Saturday, March 16, 2013



P. Anyang' Nyong'o
 March 17, 2013

It is an incident that has refused to fade away from my memory. I was a small boy then, and this was the second death that I had seen very close to my family. The previous year, in 1957, Ishmael Gumba son of Ogondi Nyong'o, had died. The following year, in 1958, the old man Ogondi Nyong'o, our grandpa himself, followed his son when he also passed on. I was shocked and bewildered why death could visit one family in such quick succession. But that is not the point I want to make today.

Ibrahim Noi was a respected retired Senior Chief in Seme location then. He was the only person who was allowed to eulogize Ogondi. During those days, burial ceremonies were simple, unpretentious and culturally to the point. Noi stood up, looked at Ogondi's body wrapped in a white sheet and lying next to the grave, and said the following in simple and straightforward Dho-Luo.

"I knew this man. He was a brave man. All this land that you people now occupy here is because of him. He fought for it and got it for you. He was a judge, a warrior and a defender of his people. But after doing all that and getting you so much land, look at what you are giving him as his possession for eternity: a small piece of the earth measuring six feet, by three feet by another six feet! That is all."

So what is all this hustle and bustle about in this Kenya of ours today? Why must we fight so hard to get so much only to leave it behind after a couple of years in exchange for an Ogondi piece of earth? Think about it: why so much vitriol, anger, abuses and spite that we unleash unto each other in fights for political power that will, when all is said and done, simply resolve themselves into an Ogondi piece of the earth in the not too distant future. Think about it.

Shakespeare was probably right: all the world is indeed a stage; and all the men and women merely players. So while on the stage of life it may be better to play our part well, enjoy it when we can and ensure that others enjoy theirs too so that we render no man nor woman evil for evil.

But I am beginning to see the evil side of Kenyan society: the prejudices, raw hatred, the negative profiling of individuals, the inability to reflect  and ponder on "how the other half lives" like in that famous movie, "Nairobi Half Life." We seem to be transfixed on what we get today for the self and not for society as a whole. But how long will the self be around? And how much does the self need to be around without regard to the needs of the needy?

Unfortunately, few men and women are moved to perform great acts of charity for the love of humanity. In fact, in the final analysis, it is not the individual acts of charity that makes a substantial impact on society in terms of the plight of the needy; not at all. It is the totality of actions that shape the plight of society as a whole that finally changes the predicament of the needy for the better. That is why  religions seek to influence whole societies and change them through belief, customs, cultures, rituals and so on.

It is a real pity,therefore, that in an attempt to change our Kenyan society for the better through democratic elections we should end up losing this noble initiative to individuals whose main interest is to redeem the self. All the democratic procedures, rules, etiquette and practices that make elections really democratic, and that bring the whole society to embrace the process as a vital tool for social change don't really matter to these selfish individuals. The end, to them, justifies the means.

Never mind that old women stood on the line the whole day waiting to vote. That vote may not count for much. In a room somewhere, some individuals are busy manufacturing the results of an election whose ballots are not yet counted. It is this process of manufacturing votes that counts and not the one involving the people queuing for a whole day to change their society through the vote.

Why this callousness? The answer is simple. The power of the vote, cast in free and fair elections under the new constitution, could easily lead to substantial social change in our society which the privileged elite, dominating society under the political and ideological clout of ethnic apartheid, will resist with all their might.

The resistance is currently on. At times it is sophisticated, cunning and even charming, especially when done under the aura of state power and its rituals and ceremonies. The middle class falls easily for it, paying homage to the powerful and desperately looking for recognition and belonging to this club of the privileged few. This sense of belonging may not even be directly to the individual but to what the individual perceives as his group, his people, his "Nyumba". Franz Fanon called this "false consciousness"; but I wonder whether it is false and not just "deceptive consciousness." it is so deceptive that it makes the poor do horrendous things against fellow poor "from the other side" simply in defense of the elite privileges!

We must, out of the travails of this election, stand firm against the machinations of the defenders of the status quo and the manipulation of the needy to protect elite power. We may, in the process, lose quite a lot. But what does it really matter? In the final analysis, when all is said and done, all that each one of us will get, notwithstanding our different standings in life, is an Ogondi piece of the earth when we all die.