By Evans Kinyua (Kenya)
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Clarida is two and enjoys her life tremendously. She loves lollipops, chocolate and ice cream with the same passion that she hates food. If she has to eat food, she will grudgingly settle for weetabix or some such pre- prepared formula packages from the supermarket shelves.
She has just discovered the Crump Twins, Tom & Jerry, Ed, Edd and Eddy. She loves them all.
She has just began discovering the world, which teems with colors and sounds. Clarida’s curiosity is immense, true for a typical two year old, and she can already put a name to many things, albeit pronounced in a childish lisp.
Not withstanding the lisp, her mum, whom she loves very much, more often than not understands what she says and when she doesn’t, Clarida bawls out her frustration in ear splitting decibels. Then her mom picks her up, sings to her, tickles her tiny ribs and gives her a lollipop.
Clarida is fascinated by her mum, who wears two ear rings like any other lady and, unlike too many ladies ,two more on her nose and lower lip. (last phase “…unlike…” doesn’t make sense. Read, rewrite?). The rings are gold, and they shine and sparkle like the aurola borealis, which excites the little girl when she is uptight. Her mother is the loveliest big human being she has encountered in all her two years on earth.
Clarida’s parents are not married. (this second sentence isn’t really necessary). She doesn’t know it but her parents are planning a big celebrity wedding at the Tree Tops Hotel, where Queen Elizabeth first discovered that she had become queen, but that is of no significance to her either. The lollipop has greater allure.
It will be a befitting event because Clarida’s parents are true Kenyan celebrities, in the world of the first generation of so called celebrities in the Nairobi scene.
Her father Michael (Mike) Kioko, twenty six, already has two albums under his belt, both of which spawned a couple of hits on the Fm circuit in the city. He works more night than day, a nocturnal lifestyle that clashes with little Clarida’s waking and sleeping calendar. His gigs take place mainly in the afternoon and at night, which means that he comes home in the morning worn out and barely awake long enough to peck her good morning before hitting the pillow.
Mike’s forte is rap. He started rapping during his college days at a private university in Nairobi. His obsession with music did not go down well with his parents especially his father, who considered anything about music a criminal waste of time, especially rap.
During his teens, when school broke for the holidays, Mike would sneak away from home after his parents had gone to bed, to attend parties and musical functions in the numerous clubs and restaurants in Nairobi. As much as his sympathetic sisters attempted to cover for him, his forty days were soon over when the parents discovered his nocturnal dalliances with the evil pastime. To put it mildly, they made his life unpleasant, and it was many a lecture he henceforth had to endure. Not to mention arranged counseling with the pastor, his aunt and even one with his grand father.
That was four years ago. In retrospect, Mike was glad that he remained stubborn and true to his passion. Admittedly the going was tough while he remained a student and dependent on his parents for fees and pocket money. But it’s thanks to his music career that today he drives a Toyota Levin and lives in the up market Hurlingham suburb of Nairobi.
Mike made no effort to look for a job after completing his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry. In any case the most probable job he would have gotten was teaching, or toiling in some crammy lab in an Indian owned factory in Industrial Area, that dusty, hot and heavily potholed part of Nairobi that only the boring upcountry types aspire to a career. Not for urbane Mike.
He considered himself a product of cosmopolitan Nairobi destined for the good life in a classy neighborhood, driving a classy car, drinking classy drinks in classy restaurants and dating classy girls. Immediately. Today. Now. Not sweating in an eight to five job with overtime to six or seven, wearing a stuffy suit and choked by a tie around his neck. Which is the life that his father preached? Now that he has his own money, paid his own rent, bought his own food and drove his own car, he expected his father’s view to turn around. But it hasn’t.
It hasn’t because his father does not approve of his sagging jeans and body hugging shirts. He (his father) says that he walks around naked, displaying his underwear for the public to ogle. According to Mike, his dad doesn’t understand fashion, sagging jeans are the hottest thing to hit town, duh!
His dad was just old fashioned, a relic of the 70s, when tight trousers belted at the high waist were all the rage. He should sit back and let the new generation bloom.
George Kioko doesn’t agree. His son was lost and would never amount to anything. Wasting his degree on parties and dancing away all the school fees he had paid for him down the drain. At this rate, a solid career was a dream.
Worse than their different views on most topics is that Mike has no respect for his father. When George was growing up he remembers that he never once disobeyed his own father. He did his father’s bidding and never once answered back. To which Mike retorts that George confuses respect with fear. Mike reckons that his father was too scared of his own father to develop independent thought.
When George thinks about it he concedes that maybe his son has a point. The first time he went against his fathers wishes was when he married Mike’s mother, the former nee Jackie Onyango. Because Jackie was from a different tribe, and one was supposed to marry from their own tribe. It was a bigoted philosophy that George, who was raised upcountry, believed in as he grew up. He had attended a local primary school and a local high school, the former a stone’s throw away from home and the latter within the same district; hence well within the geographic boundaries of his Kamba tribe. Which means that for the first twenty years of his life, George interacted with few people outside his community?
Except for three teachers in high school who were from different tribes, the only other non-Kamba people George met during those years were strangers in the places where they went for various school trips. Thus insulated from external “pollution”, George had grown up with the naïve sense of his own tribe’s superiority over other tribes, and the negative stereotyping of those who didn’t speak his tongue. (deleting unnecessary words)
He discovered the foolishness of tribal bigotry when he joined the University of Nairobi, Kenya’s first public University and for many years a pot pourri of Kenyan tribes represented by the brightest young minds from every corner of the country. Contrary to the myth that he grew up believing regarding people from other tribes, it was at the University of Nairobi where he discovered that the Luo don’t eat dogs and actually do bathe; that the Kikuyu do not breakfast on roasted grasshoppers, and the Luhya don’t prowl around in the nude at night, howling at the moon.
All the forty plus tribes were represented at the Central Catering Unit (CCU) every meal time, the only difference between the students being the amount of sugar each put in their tea, how many slices of bread they ate, perhaps how they held their cutlery. Beyond that, well, they were all the same. They shared the same desks in class. They listened to the sleep-inducing drone of the same professors. They read the same textbooks at the Jomo Kenyatta library, hell, they also shared a beer at the Student Centre when they were broke. (nice prose, but you might try to break it up into separate sentences instead of phrases with commas)
George Kioko fell in love with Jackie and, like they say in student parlance, they became an item. It didn’t matter that she was a Luo. What mattered was that they got along well, had a similar world view, and shared similar ambitions. To their surprise, it even turned out that although their childhoods were different in many ways (George’s being a predominantly agrarian community and Jackie’s mainly a fishing one), almost all other parameters were the same. They both walked several kilometers to school, drank free milk from the Government sponsored program and longed to go to a university and experience the world. The most interesting thing is that they were both told weird stories about people from other communities. (You are making lists. Careful you don’t do this too often. Break it up or only tell what is really important for your story.)
No wonder that his father almost burst an aorta when, in his third and final year at the university, George took Jackie home for formal introduction as his future bride.
George’s father has never quite come to terms with his son’s marriage to a woman from so different a community. His distrust continued even after the couple had grown up, sired their own children, and proven that an inter-tribal union can work like any other. Not even when his son’s first child graduated from University.
George was therefore quite comfortable with his son Mike’s upcoming wedding. He had no qualms that Linet, the bride to be, hails from the Giriama tribe from the Coast .Holding himself as a pioneer in mixed marriage, he was okay with it. He was even okay with the fact that his son and bride to be already had a product from their liaison before their wedding.
He remembered his own raging hormones and testosterone overload while at university. Discovering the joys of intellect and those of the flesh were not always mutually exclusive. (you go into present tense here. It’s jolting. I suggest keeping this in the past tense)
He could forgive so much, but for the life of him he could not understand, or even begin to fathom, both Mike’s and Linet’s dress code. While Mike wore his trousers at the knee, baring his buttocks for all and sundry, Linet wore rings on her nose, her lip ,most likely on her belly button and who knows, perhaps one or two or three in her nether places. That didn’t sit well with George. In fact, it didn’t sit at all.
This is an argument they had numerous times, and it seemed that neither was about to compromise. But when Mike argued that George never disobeyed his father out of fear, and not respect, he tended to see a point inside there somewhere. ( Change to past tense)
Because Josephat Kioko, now seventy nine, was a no nonsense father who brooked no dissent from his wife, and especially not from his children.
Josephat Kioko was born in 1927 and grew up wearing nothing. At fifteen he graduated to a leather loin cloth. At the intervention of the local white missionary, he was taken to school and given a pair of shorts, pro bono. His indoctrination into the protestant faith was quick, unrelenting and brutal. Father Dominic Day assumed total control of his charges, teaching them the Rules of God with a fervor without bounds, painting the picture of an omnipotent Deity that siteth up there in the big blue sky counting the sins committed by each snotty, bare assed kid, eagerly waiting for pay back time in the hereafter. And he, Father Dominic Day, was his elected representative here on earth.
Fire and Brimstone doesn’t begin to describe the style of his sermons, and the lashes from his holy cane not do justice to the quote spoil the rod.
Thus the senior Kioko, having gained some little level of education and become a policeman in the colonial government, ruled his household with the same spirit, and in his little kingdom of a wife and five children, he was the elected representative of God. Yes, one can say that George was brought up in total fear of his father.
As much as they differ in many things, both George and his father agree that Mike’s penchant for buttock baring is unpalatable. They also agree that Linet’s body piercing antics are ungodly. But that’s about as far as they agree.
On the tribe issue for instance, despite his Godliness, the octogenarian Josephat Kioko still opposed marriage by his son, and God forbid his grandson too, outside his Kamba tribe.
And when it comes to politics, old Josephat doesn’t see two bits with either his son George or grandson Mike. Josephat grew up in colonial Kenya, the days of white settlers, and land annexations by queen’s decree, the Mau Mau, Kenyan gulags and the state of emergency declaration. Notwithstanding the fairly passive role he played as an individual in the struggle for self-governance, Josephat nevertheless was a staunch sympathizer with the largely Kikuyu rebels. He identified with the cause, despite playing the Yes Sir, Yes Madam routine with various white employers.
When the nation got its independence led by Jomo Kenyatta under the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party, Josephat jubilated with the rest of Kenyans, savoring the fruits of self governance, his vision one of a future of self- determination laden with goodies and the good life.
When the party ruled for the next forty years with an authoritarian philosophy, Josephat did not mind. The fact that the new government retained his services as a policeman, and even promoted him, was all the goodies that he could hope and be grateful for.
He saw the voices of a few dissenters that started popping up in the early 70s as children of darkness, ungrateful morons without a speck of history in them. How could they fault a government ran by their own brothers when that government had brought so much development like schools for the children, jobs for the hoi poloi, tarred roads, health services etcetera? He had absolutely no clue what grouse they could have with serikali yetu na chama chetu.
Josephat was astounded when the number of these blind and misinformed ingrates grew in the 80’s especially after Daniel Moi took over in 1978 after the death of old Jomo. He was ecstatic when the coup plotters of 1982 were scattered and the leaders hanged. He was so passionate about it that he took his support for the party a notch higher by vying for the position of counsillor for the Makueni Ward, and of course he won. Just to prove that his generation, which had fought for independence, was the future of Kenya.
The oppositionists rallied again in the 90’s ,this time in such teeming numbers that Josephat was worried. But the party under Moi proved even stronger and beat them all hands down. Josephat was proud to be a life party member of KANU, and happily ever after. He had been brought up under the authority of the white master and matured under the authority of the black master. Life can never be orderly without authority.
Josephat’s eternal indignation was the conversion of his son George, unexpectedly, from a nice obedient child to a rabid dissenter.
It happened when George was in the second year at the University of Nairobi. While George’s invitation to join the University was the crowning moment of Josephat’s career as a development minded and free Kenyan ,it was now turning out to be his greatest discomfort.
George involved himself in underground activities of campus radicals, penning fuming publications denouncing the government as rotten, even as he enjoyed the largesse of the government sponsored education, feasting on chicken, bacon, sausage and other choice meals provided by the state.
Josephat was quite sure that the poison that was being ingested by his son was administered by the bearded professors, who, he had heard, never saw a government initiative that they did not want to pour vitriol on.
He had heard that they taught things like turning to the left, whatever that meant. To them it was left this, left that, left everything which confounded Josephat to distraction. As far as he knew, majority of people were right handed and right footed, the left handed and footed ones a minority. To be left ligamented was a handicap, no? Did they want a bunch of handicapped people leading the country?
He was glad when a number of the bearded professors were detained and tortured, and the remainder took the cue and fled the country. All very well and good riddance.
But his son continued with his dissenting ways, preaching anti-government slogans and voting against the party in 1992. But the wrongness of his views was proven when the dissenters lost resoundingly to the good party in 1992.
As for George, now a serious manager in a local subsidiary of a multinational company, Kenyatta’s government was a fraud and Moi came and took the fraud notches higher. The evidence was all there for those without blinders like his father to see. From land grabbing (just like in the colonial days) to tender doctoring, Kenya had very quickly morphed from a country of equal citizens fighting for social and economic equality to a land of a few millionaires and multitudes of impoverished serfs.
The opposition lost again to the kleptocratic regime in the 1997 elections, which all but proved that the majority of right thinking Kenyans held the same view as the senior Kioko. In a wrap, that the opposition were mad dogs out to destroy the peace that the country had enjoyed since independence from the Britons in 1963. Which was a point that the leader of the cabal of forty thieves, His Excellency Daniel Arap Moi ( hereinafter referred to as HEDAM) belabored in numerous addresses to the public, effectively selling the idea that untold horrors awaited the country if he was not in the picture-literally, he ensured he was in the picture daily, on television and newspapers everyday, crowding families in their sitting rooms ala Big Brother - to maintain peace, giving examples of neighboring Uganda and Somalia as examples of the potential for chaos. Thus chastised, the citizens were cowed into watching docilely as the country was deconstructed and bled to its knees by HEDAM and the gang.
But this story isn’t about HEDAM. It’s about the Kioko lineage and the differences in world view by its different generations.
Come 2002, George was gratified when the opposition won the elections by a bumper margin, creating a watershed moment for a turnaround. Josephat was mortified, predicting a bleak future for the country, while George was jubilant, seeing it as a new beginning.
Either way, Mike did not care. He was just completing University and dabbling with music. He was as apolitical as his father and grandfather were political. The fact that corruption continued under the new regime of yesteryear activists did not make a difference to him whatsoever.
He was happy to make enough money to buy a car, happy to get contracts to perform in high end restaurants and functions, afford designer clothes and frequent the latest joints in town. His fiancée Linet was true to type too, a happy go lucky lass with little interest in the mundane shenanigans of politics. She was happy in the world of her beloved Mike, enjoying the freedoms of body piercing and all night romps. To her, Mike’s sagging trousers and exposed underwear were the hallmark of a young dude in step with the rest of the world.
When George became disillusioned with the leadership of the new government, comprised mainly of his generation of the 1970’s University firebrands, he started to view the generation of his son as the panacea for his beloved country. For unlike his generation, they were fairly detribalized, many of them (like his son Mike) products of mixed marriages. Their friends were either Tom, Jim, Bob, Valerie or Tutaya, without the second and usually tribal name that was the first item to create tribal bigotry. They were even mixing the bloodlines further, and Mike’s fiancée Linet was a perfect example. Yes, maybe that generation would point the country in the right direction, away from the tribe which had proven to be the most common denominator for all things going wrong in the republic.
But it’s beginning to look like too much to hope for. Mike is past thirty, the age at which George had already devoured the works of Karl Max, Dennis Rosseau, Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Charles Dickens and a great number of lesser thought setters. At the same age Mike knows not who Mobutu Sesseko was, nor Sani Abacha or Pik W. Botha, if only to critique them or learn from their mistakes. Of Idi Amin he has a very dim idea of some soldier who allegedly relished human flesh and that only because Uganda is a close neighbor to Kenya. His core interests lie in the area of rap, hip hop, genge, kapuka, and other genres of contemporary noise that passes for musical entertainment in Kenya.
We have no idea what two year old Clarida will become. Perhaps the country will be rescued by Clarida and her generation.
Clarida is the fourth generation in post-independence Kenya. Perhaps that is how long it will take for sanity to prevail. But then, do not hold your breath. Perhaps not. Different ways of sucking her lollipop might remain the most important intellectual pursuit that she aspires to.
Clarida’s will be the fourth generation, and if we count forty years for each in modern Kenya, and if indeed her generation proves to be the one that will propel the country to claim its place in the world of technology, trade, economics and science, the country will have lost one hundred and twenty years inside a tribal cocoon.
Maybe there is still hope sooner, when Mike and his generation gets too old for hip hop and sagging jeans. They are well educated too, educated enough to take the gauntlet. They are the x-generation, but they are wasting time in nightclubs of Kenya’s towns while the country waits.
I have gone somewhere to cry.