“Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; – the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
This is Dickens’ take on the slogan of the French Revolution, “The Republic One and Indivisible of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death,” and I do not think there is a better statement to describe the happenings in Kenya, the rest of Africa, and perhaps the rest of the world than this one. We are wont to think of liberty and equality as concepts that go hand in hand, seeing as liberty is often defined as independence from arbitrary rule, and equality is thought of as the provision of the same rights to all in the republic (usually before the law).
What happens when we think of liberty in the same way, but equality as not just as equality of rights before the law, but that of results as well? Such that when a rich man and a poor man are tried before the courts for theft, for example, the outcome is the same? Perhaps a jail term or a steep bail? Then we begin to see tears in the fabric of our republic, and this has been very clear in Kenya this year. To suggest brotherhood, or fraternity, in such a republic then becomes a joke, for how can we have fraternity in the absence of true liberty and equality? And when there is a lack of fraternity, coupled with false liberty and lack of equality, what can exist except death?
These are our favourite pieces from 2015. [Click the title, in bold, to go to the respective piece]
by Aleya Kassam
“To the Shareholders and Directors of Imperial Bank,
Exactly one month ago on a cloudless morning, a message soundlessly snuck into our family whatsapp group. It sat there nestled underneath photos of the newest addition to our family – a floppy eared Alsatian pup with a vicious teething problem.
Imperial Bank had been placed under receivership.
Overnight we were rendered effectively broke. Just like that.”
by David Ndii
“Queue-voting was the smartest rigging strategy ever as it left no trail — once the queues were disbanded that was it. And so it is with this Eurobondgate. The only thing we are certain of is that it happened. The rest is smoke and mirrors.”
Also worth reading is an earlier article by Dr. Ndii on the same issue, Eurobond billions: Curious incident of a dog in the night-time.
by Samira Ali
“The statistics for rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and domestic violence are terrifying. Especially if you are women reading these stats is enough to give one, nightmares. However, the problem with these abstract numbers, is that it desensitizes you from the issue so you are left separating yourself from it entirely. Therefore, I decided to ask four simple questions to 60 girls in my contact list, 42 of them got back to me…Have you ever started something and just wanted to turn back? I wanted to be informed and inform others but this was horrifying. I couldn’t separate myself from this because it was my reality and the reality of all girls. I started off angry and halfway through receiving the answers, I put off my phone and just cried myself to sleep. Our reality is far more horrific.”
“In 1896, builders of Lunatic Line set up a small supply depot and a camp on the plains. The original boundaries of what is now Nairobi were for “the area within a radius of one and a half miles from the offices of the sub-commissioner of the Ukambani Province.” There was no plan beyond that, and Nairobi was merely one in a chain of such supply depots. But the plains were different. There was something captivating, if not majestic, about the rather brash plains. The small supply depot would be right at the middle of the line from Mombasa to Kampala, the target destination for the line. In 1899, the rail-head reached Nairobi. With it, a new future begun.”
by Cera Njagi
“There are many more stories such as the few I have briefly re-told, both documented and undocumented, lost to the vagaries of time. This loss of peoples’ memories has happened all over the world: to Africans, Native Americans, Aborigines in Australia, the peoples of India, and even in Europe. Even in instances where some of these stories are documented, they are often ignored in the formal body of knowledge. The heroism of women remains silent, with the formal education and mainstream media choosing to perpetuate the narrative of powerful male heroes, often from dominant communities, while women remain behind the scenes or completely out of the picture.”
by Billy Kahora
“I’d long been fascinated with accounts of criminal life and the sociology of Nairobi’s surrounding danger zones: Wangige, Kinoo, Uthiru, Lari, Riruta, Kangemi, Ruiru, Kiambu town, Gachie, Mucatha, Kikuyu. Some of the older spaces had been the first sites of pre-independence Central Province urbanisation and later became home to Nairobi’s middle-class citizens. Ultimately, population explosions, failing agro-economies and changing sociological conditions created informal settlements side by side and in between upper middle-class homes. At first these areas provided informal labour and eventually raw material for organised crime in the city. The peri-urban areas became the openly criminal retreats that eventually turned on the more affluent and respectable citizens, who also became victims of armed robbery. Ultimately, these areas became informally controlled by criminal overlords, who used their new wealth to buy or forcefully occupy the old middle-class homes. The context from which Mwas came from in Nairobi Half Life was as a result of this evolution.”
by Magunga Williams
“The moment I hang up, I receive a message from Mother Karua. Before Mabiria’s call I had told her about the incident at Strathmore University. I had told her about what I was getting from tweets and Facebook posts. That in order to examine their level of disaster preparedness, Strathmore University admin had decided to stage a mock terrorist attack, in which masked gunmen stormed into the university, firing live bullets. However, the students and staff thought it was a real attack by the Al Shabaab; that whatever happened during the Garissa University terror attack had been reincarnated in their campus. So some students had jumped into the slimy Nairobi River that cuts across Madaraka Estate, Strathmore University, Tuskys-TMall, Nairobi West and then further down to wherever rivers that are full of shit flow to. Other people, who had been trapped in the buildings, thought they would rather try their luck with a free fall than face sure death of terrorists. So they jumped. And one of them was my brother, Deogratias. They had no idea it was a drill.”
On Brainstorm, the essays that were most popular were:
by Brenda Wambui
“Every time I have been made to recount my story, it is as if I am reliving the violence. This is why we must be careful whenever we unnecessarily ask victims of sexual violence to tell us what happened. We are forcing them to relive the violence. I always knew that the stripping of women never has anything to do with what a woman is wearing. It is an act committed by men (or women) who wish to disempower a woman when she acts in a manner that is too empowered for their tastes. It is a cowardly act. I have experienced several people asking me “What were you wearing?” as if it matters. I was dressed in my regular uniform, a shirt and pants, and the issue of stripping only came up when I punched the makanga who thought he had a right to my time, space and body. When I showed him he did not, he aimed to humiliate me in the worst way he could imagine.”
“The level of ethnic profiling that goes on every time there is an attack, whether in Garissa or in South C or Eastleigh, is built on this security paradigm. It is a rather interesting way to look at it; that it is outsiders who spoil citizens. Yet, the truth is that Kenya will never know peace until the North Eastern region it annexed is peaceful and thriving socially and economically.
That peace will not come from police crackdowns and ethnic profiling. Fighting the Al Shabaab should stop being about fighting the Somali people, because profiling is not the solution. Neither is a border barrier or a closed refugee camp. Both ideas are as terrible as the idea of training Kenyan Somalis to fight in Somalia. It will only furnish Kenya’s enemies with new recruits.
The real battle is not in Kismayu or Mogadishu, it is right within Kenya’s borders, and it cannot be won with guns and armored tanks.”
by Wanjeri Gakuru
“Why are we so ill at ease about clinically discussing sex in public?
We have the triple misfortune of being a nation that clings to outmoded traditional values, straight-jacketed religious beliefs and a government prone to selective prudishness. Former President Moi famously banned the Kenyan TV show Tushauriane for showing a kiss on the national broadcasting station KBC. And, in 1995, we also suffered a two-year ban on condom communication.”
by Michael Onsando
“I remember this in isolation, without context. I must have been at that age where time is only counted in a series of nows. Again something had happened. Again I was in tears. My aunt gave me a book titled “Real Men Don’t Cry.” The book was way above my age grade – she didn’t even imagine I’d read it. I tried but the words were too complicated, and harder to focus on through waterlogged eyes.
I got her point though.”
As always, this list is not exhaustive – a lot has been written about Kenya or in Kenya in 2015. Which pieces did you like that we did not include? Please share in the comments. From the Brainstorm team: thank you for your contributions, support and criticism as we turned two and began our third year. We look forward to to growing, thinking, learning and loving with you all in 2016. Happy new year!