B coming from a football match in Huruma, B whom everyone knew and knew how he behaved was shot dead right outside his home. The policeman who killed him had shot many other boys dead. And he was still patrolling the area of Huruma many months afterwards. You know that policemen who beat up human rights activists were promoted in Ali’s days, the former commissioner of police. There is a lot more you do not know and I cannot tell here.
I had responded to his initial message where SA announced the killing of this young man on a list serve because I know that the list serve is infiltrated by Kenyan intelligence. Three days later, neither SA nor UT have heard from any of the organizations we count on. Are the enemies of Human Rights winning this battle? Will they manage to split us all and to stop so many?
The struggle is only protracted. Vigilance is eternal. Eternal vigilance is the price we must pay for human rights.

Ever since Philip Alston’s report of 2009, and the consequent killings of Oulo GPO and Oscar King’ara who has not suffered? These killings were calculated at driving fear deep into our bones. In the days of Commissioner Hussein Ali and even now, it is the same. They want us voiceless and quiet. Alston reported that more than 3 000 young men had been killed and often disappeared in Kenya mostly on the basis that they belong to a proscribed sect. No due process is followed. The Attorney General from Kenya denied this report and would have had P. Alston sacked in Geneva if he could. Commissioner Ali did the same and even the military stepped in and denied the report.

It is as if they do not read what happens in the rest of the world. They have not seen other country reports also done in ten days. Recall the ridiculous comments. They went to town over the period it took to do the report and blamed Human Rights Activists for the results. They blamed organizations instead of wondering how come we are getting into such reports…. Kenya was not like this before. And we were saying this outside of Parliament when we got badly beaten up and harassment was organized to keep us down long after that. Let us look at some recent messages and reports in the media.
I enquired in April 2010. I got this answer. It shows how organizations are being crushed.

Dear P,
Thanks a lot for your response. It is true that people are still disappearing. In April 2010, Kirimi Kenneth an RPP member, was abducted by ‘police Officers’ from the notorious ‘Kwe Kwe’ squad and sedated and found himself in an isolated house. On learning of this RPP together with other human rights exerted pressure until he was dumped at Suswa on your way to Narok.

We picked him. He had been tortured by them. The police officers knew more about him and the work we do. They gave him two weeks in order to know their fate. They also said that they will deal with Stephen Musau RPP Executive Co-ordinator. The officers concern was why we were documenting cases of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances and why we were pushing for inclusion of the current period thus review of the TJR Act of 2008. According to Kirimi, he informed us that there was another person in a separate room who was writhing in pain calling his mother saying that he had broken his leg. The officers went with said Karanja on a Saturday and he did not return with him.”

June 21 2010 9 45 am

I have just come from Central police station. I have talked to Jacop Odipo, Hellen Ayuma and Susan Achieng and later held a meeting with the Deputy DCIO together with representatives fron Kamukunji Human Rights Defenders and Bunge la Mwananchi. The deputy DCIO has informed us that his hands are tied and that the DCIO is the only person who can authorise for the release or give bond to the accused persons. The DCIO was said to be in a meeting with the Director of Uhuru Park. The deputy OCPD refused to give us the CELL PHONE of the DCIO. He told us to wait for him.

The accused’s fingerprints and statements have been taken and they might be taken to court tomorrow morning with Creating Disturbances although the officers are not giving information.

I am requesting all of you to circulate this information to the rest of the colleagues and avail yourself tomorrow morning in in order to establish the court they will be taken. We have also agreed that we try and have people in Makadara, Kibera and Nairobi Law Courts (High Court) and Central police station in order to ensure that they are not sneaked without our knowledge.

Further, i appeal to those people / organisations with cash bail to process in advance. also Human Rights advocates should be informed of the arrests.


Dear M,

I am sorry to hear about the arrests of Odipo, Susan and Hellen. Please let me know about developments and also send them my special greetings and tell them to take courage. This IS rather strange and reflects badly on the system as usual.

Pay victims of Police killings, Muite demands
MPs probe dumping of bodies
Human Rights Defenders accuse state of complicity
State comes under stinging criticism over ‘renditions’
MPs claim police behind murders http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/InsidePage.php?id=2000019447&catid=4&a=1

Friday, November 12, 2010

Out of Prison - Love songs

Loecker Verlag, in Austria has published Out of Prison - Love songs by Philo Ikonya

It is a bilingual edition in German and English. Currently you can find this book in Amazon under the title Aus dem Gefängnis – Liebesgesänge / Out of Prison – Love Songs.


Some of the poems included in this book are

: Presidential Awards
: Singing vision
: I turn into love
and Ubuntu earrings.

Philo Ikonya writes about love as solidarity , pamoja, which opens doors that are locked in cells and elsewhere out of disdain for freedom and other forms of repression. The poet finds wings in words that create space and like it wude and long.

Nairobi river is courted by the poet to tell the story what it knows about life.. this poem will soon be included in this post for a preview.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Meeting of souls and minds: Russia and Kenya in Africa

I have another story. I met Oksana at the Helsinki Bookfair last week. The masses as Oksana would write on her blog later moved as usual. We saw the commerce of art. We felt the warmth of winter interest. We however, found very interesting links when shared face to face. We have agreed to share them with our friends and readers.

Pushkin and Njoki- (roots) at the University of Nairobi

When I was at University, I read some Russian Literature. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin stood so clear as classics do. A novel in verse. The appeal was irresistible. My friend was doing her Masters on Pushkin. I even remember it was Prof. Henry Indangasi who was her supervisor at the University of Nairobi. Prof Indangasi taught European Literature with great but gentle authority. I was only doing my first degree then. I loved the spirit of Literature, my Mother had introduced it to me at home. She told us stories and made me act some parts sometimes.

I loved my friend Njoki's laughing spirit. She was always seemed to say that she knew the way ahead of us fresh ones and there was nothing to fear. She was a great storyteller. It did not matter what the story was about. It took life on her tongue. Her joy and face of dark beauty were always alight and a light. She had this natural beauty and tone about her. She still smiles in my memory.I wonder where she is now. became I last met her at Kenyatta University where she worked in the administration. She remembered Pushkin. She told me she was not so happy not to be using her art. I told her I tried to write. She inspired me but she felt she was not doing anything much. We talked about Literature. What an amazing discovery of Doestovyeski and Tolstoi, Nikolai Gogol and so many others. Our world of Literature in some countries of Africa was young with the first novels coming out when the world was swinging in the sixties.. already. Other countries had written long before even in Africa. The soul of Russian Literature was something extraordinary. I forgot that Pushkin had roots of ancestry in Ethiopia.

Oksana In Helsinki

It was Oksana who reminded me about Pushkin's roots when I told her that I felt the soul of Russia was very deep through the literature of the country. She smiled. She knows many people that I have only read about. She knows Anna Politkovskaya. Anna was assassinated last year in October in Russia. She knows Natalya Estimirova. She was also her friend. She was also assassinated last year. Talking to her, I felt really impressed,silent and moving at the same time.. moving in the mind. Goosepimples. She knew people we have cried for and written about from afar but always felt them very near. It is only last week when Peter Waage gave a lecture on Russia Between East and West and I asked him some questions. I asked first about the understanding of Freedom in Russia among the people. He talked in answer about voglia (I did not ask for the spelling) and freedom. This is freedom as seen in getting an immediate need fulfilled. If I am not wrong voglia must be related to voglio in Italian which is I want.. I have a need. Which is more to the material need.. for instance to drink a vodka now. And the other freedom involves I think, includes some rights which you cannot easily materialise like to express oneself freely, to worship, to be... to.....associate. I asked if the people there in Russia get angry when their people are like Anna Politkovskaya are killed for expressing themselves.. and I was told that many people hardly know them in Russia, I say that if they knew them probably there would be a common movement for them and against the oppressors. It is no coincidence this lack of knowledge. It is a tool for some. However, many people also fear to speak out even if they do know the truth. Oksana lives under threats because she does speak out.
(I also asked which Russian author sprung most to the mind of Waage as he walked in the streets of St. Petersburg and he said Gogol does so most.)




I was reading a poem at the Helsinki Bookfair. It turned out that I read Voice of Oulo community radio. I set up one for him in my mind since his life was snatched. I hope one day it will be real. It is published in This Bread Of Peace.

Alexander Solszhenityn in Kangemi, Kenya via Kianda in Kibera.... and The Gulag Archipelago

I first saw The Gulag Archipelago somewhere near Kangemi. I always think I met Alexander Solzhenitsyn then. Therefore, when Mishael came to Nairobi through Kwani? and with the Summer Literary Seminars which also took him and some writers from Kenya to St. Petersburg. Misha was chatting about his trip. I asked him about Alexander Solszhenitsyn. He told us he was old not of course and not so well. He died on 2nd August 2008. I worked near some slum areas. I ofen thought of the suffering of the people due to extreme poverty as a form of confinement. I wrote Alexander a poem.

91. KWAHERI ALISHA (Good bye Alisha)

(Alexander Solszhenitsyn)
2nd August- 2008

When Alexander died,
All the pens trembled.
He went quietly,
as silently
he came into our lives,

Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
What nickname did granny have for you?
Did she fondly call,
And you run to her,
with hope?

I bless that quietly,
you go in peace,
memories of joy finally restored.

Too much pain delved,
Not paved you life.
Your peace they broke
in in-humankind,
I heard in the last days,
You hardly knew your ways.

Let it be,
for only for while,
only for now.
I remember you
Of thunder!

Your pen did not die.
Many candles flicker,
and the world over
your soul’s mantle
many ages hold.
Seeing how to be bold,
In pain to pen.
Sketch blood and sorrow,
taking the arrow of love,
through the letter of pain.

Then so much strength of pain
and pen,
learnt to bear so early,
and left the pains in every sinew,
of thought beyond the dew
of nations.


We loved you here in Nairobi.
We asked Misha how you did,
a decade ago
we wanted so to know.
He told us your eyes always searched,
talked to self and us.
And we now know your faith,
orthodox you followed till yonder.

Alisha, many pens arise,
your inkwell wells again.
And grow the trees Alisha,
on the letters of your book
we look to mix.

Purified tears,
shiny like diamonds,
why will grass grow we wonder?
And Low, low, somewhere, down,
Lies not the spirit.
It towers from high above Gulag,
looming all earth over.

A little history, here and now,
a little flicker of memory,
just for those who wonder why.


One day, on a subtle morning,
I met Sholzhenitsyn in Kangemi.
We sat in his Gulag,
In Nairobi’s midslum,
reading headlines.
A day in the life of Ivan Ivanovitch,
A day in the life of Karimi Nduthu.
A day in the life of Anna Politkovskaya,
an elevator takes to the tomb.
Novaya Gazeti in Kangemi is Oulo’s.
A day in the life of Natalia Estimirova.
The Ngong Gulag of the Disappeared.

We knew of Alexander Shchukariv before,
and so many more.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn,
your sun sets not,
and my candle
must still burn for you!

Alexander Suchkariv in Rome for eye treatment (1985?)

When I was in Rome in the mid eighties, I saw press and heard about Alexander Suchariv,a scientist who was in trouble in Russia. It was very moving for me to hear his story and see him fleeing with his wife. Oksana asks me.. "How is it possible that we have shared so much beyond borders? that we have met before in Anna too? It is almost mysterious to us as we sit face to face and she says her own story sounds very much like mine. We smile, laugh, think and think. She says I give her courage. She has written this in her blog. I wonder. Is it us? I know it is Literature.. writing.. moving beyond the horizon of every word and work.. moving beyond borders. I know that the persecuted Anna and Natalya and so many others we commemorate including Oulu and Oscar will never be fully silenced. Not while we believe in that freedom we cannot touch or drink in Vokdka.

Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estimirova

This time last year, a lawyer who knew me before we both joined the University of Nairobi called me. She was crying in Nairobi. Natalya Estimirova had been killed. She spoke to me non stop for 20minutes because she also said Natalya reminded her me. She asked me. "Are you sure Philo, that I will not be crying for you next? Why don't you get safety and keep your voice."

50 years of Writers in Prison Committee International PEN

This year, International PEN is looking commemorating 50 cases of writers who have been killed or are in prison. I think of them. I think of Anna Politkovskaya who died as she went up the lift to her flat. I think of her of whom Oksana says she had become a humanitarian agent in herself.. apart from writing about the war in Chechenya. I think of Isaak Dawit in Prison in Eritrea. I congratulate him for courage. He had become a Swedish citizen, he went back home and was incarcerated and he has never been freed. I congratulate him and I ask him never to give up. I ask those concerned to find his address and write him a line of hope.
We want to smile, but the world is heavy.

Stories about internet... and songs to welcome my new poems in This Bread of Peace By Philo Ikonya

I am welcoming my own book with songs and stories! You are welcome to read. It is listed on Google Books: This Bread of Peace by Philo Ikonya and is available on order by email to: lapwing.poetry@ntlworld.com

I have been quiet for a month and more..on my blog! It seemed like an eternity. Immediately I got my book- This Bread of Peace, from Lapwing, I was so excited! Then I think I had something that I have no name for.... It was time for "Reflections" ...I wrote to Janice Wong, a friend and a few people I know. It was some kind of postpartum blues... Wow! So, books are a part of ourselves and bringing them out is a real giving... of self.. Now am up! But another book is just about out.. and another one.. and another, and another.. They must find me dancing. I will tell you about them when they come!

It is wonderful to have a book written by Philo Ikonya (myself) online and on my shelf. I am welcoming my book with songs and stories.. about people and places and the internet.

For this, I only have the internet to thank. It led me faithfully to Lapwing, Belfast and my poems were lapped! Thanks so much, bird of hope, Lapwing! You did not know how often I wrote about a nightbird that I always heard in different parts of Kenya. It spoke to me of hope. I have a novel based on that song of the bird, It is my first book, yet to be published but now requested and I hope it works, in Mexico. It is titled Still Sings the Nightbird. It will be my sixth book this year!

It is marvellous to have persons you met online become such close obeservers of your life and work. It is at this point that I feel that even if so many people abuse online connections, the majority are out to be good. How would I have discovered that women in PulseWire: Olutosin in Nigeria, Janice Wong (who writes splendid Kiswahili from Cambodia, Jade (editor of Pulse) and so many others that I have only met online live for the cause of women?

I love to introduce my book, This Bread of Peace with this letter from Janice Wong in Phnom Penh righ now telling me this - "It is wonderful to hear from you. I am so happy for you regarding the publishing of your new poetry (and the other 4 books).

"I can't wait to find some quiet time to sit with your poems and drift off to the land you love. Would you mind if I posted the link on PulseWire with the Icorn interview (link below)?"


Join Janice and others in reading some of my many poeems here. I must say that it is only by putting out there that one even begins to know who they really are. A bit absurd but real!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Omar Al Bashir straddling Africa's graveyard of Human Rights Abuse...

As Bashir straddles over the graveyard of human rights in Africa, how can we rise? The Kenyan government would have us believe that Bashir stole his way into Kenya as we promulgated our constitution, no he did not. He was a guest of the state. The state concealed his name as a guest on the list for this special ocassion from the public, the media and the international community. This is betrayal.

After a long day and efforts to speak about Kenya’s recent achievements, I cannot sleep tonight. I will keep vigil and write as I have promised my arrested colleagues who not only boycotted events organised by the state but also took to the streets.I am away and I remember the faces of Somali, Ethiopian, Sudanese and Eritrean people as I spoke today about Kenya’s possible success. They smiled at the healing of a neighbor hoping for the same. There are far too many African refugees for us to take human rights abuse lightly even for a second. If these men do not feel the urgency for change the way we do, they should just step down.

By Philo Ikonya

What should have been a day of hope in Kenya- celebrations of the promulgation of Kenya’s new constitution were in top gear- has ended up in great disappointment as Kenyans realized that the State invited The Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir who has a warrant of arrest from the International Criminal Court to the Uhuru Park celebrations in Nairobi. Bashir was not arrested. He was escorted to Uhuru Park by the Kenyan Tourism minister Najib Balala. Peter Muli and Francis Kihara, ordinary citizens who like most Kenyans survive on a meal a day but have the courage to defend their country and democracy are in police cells for protesting Omar Bashir's invitation to Kenya.

On 15th March 2005, Kenya ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Kenya became party to the Statute as number 98 and today the ICC has 108 members. The Statute entered into force for Kenya on 1st June 2005 a day Kenya celebrates having received internal or self governance from the British in 1963, Madaraka Day. Can we really say the people have internal self government today?
I feel that Kenya has sold out our self governance yesterday. Indeed in the first place, the people should have been the main celebrants in the promulgation of the new constitution which we say, we the people of Kenya, give ourselves.” Instead military power took centre stage and we did not even know our full guest list.

In an endless night of watching rights abuse with only a few candles left to burn, I see Bashir astride our lands in Africa, from Chad to Kenya, Cairo and Sudan and I see a graveyard of human rights without hope as Africa looks more to China today. Who will stand with us? The U.S. A is not part of the I.C.C and Europe is being bashed as the colonial past machinery in Africa. Yes, we can stand alone and we did, but how does the world justify international diplomacy, the UN and all the money we pay to have a ministry of Foreign Affairs, and all that Diplomatic Corp in Nairobi from where it serves the Horn of Africa? We are, especially we the women who are raped daily in Congo and in Darfur and other places, betrayed all the time. Where do we begin?

Kenya has bound herself by law to facilitate the work of the ICC because Kenya has signed up to do so. Kenya did not do that. A valid question is therefore what does any law, including the constitution of Kenya mean to the Kenyan state?
Another question is about those who facilitated the post-poll violence of 2007 in Kenya. Will they be brought to book by the Hague since the 10th Kenyan Parliament failed to form a local tribunal to try the suspects and this remained the only option for justice to be meted against perpetrators of this violence? By entertaining Bashir, it would seem they were taunting the ICC and saying, look at us, you can do nothing. Honestly, Kibaki, am so ashamed of you. I have not forgotten that some months ago, you burned my mother’s granary so that you could see the words as you swore yourself back to power on the strength of a flawed election. I cannot forget this because many people died and because you know, your government has denied consistently, a report on the disappeared people of Kenya, the home desaparecidos.

The ICC is investigating the violence which happened in Kenya in 2007, and time and time again, The Prosecutor of the ICC, Moreno Ocampo has said he has a number of important names from Kenya that he might want to bring to book. Today, many of us Kenyans have doubted that such a move will ever work.

Omar Bashir was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was in Nairobi and he was not arrested. I shudder to think that he went, he saw and returned home leaving easily cheated Kenyans in great disbelief. The skeletons cry in Darfur, blood is hidden in shallow graves in Kenya, and we celebrate and sing.

Immediately Omar’s presence in Nairobi became clear to the people who had already been skeptical about the government of Kenya show of military might in the celebration of the peoples achievement in giving themselves a new constitution, some took to the streets in protest. The shouted, “Omar, go to the Hague!!”

The police broke up the demonstration with tear gas and arrested two individuals from Bunge La Mwananchi (The Peoples’ Parliament) and as a free Bashir eats a sumptuous dinner tonight after fasting in the day as it is Ramadhan, the two lie in the inhospitable Kenyan police cells in which I have also spent some nights in the past for peacefully demonstrating against police impunity, police brutality and corruption. The two are injured and will be in the cells for three days before they can be brought to court because today is a weekend. What kept us from using the money you used to entertain important your guests from financing a 24/7 court in Kenya? Have you forgotten the Internally Displaced Persons still in camps? We have 200, 000 people living in tents as a result of war over Kibaki’s votes. Google International Displacement Monitoring Centre: http://www.internal-displacement.org/idmc/website/countries.nsf/(httpEnvelopes)/B594F51B576A2A37C12573DB0036DA69?OpenDocument

It is no doubt that the President of Kenya Kibaki and the Prime Minster have sent a very sad signal to Kenyans today. I feel and see that we are all sitting at the graveyard of human rights abuse and thinking of rising some day against such realities as have been Darfur in Sudan and Kenya’s disappeared, dead in poll violence, over 1 300 and so many thousands of Internally Displaced Persons, I can only say, help my unbelief in a resurrection, in change! We are tired of situations of mass deaths like in Darfur, Kenya in 2007 and we must see that change happens not only to Kenya but to all neighboring countries. There is not time to waste.

I do not know why the world does not feel the urgency for the deaths in Darfur, I do not know why the world does not feel like me tonight about the arrest of Omar Bashir. I do not know why the people of Sudan think that this would be an affront to their leader. We cannot afford to have governments that do not hold human rights in reverence and who all too easily blame the west as our people die under poor political organization.

I protest so strongly that the United States of America is not a part of the International Criminal Court. I ask America first and with great pain, why this? I heard Condoleeza Rice say in 2009 that “the people of Sudan have suffered too much for too long, and an end to their anguish will not come easily. Those who committed atrocities in Sudan, including genocide, should be brought to justice!”
But the media observed quickly that the US is not a party to the treaty that established the ICC in 2002, the one Kenya has ratified and broken today… George Bush saw the ICC as a violation of US sovereignty and his successor has not revised this position. The U.S. A here joins China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and Sudan in not ratifying the Rome Statute. The ICC has 108 member countries.

I protest even more strongly that anyone continues calling the defence of human rights a western notion. We are either all human or we are not. We are either all in solidarity against the Bashirs of this world or we are nothing. I know I cannot choose Kibaki’s friends for him, recently he entertained his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran surprised me. He invited him on when the two met in the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2007, a few months before the violence we endured. He also invited Muammar Gaddafi but turned down the Dalai Lama. In searching for oil in Kenya, the Chinese who were not as effective as some western counterparts take the first place in Kenya. I have also heard Kibaki speak lightly of the ICC saying that maybe Kenya could after all renege (whatever that meant) the Rome Statute.

Friday, July 16, 2010

for freedom to win and our country

Mother Kenya,

How are you? You asked me if where we are all is fine.
And if we were cheering for Africa to win,
the golden cup made with the sweat of miners
from Johannesburg; now called the World Cup,
We were so proud of it at home, Mother.
If other places it may not be, here we light candles for the miners,
a mine belongs to the underground, and shining rich stuff before our eyes,
comes from dirty earth.
You taught me to be frank Mother, I know you patiently listen.

Everywhere there are problems Mother,
everywhere there are situations calling us to win,
Remember the last time we run and cried in sacks?
I could not have peace without justice, in Kenya,
and watch my country flow again with pain.
I played goal keeper in my sack,
you taught me how to embroider needs.
In 2007 I stitched with my needle, sowed my seeds of hope.

I knew that before me you paid the price,
a husband in detention and children to feed.
I know that you are still paying the price,
Your children scattering everywhere solace to find.
And so very often, goals are scored by their enemy.
So with problems everywhere Mother,
I try to make your corner safe,
every bird knows where its young ones sit,
crying and chirping for food from a beak.
How to kick the ball is another way.

Every goat knows why it wants,
to rub the horns of the other goat,
and as if playing tries one the other's strength.
I just want to sit with you, Mother.
I know how much you try for me;
I must cheer your team i know this is cool.

I know, what I know and how I know,
is from your heartbeat that I learned;
that I cannot embrace the earth if our hearth does not hug me,
That I cannot love the world, be pan African, if am not pan tribal,
If I do not know what my own Mother needs; for her defence and her score.

If every day we do not win this world cup at home,under the eaves of
and the shadow of the hut, where shall we ever win our hope to leven?
I know it Mother, you cannot dribble balls now, but your cheer is enough for me,
to urge one and all, to win the little world cup at home, with their neighbour
and on the street, we defend the goal against division amd score unity for Africa!

Your daughter in the struggle,

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mines and minefields, My spoken words a review by K. O'Okwemba

In the photo, Njeri in blue and dancing tall on the left, at a PEN Kenya event in Mombasa in which we read from "It's Our turn to eat, the history of a Kenyan whistleblower, by Michela Wrong. Nyota Ndogo gets down to what she does best...


By Khainga O’Okwemba

Njeri Wangari, one of Kenya ’s most known contemporary performance poets has released her debut poetry anthology, Mines & Mind Fields: My Spoken Words, published by Nsemia Inc, a Kenyan publishing firm in Canada which was founded by Kenyans in diaspora. Nsemia Inc. is a Pan-African publishing house in the mould of the Nigerian based Cassava Republic publishing firm.

These firms are liberating the publishing industry and they are hugely involved in Pan-Africanisation of creative voices on the continent. They publish writers from across the continent.

There is something inherently significant in the second part of the title of the anthology which may be considered a disclaimer for the literary critic or the student of poetry to look at the poems also as created from and for the microphone, for the poet of this anthology is a spoken word artist.

The poet echoes Alexander Pope’s postulation that an honest wo(man) is the noblest work of God. Few of the spoken word poetics can exist beyond the stage. Most of that poetry is spontaneous raw draft hurriedly put together for recital. This poetry thrives in free verse, a rebellion from the disciplined structures of the old models such as the terza rima, the sonnet, the haiku, with their attendant treatment of imagery, metaphors or symbolism as a mark of good poetry.

But it is as thematic and militant as the American hip hop. It is with this background that we read the poems in Mines & Mind Fields: My Spoken Words, in our love of poetry as an elevated literary genre.

Njeri Wangari therefore casts herself not only as a champion of that artistic expression but as a pioneer. She is among the first performance poets who burst onto the literary scene in mid 2000s with the coming to birth of the Kwani poetry open mic - poems for the people delivered from the microphone to live audiences in Nairobi . But the poet is not entirely unconventional. The poem Low Moments is a neo-classic Alexandrian couplet with its jutted two lines in each of the six stanzas.

Were tears a flute playing sad tunes,

My eyes would be the master’s hand,

The refrain “were” and “my” which run through the entire poem, and the rhyming of “hand” in the first stanza with “wind” in the second stanza makes this poem particularly melodious and memorable.

Were fears a futile play of sweet song,

My hands would be reeds against wind

Thematically, the poet deals with such broad subjects arising from the interaction of the African with the white man, the daily struggles for survival in an urban setting, the role of the woman in society, amatory, anthropology, e.t.c.

And there are echoes from the legendary Ugandan poet Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino in the poem “Women Behaving Badly.”

I am your typical girl from the village

Who was taught that trousers are for men

The persona like Lawino before her, receives unrequited love and appreciation from her husband who opts to leave her in the village to look for the socialite Nairobi woman.

I am going to Nairofi to rook for a real woman

But she is as contemptuous of the city women who have been cast as gold diggers. These women only return a smile after “smelling money” in a man. The city women in “Women Behaving Badly” though comparable to Clementine in Song of Lawino, because of their role in juxtaposing modernity and extant tradition, they are different from p’Bitek’s Clementine whose role in Ocol’s life is to preserve the now antediluvian polygamous institution.

But the first poem in the anthology, “10th Daughter of Mumbi” is the one that easily courts attention if for its anthropological foreground. It is a poem, in the words of the South African poet Lebo Mashile, which curves the straight lines of history. Did Gikuyu and Mumbi have another child apart from the nine daughters we were taught in our elementary schooling? The poet writes of the tenth daughter as “the one spoken of in low hushed tones.” She is,

The woman who without a husband bore outcasts,

Casting on the stone children born of

men but without fathers.

This girl was called Wamuyu. She is the foundation of single motherhood, the woman who raised her children knowing they were symbols of love, the girl who innocently sleeps with a man, the mistress who wrecks marriages, and she is the embodiment of feminism!

Whereas Wamuyu is banished by her community for baring children out of wedlock, the “man who held her behind, in the bushes,” is let off the hook. Every bad thing among the Agikuyu must emanate from the 10th daughter of Gikuyu and Mumbi. But Wamuyu may as well be a mythical lass created to temper modern stereotypes.

Publisher Dr Matunda Nyanchama, the founder of the Canadian publishing firm says there is a lot of African literature and narrative that needs to be captured, retained and transmitted. Says Dr. Matunda,

“ America is not only a military and economic powerhouse; it is a cultural powerhouse too that controls our worldview through the global media. And that is where we come in. Africans need to reclaim their mental estate. Unlike the West which seems to have exhausted its stories, Africa still has lots of unrecorded material. Soon Hollywood will be coming to Africa to film things we take for granted. We need to tell these stories from our own perspective.”

Njeri Wangari joins that beaten path of emergent Kenyan poets with published works. Here we have Shailja Patel, the influential Kenyan poet at global arena and author of anthologies such as Dreaming in Gujarat, Shilling Love, and Migritude; Sitawa Namwalie, the author of the acclaimed poetry anthology Cut off My Tongue, Phyllis Muthoni, the author of the poetry anthology Lilac Uprising, and Ngwatilo Mawiyoo of the poetry collection Blue Mothertongue.

Njeri Wangari launched her poetry anthology last Saturday at Silverbird Book Store on Nakumatt Westgate. It was an afternoon with the best of spoken word poetry from her colleagues from the performance quartet Mstari wa Nne. Members of the group include performance poets Denis Inkwa, Mike Kwambo and Grandmaster Masese.

Then there was poet and public speaker Tazim Elkington, better known as The Indian Black Butterfly, Moraa Gitaa author of the novel Crucible for Silver & Furnace for Gold, Enock Matundura, a lecturer and author of the best selling Kiswahili short story Mkasa wa Shujaa Liyongo, Chris Okemwa a lecturer and author of the poetry anthology The Gong, soul musician Anthony Mwangi, former host of Kwani open poetry sessions who was the master of ceremony and the musical band Aziza.

The poems in Mines & Mind Fields need to be read allowed. They are both informative and enjoyable. And the anthology is a must read if for its symbolic transmuting of spoken word into text. The book is available in all leading bookshops.

Khainga O’Okwemba is a poet, editor, literary critic &

Treasurer at the Kenyan Chapter of International PEN

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Kenya, write your own freedom charter in the optic fibre

Optic Fibre, the new living word
Kenya, July 25 2009 9.02am

(If you don't like it, just turn around and say, this is old school.. what is optic fibre doing here? :-))

There was a little rain in Nairobi last night. A fresh shower suddenly after a cold July day, warmed up by a little sun in the afternoon.Oh Lord!, did it rain everywhere in this land of Kenya and other dry lands? We let the water go? We un signed our own freedom charter! I have seen the drought in Ukambani. I have seen the drought in Pokot. Rain has failed even in Nyeri and Kericho...

And under the sea, it was raining connectivity in Kenya and most of Africa, (yes, even just under the pirates favorite seas on our eastern coast shared with Somalia, The Horn of Africa, Djibouti, Eritrea, Egypt, Tanzania Mozambique and South Africa and soon it will go till Nigeria)In Kenya, 17, 000 km Fibre optic cable has reached us here.. to be more alive on the internet! This is the new Living word which can reconnect all of us!

You hold the skies, end the rain but please do not send us 'El Nino' for we are longing to plant trees! The rain the clarity has brought this morning threatens with dryness; Oh do not send us "La Nina" ( sorry girls would you like to re-name it?) we are overburdened already! I am afraid that light rain last night is the rain my Mother says comes to 'wash the moon .. and vanishes".
And under the sea, a 17, km Fibre optic cable has reached us here.. to be more alive on the internet!

We plead the seeds we plant grow, grow into big trees.. good trees that bring more rain! That our pods burst out with cultural solidarity and faith. That the internet may make us grow, grow trees and words too...That if the pods carry in them the hope of truth; reconciliation may follow in word and deed. I hope it can rain hope and peace and and revolution too.. Write the Freedom Charter 09 in your hearts. Forget ethnic hatred; it took away our crop. Dump it on politicians. Write your Freedom Charter in the trees you plant. Change must come! Sing with me a song for Change! Begin by making noises and chasing our the scourge of corruption. It was the first to steal our trees and rains! Chase it out like the people near Lake Victoria who used to beat their pots and pans overnight to chase evil spirits! Nyawawa....wa! wa! wa!

Philo's thesis and reflection

In the poem "Kisumu", Poet and novelist Macgoye Oludhe Macgoye describes a Dholuo practice of cleansing evil from the homesteads. With incantation and noise making the ceremony of Nyawawa was supposed to drive away evil forces.
Amongst the Agikuyu ethnic group of Kenya, evil was also traditionally destroyed through words, noise and the beating of sticks as Jomo Kenyatta documents in Facing Mount Kenya. In this process, he says, the last act was a speech by an elder saying: "Evil spirits ... we have crushed you. We now send you in the river. Let the water drive you .... You will go for ever never to return".11 These spoken orders were believed to have the power of cleansing evil totally.
The poem "Kisumu" says Nyawawa was about evil and collective expression. In "Kisumu" we are informed that several things had gone wrong in the town and its environs. First, there appears a man, a prophet, who speaks with all the weight that words should carry in this context, but words that people do not understand. This `prophet' who is supposed to foretell important things to come seems to speak in Latin:
... Prompted by an inscription
in Latin by the hillside,
appearing to speak Latin
most fluently himself, desired
attention for the end of the world.
The `prophet' causes confusion because he claims to have a very important message - that the end of the world had come. This `prophet', according to the poet, did actually exist and he appeared at a time when other tragedies caused by disease had made the atmosphere in the locations mentioned in the poem tense:

"The discord spread through Kiboswa,
Kudho, Manyatta, Kaloleni,
into the town itself, up to Ahero,
all round the lakeside...."
In this poem people are shown to be invaded by invisible and visible evils. These were evil
spirits (according to their belief) - and diseases respectively. They employed the power they had in order to warn, strengthen and even rid themselves of evil. This was the power of expression in action:
Clangour of tin-pans
broke last night,
screams of abuse
directed by the elders (...)
Nyawawa is celebrated with drums and voice,
timbrel, and petrol - can,
for fear of infection,
fear of neighbours,
fear of evil abroad,
fear of being different... 15

This reaction depicted in the poem "Kisumu" is in great contrast to the silence forced on the people when in independent Kenya, evils such as assassinations of important people confront the people. Through Macgoye's record of both the traditional and modern set up, we are able to perceive the difference between the two eras. Self and collective expression after the coming of a new culture is constrained.
It was only after the infiltration of the local people by a different culture - Western culture - which is represented not only by Latin but also by the introduction of literacy and later;
minis, chain belts, long stockings
whatever else despoiled
the Romans in retreat ...

that the elders are unable to dispel evils through traditional means. Macgoye's refrain: "but the Ojuok hedge does not bend to let the evil out" effectively expresses this deeply ingrained evil that will not depart at the word of the elders. Traditionally, the words and actions used in Nyawawa were believed to be so powerful that the euphorbia hedge surrounding each homestead would be seen to bend as evil was expelled.

The reason why the evil fails to leave the people is not stated directly in "Kisumu" but it is clear that the poet affirms that if the right choices of values are not made in the meeting of the Western and Luo culture, chaos, the prophetic poem says will ensue. Already there was much of it as the images of dust and disorderly movement used in the poem tell us. In the whirling "dust" of turmoil people's values change fast. People choose material progress and reject the Living Word. They are wrapped in a world of print which they can ill handle:

Here in Kisumu
Occasional dust-devils are notable,
tossing into listless air every day
fag packets, old examination papers (...)
mysterious envelopes
Postmarked Tirana, got unsought by post
or magazines wrapped in New York, for writers
who have made themselves vulnerable
by print.

The word is in the centre of freedom of expression but in this poem we see it causing chaos and threatening further violence since the new culture gives more power to the printed word while overlooking the power of the spoken or living word. Traditionally, the word was only uttered and it went with the wind or remained in people's minds and passed on to generations. Now the poet foretells more danger brought about by the acceptance of the printed word and at the same time rejection of the "Living Word"; has the internet made all words more alive than ever before? Are the hopes of revolutions hidden here?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Kirimi found tortured..Power in numbers.. solidarity in Kenya, we can!

Dear Kenyans and all friends,

Memories we must not lose
but use to make our solidarity
beyond tribes
other borders
that greed creates.

I write this letter with the joy of the finding of Kirimi whom I wrote to in my earlier posting but also with the pain of where and how he was found after, as he has confirmed himself now, a police arrest.

Kirimi found tortured...
Beatrice wrote to a list-serve Kenyans for Peace thru Justice (KPTJ, set up in 2008) and to all who were active in finding him..

“ that Kirimi is safe. I have personally talked to him and it is true he was arrested by police at GSU round-about (Nairobi. He was then taken to Thika Police station and that tells us why the effort by Kamotho and all the others who tried to lacate him in all the police stations in Nairobi could not get him. He claims that he was sedated and later found himself in Narok (Suswa) and was not even aware that it was Saturday. He thought it was still Thursday.

Yesturday night around 8.00 p.m. he was taken to a room where he was badly tortured and he told me he is in a lot of pain.

He was released this morning and got in touch with RPP members. They are on their way to pick him and take him to hospital.

We all thank God for him and his young family.

To all those who helped in any way either information, such moral support and prayers. We say thank-you.

To comrade Kirimi, Pole and Keep strong. Aluta Continua!

I write with pain and joy in me, because Kirimi is one example of many Kenyans dedicated to a reformed country who has managed to come back to us alive due to extensive pressure from Human Rights Activists.

Now, some people in Kenya say they dislike us but that is good for us and terrible for them because to dislike human rights is to curse humanity.

I continue to be sad because the voices of the many more disappeared Kenyans continue howling at me from the Wagalla Massacre http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wagalla_massacre, Ngong’ Hills, Mt. Elgon to voices of people dying in the countryside because of famine that could have been prevented save that the maize had been sold out to neighbours at a profit and this sacntioned by people in government who happen also to be behind many businesses in Kenya. We have not forgotten the Kisumu massacre in 1969 after the assasination of Tom Mboya and the enemity and suspicion that bedivilled the two large ethnic groups of kenya since then, Kenyatta being Gikuyu and Tom being of the Abasuba, Luo. Subsequently Shikuku Martin and Seroney who dared ask in Parliament who killed Tom landed in detention. Shikuku remembers well how he told J.M.Kariuki they had to speak out for Tom Mboya and how then Kariuki, perhaps for being Kenyatta’s secretary found himself in a fix in Parliament. Shikuku says he had told him to speak out because if not, they would come for them next. J.M. Kariuki was assassinated in 1969.

We have our colonial backdrop of serious violence that was never healed. Reading books about Mau Mau, for example Carolne Elkins Britain’s Gulag, the end of Brutal Empire in Kenya, makes one frustrated because what happened in Kenya is no less than what happened in concentration camps all over the world. The British have been sued by Mau Mau for a part of this atrocity. We must not let our fathers and mothers down for having suffered to liberate us from this oppression. We must stay with the spirit of freedom as Kimathi to the very end. We have a wonderful history of resistance. We are proud of Mekatilili wa Menza, Harry Thuku, Koitalel Arap Samoei, Mary Nyanjiru and others who long before in the early colonial periods resisted the rape of our land for resources and the suppression of our various freedoms. We come from a background of dignity in resistance. Wanyiri Kihoro wrote The price of Freedom, the history of political resistance in Kenya, collecting all these voices. Voices of women do get left out and Philomena Chelagat and Sara Sarai Njomo are hardly heard of along with so many others. Field Marshal Muthoni too, J .Kang’the, James Beauttah, and others.

We have had poor leadership that opposed opposition at the cost of lives. When Kenyatta was in power, Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya (1969), Josiah Mwangi Kariuki (1975) and others we may never know were assasinated. Kenyatta’s era began the horrid tradition of intolerance. Fifteen years after independence in 1978, writers began to flee Kenya into exile. Micere Mugo http://www.wworld.org/about/board/micere_githae_mugo.htm, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Ngugi Wa Mirii (R.I.P) and many others went into exile. This was after detention without trial became normal. Kenyatta could not stand opposition and we know how he regarded Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who wrote Not yet Uhuru and others such as Bildad Kaggia who were not in politics to loot the country. George Moseti Anyona resisted for a long time.

Creative writers were the keepers of the voice of the people in a world without opposition politics or even much human rights activism. But these were also mainly based at our Universities whose chancellors are our presidents. The universities dould not protect them and the question of who guards the guard had no answer.. quis custodes ipso custodiet as they put it in Latin will always puzzle in a world without Human Rights Defenders.

With the death of Kenyatta in August 1978, Moi stepped in and he said he would rule so well he would follow Kenyatta’s footsteps, indeed we still call him Nyayo which in Kiswahili means footsteps and he is still commenting and influencing Kenya’s politics. He is Kibaki’s friend and the two own a large part of our country and its assets as does the Kenyatta family.

Whereas Kenyatta simply bullied and used sadistic humor even as people singing to him as the father of the nation, Kenyatta aliteswa sana, Kenyatta haicia bendera many of the Mau Mau people know he betrayed them and Caroline Elkins tells it in Britain’s Gulag her book.

Moi formerly severed the umbilical cord of knowledge redeeming or liberating a people in his detentions of writers and academics of the seventies and eighties. In his days, education was turned into a blunt object even with his system so supported by J.J. Kamotho then education minister, the infamous 8.4..4 system.

People sang to him and one group did the Ewe mtukufu, mtukufu rais Moi ( You, Moi, the glorious). He KBC played it often. You pledged loyalty to him after the national anthem and he advised that KANU party cards almost be used as national IDs, and this made me sick!

With the the removal of ‘A’ levels where critical minds were formed before entering university and all this political interference, many of us lost interest in teaching literature which was merged with English lessons and I personally left a teaching job for among other things recognising I could not deal with the change with the level of thinking.

Reagarding the 8.4.4. system, I am not saying those who have gone through this system cannot think, I am saying that those who had lived in a different system could not cope with politically laden educational changes. The system can further be judged and assessed by Kenyans since we have not worked against it but kept it, paying for our children to be educated in it and to further go onto parallel degrees and so on, a topic for another day. That Moi reduced free space I can say without any doubt!

I wrote poems about Alexander Muge, Ouko and Wambui Otieno. I knew of two writers organisation in the nineties and I was a memeber of both but they had their difficulties. One was PEN Kenya which I would later revive in 2008 and the other was the Writers Association of Kenya. When I remember the Kibwana of this organisation and the one of today who advises government and who was a minister, I ask myself whether or not I understand and can accept metaphysics and its principle on non-contradiction. Kibwana has understood reforms in a way I cannot comprehend. The journals we published carried our poems of anguish on different topics. Some are: The return of African quarters by Tom Ochola, and Tangazo by Kineene Wa Mutiso, From Koru to Kipkarren, They did not listen ( KANU vs the people), among other political poems.

This was happening at time when there were hardly any citizen based orgnisations, whistleblowers and human rights activists on the scene to cause pressure. This was a time you were arrested for having so called seditious materials in your house.. could be a math book and no one would know.. you just went and suffered. Micere tells us about writers in exile in her essay here.


People who spoke out found themselves in the dark Nyayo Torture Chambers of what you call Nyayo House today.. ( I refuse to call it a house) a building that is being used to frustrate history as in my view, its basement cells must be preserved as Kibaki promised when he came to power and not turned into those neat parkings I saw there. There is an effort to obliterate history here. Many, people as we know and as we read in We lived to tell, a double- stapled book of limited editions ( again history endangered) many of them are still with us. Shem Ogola, Cornels Akello Onyango, Wachira Weheire, Tirop Kitur, Professor Edward Oyugi, Professor Katama Mkangi, Peter Njenga Karanja, Florence Nyaguthie Murage, Wafula Buke, Adongo Ogony, Ng’ang’a Thiongo ( died in March this year), Raila Odinga, Koigi Wa Wamwere, Onyango Oloo, Paddy Onyango, Njeru Kathangu, Apiny Adhiambo, Njuguna Mutahi, Mugo Theuri, the late Mkangi Katana, Kamonye Manje, Onyango C.A, Oyugi Mbaja, Karimi Nduthu, Silvanus Ombuor and Gitau Wanguthi. Imanyara Gitobu, Kang’ethe Mungai, Titus Andungosi, Wahome Mutahi, Mwandwiro Mghanga,Rumba Kinuthia ( I saw the inscriptions RK) when I visited the cells and he tells he did that), Wanyiri Kihoro, and others are still with us and many of them active. Wanyiri writes that detained without trial were: Paddy Onyango ( Patrick Ouma), Katama Mkangi, Gathitu Kariuki, Gacheche wa Miano, Wanyiri Kihoro, Gibson Kamau Kuria, Israel Wasonga, Mirugi Kariuki (R.I.P) and Paul Ong’or Amina, the most hard working journalist before and after detention. Otieno Mak’Onyango, Obuon Guya and Samwel Okwany were adetained for long periods an set free.

Published by Imanyara Gitobu, the Law Monthly had a special souvenir edition in March 2003 in which it noted also: Peter Young Kachara, James Opiyo, Morgan Muthamia, Jimmy Achira, Cyrus Muraguri, Pascal Wandera, Henry Ngila Kitwa, Stanley Waweru Kariuki, Salim Ndamwe, John Khaminwa, Mohamed Ibrahim, Ken Matiba and Charles Rubia.

History and their deed later will show us how much each of them have stood up for reform but we owe them much collectively and singly for those days in pain for freedom. People of all ethnic backgrounds died in these days.

Neither the list of those mentioned nor of writers is exhaustive. People like Gakaara Wa Njau wrote much about Mau Mau but writing in our challenged Mother Tongues have left them largely unknown and we hope that this will be remedied. We are sure there are many unknown heroes and not just soldiers whom the world gives monuments to. We also know that there must be literatures hidden in old and dusty cupboards since the days of fear. We know that many who would have been writers killed their creativity with fear handed down to them by dictatorship.

We will all remember that some of them such as Koigi wa Wamwere and others remained incarcerated for so long that their mothers at freedom corner and other old women after a year of organised activism in 1991- 1992 stripped naked a traditional curse that would lead Moi to no good. This is a powerful part of our history and we know that it was organised by women. Wangari Wa Maathai did not strip but she was there and badly brutalised by police who pulled out her hair. Njeri Kabeberi was also there and what is important for this article is that Njeri and others then formed Release the Political Prisoners lobby now headed by Steve Musau.


Kirimi who disappeared and was tortured actually works against torture. This means that they want resistance broken. They forget the sprit of Karimi Nduthu, who was killed in Moi days, and who was also in RPP is not dead. This for me is headline news and is what Kenyan media should headline today but they will be, almost always following the most recent utterance of one politician or the other... at least my memories are made of such bad matches in that field but they are our friends for we need them. I know radio will be doing better even when am far but not print media so thank goodness for internet!

I believe as I said one day in a speech that I had prepared for RPP that we must recapture the spirit of the mothers of freedom corner and move on with our freedom. I want to keep closer to what we have done with our recent history since it will soon be the 50th year of independence.

We have seen how a history littered with abuses has been part of the questioning of the integrity of the Chair of the brought a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Comission, TJRC, which has ended on the rocks and muted. This is an organ we can only count on if we are ready to stare at the truth of our history in the face. We cannot use tainted mirrors, broken ones and mirrors that are not to do this in the name of Commissioners. Kenya must be free and during the hard time we got into in 2007/2008, we heard many saying that “The truth shall set us free”, something we like saying only during such crises but which we forget on a day to day basis.

I know that we have not had time to heal well from our recent violence of 2007/08 which thrusts its roots deep into our country’s history. But it is not too late for us to start working for our own healing and that of our country. Let us be Kenyans who watch out for freedom and for one another.

We who have suffered many arrests, and please take note of the fact that many of us do not belong to any organisation or NGO as many KENYANS tend to believe but just try to be alive to our situations with a conscience for justice and peace try to to form solidarity cells among us. We call them Afinnity Groups and in short Afi which also includes a check on our afya, so to speak. You do not need to register or have formal meetings.. just talk to some friends, neighbours, family about Kenya positively and decisively. We promise to be alert in our own hearts, not oaths, we look out for one another and we move in whatever way whenever we find anyone in trouble which affects and afflicts their freedom. We add our voices to good causes.. we are ready to reform. We do not look at tribal bearings or speak hate speech, we vote, we dream, we are Kenyans for a better future, we reform ... make a group right now. Touch you neighbour, never again allow a politician to define for you whom you must love and hate, let humanity take over.

Kirimi Kenneth and all of us take our strength from Mandela’s Long road to freedom and other books written by many people named above who also encourage us. We know that many who were detained by Moi have died in abject poverty. We know there is a way out of poverty for our nation.

We are the spirit of Freedom Corner and we take a share of the blame for our youth who die condemned for being this or that when we know full well they would not behave like that if they had food and jobs. Let us walk together in greater solidarity still!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

a letter to Kirimi who went missing and suddenly life is not the same again

22nd April, Nairobi,
Jevanjee Gardens

Kirimi Kenneth Mbaya, a human rights activist who works with The Release Political Prisoners office in Nairobi has gone missing from 22rd April to date. It is said that he was arrested probably by what the witnesses describe as Kwekwe Squad. This name sends shivers down Kenyans’ spines. The main role of the Kwekwe Squad was to look out for young men believed to be members of Mungiki, and get rid of them. Hundreds of young men have died ruthlessly in Kenya for the last three years under this kind of policing for the fierce squad is part of the dreaded Kenya police force. The government says this squad was disbanded and replaced with another. Many citizens differ with that and say the squad is intact and continues to kill.

Dear Kirimi,

You might have seen the said white land rover coming your way near the General Service Unit or GSU College as we call it here in Nairobi and thoughts quickly flew through your mind. Perhaps since early that morning and before, you had misgivings. Insecurity is so common now in Kenya and young people have felt dispossesed for a long time. As they grabbed you, your mind could have dashed to your wife and children. As for the struggle and comrades, I know your heart and mind are never far from that.

You might not have realised that there was somebody watching or you might have, as they bundled you up into the back of the white van. But wherever you are, I wish you knew how much your comrades have done in search of you. Since you were reported missing, many of them have not slept. They have been to your home after searching all police stations and found your anxious wife with your children aged 9 and the other three months. She said that you never go overnight without telling her.

She knows what many Kenyans know when a young man goes missing like this and is not to be found even in police registers. At such times we fear the worst. But we have faith and hope Kirimi, that it was not for nothing that somebody managed to see what happened to you and reported it quickly. On the wings of the foot soldiers who have travelled accross Nairobi to the different police stations which almost come to over a dozen, are the people who are farway or only available on internet. Since the news came, they have been really active trying to spread their wings further and further, making a wide net so that you can land safely.

Frontline Defenders have sent an alert, and it has gone all over Kenya to police bosses and also all over the world. I made sure it went to the BBC because I have it from someone that when we were arrested and beaten in the past, the BBC report caused a lot of jitters in home offices and they did not want to hear that story again, and they acted fast. It is a shame we still can do under cover as a nation what we would not like others to see.

But right now Kirimi, it is your person that worries me. I wonder where you are as I look at your photos, which Fwamba N. C. Fwamba has circulated to us. I have this knot somewhere in my chest, not throat. It is a kind of oppressive force, when I think of you and the circumstances you are in. I think of so many young people who were disappeared in Kenya in the last three years. Records which the government has rejected puts them at 600. A shocking and worrying figure.

I still hear stories of villages in Central Province where young people, boys almost ceased to exist. It is an eerie feeling I get. I get it so deep down because my struggle as well as yours has always been so that people who are even younger than us, our children may inherit a better nation. At his point, I have to say sorry to your three month old child and to your nine year old. What they are registering right now from their mother’s anxiety and your absence is something that may scar them forever.

From that level, I think of the many people who are deeply angry and scarred in my country because human rights do not have the reverence they deserve. I think of the confusion created because of poor leadership. This confusion made many ordinary people feel that it is fine for a state to kill whoever they suspect is offending, and without due process. May this not be your fate Karimi because I know your work. May we find you alive and untortured for looking at you clear eyes, I cannot see how later I can face anybody with an explanation of whatever kind.

It is long since we spoke Kirimi. I remember your focus and your clear vision, a sense of direction which many of our leaders lack and I look at your youthfulness and ask myself what does anyone have to fear in a person like you? You speak out for justice. I deeply apologize to you for this state of affairs. Perhaps since am almost twice your age, if I had worked harder in the past we would not be where we are today. Perhaps if Moi had not detained artists without trial, caused them to go into exile, detained both Matiba and Rubia, when they spoke about multi-party politics, fear of one another would not be as high as it is. As a leader one's duty must be to create positive thoughts and to sow them in every individual that is open to receive and to woo the closed ones. I know this. I know that a leader can never be the first to suppress free thought and organising and am not condoning crime. I am saying there is a due process to be followed when people offend others in society.

I want to emphasise one thing. Matiba in his time used to attract the youth of Kenya like a magnet. He made us sense opportunity and we began to dance even before the opportunity came. I still remember Mwangi, in raggged clothes telling me with a bright soul and a smile what it felt like to visit Matiba and to be not only received but treated like the biggest dignitary on earth!
Now Mwangi crouches around Nairobi and like many, hardly wantst to spend too much time in rural Murang’a in case he too goes down or disappears without a trace.

If it is true as some say that Matiba was used by Moi and the intelligence to mix Kenyans up, I forgive Matiba, for they destroyed even his health and caused him bankrtuptcy, but to the other politicians who use young people, women and men old and young for a bait for their votes and to return to power shed blood, I join the old women at freedom corner who cursed Moi and now curse all in power with the ancestors on my side and say to them, "may you suddenly find that you are the pawn in the bait and may you be the ones that are trapped and our people set free!"

Karimi, to you I send hope. I want to send you hope as I remind you that you are not alone. I hope to see you soon, but you know I also had to leave for a while. This struggle has been so hard because it is not black and white, and am not only referring to color here, as was apartheid.

It has been so hard for many in Kenya and in the world to understand that Kenya’s soul is tattered. They were surprised when in 2007 Dec, people killed one another after an election gone awry because the presidential votes were not counted well and the results of the winner were not announced. I must say that I too had thought we were over with the worst when I saw the long queues of innocent faces like yours coming out to vote and be counted.

This taught me not never to underestimate Kenya. We aim high and we want to be a paragon nation in the world. A place of more justice and human rights. A place where women are not raped and men sodomised in villages and where children are secure. I know some will shake their heads but let them read or visit Githunguri villages and ask why everyone wants to be home well before dark. And I know it was like that sometime back in Ting'ang'a and it may never have stopped. Serious alcohol abuse and sodomy and rape that makes one recall Gomorrah.

We know we can and we shall never even stop to think we cannot. Why should we? Our ancestors collectively, be they Turkana, Malakote or Luo or any others say like Mekatilili of the Giriama believed in this and owned their dignity. We know we can for there was a time in the seventies when Kenya was referred to as the Switzerland of Africa. How can we stop and we have children?

It was through this event that we learned for sure that the kind of power our politicians crave for and exercise is raw and ugly. 1, 533 people died in a short time, many of them shot from the back. Thousands were placed in camps and some are still there. Some fled to Uganda and have remained there. Kenya, formerly the host of refugees from the neighbourhood has been hurtling down. You have been standing up for justice and now they have come for you like they have done for so many. We speak out even at the risk of it because we know what governments can become if people cow down and do not speak.

Karimi, I hope to wake up from this sad reverie and find that you have been found. In the meantime we shall keep your wife company with something for her to buy bread and milk for she fully depends on you.

When you are found, let me tell you this early, because if you are not, it will be hard for me to remember anything with the pain, when you are found. Please read or re-read parts of Mandela's Long road to freedom. No one may treat you as such, but you are the Mandelas of today and our prison is no longer an island. IT is life. Mandela makes allusion to life being prison often in this book, and what he went through with his family leaves one with so much pain. Read this book or keep in mind these thoughts before you have a long chat with your mother, your wife and family members. And remember to ask others to read these thoughts often and not to stop at the pain but to see the victory. Not to stop and wonder at Mandela but to start real organising of our lives so that we can be free in our land.