REVOLUTION: A THREE PART SERIES

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We are going to get older and out of touch. Our children will be gone. So will our backs and knees. We will need spectacles to read. We will be taking some pills or the other every morning; something for the bones, something for the heart. Our hearts will be full of things that will finally fit our palms; gratitude, regrets, fear, flickering hope. We will listen to music that evokes nostalgia and longing. The kids who will be 16 at that time will ask, “Who is that you’re listening to?” and when you say, “Oh, that’s Tupac.” They will not know who that is. Tupac would have been dead 40 years and nobody will care – apart from you and your aging friends still hung up on Hit ‘Em Up. Everything will have changed. Technology will be a scary maze that you are scared even to venture into. The language outside your door will be different, younger people will be speaking in a completely different tongue, something bold and unafraid of the world they live in, this strange world where cars drive themselves and converse with you and your fridge sends you a message at work that it is defrosting the chicken. And you will have forgotten many things, many names and faces and experiences but you will remember this moment. 

What you will remember today is waking up and hearing the distant sound of a chopper. You will remember thinking, even before you got out of bed, that a band of anti-riot police and all manner of men in uniforms must have slept seated in their intimidating trucks, packed out on the streets. Waiting for dawn, waiting for the protests against the finance bill. You will remember how even at 4:45 am, you could feel the country pulse with anticipation, with indignation. With the absence of fear. It will perhaps be how our parents remembered the 1982 coup attempt. How they talked about what they were doing, how they huddled around their radios and listened to the announcements on KBC that felt like the very end of the world. And how swiftly Arap Moi came out swinging wildly with his big rungu. How men died. Or simply disappear. 

You will remember today as the day something shifted. How the younger generation, the Gen Zs, rose and started something with merely a hashtag. How you thought, oh that won’t amount to much but how it became a groundswell. When you remember today, you will remember it as nothing but a Watershed moment. And you will remember where you were. You will remember that you were at home on Twitter (I will never call it X). Or you were in the streets. Or you were in the hospital about to do an X-ray. Or you were on a Zoom Call. Or on the road. Or in maternity. Or at a police station. Or going through a divorce planning a wedding, breaking up with someone, or standing at the airport in your socks. You will remember if you were afraid, hopeful or unbothered. You will remember if you were saving your voice or if you were shouting. You will remember. 

You will remember going on Twitter at 7 am and reading that the son of Kolenyo, Gabriel Oguda had been abducted. And how surreal it felt. Scary even, how the names of abductees got longer than your arm – Osama, Drey, Shad, Harriet, Franye – as the collective patience of a nation ran shorter. 

They say before things get better they get really bad. But things have already gotten bad. They have been bad for a minute. And these younger people are out there standing before water cannons, girls – Baddies – getting gassed,  fighting our fights, their fights, our parent’s fights. And none of us will forget this moment, no matter the outcome.

I’ve never smelled teargas in my life. I hear it feels like smelling a crocodile’s yawn. I don’t want to die not smelling a crocodile’s yawn, so today I will be out in the streets to protest and reject the finance bill. It just feels like the only thing left to do. 

But before we go to the streets, Gloriah has something to say.

By Gloriah Amondi

“Let’s have things tested again: maybe sung, like Fela did, like Nesta did. If your thing cannot fit into a song, just shut up,” Binyavanga Wainaina on ‘Who Invented Truth?”

I

“Koth moro biro ma oting’o pe” Onyi Papa Jey, ‘ODM Raila 2007’

A hailstorm is coming.

The year Trevor died was the year Queen (my sister) abruptly moved back home from Nairobi where she had just gotten a new better job having left the chef job she had been working at for the year she had been there. There was no explanation given for moving back, at least not to us. It was also the year we did not celebrate Christmas because on the radio they kept repeating that (our) Christmas would come after 27th December when the election results would be out and Raila would have won, because who else would? It was also the year my father- a teacher by profession- opened and then closed his chemist, and was the first time a police truck full of strange policemen (we did not have a police post in Aluor) came from Akala and stopped in Bangladesh (the market in Aluor) and went from shop to shop asking to see licenses that nobody had or had ever required, and when they left, eventually, they left with the two young brothers- Lorna and Kelvin- that worked at the new Homeboyz kinyozi where Queen had taken to hanging out since she got back.

It was 2007.

Queen was 20.

I turned 12.

I do not know how old Trevor was, only that when news of his death got to us, my mother kept crying:

“Ei yawa, Wuod Omenya no otho malit yawa. Ginego nyaka nyithindo matindo.”

(Tragic what they’ve done to Omenya’s son, yawa. They’re killing even kids!)

After their arrest, and with the Kinyozi closed indefinitely, Queen moved the Homeboyz playlist home- to my father’s home theatre which until then had only played CDs and records by likes of ABBA, MJ, Luther Vandrose, Bonny M, Jennifer Lopez, and occasionally (on Sundays mostly) Rebecca Malope and selected Catholic choir songs (for mother’s sake).

Queen’s playlist had very unconventional songs and was played unconventionally:

Brick and Lace’s ‘Love is Wicked’ before Enrique Iglesias’ ‘Hero’.

Beanie Man: ‘Heart Attack’

Sean Paul’s ‘I’m still in love with you’ with Beyoncé’s ‘Irreplaceable’

My father’s ABBA-MJ-Bonny M-Jennifer Lopez home theatre blasted this new list with an enthusiasm that sent both us and my father into an observatory silence.

This is the way I remember it. It had been a politically eventful year. From the moment when ODM unveiled ‘the Pentagon’- its inner steering committee of six regional leaders- in a meeting at the Serena Hotel, the atmosphere was charged with excitement. Not quite like it was in 2002 where it was ecstatic with anticipation (for a change) but rather a different kind of excitement, the corky type that comes with holding your breath just before some (expected) good news. For us, there was no doubt. Raila was the next president. And it showed in the way we spoke to each other, or laughed or walked. The frequent visitors to our house who came every evening to watch the news (my father was the only one other than the nuns at the convent who owned a TV set at the time) spoke only of one thing: what we would do once he, Raila, was inaugurated.

That same year, in the middle of that collective high, Onyi Papa Jey released the ‘Raila ODM’ song which propelled him into instant stardom. Immediately, Queen’s playlist collapsed to this one song which she played on loop, and territorially, so that nobody else was given space to listen to theirs. My father, indulging her, said nothing. After a while, the song stuck to my brain and became an earworm. Eventually, even my mother who had never shown interest in any music other than of the Catholic God started humming along:

Koth moro biro moting’o pe (a hailstorm is coming)

Tinga wuod Nyalego ema oromo telo…

Telo donge oromo to Amolo dhi e od bura (Raila is up to the task and he’s making it to parliament)

Tinga donge ema oromo tich…

Mnataka nani, vijana?

Tinga… Amolo…

Wang’ni wadino nu…!

Outside our house, and spreading rapidly around us, the fever of the song was catching. It played in houses on the manual radios that our fathers always kept by their sides during news hours, in the radios of the small shops that were now paranoid, closed at the sight of any stranger lingering around, and on the portable radios that the boda boda men tied to the handlebars of their bicycles. He, Papa Jey, was saying what everybody else was thinking: there was only one possible outcome. We had the presidency. We were going to win.

Wang’ni wadino nu!

(There’s no escape)

No doubt.

*If you’re reading this, open the window and imagine looking into your neighbour’s house. Watch the father watch his girls. Listen to the music playing, and watch the older girl caught up in a storm of unprocessed emotions. Hear the words again and imagine how empty and unimpressionable they must sound to the pre-teenager whose mind is preoccupied with trying to impress her older sibling. Then move your eyes across the room to their father, watching his eldest girl struggle with her world, notice how he will avert his eyes when they meet yours.

Christmas came and passed.

(Our) Christmas came and passed.

Elections came and passed.

Then they shot Trevor outside his aunt’s gate in Tom Mboya’s estate in Kisumu one evening when he stepped out to catch a breath.

Koth moro biro ma oting’o pe!

The hailstorm came and passed, and afterward, they picked bodies riddled with holes from the streets and everyone took back their punctured hopes, folded them, and kept them away from the public eye, embarrassed by these very hopes that had once carried them bursting with life not too long ago.

Five years later, the storm came again and passed. Bodies. And again five years after that. More bodies.

And then it became a song.

II.

“…niko tayari kulipa gharama, sitasimama maovu yakitawala.”

Juliani, ‘Utawala’

Once when I was very young and the urge to be in a revolution was on me, I sought and read everything I could find on how to start a revolution, from old classics to contemporary local texts which somehow led me to Pawa254.

When I first came to Nairobi, as a first-year student at the University (of Nairobi), I sought my hopes (two years away from being punctured a third time) from where I had hidden it and wore it publicly for the first time alongside a crowd of young people wearing their punctured hopes (economic, social) at the rooftop of Pawa254.

It felt like our moment. It was our moment. Us: the young dreamers and the revolutionaries, and it did not matter to us that there were only a handful of us on that rooftop. Every Thursday afternoon, we- the poets, students, and young artists- walked up that hill on State House Road to get to Pawa254. We composed songs and wrote poems while speaking one language- revolution.

With our right fists in the air, we recited the words along Poet Teardrop:

Revolution itaanza na wananchi wakimake a big picture ya umaskini na corruption then tupatie wanasiasa waiwekee caption…revolution itaanza na ma begger wakitingizia matajiri mabega…

On the streets, Juliani urged us on from the loud speakers the vendors played:

…niko tayari, kulipa gharama, sitasimama maovu yakitawala…

Mtaaniii…Julianiii…yeyeee!

Sarabi collabo-d with Mufasa and Maji Maji to give us ‘Tumechoka’.

We had ‘Sheria’ by Juliani and Sarabi again, where Ambasa Mandela’s unique vocals tore through our youthly cowardice and gave us a brief courage to hope again.

It was our moment, and we were on fire.

Except, it didn’t last. It could not.

Years later, we would have similar (deceptively) potential revolutionary moments:

In 2020 when King Kaka released ‘Wajinga Nyinyi’ and caused a brief furore.

And the 2022 elections when half the country dared to wear their hopes publicly again before they were brutally shattered by the election results.

During the series of protests * Maandamano, across the country in 2023.

Like the Pawa254 years, none of these moments stayed long, and once again, we folded our hopes and put them away.

“The danger in Kenya,” writer Tony Mochama says in his book “Political Parties After Political Parties” ( Konrad Adenauer, 2021) “is that within twenty years of our people-driven ‘ revolution’ of 2002 that removed KANU from the center of political power, decision making in the State has gone back to a centripetal ‘Politburo’ that is only being opposed by a self-seeking false Hustler proletariat narrative, that is itself massaging the myth that it is part of an intra-party lumpen masses versus Elites class struggle for democracy.”

He, Mochama, then goes on to prophetically quote 1 Kings 12: “ If the latter “ hustler” narrative were to succeed, it will be like King Rehoboam who told the people ‘ My father Jeroboam laid on ye a heavy yoke, I will make it even heavier. He beat you with whips, but I will scourge thee with scorpions …’”

Once, Binyavanga Wainaina wrote: My country Kenya is forty years old. This century we have had only two seasons of national unity both lasting only a few months: Independence and the 2002 elections.

He further says (in ‘Who Invented Truth?’) about Kenya post-independence that “a young nation is a bad novel: contrived, trying to push an agenda that cannot persuade readers, trying to impose a tight structure that excludes all realities.”

This, he wrote, in the post-2013 election period, but I have lived a little longer after Binyavanga (who died in 2019) to see a third season: the NOW.

I have thought a lot about his- Binyavanga- sentiments, and I have wondered how anyone can create a nation out of forty-something tribes. The only conclusion I came to was this- that everyone’s hopes need to have been punctured in some way or another.

*If you are reading this, in 2008, walk to that same neighbour’s house and knock. When the door is opened for you, walk to the CD player and switch it off (you may, if it gives you pleasure, take it out and break it). Watch them get hurt differently and then watch them all turn towards you to avenge.

III.

“…add am together give me the answer- army arrangement!” Fela Kuti, ‘Army Arrangement’

Alternatively, (to be used as an option in both II and III)

“… Where’s the revolution? Come on people, you letting me down,” Depeche Mode

June, 2024

“I’m thinking of a short video something brief, not too long, something the young protestors can relate to,” he says, undoing the bandage from his leg to look at the swell and blowing on it. “Something to encourage them– something useful, an advice, you know, like what to do when you are cornered by police—and I’m not saying the other things you suggested are not important, but the idea—actually, I have thought about this for a while now—is to say, simply—without alarming or scaring anyone—that, hey, I know it’s not very safe out there, watch out, but also that stay brave you are doing the right thing.”

“Darian—“

“I know what you’re going to say,” he turns his head to look at me wearing an expression that would be worn by an older person, say a mother or teacher, receiving advice from a child. “I need to be more careful, I know— I hadn’t seen that teargas canister coming—lakini, wueh, let me tell you. That pain is like being bit by a dog—have you ever— kwanza it went with my shoes. I looked at my leg and I didn’t have a shoe.”

He stretches his right arm to caress his swollen toes, now, the bluish colour of veins beneath his skin. The bandage around it has already gathered some dust.

Actually, let’s do the video now. Where’s your phone, you have a better camera. It will even be better while we are still here—you can take an angle that shows my leg a bit. Here, I think from there-“

“Darian, I don’t think it’s a good idea to be moving that leg, at least not until we get out of here and figure something out.”

“Relax,” he says dismissively, “this will go in a few minutes, look, I can even wiggle my toes now.”

We are behind McMillan Library-, Darian, his three friends from the band, myself, and two strangers, hiding in the small space between the library and the ladies’ washroom. My eyes are stinging from the teargas, and worse because Darian, who was hit by a full canister, managed to collect a good cloud of it in his clothes before he escaped. Like a lot of the protesters, we are hiding because the police have eventually managed to gain an advantage over the protesters, arresting a huge number of people. Everywhere, around us, people are running, and chanting. Once in a while, there’s a movement along the small alley that separates the back gate of the library where we are from the mosque and it nearly sends my heart out through my mouth. The gate is bolted, but not locked. The plan is to wait until it is safe to leave.

Darian’s friends are arguing about Depeche Mode.

“Violator was hands down their most successful album,” someone says.

“Bro, I think ‘Music for the Masses’ did it- well, sawa, I agree ‘Violator’ had kina ‘Personal Jesus’ but kuna something about ‘Music for the Masses—‘’ 

To take my mind away from our situation, I imagine myself in my apartment playing ‘Let’s pretend’—that game where someone gives the other a prompt about the most ridiculous scenario they could come up with and that person is supposed to find a hilarious way out. However, instead of my boyfriend, I am playing with Darian, whom I have known for only two months.

He’s saying: “Let’s pretend you are leading a revolution, say like Fidel Castro in the Cuban revolution, and your boyfriend— who you conveniently left behind at home today, what’s his name?—“

(He knows the name, of course, he’s scolding. He wants me to say it)

Bobby, I say, he chose to stay home.

“—Anyway, Robert is the bad guy, the corrupt guy—swimming in luxury funded by people’s sweat—and he’s brought before you to punish him, and you know it has to be severe to send a message across that you’re not playing, to scare people, or something like that. And everyone says you must kill him, how would you do it?”

Sounds a little cringe, I say, can he not die?

“No.”

Can we use somebody else as an example?

“No, the game doesn’t work like that.”

I search my mind but I can’t immediately think of something, so, instead, I turn to Darian (in real-time) who is saying something to his friends from the band about Fela Kuti.

“Shuffering and shmilling,” someone replies to a question I missed.

“No, he says that in ‘Army Arrangement’,” Darian says, “do you know the story behind the album?”

A shrug.

I start to say something, but someone shakes the gate and slowly, we hear the bolt being undone.

We hold our breath.

***

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20 Comments
  1. The is no other way you to read read this line…
    “…niko tayari kulipa gharama, sitasimama maovu yakitawala.”
    The only way to read is to sing!!!!!!!

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  2. WHO’S AT THE GATE????

    Young people standing up for their country is a feeling I can never get used to. The passion, the pain, the loss, the tears…., the tears!

    As a Ugandan, tales from November 2020 still play in my mind. The stories, the images, the teargas cannister inside the taxi I took to head back home at the end of the day.

    A government shooting its civilians, how did we get here??? Hoping for a happy ending for you, my neighbours.

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  3. even then you will sit back and think of the set books you read in highschool “ilianza uvumi, uvumi ukageuka nong’ono”, in the same way it started with a hashtag!
    What a time to be a Gen Z!❤️

    reject the finance bill

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  4. The article is very chaotic. Lacking plot. Tried to read through but couldn’t get anywhere save for the title that already gave a clue of what it’s about . Thoughts spread everywhere . Everything everywhere and allover. Thank you

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    1. Mburi, to the mind of a mbuzi, the world beyond blades of grass is shards of glass – everywhere, all over. :-)))

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  5. definitely the first today. let it be known, we are on the middle pf a revolution, with Ruto as our biggest enemy..not to mention his regime

  6. Oh Yes! his past week will remain in Kenya’s memorial gallery as the week of change.
     
    It will live in infamy.
     
    Our beloved President Ruto has repeatedly talked about transformation. This past week he witnessed transformation first hand… and ouch! What a lesson it was!
     
    I belong to the baby boomer generation. Some of my children are millennials. Some are the Generation Zee.
     
    Change came to town as the new kids in the block took to the streets countrywide.
    No one had seen it coming. Former President Uhuru had warned of the demographic bulge and what it portends. Who listened. Three years ago we went to polls and voted in the same old geezers. Corruption and looting contnued unabated.
     
    Journalist Mutuma Mathiu wrote the following in Saturday’s  Daily Nation: “The passion and fearless confrontation of the-powers-that-be as they demonstrated on Tuesday and Wednesday has changed many people’s minds about the Gen Zs. There is a new respect for a demographic that many regarded as spineless, indecisive, irresolute and addicted to the “soft life”
     
    Haya ona sasa! You unleashed the hustlers. They are now baying for blood. Too late. The genie is out. You cannot bottle it nor confine it any longer!
     
    I am reminded of the epic movie `Ben-Hur’ (1959) where Stephen Boyd as Messala says to Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur:
     
    `It goes on. It goes on, Judah. The race… the race… is not… over!’’
     
    No it is not over. Certainly not.
     
    Cry, my beloved country!

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  7. Hoping the person opening the gate aint police, Why do the police think they are living in another place and not where everyone else is and all are facing it rough. kwani they will be going to different shops or will be paid differently? They kill these young people as if they dont have children, siblings….. applause to the GEN Zs

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  8. “……Wang’ni wadino nu !……”

    This time round, ‘we’ have cornered ‘you’

    (if you know you know)

  9. You write very beautifully Gloriah. Thank you for this piece and the books you’ve mentioned in the article. I’ll make an effort to check them out. In 2007, I was 7 and my 7y/o mind remembers eating a lot of cabbage during this period.

  10. The Gen-Zs that everyone despised as sissies have become the cornerstone of the Kenyan revolution. They will not believe! They will not believe!! They will not believe!!!
    (Insert Elder Atwoli’s voice)