Category Archives: Books and Essays

A period forgotten ,A period never lost :

The year is 1965, the date; 4th June, Geoffrey Gitahi Kariuki (MP for Laikipia- Nanyuki), moves a motion in the House of Representatives that requests the government to immediately “villagize” all Somali in the North Eastern Region. He says that this is the only way the government can curb the unrest and effectively root out all “Shifta” within the area.

What followed was a series of talks and government discussions which in 1966 culminated in the formal adoption of a forced villagization policy in the then Northern Frontier District. A  region  that   covered  an  area  of  approximately 102,000  square  miles,  which is about  half  of  Kenya’s  total  landmass .The region whose inhabitants comprise of the Somali, Borana, Rendille and Gabra communities was divided into the districts: Garissa, Isiolo, Mandera, Marsabit, Moyale, Wajir & Samburu.

The term “shifta” which in Somali means bandit was used by the government to refer to the militant secessionists who attempted to reunite the NFD with their “motherland” Somalia, where they felt  they  belong culturally, politically and territorially as opposed to Kenya. The tacit alienation of Northern Kenya goes way back to colonial days where the British government separately administered the region which led to the marginalization of the area economically, socially and politically. Up to this day Northern Kenya has never been fully integrated with the rest of Kenya, which begs the question “Was it wrong for its inhabitants to resist integration with a state that was never really keen on accommodating them”?

The history of villagization /concentration camps was not new to this forlorn period; it had been used as a means of socio-economic suppression by Portuguese in Mozambique, British in Kenya and most profoundly by the German Nazis whose main aim was to suppress life let alone, social-economic practices. Detention camps which were politely referred to as villages were generally characterized by strictly enforced curfews, regimented social life, property confiscation, movement restriction and many other peremptory ways which only served to suppress the human spirit and kill the very definition of human rights and freedom.

In a bid to force agriculture (as the primary economic activity) upon the nomadic pastoralists of Northern Kenya, the government confiscated livestock from the locals claiming that pastoralism was a primitive way of life. Pastoralist movement was limited and grazing areas were clearly delimited, in spite of these directives, the inhabitants of the region crossed over Kenyan borders and grazed beyond the state, this gave the government more than perfect reason to criminalize the practice.

The involvement of Shifta groups in dispute over watering holes and grazing lands called for punitive measures against the pastoralists who were slowly forced into depending on government famine relief aid for food. The loss of livestock which was a source of wealth and status amongst the locals led to their impoverishment. Livestock which they were never compensated even after the end of the Shifta period and the disbandment of the villages.

Screening exercises to “differentiate the loyal Somalis from the “Shifta” were carried out in most districts. Reports of women being raped, men being beaten and people going without food were common during these exercises.

“As in the case of Garba Tulla, the whole experience of villagization has become synonymous with the process. Residents today readily recount the events of what they call  guya ua  (the  day  of  killing).  The  entire  village  was  rounded  up  and  detained  at Garba Tulla airstrip where a list of the names of between forty and  seventy- five   men was produced  by  members  of  Kenya’s  Special  Branch.  It is said that  those  named  on  the  list, who were mostly elders, were then loaded onto lorries and driven to a crossing point seven miles from Garba Tulla village where they were shot”

Indeed, one can not overlook the positive developments that came with the establishment of the villages. Primary schools were built, dispensary clinics and technical training centers for women were established. But with the growing population and under-management, the facilities were not able to accommodate the needs of the people and with time became ineffective.

They say that history repeats itself and in the case of the Kenyan government and its counter-insurgency measures, history proved this statement right yet once again. The same control measures administered by the British in their anti-Mau-Mau campaign are the same measures directly if not too obviously borrowed by the Kenyan Government in their suppression of the North Eastern peoples. Only this time we have leaders who were subjected to dehumanizing treatment within British camps imposing the same same treatment on the people they were elected to serve.

The Shifta period is undoubtedly a major part of Kenyan history yet like many other incidences is not present in the school syllabus. Whether it is a bid to erase a period which the government would choose not to remember or a bid to hide the damning truth..Truth that tells a story of a country that had fought so earnestly and resiliently for its independence yet soon after gaining it ,did not hesitate to imprison its own people. Whether the villagization was initiated in good faith or in bad faith it is clear that the number of people who suffered from it far outweigh the number of those who gained anything at all.

Our rich, diverse history is tainted by the drowned out voices of all those people silenced by time, age and marginalization. People who were forced to abandon their way life ,who lost their property ,their land, their dignity ,men and women who have heard of justice but are yet to catch a glimpse of it.

We may say that history repeats itself but without the people history in itself is an empty shell of endless tales; sure history is recursive and with the “War on Terror” which saw mass stereotyping and unfair treatment of the Somali people in the name of ” Al-Shabaab”, history has done it again. The only reason history repeats itself is because mankind never learns and things don’t change we change.



We lived to tell ~ A triumph of knowledge

The article below is based on the book We Lived To Tell: The Nyayo House Story “which 
documents experiences of Kenyans who went through the infamous Nyayo House Torture Chambers.They tell harrowing stories of scary hounding by security agents, arrests, torture, jail and detention. Their experiences reveal an intolerant, oppressive and paranoid government that could not stand criticism”.

We lived to tell ~ A triumph of knowledge

In 2006 WikiLeaks a nonprofit organization released its first document, exposing a plot to assassinate government officials in Somalia. This was just the first step in what is hitherto considered the largest release of diplomatic cables and classified information in the history of the world. In this single act of self-knighted bravery and what can also be perceived as unequivocal chivalry, Julian Assange and his team made public, secrets and atrocities committed by governments in the world over .What followed was a swift and prompt response from implicated governments, which demanded that WikiLeaks be shut down with immediate effect as it was a threat to world peace.

In this guise of world peace and welfare, governments sort ways of bringing the organization down. This selfish act to suffocate the truth and suppress transparency revealed that in as much as we speak of democracy and openness, past and present day governments  still have alot to hide  from their people.

December 12 1963, the prospect of a post colonial Kenya is brimming with life. Independence is finally here – this is all Kenyans have dreamt of and now that it has been obtained, the future holds nothing but promise.50 years since independence, as one sits down to evaluate the country’s progress economically, socially and politically it is clear that something must have gone wrong. From the ubiquitous tribal mentalities to dictatorial regimes and rampant corruption one may simply call it a leadership flaw .A leadership flaw so large it would transcend through generations for nearly 50 years. Judging by the swift transition from the tyrannous Kenyatta regime to an even worse Moi administration one may argue that Kenyans knew nothing else. Still, why would it take so long for change to finally come?

Reading through “We lived to tell”, one thing seems to resonate louder than anything else. A central theme materializes in what seems to be an “ingenious” yet monotonous master plan that all oppressive regimes seem to follow to the T. The suppression of knowledge and the stifling of new progressive ideas. Taking into account the despotic Moi regime which stifled the country for nearly three decades. It is evident that the only way to suppress the conscious uprising was to literally hunt down and break the spirits of those keen on awakening the masses and those who were keen on exposing sham practices. Through its endless tactics to suppress the spread of revolutionary ideals and ideas, the regime clearly demonstrated one thing: that it had an Achilles heel .A point of weakness that would eventually render its demise and despite the fact that it took close to 24 years to do so, the inevitable happened.

Some may say that the regime ended because it was simply time for it to end. Some may attribute the end of the regime to the intense pressure applied by the international community. Others may attribute the end of the regime to the hundreds of people who were tortured in the Nyayo house chambers. Yet others may credit the end of the regime to the clandestine movements or even the underground literature that encouraged people to wake up and fight for their rights. Regardless of the numerous reasons that may be sighted, one thing remains transcendent in all the above, the spread of knowledge and awareness was key.

Where it is a question of education and empowerment, the role of the university as a force to reckon with comes out profoundly within the book. The government termed it the unofficial opposition and on one too many occasions Nairobi University was closed down. University unions and leadership bodies were banned and accused of wanting to “destabilize the country”. As the roots of dictatorship were beginning to take firm within the country .The university was the only body that came out to challenge the oppressive laws and repressive governing being practised by the government.

“Progressive student leaders like Onyango C. A., Mwakuduwa Mwachofi, Oduor Ong’wen, Justice Maurice Adongo Ogony, Paddy Onyango and Mwandawiro Mghanga galvanised the university community to demand the release of all detainees and a national referendum to determine whether the majority of Kenyans wanted the single-party system legalized.”

In retrospect, one can majorly attribute the eventual attainment of multi-partism and recognition of human rights in the country to the university body and intellectuals, who refused to be silenced. Who unlawfully proliferated underground literature to awaken the masses, who even in prison had covert communication syndicates where they would still discuss the welfare of the country in spite of their vapid states.

“It is apparent that between 1982 and 1986 Mwakenya activities centred on the publication and distribution of its underground literature calling for the unity of all patriots to change the oppressive Moi government. “

On the more comical side, it is hard to believe that the government even went to the extent of removing all Lenin-Marxist/Che-Guevara/Malcolm X books from the university library claiming that the books would poison the minds of the students with their foreign ideologies. As if the books forced you to read them, as if they stalked you as you walked around in the library and when you least expected it pounced on you with pages wide open. This is the extent to which the government was willing to control what people knew, to the point of controlling what it is that you read and what it is that you didn’t read.

Special branch police invaded the university libraries and removed all books by or on Vladimir Illyich Lenin, Karl Marx, Che Guevara, Malcom X, Franz Fanon, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Maina wa Kinyatti and Fidel Castro from the shelves “ where they lurked in wait to ambush young innocent Kenyan minds with their subversive foreign ideology ”

“… after he expressed displeasure with the keeping of beards, calling it a communist fashion, it suddenly became almost criminal to be seen with one. Civil Servants who wanted to be seen as “Nyayo followers” and “patriotic citizens” had to shave clean and not be seen to wear a semblance of the “seven bearded sisters” or “Marxists.”

Such occurrences make you wonder, what it is exactly that makes someone feel that they are justified to treat someone else in such sadistic ways? Is it power that causes one to be so paranoid? Or is it money that makes one believe that they are invincible?

The book contains harrowing experiences, stories and accounts of persons who underwent dehumanizing ordeals in the hands of a sadistic regime. Stories enough to make you cringe while reading them, stories enough to make you hate the very soil that you tread on.

There is an array of feelings brought out as you read it. Firstly, you want to blame someone; you want to direct all your anger and your indignation towards someone. You want to blame Moi , you want to blame all those interrogators cum cold-blooded torturers at Nyayo House  you want to blame the prison wardens at the prisons who treated political prisoners as scum. You want to blame all those sycophantic politicians who carried the regime’s banner high on their backs and never once spoke word of the atrocities being committed.

On the other hand you also want to thank someone; you want to thank the SONU leaders the likes of Titus Andugosi and Mwandawiro Mghanga. You want to thank writers like Ngugi Wa Thiongo and Maina wa Kinyatti .You want to thank the students, professors, professionals who championed for the rights of Kenyans. You want to thank the leftwing politicians who had the voice to expose the regime for what it really was, who made more impact by going to jail than any parliamentarian ever did. You want to thank the families and friends who hid political refugees. You want to thank all those who risked their lives and the lives of their families to champion for the rights of Kenyans.

It is not enough to have an empowered leadership and a disenfranchised people. People who are susceptible to political hogwash and propaganda. It is not enough to trust that empowerment and awareness trickles down. In the same way, it is not enough to simply believe that   dissemination of information, knowledge and awareness has a top down approach. Just as plants grow from bottom up, buildings are built from bottom up, so does empowerment start from the bottom up. Have a foundation that lasts, a foundation that stands for what it believes in.

The end of the Moi regime symbolized a triumph of knowledge over power. It symbolized the determination of a people to fight for their rights and their will to survive against all odds. JM Kariuki famously stated that:

“We do not want a Kenya of ten millionaires and ten million beggars” JM Kariuki

In the same way we do not want a Kenya of ten knowledgeable people and ten million ignorant people. This is what prophet Mohammed meant when he said “The ink of a scholar is worth a thousand times more than the blood of a monarch” –  Scientia est potential ~ Knowledge is power.

Neocolonialism – a necessary evil

“Patiently endured as long as it seems beyond redress, a grievance comes to appear intolerable once the possibility of removing it crosses men’s minds.” Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)

Image courtesy:Time – Light Box ,,,,Pakistan

In the ongoing conversation between Speransky and Prince Andrey Bolkonsky from the book War and Peace. Bolkonsky ardently listens to Speransky who in the course of their conversation about society and its mediocre, mundane school of thought says “…We want the wolves to be well fed and the sheep to remain unhurt…”.Speransky does not elaborate on this statement however, leaving us to resolve whatever qualms left in our minds. Time and time again I have thought about this statement reflecting on its relevance in regards to past, future and contemporary times .Each time the answer has been the same, I see no other way; That the powerful will do whatever it takes to retain their position, that there must be casualties in this struggle to retain superiority, that these casualties are inevitably forced to accept their role as that and that the powerful are more than satisfied to keep them that way.

Believe in a system where you are the victim .If Neocolonialism had an apothegm, that would probably be it. Economic exploitation disguised under investments that only serve to extend the gap between rich and poor. Political subjugation exercised by collaborative governments that work together for the superficial benefit of all but for the inherent good of one. Cultural erosion characterized by ideological shifts and the supposed assimilation of sophistication. Increased dependency cultivated by seemingly benign funding and administrative aids. Industrial labour harnessed from the poor manufacturing goods for the rich. Multinational corporations controlling national resources.The list is endless, forms of Neocolonialism exist in almost all walks of  our lives,Kwame Nkrumah termed it the last stage of imperialism.The last most subtle yet cunningly profound stage indeed.”In order to halt foreign interference in the affairs of developing countries it is necessary to study, understand, expose and actively combat neo-colonialism in whatever guise it may appear. For the methods of neo-colonialists are subtle and varied. They operate not only in the economic field, but also in the political, religious, ideological and cultural spheres.”(Kwame Nkurumah 1965)

“We, politely referred to as “underdeveloped”, in truth, are colonial, semi-colonial or dependent countries. We are countries whose economies have been distorted by imperialism” ,,Che Guevara

In retrospect ,it is important to consider what role we as citizens of the “developing world” have had to play in the strengthening of the power held over us? Taking Neocolonialism into account particularly where it is most prevalent, Africa. The effects of colonialism and the colonial school of thought are far reaching, they go well beyond economics and politics down to our mentality and the very perception we have of ourselves. It’s no secret that in most African countries a white man is automatically treated with slight veneration. Not for any apparent reason, simply because that is what we have been taught to believe. A direct repercussion of colonialism, whose main teaching was that of inferiority and subjugation. The continent’s presidents and politicians would rather have their children study abroad because education standards within their own countries are relatively second-rate. Education standards which they are essentially entrusted to improve. Development  contracts would rather be given to foreign companies other than local contractors, because local companies are more than likely to do a shoddy job. True or false one thing  is certain  ,the notion that foreign is superior, local is inferior is ingrained all around us and regrettably within us.

We could talk all we want about the evils of neocolonialism, critique it as much as we want taking our approach from all feasible angles, basing our attack from every possible front, but at the end of the day, Are we prepared to completely break free from cultural, economic and political ties that render us so dependent on western countries? And just in case we are, are we prepared to face the consequences of choosing to follow such a path? Consequences which include sanctions, trade embargoes, strained foreign relations among many others. Consequences which will affect all aspects of our lives, spanning from our education, to our tourism, our health, our agriculture.Consequences that will disrupt the entire system,turn it all around.

Say we chose to follow this dreary route, Are we willing to work hard enough to rebuild our economies? Are we willing to direct our veneration towards each other not towards ‘others’? Are we capable of working collectively for the good of both the rich and the poor? Are we wise enough to chose leaders based on merit not on financial, ethnic grounds? Leaders who are competent enough to steer their countries in the appropriate direction and denounce any form of puppetry?

I say neocolonialism is a necessary evil today because we have learnt to accept the suppressed state we have been tacitly forced into. Tomorrow is uncertain and so is each and every day after that. We can choose to change this, we can choose to leave it in the saddening state it is. Forget all the resources that make Africa lucrative, forget the minerals, the crops, the climate, the wildlife, the land…the greatest and most valuable resource at our disposal is our minds. As in the philosophies of Che Guevara, Malcolm X, Bob Marley and many others, this is the first thing that needs liberation, the mind.

That we can live in a world where we are equal socially, economically and politically is highly implausible. That the day will come when developing countries will be truly independent and free of external control is almost inconceivable. Yet with whatever faith we have left we must strive to believe; that we have the power to break free and earn the respect we deserve , that we can work hard enough to build our countries not necessarily for us but for our children, not necessarily for them but for their children. The end justifies the means they say, this is an end I believe all African countries ought to have. An end worth the respect, equality, recognition and prosperity they deserve.


Now Playing:

Anthony Hamilton & Elayna Boynton – Freedom

Economy? Ideas ? Politics ?..Technology!!

“Power is in the hands not of the minority but of the whole people.When it is a question of settling private disputes,everyone is equal before the law; when it is  a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility,what counts is not the membership of a particular class,but the actual ability which the man possesses.No one so long as he has it in him to be of service to the state,should be kept in political obscurity because of poverty………..” Pericles view on democracy

“When your spirit is strained and you limited to change
The lyrics in your limericks will change
A different hook, the way the sentences arranged
More demented in your deliverance, more sinister in your slang..”

Capturing Wisdom:

The Question :“Are Political structure and Ideological developments Independent of Economic changes?”

Early historians believed that history was primarily influenced by spiritual and intellectual changes.This idea progressively changed as historians in the early 20th century put materialist and economic explanations at the centre of historical change.The logic of industrial capitalism was and is still the dominant force explaining major changes in human affairs.This however, does not mean that political changes depend solely on economic developments.A more pertinent example being the Mau Mau movement in
Kenya which was in essence a social/political movement that advocated for and in the offing prompted  major economic changes in the then colony.

Even in feudal societies ,political/ideological changes affected the entire population ranging from the aristocrats to the peasants a clear indication that changes such as these were not based on economic status rather were based on ideas and constructs whose time had either come or whose time was long gone .It is important to note that historical development is determined by an interaction of forces:economic changes,ideological developments and mechanisms of state. Therefore economic,political and ideological factors are in themselves inalienable and synchronously serve to bring about historical changes that have shaped the world as it is today.

So where does technology come in? Fast forward to today and by today I mean this hour,this minute and this very second and I set aside economic,political or even ideological developments for something greater,something urgent ,something more “sophisticated”… Technology.Technology which in itself is a historical change chronicled by the gradual and painful shift from manual to automated systems in the world over.Take for instance the internet and the revolutionary aspects that have accompanied it such as social networking,in this day and age the internet offers governments unprecedented access to information about us, and a level of control previous generations of politicians could only dream about (“The Kernel”).In the most basic yet most  pre-eminent of ways the internet has led to the complete erasure of geographical boundaries which until recently were a major limitation to communication in terms of urgency,speed and even cost.

The Cold war was chiefly  ideological “Yesterdays communism without freedom,Today’s capitalism without justice” that was then today’s wars are Cyber wars.Industrial espionage is carried out by intelligent programs and  neatly designed algorithms are just about all that is needed to bring down nuclear reactants.Safe to say that in technology, confrontations between the east and west have found a “peaceful” outlet an outlet which has not yet struck fear into the heart of the world.An outlet that may seem subtle at this point but may prove terribly destructive in years to come.

Could it be that we are part of a crucial time in history? A time in which technology plays a central role in the life of man ? A time in which man dethroned man in favour of machine ? Could it be that future generations will study our ways and the decisions we made ? And whether these decisions led to our prosperity or our ultimate ruin?

As a coder I often wonder whether futuristic ages will look at software developed during my era as simple,too basic and in the worst case utterly and completely rudimentary , and the answer is yes they probably will.That  generations to come will be by far more sophisticated than we are , the answer is yes ,they will.That our activities today will be the history that they study and that our mistakes they may learn from,yes that will happen.That they will laugh at the sheer absurdity of some of the ways in which we handled our business , the answer is yes , that they will.Yet in all this we should find repose in what we have done and the accomplishments we have made,the foundations we have laid and the strides we have unwittingly managed to take.

Are Political structure and Ideological developments Independent of Economic changes?” to this I say yes and no ,maybe or maybe not.Then again maybe the question I should be  asking is “Are Political structure, Ideological developments and Economic changes Independent of Technological Changes?”  to this I say no , not at all. Political structure, Ideological developments and Economic changes  are entirely dependent on Technological changes.That very statement is applicable to today and the events that have made today as it is, that statement marks  the point where history changes,that very statement marks the point where  history is made.

“But you gotta understand our differences is the same
What starts in clouded minds, finishes in the rain
Of the fools that are used that’s instruments in the game
Where oppression is the queen and ignorance is the king
Where revolution is dead…”

Freedom Bus – UrbanArt

“And you’ve got to  respect the position in which you playing.Never let your heart reflect the conditions in which you staying.Even if it’s dark, and the temperature is the same..”