BE CAREFUL, WHAT YOU SAY COULD SEND US INTO REFUGEE CAMPS

Whenever I venture out for my exercise walk in Nairobi, I can’t fail to notice a large group of foreigners assembled outside the United Nations High Commission offices.

The men, women and children I see are mostly Somalis, but in the gathering is also a sprinkling of tall, dark people I suspect are from Southern Sudan. From the look of things, these people are refuge seekers having fled their war-torn countries across the Kenyan border.

For more than twenty years since the overthrow of Siad Barre, Somali refugees have streamed into Kenya to escape atrocities at home. With a long porous border, it has been easy for them to sneak through, obtain Kenya identity cards through nefarious means and live relatively normally in any part of Kenya.

Those who have entered as refugees for purposes of asylum seeking are either directed to designated camps or are given permission to live in towns to await the evaluation of their status by refugee authorities.

The same has applied to southern Sudanese aliens and those from as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo, and from Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia, who at one time or another, have found themselves in Kenya.

I have also travelled from Nairobi in planes that were half filled with African refugees on their way to different parts of the world having been granted asylum there.

Kenya too, in a small way, has contributed to the world refugee population. A considerable number of our citizens including scholars and politicians left the country in the 1980s and 1990s to escape political suppression. Also, when we have had tribal clashes and politically instigated violence, Kenyans have crossed the border into Uganda and Tanzania in search of peace. Some of them are still out there living as refugees.

Life in a foreign land – especially for emigrants on the run – is traumatic. Uprooted from familiar grounds where one has always enjoyed family support, exiles often go through difficult times trying to adjust to strange cultures and new surroundings. Some acquire depressive tendencies that lead to violence and criminal behavior.

The reason why I am dwelling on this matter is because sometimes Kenyans forget that words they utter in the heat of political or social discourse have the potential of provoking ethnic violence and plunge the country into anarchy.

I have seen many postings in the social media and listened to many political speeches in recent weeks that go beyond the simple definition of hate speech. They are explosive, reckless and dangerously inciteful.

It is very easy to drop ethnic or religious epithets without care. But remember, it is such remarks that have sent citizens of other countries into refugee camps. Kenya is not an exception. Give it a thought.

And that is my say.

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Is Kenya a country of fakes? If you are in doubt, sit back and hear me.

Every year, Kenya loses 70 billion shillings to fake goods. This according to the Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA). This means most of the goods you buy – either from China, South Korea or even Gikomba – are phony.

That is not all. We also have fake fundis popularly known as cowboy contractors. In one county, a fake contractor is alleged to have swallowed 85 million shillings intended for a bridge. Residents of the area now want the contractor blacklisted and the tender given to a Chinese company. They say they have lost confidence in local and national construction companies.

One leader at the Coast and another in Rift Valley are under investigation for allegedly uttering fake degree certificates. Both were busted and the consequences could be harsh. More than a year ago, if you remember, a candidate for elective office in Nairobi was forced to withdraw from the race on similar grounds.

In many parts of this country, thousands of land owners are allegedly sitting on land title documents they say are dummies. The landlords can neither use them as collateral for bank loans nor utilise them for ownership change.

Also, dozens of Kenyans have died from drinking poisonous substances manufactured under such names as liquor, dry gin, chang’aa, kumikumi, kosovo, kasufuria and many others. Although these liquids pretend to look and taste like Smirnoff and Bombay Gin, they are actually deadly copycats.

And, if you think fake cops are bad, how about fake corpses. You must have heard of the bizarre stories of “dead” bodies waking up from cold freezers and sending mortuary workers fleeing? Well, these characters are usually not dead. They just fake death to get away from the heat outside.

Then there are those corpses that refuse to go home for burial. These immobilize vehicles carrying them for hours often in the middle of nowhere, and agree to coöperate only when coaxed with prayers and tears. Don’t be fooled. These are not genuine corpses. They are only masquerading to punish members of the funeral committee for gobbling the funeral budget and hiring jalopies instead of real hearses.

Recently, the Presidential spokesman, Manoah Esipisu, in response to claims of an alleged plot to assassinate a senior Kenyan politician described them as “cheap, unfounded and demeaning.” He was just being diplomatic. What he meant was that the claims were humbug, in other words, fake.

In Kenya we have fake money; fake doctors; fake Anglo-leasing-type companies; fake teats and buttocks now very popular among our women; fake workers known in Kenya as ghost workers; fake students. They pretend to be students but are actually on the payroll of the intelligence; fake musicians like the flabby duo masquerading as Sauti Sol and singing in a fake Nishike video; and even fake athletes who want us to believe they are hungry for medals when they are pace-setters on contract.

We may even have fake Al Shabaab killers in our midst. Some of the so-called Al Shabaab terrorists could be you and me – faking our way into notoriety and chasing heavenly martyrdom.

We also have fake pastors and sheikhs who hide behind the Bible and the Koran to commit heinous social and capital crimes. Some want us to believe they are prophets and prophetess, anointed bishops and even popes.

Take my advice and this is serious. Check your Senators and Members of Parliament afresh. They too could be fake. If they were truly genuine they wouldn’t be in Nairobi when parliament is in recess. By staying put in the capital, they are faking their true identity as waheshimiwa. Genuine Senators and MPs are in the villages attending weddings, burying the dead and paying school fees for the poor.

And if you didn’t know, Kenya also has fake beggars and chokoras. The haggard young people you see lugging dirty sacks on their backs are not really chokoras. If you check their gunias you will find motor spare parts enough to fill a store – hub caps, headlights and side mirrors, even bumpers and steering wheels. They are actually businessmen.

Still on chokoras, the red-eyed mamas you see at roundabouts along Uhuru Highway with sickly babies on their backs could actually be off-duty security guards doing the day shift, waiting to report to work in the evening. If you can’t make it, fake it, they say.

Now, this is not a laughing matter. Are you a Kenyan? Please check your ID again. Why? Because the ID may be fake, and if it is, then you – oh my, oh my – may be fake too.

And that is my say .

 

SAUTI SOL, NAKED BODIES AND MORAL VALUES

In Africa, raw display of sensuous – leave alone sexual – feelings is a taboo. Customs and traditions bar open demonstration of affection between members of opposite sexes.

Flirting, kissing, fondling, trysts, or what young people now call “making up,”  in public, are prohibited. No wonder even grooms – on the most romantic day of their lives – find it difficult to master the courage to “kiss the bride”. They will look this way and that way before planting a cheesy smooch on the cheek and hope nobody noticed.

But a Kenyan afro pop group has broken all rules to the amazement and shock of traditionalists. Sauti Sol, once a capella group, has had the audacity of “baring it all” in their latest musical album, “Nishike,” (Hold Me) which they released three weeks ago. Muscled bodies garnished in oil are not the only thing in the video. A curvy, skimpy, sexy-acting damsel is seen running all over the lead singer; nestling in his arms, cuddling him, and rubbing his chest and thighs, and doing what traditionalists would call “un-African” things.

When the video hit the social media on April 29, it was like “the goddess of love” had landed at a remote African village. Curios viewers bombarded the internet in their thousands with comments that contained shock, disbelief and sheer delight. They described it variously as “explicit,” “steamy,” and “the best video” ever to come from the Kenyan music scene.

Some predicted a ban by authorities. Surprisingly, the government kept mum, leaving TV stations to use their own discretion. Afraid of possible official retribution for showing what could easily pass as “soft porn,” the stations self-censored themselves by either giving the video a complete black-out or partly covering it up.

I find “Nishike” no more explicit that many of the foreign clips I see daily on Kenya television stations. Just look at all the body swaying and luscious moves in most lingala and benga videos; or see how foreign artists provocatively gyrate their torsos  on the screen without care.

Sauti Sol – composers of three successful albums –  did not, in my opinion, cross the line of moral incorrectness. What they did was to use their creative talents to express love in a way never seen before in this country. “Nishike” is not an X-rated video. But it has certainly awakened traditionalists to the realisation that this is the 21st century, after all.

With this daring break-through by one of the top musical groups in the country, Kenyans should expect much more lurid material on their screens in future.

And that is my say.

POLITICAL SATIRE, FAKE NEWS AND XYZ

Almost everywhere in the world the media has used political satire to poke fun at governments and politicians and to entertain readers and viewers.

In the United Kingdom, what is also called political humour, has a long history in English literature.

In the United States political satire is big business. People like Jon Stewart of the Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report, are some of the most popular and highly paid media celebrities. Their comments often influence political decisions.

In developing and less democratic nations, political jokes, especially those touching on sensitive issues such as corruption, bad governance and abuse of human rights, are not taken lightly by authorities.

For example in Egypt, Bassem Youssef, who started by lampooning the Muslim Brotherhood and is now bashing Egyptian military rulers, is not sitting pretty in the violence-ridden Arab nation. Even though he is extremely popular among ordinary citizens, Youssef has made many enemies within the political and military establishments and lives under constant threat of harm.

In Kenya, popular humour has existed since the sixties through cartoons and drama. Gado and Maddo have led the way in this medium, stepping on many toes as they try to entertain readers. They have been intimidated and even sued. Ngugi wa Thiongo, the master playwright and novelist, was a victim of state high-handedness and spent time in detention for his critical play, Ngaahika Ndeenda ( I will marry when I want).

Although satire is likened to “fake news,” (parodies, hoaxes, and outright disinformation presented as “news”) its main purpose is to make people laugh. And this is the class under which XYZ falls. This puppet satirical show follows in the footsteps of the once extremely popular Spitting Image in Britain in the 80s and 90s which lampooned everyone from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to American President Ronald Reagan to the British Royal Family.

Like in the United Kingdom, the XYZ’s stinging jabs have irritated some, but my view is that this politically heavy puppet programme is nothing but a piece of good entertainment.

The question we should ask ourselves is: should humour work within the boundaries of conventional journalism? Should humourists adhere to the professional code of conduct and uphold such basics as truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity and balance? This is a question media executives and journalism professors have asked for years.

Personally, I feel political satirists, cartoonists and other humourists should carry on with their work without worrying too much about basic journalism ethos. Producers of such material must however uphold the principles of honesty, fairness and decency. Lampooning is fun but we are dealing with human beings with feelings and pride.

One thing should be clear though. The media – whether mainstream of social – should not be allowed to carry “fake” news about events that did not happen or exaggerate or sensationalise headlines for commercial purposes. The principle of responsibility should always apply.

They say laughter is the best medicine. With all the challenges we face daily, most of us could do with some humour.

And that is my say.