Well Kenyans, we seem to have found ourselves in a rather 90’s predicament. And I’m not talking about fashion trends that require you to unzip your ass to pee. No. I am talking about the ever so dubious condition of needing to watch what we say. In case He Who Shall Not Be Named pulls out his wand to conjure up a De-Undermining Spell.
It’s not quite like the 90s though. These days we have oh so many places to speak our minds. The jostling ADHD inflicted Twitter streets, where it’s not about the length, but what you do with it. Reminds me of a time lapse video I once saw of a train station in China. So many people rushing, rushing, rushing, a blur of irritation and anticipation, anxiety and excitement, the dreary and the robotic all smashed together in a de-humanised high speed clash of single minded journeying. Then of course there are the nosy estates of Facebook with its assortment of characters ready to throw mud onto the dirty linen that is so colourfully hung up. Let’s not forget the blogosphere, like winding alleyways, sometimes dark, lonely, lingering with the scent of day old urine, other times filled with half doors and secret passageways to get lost in, or with comment sections that mimic cocky mandingos hanging out of upstairs windows, heckling that girl with the wet hair.
But you see, now we can’t just go out saying anything we want. The frustration! So many places to say it and so few ways to say it. It’s a bit like being invited to your neighbour’s to participate in the feasting of that plump goat that has been tethered in their plot for months obliviously neighing away in glee as it was carefully fattened. You smell the roasting, hear the hissing, swallow your own saliva, reach out for that sizzling nyama choma. But just before you can get to it…… your neighbour punches all your teeth out. And so you watch on in toothless dismay. You didn’t get that memo? It is their turn to eat. That analogy doesn’t quite work. Or does it?
It used to be that before you spoke in a public space, you simply looked under the table for those suspiciously shiny shoes that were the tell-tale sign of ominous ears. Gone are those days. This is a digital government. And the internet never forgets. Writing isn’t any safer. There is no whisper font. Besides, it would have to stand in line behind the development of the sarcastic font and the rolling-my-eyes font.
But I am a writer. Why shy away from a challenge of creativity, imagination, cheek? After all, Comrades, this is the opportunity to attain the notoriety and respect that has been the reserve of formerly oppressed former Soviet writers. But how do we say what must be said in a way that won’t have them knocking on the door past midnight? No really, I am asking myself this.
The first place I go is the hormone fuelled, pimply world of adolescence. Why you ask? Tell me this, who is more adept at masterminding deception, crafting a way of speaking without actually saying anything better than a teenager. Remember Gibberish? Or Pig Latin? Or that gobbled gok language we created as teeniez to gossip about who snogged who without our nosy parents eavesdropping. Perhaps I need to create a new language. Yes, the freedom to say what I want to, without any of the consequences. For a moment, I feel like the dictator of a small country. The power that comes with your very own language! I am almost drunk off the possibilities. There is just one tiny thing. Most languages have taken centuries to develop. Oh and the annoyance of everyone else having to learn it, whilst keeping it a secret from those we don’t want listening in. Feel like a teenager again?
So clearly that won’t work. Well, we could look to the giants of the past. Take from the great Orwellian tradition. But Animal Farm is just so 1945. I suppose we could borrow a little and make it our own. Kind of like most Kenyan hip hop. Africanise it if you like. To do so, we must use the giants from our own Jungle! We start with He Who Shall Not Be Named. Which of our Big Five possesses the personality characteristics that is most likely to decree that no undermining criticism can take place? Don’t say the lion. This aint Hollywood baby. We are fighting stereotypes here. Think about it. I urge you not to pick the elephant. At the rate we are going, future generations will only recognise the elephant as a mythical creature that once ambled the plains of Kenya. Take your time. Use your imagination. We know the Hyenas are already taken and the Ostriches….well, that’s us folks. For we do rather have a knack for sticking our heads in the sand, don’t we? But I find talking animals a little trite to be honest, so let’s shelve that one for now.
Satire? How about that. More looks from the sideways could be just the thing we need. It’s just that I pick up the newspapers on many a day and have to resist the urge to check if it is April 1st. Reporting is stealing satire’s thunder. It’s like one of my favourite writers Ma Jian once told a British journalist when he called him the king of satire; he peered down his nose and said something to the effect of ‘this book is not satire. You may perceive it as such because you think what I write about is so absurd it cannot be true, but this is reality in China.’ Sound familiar folks?
So what are we left with? Come on Kenyan writers. This is your time! And I must not be left behind.
Even though a loved one tells me I need to stop writing political pieces on my blog.
I tell him, I don’t. I write only fluffy stuff.
He tells me to stop mentioning He Who Must Not Be Named, aka Formerly Known as (insert appropriate symbol).
I say, but I am small fish.
He says, even omena get fried. Catch enough and they make a tasty meal.
I tell him, I won’t be cowered.
He tells me, you were too young pre-90s to remember what it was like.
I tell him, we can’t be silenced.
He tells me, we will silence ourselves; the pain of watching a loved one in pain is infinitely worse than experiencing that pain yourself.
And so we silence each other.
And look for new ways to write about Kenya in 2015.