Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Garissa, A Thousand Times Good Night and 41 Million Times am more than sorry, Dear Mama Kenya, Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai Born 1st April, died 25 Sept

Dear Mama Kenya:
Wangari Maathai

I missed the celebration of your birthday on 1st April because the children were at home. It was hectic.

 I always want to tell you how we are getting on. How Kenya is doing. I don't know how to let you go, maybe. The world hasn't. Peru has immortalised you in a statue. 

They say we glorify you but who forgets a mother so brave? But we have bad news so very often. This is not yet the nation you dreamt of in your own ways. I wonder what you would have made of it.

I am sorry is not enough. For you come from a land of beauty and hope. A land not afraid to win, not afraid to lose. A land that knows that in Kiswahili. Asiye kubali kushindwa si mshindani... the one who does not accept defeat is not a winner. But we cannot lose human life silently.

We are brave people. This is who we are before we are twisted to think that winning means only money taken as fast as possible out of public coffers. Unaccountability. 

Yes, even among the people otherwise the ones in power would care more about their image. Something we need to put right. So that we can hold them in check. They need to remember your determined yet smiling objection to some things. 

I am sorry that 142 students and other people in service died shot by Al Shabaab in Kenya. 148 is the total. 

Most Kenyans, we shall believe all of them, are extremely saddened by this and they worry too about Nigeria, Syria, Yemen and Iran... and other hot spots. Not so long ago some of these students said to us: I am Charlie Hebdo! They wanted solidarity against terror in the world. They asked the Kenyan government to protect them before in a protest last year in November. Instead they were arrested as usual.

Now who are they? What can we be for them and their relatives? Mine is to share thoughts before taking my canoe of letters and sailing. These students have changed my life forever. So has a film I will not forget. 

The film is 'A Thousand Times Good Night', made with the support of the Swedish Film Institute and all the media in Norway. It comes to my mind often. Three reasons. One is that it wants to wake up a world asleep with regard to the atrocities happening daily. 

The producer is Norwegian, Eirik Poppe. He is a war reporter. This film visits war zones and at the end of it, Becca, Juliet Binoche will visit Dadaab Refugee camp with her daughter and again, just escape death by less than a whisker with her already traumatised daughter. 

Kenya has lost too many people who had great dreams of a united country. Messages from these students showed the same desire. Even those written during a terror attack. Our security and government says that they worked fast but many say no. How could journalists arrive there before the the security from Nairobi?  

Many bodies are yet to be identified. Nobody is asking or answering why so many students fled the attack, so that earlier reports indicating a missing 533 persons is no longer a topic. I know even if they say you were not always perfect in all things, this you would be asking.

The horror has been to find out that the  mastermind was a brilliant young Nairobi University lawyer. We have to wake up. He was not planting trees of any kind. Not of hope, not green ones... and yet he was answering questions well in his law class.  Our waking up includes understanding that some young people will go for radicalisation. Young people from rich backgrounds. Young people from poor backgrounds. While the world fought visible poverty did it lose sight of cultural poverty? What stories do those radicalised people read? Have love poems and long stories with songs ended in Somalia?

Kenyan leaders have recommended the immediate closure of Dadaab Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya. A long list of possible offenders has been released. They are 86. It is a list of what people call 'Muslim' names and businesses. 

Mama, Am watching A Thousand Times Good Night again as I blog.  The mother in the film, Becca has just come home  After recovery from being in almost bombed to smithereens... In a suicide  bomb attack.

"You are...and nice warm and smelly..." The youngest has just chanted hugging her Mum who joins her as if in a duet. Becca role is played by Juliet Binoche. 

Becca knows now that Steph cried when they saw her in hospital on the Internet. This reminds me of how we used to be angry when you were arrested. This taught most of us to keep speaking out for justice. When I last met you in Oslo in June 2009, you opened a big meeting. 

I was sitting at the back not sure I would ever make it to talk to you. I was not hopeful until Caroline Marcomick came to me and asked me, 'Philo, would you like some few words with Wangari? I can ask her daughter Wanjira to arrange that you meet her.' I agreed hesitantly seeing how many people surrounded her. I was surprised that Caroline did that. I made it, was almost the last one to chat with you before you left. I asked you if you would join us in a vigil for Aung San Syu Kii where we would discuss freedom in Nairobi. Your were scheduled to be in Australia and you could not make it. You thought it was a lovely idea. Syu Kii was still under house arrest and her 62nd birthday was on the way.

How hard it can be for women, but you inspire us still, all of you! Right now Aung San Syu Kii is not heard much in Burma which is having a hard time. I am sure she does some things that do not reach the media. I am imagining at least she suffers for the Ruhingya Muslims even if she cannot speak out that much. 

I learnt from experience. I had almost condemned your silence some time back because of this hard struggle that was never ending. I thought you needed to tell Kibaki off for taking things easy and for treating you badly. I wanted you to be the Minister of Environment not the Deputy of Kivutha Kibwana in those days. Then I read your book one Easter. A Woman Unbowed. 

I remember I read it in the silence of a house by lake Naivasha recovering from what it had taken to get involved with an a poet and actor who felt so abandoned in her last days fighting cancer at Kenyatta Hospital. That large and lonely place. Another poet offered me a place to hide for it had been quite tough, her final journey in which I found myself like in many things just by chance. Wambui Wa Murima. I shall write about her here another day. 

I cried reading your book. I read it and then slowly in silent reverence, I decided that you owed us nothing more because you had done your best. I never imagined cancer would also come for you, it often does for activists. They inhale the hurts. We are all vulnerable.

I know a friend of mine always complained that you should have told the UN that they too built up in Karura forest. I do not know the sequence here. 

I hope someone will look at that and correct it if he is wrong. It is good for posterity. I remember how you one day came home and the house was strewn with papers and your husband had left you. In the film I am now listening to Becca talking with her husband. Trying to see what she should stop to do for the sake of her children.

Her husband wants her in bed. Traditionally I should not tell you that, but let us talk as friends and for the sake of other women in power today in Kenya and elsewhere. Balancing family, leadership and activism is hard. Somebody suffers. 

Becca explains that she has been in an explosion. He knows that and I wonder what he is thinking as we say at home. I now realise that what he does not know is WHY she insists on going to war zones, to hear, according to him, shots, gives her life. Gun shots. 
Like some said that you chose to have your hair pulled off by police because you were being too much standing up to a dictator....But Becca, she had dangerously 'wanted to tell the story' and seeing how suicide bombers prepared themselves making their bed of death is not enough to deter her.

But in her family, things are falling apart. He loved her because of her passion, she says. But he cannot stand her passion for people that suffer now.

The little girl tells it in full innocence..." and Daddy is sleeping on the sofa these days..." Maybe some day you will watch the film and think of Kenya and other places. 

There is the conflict of if Becca just enjoys publicity but she knows she does not. She knows she wants to move the world to act. She tries to focus on her family only. She tells the newspaper editor who is expecting her great work that she has quit. But how could she when she is making it to the highest levels. People want to own her in Ireland, in other countries. ..But seeing it makes no sense to her to abandon her passion and career, she forges on, remaining true to herself. 

Her husband and daughter recoil from her telling her she stinks death. Let me stop there because no deaths are pictures. All pictures of deaths from terror have been seen before they could be put on film.

Garissa University College is the last terror attack in Kenya since the blast in Westgate Nairobi, the bombing of the USA embassy in 1998. But there are a myriad of other small ones that go without much notice just like there are huge numbers of deaths in Iran, Syria and Yemen that also somehow fall off the edge of our concerns.  Your words remind me to do something small each time. In the end, it is powers, and numbers. And numbers and big things are won with little chips day by day... We have new homework. Words we cannot understand or fathom, like radicalisation in the way we have come to know  it. How do we say them to our children in mother tongue? You know we should not leave everything to schools?

So why am I writing this thousands of miles from home in Kenya which I left after the third peaceful arrest in 2009? Arrests for peaceful calls for freedom of speech and - yes, being very critical - as somebody has recorded in a thesis, of all the governments that have existed in Kenya: Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki and now Uhuru Kenyatta?

I am writing this because you believed that you inherited the world from its children. Us. So many thank you for your work on environment and how you linked it with democracy. I am writing this because you opened our paths. I am writing this because I want to tell it  and I am free.

I am writing whilst reflecting on Becca's conviction in the film, that her camera meant something. That somebody else might see her pictures and fall out of the sickness of indifference. That she could perhaps shake the world. 

The producer spoke at the premier of the film in Norway at the Gimle Kino. I was there. He said he was always depressed by how normal life seemed in Western cities when he came back from war torn areas. So complacent.

And everyone I met or knew spoke of how you were not indifferent. I now see a wonderful statue of you in Peru, a different kind of beauty of you in stone. By doing that, they have said something for all people of dark skins. What a South-South thing! It consoled me as in these days, news of black people in other parts of the world are about killings. Especially of black boys. Micheal Slager today, eight shots in the back...I know what you would say, and Micheal Brown yesterday.. so many in between. So to find a positive mind is unique. This should not be so.

I was also so delighted to receive words form a young man in Nairobi who calls himself Njoroge Filosofa. He wrote about Garissa killings of the 148.

"Our children at Garissa were holding a pen. Terrorists a gun. Justice never die. Pen is mightier than a gun. AL SHABAAB YOU ARE JUST WASTING YOUR TIME IN SPIRITUAL IGNORANCE."

I also write this to you this because of what happened in Paris, Charlie Hebdo too... It is no longer necessary to go too far to find areas of warring strife. Ukraine in Europe is afire and sad. The call of this film should be heard everywhere now... That we stop being afraid of the stink of death and ask why instead of people who just want to tell the story are going to such zones... people who WANT to join IS and others are leaving comfortable ranks of society and setting off through Turkey and other places.

Have we failed to define "heroism' that they should look for it in something like that? Have we feared too much in front of our children unlike Becca that they are eager to show us the opposite? That they are not afraid of believing in something? Have we failed you Wangari?

And the other reason why I write is because of the idea of not living a split life. I hear that Juliette Binoche could take many other roles if she wished but that she chooses, prefers to act in films that make a meaning to her life and that of others. She will dance ballet in Angelin Preljocaj's Polina, 2015. Great. In every stroke their can be meaning in perfection. What is the use of the revolution, the changes if we cannot dance? That is a question I love to ask myself.

We discussed it in a seminar called Defending the Defenders. People need breaks, activists burn out. Aung San needs our understanding. 
When they call you beautiful let it be from the heart
Juliette Binoche inspires...

A Thousand Times Good Night shows one that eye, not just in camera, but that human eye at the beginning of the film. Everything we do... is in our eyes. If we choose violence. That is what our souls might embrace eternally in the eye of time without end. I say that as we wait for Dark Matter secrets to get unravelled... hah!

I want to tell your story.  You radicalise in the roots of a tree. After all radical comes from radice, roots. You do it in another way...for unending action for good, no matter the accidents that may result. And losses. 

As for you, out there in what you think is the peaceful world, pour your cup of coffee... let it jerk and pour on your white tablecloth as you open the headlines if you do. Ask yourself... why is it that the Internet radicalisers are so much more effective than our power to get people to stand up for something that does not destroy? Ask Wangari, read about her. 

Tell your children everywhere. And sing to them stories of hope. A thousand times good night to you and to all who left the world in a hostile way in Garissa. Wangari, A Thousand Times, Rest in Peace! From many of us, among 41 million Kenyans.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Garissa, Kenya: the troubled terrain that reminds us of corrupted power denying truth

We all want an easier life. We played April Fools and forgot that terrorists love to attack during holidays when everyone is looking to the next drink. These attacks are predictable.

The circular dated March 25, the attack on April 2, 2015
I mourn but we point out hard truths. I mourn that way. Terrorists do not mourn. We mourn. They celebrate deaths - and if true all of them are convinced, a certain rewarding of their horror - in a questionable life after. 

They have that kind of power and want you to close your eyes because of deaths. No don't. Open them wider. This is not where they want you, staring back. So do that.

The initial figure of deaths at the hands of gunmen in Garissa reveals 147 people dead. That includes two gate guards, the attackers too and a couple of service men. 

Some of the people present said were it not for the police they would have wanted to burn the remains of the killed attackers. 

One can understand their anger but the road we travel does not allow for that kind of vengeance.  Give others who like to wish deaths away, time to face it, stare at death. That is what innocent relatives and friends have to do this Easter. Terrorists with such thoughts come to bloom in senseless killings. Let me say from the onset, I heard and saw this attitude towards killings in other militias all over the world, and in Kenya specifically. Killing is fulfilled as if it is a vocation, a call to follow in one's life.

Don't try to erase it. Face it. Terrorists blow themselves up, it is said one did in the attack but not documented for in death, they too are cowards. Are we facing it or hiding other things in this?

They are dead, these killers, some insisted, no problem, burn them. 
But radicalisation that led to this started there... There is enough fundamentalism also among Christians, and quite some stoking of it from the USA fundamentalist preachers and many of them praising power to get there.

Or ''Lord! Do it again!'', one wrote on Facebook, "Send back those plagues and wipe them clean ... like the ones you sent to Egypt, Lord!" In that thinking the thieves at the cross, Judas and betrayal, the washing of feet have disappeared, of Muslim if there are any religious feet, or any feet, for today is not yesterday. The Gospel is alien. Terror. As if this in itself is not a plague enough and as if the rain will fail where there is radicalism. It will rain for all. So take out a clean sickle. Cut the fences around us.

The less we tolerate the search for justice in the Kenya nation the more distant we are from non-violence. Every abuse should be met with truth and justice.  No one should take the law into their own hands. Not the president of the nation, not the people. There was a time many lives were lost in Nairobi going down with 'mob justice' as it was called which was simply injustice. Getting used to taking lives is not a cure. Blaming others but moving away from our own failures will not lead to growth. 

I note that Uhuru Kenyatta is not able to cope with the whole picture, roots, branches and the birds that fly from nests and those that perch. Denying a historical fact for instance... that the North of Kenya and that means mainly Muslims have not been victimised since colonial times.

This kind of apologetics for sins of history is what I thought may never help Kenya. Especially when followed by Ei and/or Mea culpas without substance. His background does not allow him to admit certain obvious facts. Are we to close our eyes to history? Why does he say such things at this time? Many people have found them lose talk. We don't need that. Not now, not before, not ever.

Sadly as deaths shock us, touch the world, some people are served by a blind spot that occurs for past evils committed. Retaliation no, but consistent answers yes. As long as we can say it is you, radicalised Imams, as Uhuru Kenyatta has said, everything else might fall out of perspective. We too have radicalised Kenyans in our homes through our politics. It is not all about and only radicalisation in 'rogue mosques, homes and Imams'.

No. Sorry. Deaths should jolt us into recalling our failures to prevent them and of our often casual approach to their occurring in extra-judicial ways. There is much to be examined in Kenya. And lethargy in matters of life and death must be shunned. Matters of justice.
Lose talk about The Hague and a well orchestrated campaign
against justice. Everything is funny until now?

 Two weeks ago, a plain circular was on the Internet, on Facebook to be precise. I came across it as I plowed through the newsfeed. I spent time scrutinising it and wondering. Actually felt derailed from what I was reading before. This. Detailed. Shabaab were aiming at attacking soon. The impending attack was most likely going to be on an institute of higher learning, a university. This notice then was on the University of Nairobi.

This circular warning on an impending attack was posted at the University of Nairobi and at the United States International University, USIU, but not at Garissa. This is first place that should have come to mind upon recieving such Intelligence. The media too did not cover it and it was only discussed after the Garissa attack. Discussed? Maybe more disowned by some.

I thought about the horror that could hit Kenya when I read it. We have seen terror attacks increase dramatically. The undying spirit of destruction always hiding in divisions and now this they try to say is between two religions in Kenya. An Al Shabaab lie that the Pope might buy. No religions are at loggerheads in Kenya. Islam is growing fastest everywhere. 

They all grow at a different rate, wax and wane, and everybody who wants to know can find out which one is growing where and how fast. Christianity is not growing in fast in Garissa at the University which was attacked. In all places Christians meet for prayers and they as a gathering are as vulnerable to attack as any other.

In my view these are smokescreens which leave people in more tension than ever. I hope that Kenya and other populations will not begin something Europe is doing in some areas. Standing up against a confession of faith, a faith that is misused like all have been, by criminals. Europe should know that. I mean the part of Europe that is ganging up against Islam. It is not logical. And in terror nothing is ever reason based. Is not the better strategy to hold onto reason which might face off with terrorist's way of thinking.

I somehow imagined that everyone would be seeing this information on all campuses and taking the necessary precautions. By everyone, I did not think of the police, or other security agents. I thought they must have known this for it to be moving around and taken the necessary precautions. It turns out that even if police and the Armed forces swiftly moved in to the defence of the university, they had to be called in. Police had to ask for a reinforcement.

But Garissa is not alien to terror. Just three days to the attack two persons at Durdur Hotel in Garissa County. They were shot dead in a hotel. Nobody, police declared came forward to ask for their bodies. A photo is published of the wives of one of the ones who were killed. A two-year-old in her hands, she looks frustrated and tortured. Where is her husband?

"On Thursday, two people are said to have been shot dead in hotel and their bodies carried away by the killers. Another two were abducted and taken to an unknown destination."

Only a few years ago, I worked on empowerment workshops in Garissa. I spoke to men and women. I noted it was becoming easier to travel there by bus. Garissa was not as far as some people thought. It was so close to Garissa Lodge in Eastleigh. There was a bustling economy, Islamic banking. Businesses were flourishing. I was received with deep respect and nobody ever questioned my teachings or dress code. I was so at home there that somebody suggested I should buy a herd of cattle and learn how to farm. 

What I noticed as I travelled in a private car back once and stopped saw how the group in the car stopped for peaceful prayers in Mosques was the discrimination of the Somali of Kenya. For indeed the police would lean into the car and ask everyone except me for an identity card. The people would run into the bushes with them to pay something, I bet, to continue traveling. It hurt and we spoke about it. It was definitely leading a community to the edge. And this years after independence in 1963. Years after colonial times when the British decided on the Northern Frontier District which was kept tethered with hunger and lack of opportunities. 

Noticeable too was the longing of the people to show similarities rather than differences. I remember how the car occupants pointed out how related we all were. Religion did not come into the conversation. They begged me for the time for a short break and I agreed. I was even welcomed into a Mosque. Then there were hopes that the road to Wajir would be fully tarmacked.

That there would be greater growth and peace. Then I walked in Garissa without fear. Then I found a church open to all. And nobody was looking around in fear. 

During one of my many visits an Imam who was coming to give our group a lecture on just how Female Genital Mutilation is not based on the Quran died in a car accident just before he entered the town. I saw how Raila arrived there in a few minutes after being notified of the Imam's death. Well he had to be buried in hours. That is the tradition. Raila as ODM, was there in a chopper to bid him farewell. The people gathered in his meeting were very congenial with him. He was still known as an atheist then. I heard nothing about religions. I heard something else, they wondered where Uhuru Kenyatta was not with them. True that did not happen and this is the past of PNU.

In 2013, however, I saw a journalist working for an international channel about Garissa and Wajir.... He reported about his home town in tears. Did Uhuru Kenyatta miss this or did he think it was another prank by the international community do bad mouth Kenya? 


There is no mystery here. Radicalisation cannot be excused but it has to be understood as some form of going away from a reality too hard to bear. So I will not mourn for the 147 without in part pointing at truths. For they will never know, or may never have known that another Garissa is possible, was possible and will be possible. My mourning is to point out that radicalisation is not in Mosques only. Why, we have had militias and people of discontent all the time in a Kenya where resources are stolen all the way to the votes!

Radicalisation is fitting too for local militias some of these politicians worked with before, something so denied now. They feared not death and they killed. They helped to encourage terror in Kenya. To show Al Shabaab indeed what one does when they are deprived of power or what one should do to get to the top. Kill. Avoid justice. Shed crocodile tears and as fast as possible, get the whole nation saying, it is time to unite and to forget past errors. Forgetting past errors includes making every part of Kenya, Kenya. This is practical. 

Answers ?

Get visitors of value. Obama is coming. Omar al Bashir was in Nairobi too in 2010 to enthrone the new Constitution. He was already an indictee of the ICC. He still is. Does it matter? All the flags will flap power in the wind. I will never accept that people implicated in a crime against humanity have any moral authority to mourn with us, to fly flags at half - mast and to cry with a nation they long ago betrayed. I still say a better time would have come if you had waited and gone through this process to its logical end. When moral authority is lost nothing works. Now, everyday I hear power was a must, it was for the protection of this or the other, of these people versus others, and all those things, alien to national cohesion. Corruption was protected?

I once posted on Facebook that no bomb, not the 1998 on the American Embassy which claimed about 200 persons and this attack which is the worst since then with 147 killed and many missing, surpass the 1 333 Kenyans who died in days when Kenya experienced pose election violence that gripped Kenya in 2007/2008. Violence. 

This violence has escaped justice. It seems that those charged or accused were always innocent. Even when the Prosecutor of the Hague says that she was not able to secure some crucial information from Uhuru Kenyatta, she seems to be saying there was none. So Kenya is spruced up. The people at the top are happy. 

Money has been offered to the victims affected by the violence. Ten billion Kenya Shillings. An apology has been issued. Those who were mentioned repeatedly in this case, including Uhuru Kenyatta are so innocent that they have no idea of who then could be witnesses of this case. The justice minister who called this a crime against humanity died in unexplained circumstances.

The thing is our tears of yesterday are suppose to dry fast. No, they join the river Tana's, all the way to the Indian Ocean. This is the best mourning for current deaths at Garissa. 

 At the time of the violence Kenya visited on herself, many of us said that we will never manage to hold up our decency again. That we had shown our neighbours how easily we break one another for power. 

Since then in January, February and March, many lives have been lost, so many. This Garissa April loss is not a wake-up call. We should never have slept. The whole saga of the disappearance and finding of, as well as confusion of the body of man called Yebei, no matter what side he was on was so bizzare. Human rights activists such as Ken Wafula are intimidated. Our country... did somebody plan the disappearance of the look alike of Yebei... for weeks there were two families claiming the same man. 

Yebei was never suppose to be found.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Forgive me, families and friends, but understand me please, the mourning of a government that allows killings refuses to hit me where it should. I mourn recalling all like this. 
What happened to George Saitoti? He was the minister of Internal Security who died along with Ojode, an MP and all the crew of a chopper a day after he had warned Kenyan politicians not to run to militias again in order to upset the country and win an election in 2013.

He may have had other faults. But why was he scared to sleep in Room 213 in the hotel in Mombasa just before this accident? Is it true that he was treading on the toes of politically correct drug dealers? This type of corruption that dares work with militias to gain power is not going to strengthen Kenya against terror. The USA will not. Kenya has to cut and make its own...

But again the 'saviour' will come from the West... which Uhuru Kenyatta blasted several times particularly on justice and the Hague court.

I know Obama is praising Kenyans for "resilience"
 and "decency' but honestly, Obama, we are the ones who have opened our country to cheap ways. We are not new to radicalisation. We also have internal militias who kill and killed without Obama or Uhuru raising a voice on the matter. At this stage we are not going to be helped by platitudes. We have to be left alone to choose our attitudes and to change. We know we can. 

2017, Kenya post- election deadlock is old; who did not see it coming did not want to, and the child is dead

       Mathare Math in voice...for Raila Odinga     His mouth is open with fear. The palms of his hands with fingers open. This is a fla...