Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
Ngugi wa Thiong’o had been hesitant to write his memoirs, but wanted to give his children a wake up call about what life was like when you had to walk miles to school - not to mention being a political prisoner.
A giant of African literature, he has never been afraid to challenge the establishment. Yet while he recounts his time in prison with humour today, he has never moved back to Kenya full time since going into exile nearly 30 years ago despite being one of the country’s best-known writers.
Thiong’o was imprisoned without charge in December 1977 after peasants and workers performed his play “Ngaahika Ndeenda”, which criticised inequalities in Kenyan society.
Thiong’o went into exile in 1982 and only returned in 2004, when he and his wife were assaulted in what he maintains was a politically motivated attack.
I had a flashback the other day when I was looking at photographs from Haiti of 15-year-old Fabianne Geismar, shot dead in the head after stealing wall hangings from a Port-au-Prince store, crushed in the Jan. 12 earthquake.
The image of Fabianne sprawled on the ground, blood trailing over the paintings she’d grabbed, took me back to my own childhood in Nairobi and the sight of a 7- or 8-year-old-boy – probably the same age as me at the time – who was caught stealing sweets from a street vendor and was beaten and burnt with rubber tyres. They called it mob justice.
“Would you please pass this bottle of water to Tom?” Lady Delamere asked me while we were waiting in court to hear the sentencing of her son, Tom Cholmondeley, who had been convicted of manslaughter for shooting a black poacher in Kenya.
After three years in prison, one of Kenya’s best-known white aristocrats was told he would have to serve a further eight months in jail in a case that has highlighted land, race, wealth and tribal tensions in the country.
In Kenya, it may be dangerous to speak your mind.
In a country that once prided itself on its freedom of speech and lively public debate,
political activists now say their lives are being threatened, and a U.N. special investigator has said that Kenyan police systematically intimidate human rights defenders.
“Dozens of prominent and respected human rights defenders have been targeted in a blatant campaign designed to silence individual monitors and instill fear in civil society organizations at large”, said U.N. Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial killings Phillip Alston, in a report he released on April 7.
A group from east Africa’s biggest slum has proved that you don’t need a big farm in the countryside to produce food crops for sale.
They’re planting organic vegetables on a small allotment in the middle of Nairobi’s Kibera slum that his been cleared out of an old rubbish tip.
The ancient truck labouring up the hill followed by a long queue of vehicles looked like a typical Kenyan scene — except for the legs protruding from under the bonnet. A Mafia hit? No, the legs were moving. Then I realised the bonnet was jammed slightly open and the man was adjusting some fault to keep the engine running while the truck proceeded.
Even for Kenya this was bizarre, but only slightly more unusual than the daily chaos on the roads, where almost anything goes; from enormous potholes capable of cracking the axle of normal cars, to abandoned or broken down trucks, to the swarms of battered, unroadworthy and brightly decorated matatu minibuses, driven by people whose brains appear to have been removed. A colleague recently saw a matatu swing across three lanes of traffic to smash into an unsuspecting car for no apparent reason. Matatus are the only available transport for many Kenyans but climbing into one is a daily and possibly terminal gamble. They are notorious for terrible accidents, often when smashing into oncoming trucks while overtaking on bends or hills. Matatus, like other vehicles, including huge trucks, often travel without lights at night. Matatus break down frequently, leaving a group of disconsolate passengers beside the road while the driver and tout (who takes the fares) try to change a wheel or mend the engine, creating another hazardous obstruction. Combined with the entirely selfish habits of other Kenyan drivers who think nothing of jamming a junction to get a slight advantage over other traffic, the minibuses cause the daily commute to frequently turn into a frustrating calvary with jams that last for hours. All this is made worse by regulations requiring drivers involved in an accident, even a minor shunt, to desist from moving their cars until the police arrive – which can be many hours.