My love for Kenya runs deeper than a woman’s heart and dates back to the days we fought for multi-party democracy. I was still somebody’s fantasy then but I can feel that we have been on the rise ever since. With the promulgation of the new constitution in 2010, the love intensified to an unprecedented level, was it not the most progressive constitution of any developing country? It placed us on the map and the world forgot of the bloodshed we orchestrated two years earlier. It was a new dawn for Kenya, but dawns have dew, accidents and alcohol blows. The other occurrence that idented our place on the map was Obama. I chose to refer to him as an occurrence because his rise to glory, the second term and legacy are beyond human understanding. We rose to a middle class ecnomy, we danced and developed vision 2030, and we were the Canaan of Africa. However, we have been so caught up in the celebration that we have forgotten our vision.
I also admire Kenya because of her insight when choosing her mentors; she is torn between emulating China for her rampant development and USA for her leadership approach. We have borrowed from both. We now have SGR, China WUYI, YALI and well The Presidential Debate. The Presidential Debate is the highlight of the moment as we head to the polls. Abinadab, Eliab and Shammah shall be showcased before us but we will not accept them, neither the other siblings of our mother. We shall summon for the one in the wilderness. We hear that he is a good shepherd but as Kenyans we shall reject him and request for the anointing of the bears that torment us, we love the bears’ power and agility, and he walks on fours like us. Though he will devour on us, we do not mind.
A society gets leaders and criminals they deserve. The corrupt leaders we have chosen are reflections of us, our greed united. Monday 24th July will find our eyes glued to the television screens watching the bears take on one another and we shall not look for quality. We shall look for height and gait and if they pronounce words like we do. We will make our choice with consideration to our second names then we shall cry foul leadership until 2022 and claim to have learned the lesson but the stupidity bug will bite again like it has always done and the cycle will continue.
The bug has flown through the hills, valleys and landed on the land of plenty. Universe has it that the man with prowess of language is the unsaid leader of the community. My father has a talent of intertwining words and was called upon to chair the committee overseeing the election of a new headman after the former left the village claiming the cold was too much to bear and winter was coming. Many men and one woman came up vying for the post. In the villages, it is a coveted post as it comes with power and favors. The daughters of a headman go for a higher market price when it comes to dowry than a commoners’, then it goes without say that all those eyeing for the post have many daughters and are control freaks. It also comes with a responsibility of hearing cases outside court. The headman gets many bribes to determine the side the jury favors. Most cases in the village are those of cattle grazing on a neighbor’s crop plantation. The by-laws dictate the owner of the cattle to pay for the damage; he should restrain his animals just like the crop farmer has restrained his plants. Well the cattle have to spend a few days as evidence in an enclosure selected by the jury and the headman milks them, supplementing the share he takes to the dairy.
Away from a lot of smart talk, let’s indulge into what brought us here. The headman debate. My father was the moderator and he chose a strong panel to sit with him. I was among the seven, representing the youth as an advocate for their educational needs. My role was well cut out by the moderator.
“Ask about bursaries. The headman goes before the county committee that allocates bursaries to needy students. Ask them what strategies they will implement to make sure that the genuinely needy students are considered first and that this village gets its fair share of the cookie,” that from my father was a really smart and researched problem. I began to understand why I am his son.
“You remember when we had the fundraising convention for your college fees. Most of these candidates pledged to chip in. Which year are you in now? Who has ever given you even a coin? The question will be what guarantee do they have to show they will honor the promises they will make today.” He was hitting the spot as the moderator.
But surely I was not going to ask the second question in the hard way I was requested to. The day of the debate came, the venue was at the crossroads under the shade of the eucalyptus trees. The debate was scheduled for two o’clock in the afternoon when everybody had finished tending to their farms for the day. Sophia treated the panel of seven to lunch at Mwireri Butchery. She bought fried goat intestines with ugali as an accompaniment; she also gave us a list of questions to ask her as the dessert. Sophia was the only woman candidate, was the first wife of a village tycoon who lived in Nairobi with his second family. She received a lot of stipend from her husband to make her one of the richest women in the village. She was however not loved by many as they claimed her money came from devil worshipping.
P.S Please don’t become over rich if you live in the village, we will accuse you of devil worshipping and claim to have seen blue cats walk to your house at 3 a.m.
We ate to her treat in fear that we were being anointed for greater evil calling. We arrived at the crossroad to find a few old women sniffing tobacco from small containers and passing it around. They sat on african-print lesos with their legs out-stretched before them. The youngest old woman was about seventy, the flesh of her face hung loose inside the dry skin and her remaining front teeth were stained brown. She was collecting the list of questions the women had for the candidates and watching out for her mother who was over one hundred years old.
“We were beginning to think you will never show up Baba Mwai,” she saluted the moderator as soon as he alighted from the motorbike.
“This is a historic moment for us, it is our civic responsibility to write it down” my father said vehemently as he greeted the old women, “Where are people?”
“Is this Mwai your son?” another old woman asked as I greeted her.
“No this is Kiai, the last born son. Mwai is a grown man now,” my father replied proudly.
“Kiai greet me again. You have grown up with the rain. I could not recognize you,” the centurion lady greeted me before showering me with blessings, spitting on my forehead. The saliva hit my forehead, together with particles of tobacco and it was a taboo to wipe off the blessing.
“Thank you grandmother. The one in the clouds has been faithful,” I replied calmly as she smeared the blessing over my forehead to create space for a second,” I bless you with land and sheep pwah! I bless you with wives and many children, both boys and girls pwah!” This is the same blessing accorded to nDiPi Luto.
“What are you doing now? Where are your people?” Another one enquired.
“I do not have a family yet.”
“Shame is such a fine young man without someone to cook and launder for him. You should visit our home before you go back to the city and see how many girls the likes of you have kept waiting. We thought our girls are bewitched and that is why they cannot get husbands. This education is wasting our children…” I left the women to rant about. I will consider visiting the home, the weather of late is too cold to ignore the offer.
The panel sat on bricks of stone meant to build a community water storage tank, the congregation sat behind them and the dogs wondered about. The candidates faced us, sitting on elevated bricks for visibility. Each candidate was given three minutes elevator pitch but all of them ended up giving a vote of thanks.
“We are happy; actually we are so happy that you came. You spared time that you could have been at your farms with your cattle to come and see us. We give thanks to you. We also thank Baba Mwai for this forum, it is a good forum that we get to meet and share few things about our development. I can see our lady (the centurion) is here, we salute you mama. You have prayed for us your children and we have seen the fruits. Last but not least, we thank God for the rain, we know our lands will be productive and we will not lack something to eat. Asanteni tena na tena.”
“Wake up,” my father scolded me for dozing off during such an important moment. The villagers clapped happily for the candidates for such impactful introductions. I feared that I would not make it to the end, the thoughts of a whole homestead with girls disturbed my mind a lot and their parents were all at the debate. It was quite an opportune moment for vetting.
“We shall have the panel ask our candidates few questions before the open forum. As we all know ruuru rungiaga njau ni kuhuka ruhukaga (If a herd of cattle lacks calves it dies off). Our youth are our future and let us start with them. They are being represented by one of them who happens to have traveled far and is loaded with information. Kiai, the floor is yours,” That was my father, dropping important points. He can surprise people at times, no wonder mother agreed to get married to him.
“Good afternoon everybody, much has been said (that’s a lie) and I have two questions for our able candidates. We know that education is paramount. It has changed the life’s course for many our people. It is also beyond reach for many especially us, the people of Gathina village. Hearsay has it that the governor gives money for bursaries but it never reaches our village. We want to tell the governor that gutire wa nda na wamugongo (all children are equal). My people cannot all go to the governor’s office to tell him that; we need one of us to be our voice, you the candidates are to do that for us. Tell us then how you will establish genuinely needy cases among us and the plans you have to make sure that our voice is audible,” I dropped important points too and spiced them up with a traditional dictum. I was beloved by the old women, they would all swear to marry me were they fourteen and not one fourteen.
Allow me to use Kiswahili for the next reply given by Sophia who was quick to answer. To my Non-East African friends, Sophia just translated my question to Swahili.
“Kusema ukweli, kwa hakika hayo maneno umesema ni ya umuhimu kwetu. Elimu inatusaidia sana kama jamii. Bwana Governor amekuwa na pesa anataka kupeana lakini hazitifikii. Haya machinda(mashida) ya fees tunaweza kuyamaliza tukiwa na kiongozi mwema anayetutetea kwa governor. Mimi nikiingia kwa hio kiti nitaweka mikakati na pesa ya elimu itawafikia. Asanteni watu wa Gathina.”
I almost forgot to say that she received a standing ovation for the word mikakati(strategies). The word itself apparently seemed to hold the solutions for all their problems.
The centurion lady struggled to get to her feet to ask a question, her question was on point but pointless to ask. The debate was a joke, questions were replied by questions, translations or encouragement to a level the ones present understood, even the dogs.
“I fought for independence, my husband died fighting for our independence. I got paid by unmet promises, lessons to draw a signature and endless visitors. I have few years to live and I will die a sad lady but I want my children to be compensated with something that will save them from abject poverty. My daughter here is just seventy years old but looks like my twin sister due to hard labour. How will you see to it that she receives something even after I am gone?” the centurion lady asked and closed her eyes, not the final one, she was just preparing to launch a sneeze.
The reply was encouragement. Do not give up hope which is worse in the local language ndugakue ngoro , I mean that phrase is an insult and opposes nature. That one hundred and something old heart can only die, it beats to die, and it craves death and death alone. If she wakes up in the middle of the night, she prays to never wake up again and if she wakes up in morning, she prays that God takes her away and that is the only prayer she has ever prayed that is never answered.
“Grandmother we will make sure that your problem is addressed.” One candidate replied, I was on the fence regarding which of her two major problems was to be addressed, the Maumau allowance or the refusing to die problem.
Sophia won the hearts of the people; they wanted a woman and a woman they would vote in during the Election Day a week from then. I wandered away to escape more blessings and use the ones I had received to get a wife, for a homestead is full of girls waiting for vetting and the parents are at the debate, and they saw me there. What an alibi!