End of a Decade : Timeless Jazz in Cheap Sauce

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new year

The face of an ending year is a horrible soul tape with spritzes of happiness.  As this year comes to an end I am forced to grapple with two questions. 

Is it just the beginning of a new ? 

Or the closing of a hued decade. 

I feel like a new decade should slide in jubilantly with a slew of whatsapp notifications. Shouts and wails. Ladies and Gentlemen celebrating ten years of unusual existence. In fact one that marks liberation of our kenyannese from the stalemate of political tumors. But we are still grappling with unequal opportunity rights, corruption and a host of bankrolled governance headaches. In this decade I even heard that one’s happiest day is like the moon. In search of this one moment of satisfaction, you miss out on myriads of  little stars of happiness.

Perhaps the face of this new decade, as timeless as it seems; marks the beginning of a new era. A magical time we all expect to be perfect immediately. As I write this in the background of a fluid blur – 

I can’t help but wonder whether my grandmother  knows it. 

Does she even know this is the beginning of a new decade?

The old will be past and gone. Solid and forgotten. 

Marking the beginning of the new millennium at the start of this ending decade. Hama Tuma in “Who Cares for the New Millennium?” ; was skeptical as I am that most rural Africans would know a new year has come, let alone a new millenium. The question I would pose from Tuma’s perspective is that of a new decade. But here is the real deal that simply and clearly reveals the journey we’ve travelled those ten years. 

In the time of writing “Who Cares for the New Millenium” , Africa was a ticking clock whimsying in the hum of lucid struggles. Tribal politics, Ambitious Leaders (And in Ambitious I whatsoever not mean a positive attribute) – Kenyatta will be ambitious will he run for another term after 2022.

He will be no different from all African despots.

Allowing his presidency melt into a peaceful transition will slowly translate his name into the books of nobility. Nobility as the likes of Licoln. A time when the illiteracy level was more than 50% of the total African population.

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As of the writing of this post, the literacy level in Africa is more than 50%. Approaching the figures of 75% by mid 2020. This reveals close a 360 degrees review of reality, within ten years painting the story of Africa. So in asking that most Rural Africans would know a new decade has come -; is more likely cynist than Snowwhite’s step mom. 

Pretend that it doesn’t matter and usher this new year like you’ve done with the rest. 

Armed with a to-do list and ten annual goals you have in mind. No dear. The bitter truth is that your are repeating a tragedy. Fewer than One in ten achieve their annual goals. You know why? 

It’s because they all appropriate success with the high school timetable analogy. If need be perfom an autopsy on the past ten years of your life ; dissect your various decisions one by one through the years. Slice into the months and reveal the fragments glued into each. Fragments that have only made one out of your ten annual goals circle into childish dreams. 

I don’t mean it’s bad to have goals. 

Haven’t you heard that people want to change goals yet they don’t want to change their approach. What bigger tragedy awaits you than repeating mistakes of the past ten years; for another ten years? 

The most impoverished people? The highest infant mortality rate? The highest number of ADS victims? The most number of refugees? The highest number of illiterates? The least developed countries? Ask any such question and the answer is Africa. Wouldn’t it be better to claim that sometime in the past millennium they, whoever they may be, have conspired with our unelected leaders and stolen our next millennium and all the possibilities of our welcoming it with joy?

Hama Tuma: “Who Cares for the New Millenium?’

Hama Tuma outlined several potentially life threatening issues that were the crux of Africa’s problems.

Most Impoverished people.

Highest number of AIDS victims.

Highest number of refugees. 

Highest infant mortality rate.

Least developed nations. 

Highest number of refugees.

I mean it when I say this New Year should be celebrated with flashes of headlines. A barrel of whatsapp notifications and Twitter posts signifying ten years of remarkable achievements. It is a particular special event that Africa’s people are not the most impoverished. Syria is the country from which the highest global population of refugees come from. (I say this with slight tremors of optimism – no one is proud of political asylum). The second, third and fourth are not even African states. 

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How about our very own Zimbabwe with a remarkable adult literacy rate of ninety percent. Although we haven’t won in the literacy front, the continent has made remarkable progress. We might have Swaziland leading among countries with the highest prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS; but the mortality rate of patients has greatly improved. We don’t’ have the richest countries or many individuals with a net worth equivalent to the GDP of several African nations put together; but the economy has improved. At least 65 percent of Kenyans live beyond the international poverty line of (more than $1.99 a day). 

So Hama, you answer is a bit delayed for it comes ten years later on a Sulky 31st December afternoon. 

Come January 2, 2000, tell me, if you will, if the new millennium has relieved us of the likes of Iyadema, Kabila, of famine and AIDS, of subservience to the West and of poverty, or if it even promises to do some of that and I will eat back all my bleak words and apologize and hail the new millennium with the fervor of a Bill Gates or of any African tyrant who had been hoping to continue to dance on our backs.

Hama Tuma: “Who Cares for the New Millennium?”

The sun is hidden under pulses of tiny clouds. I have to adjust the panes on my window to stare beyond the clouds. A dissolving light that will swallow into the shattered  darkness of a dissipating year. 

Hama: 

It’s not that we don’t have the least developed nations, highest number of infant mortality rate or numbers of impoverished people. Nearby in Kenya’s Turkana we have a big number. I wouldn’t claim that any of the unelected leaders have stolen this millennium and the possibilities of us living it with joy. Neither have they bailed us out of the next decade. But remember the numbers are still numbers.

No matter least in the world, or highest in the world. These numbers represent the lives of mothers, single dads and children like your little brother at home. It is not a high number of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in Palestine but Ahmed, Fatma and 52 million others forced out of their homes. It’s not a high number of infant mortality rate but the death of your neighbour’s son to a host of life threatening diseases. 

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Meanwhile, Yes the new millennium has redeemed us the likes of Kabila, Iyadema, famine and the effect of AIDS. Mortality rate for HIV patients has reduced to less than 15% in most African countries. The 15% is however still a number. A big one. However, should all these troubles deprive us the energy to jubilantly welcome a new decade? 

Happy New Year all of You.

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My Kenyan Obsessions

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Part I

Hand making the V sign, Kenya flag painted

Matters of a Contemporary Kenya

All is well, usually before weaving into the Kenyan contemporary narrative; until my peers and I are nudged to commit to an identity tag. The working tag on such occasions is the ever tempting subjugation of my very own self. A self that I have wanted to belong and in doing so, submit to the meaning of life. The dilemma in this case, and which forms the better part of this essay, is somewhat an ideal to conform. To fit in, and easily-comfortably retreat into the Kenyan rhetoric as a whole and without pretending. In any case, fitting in might entail initiation into certain non-conducive aspects of society – that should apparently appear as insensitive and with the most possible light ever.

Yet, to sink in back to who I really am and out of the self-creation that I have identified as for years. It is a tempting pressure to shed off the observe of my society, everything that society has cultivated in me and I deem wrong. Wrong not in my eyes but in the eyes of Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo’s seminal text ‘Decolonizing the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature.’ In which Ngũgĩ claims ‘I shall look at the African realities as they are affected by the great struggle between the two mutually opposed forces in Africa today: an imperialist tradition on one hand, and a resistance tradition on the other.’

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What remains today of the Kenyan Identity are an insipid redemption from imperialism, the crux of foreign assimilation and the cleansing of our African soul. The concept of slavery and colonialism might be an entirely odd topic to convey in these times; but inwardly to state that despite 1964, despite independence – we are still battling a persistent disease to remain afloat. The standard expectation, even as malignant as it would be, imposes upon you to be shameful of your roots, your language and in conforming to this choking alienation of what rightfully belongs to us – language ; we somewhat have drunk away our intellectual thoughts and dug away the soul of our African spirit; to the extent of raising a bushy tailed strain of African so –called – intellects who cannot speak a word from their ethnic language.

Ngũgĩ decries this cultural isolation of our own language, as ‘linguicide’, a form of atrocity that destroys memories and kills culture. In writing, I usually fall into a dilemma. One that I have to contend with in order to create an image of art that represents my true identity. Whilst in this contention, I try to envision a subject matter with which I think from my roots (My mother tongue) and outline it in English. Even as I have done this for years, I haven’t recognized the sensitivity of this lone activity, as it often undermines my Kenyan individuality. If I can think in my mother tongue, then what actually holds me back from writing in my mother tongue? Today’s western ideologies challenge my African particularity; whether, at the least expectations, can we even exist outside the box of western integrities?  Whether we Kenyans can exist in the skins of our own personality? It is in the context of this subject that I grant myself the artistic license to challenge whatever that is not African, which is not Kenyan, and which is not conservatist. Education, fashion, religion, entertainment and the political idiocy included that we are forced into every single day in our lives.

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In the opening paragraph of Decolonizing the Mind, Ngũgĩ draws the image of an African in a continued ceaseless struggle to free him/herself, from the pitiless imperialism of Euro-American based politics, economics and culture. It is in fact a struggle, a rebellious war of liberation from the shackles of neo-colonialism but one that Africans, Kenyans have given up on. And like post trauma stressed victims of a lost walk, they resort to foreign culture, as if it’s the drug that heals their pain of loss.

The exclusive use of foreign language in schools and the extent of lashing a few scholars in elementary that do not comfort to this linguifuckery; has projected what Ngũgĩ describes as a language famine in the continent. In today’s Kenya, would parents only hope of having an enlightened kid is a suppression to only speak in English and not their mother tongue? And if you haven’t noticed the voluble clarity of your peers refer to another as mzungu (White Man) when they spoke with a foreign twang in their voices.

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Award Winning Literature Guru: Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo

As if this blatant idiocy is not enough, we have seen such mzungus become the object of attention and praise because they appear more civilized and learned than their counterparts. I see you counteract to this, free yourself from the guilt and besides smack the hell bitter aggravation to my face. Now you want to argue and claim that it’s a matter of society and society prides in what is good. So what is good, and If any, and in what context and in comparison to what? The conservatist meru in me that hasn’t left out the ‘M’ in M-bush for you to know am talking about a bush?

I wouldn’t write that way, no way and I’m not encouraging affection towards highly accented articulation; and even if I would, there is no way I would acknowledge, a social transformation of wordings and spellings in the   Oxford dictionary to fit my Kenyannesse. Nevertheless, this would give writers like me more head ache when getting published in the New Yorker. What I’m trying to say, is could we at least appreciate our roots and love our languages. For what’s the need for your son dear parent to learn English, French, German and Mandarin when your Luo ascent has a more dramatic cadence at the Kenya National Theater?

 

Photo Credits:

Roxanne Shewchuk

Jimmy Jimmy

Daniel A Anderson