21 Jan 2008

Mumia on Kenya

* The Madhouse Called 'Home' (Kenya) ** {col. writ. 1/12/08} (c) 08' Mumia Abu-Jamal ** * * *

The continuing carnage in Kenya (E. Africa) evokes feelings of confusion mixed with shame. Confusion because if the cause of such infernal conflict is tribalism, the word has little meaning for U.S. Blacks, for the grandchildren of slaves were detribalized, or perhaps more accurately, compressed into a single national tribe of Blackness. Shame, because Blacks still feel a kinship for (an idealized) Africa, and thus, their calamities seem like ours, and, since the relatively recent end of colonialism, many African countries have had more than their share of calamities.

Kenyan human rights activist and writer, Koigi wa Wamwere, in his 2003 book, Negative Ethnicity (Seven Stories Press/Open Media) records a harrowing event in 1998 Kenya, when a man named John Mwangi detailed what happened to him in the Makuru district of Kenya: I am down, and around me a big fire rages. Our village is razed anddestroyed. There are screams everywhere. They are hurt and down.I inhale smoke and smell burning flesh, food, and timber everywhere.I see a man coming with a flaming torch for burning houses and foodstores, a spear to stab my heart and sword to slit my throat and kill meas they have others. I think this is the end, but not yet.Please, don't kill me, I plead with whatever breath I have left. We areAfricans. We are brothers.Without looking at me, he thrusts the spear into my side and cuts mythroat. Die, die, you dirty louse, he says. I am not your brother. I amnot your tribe.Tasting blood in my mouth, I slide into unconsciousness with that wordringing -- /tribe, tribe/ - until the world falls silent.When I wake up, I am in the hospital, wrapped in bandages from head tofoot. A Good Samaritan picked me up and brought me here.Several months later, I go to my village, but it is no more. Both the newhouse and the land now belong to him who tried to kill me. BecauseI am from another ethnic community I am evicted from my home and landand cleansed from the Rift Valley Province where anyone who is notKalenjin is called a foreigner.I cry and ask, Why? No one answers. [pp. 9-10]

Although the U.S. press has reported that the present tribal warfare was unprecedented in modern Kenya, in fact, such clashes happened as recent as a decade ago (1998), and nearly a decade before that (in 1992). Such clashes are usually manipulated by political leaders for communal ( read: 'tribal') support for a ruthless struggle for resources, cattle, and yes -- lebensraum (German for 'living room'). Wamwere put it pointedly when he recounted a quasi-joking between he and some other Gikuyu and Kalenjin friends. They joked about Kalenjin getting the best jobs, the best spots in school, or bank loans. The Kalenjin would retort, "Now is our time to eat. You Gikuyu had yours." (66) For Wamwere, tribalism (or in his term, 'negative ethnicity') has been a powerful tool used by politicians to communicate the notion of 'it's our time to eat.' Wamwere tells a classic and chilling tale of when Jomo Kenyatta came to power after colonialism, and his government slew one of its own ministers, Tom Mboya, a prominent Luo politician. Luo riots shook Nairobi and Kisumu. Wamwere recalls how Kenyatta responded by forcing Gikuyus to take a loyalty oath. Those who didn't take it were beaten or killed. Wamwere explained that he too took the oath, partly in fear, and partly in fascination. This oath was against the Luos. This took place in 1969. The notion of nation is a transient one; for nations come and go; tribe remains. So, politicians run on the implicit promise that, 'if you elect me, we will eat.'

And while tribe fights tribe over crumbs, the whole socio-economic order serves to send the fat of the land into the kitchens and coffers of Europe and America, while politicians ship their excess wealth to Western banks to hold. For what are these countries but Western creations, with borders designed to preserve corrupt economic relations where the continent becomes a vast plantation, with Black overseers, who manage Black workers for Western profits and exploitation? While millions of Africans suffer from malnutrition, millions of Americans and Europeans spend billions to try to manage their rampant obesity. Tribalism? Negative Ethnicity? Or poor people fighting for scraps?

--(c) '08 maj {Sources: Wamwere, Koigi wa, Negative Ethnicity: From Bias to Genocide (New York: Seven Stories Press/Open Media, 2003); Wamwere, Koigi wa, I Refuse to Die: My Journey for Freedom (New York: Seven Stories, 2002) (for the author's critique of the Moi dictatorship).}

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