The (Un)Broken Promises to Youth and Women in Kenya


A recent study, The Kenya Youth Survey Report, at the Aga Khan University found that today’s youth do not consider being corrupt a big deal. They do not consider how one makes their money important so long as one does not go to jail. Young people are optimistic about the future materially, but expect that the levels of corruption is going to increase.

Even though Article 10 of the Constitution of Kenya espouses national values and principles such as good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability, and Article 3(2) provides that “Every person has an obligation to respect, uphold and defend the constitution”, the study also found that the youth of today are afraid to stand up for what is right and may not be relied upon to defend the constitution. This dominant culture of apathy, indifference and tolerance to corruption threatens to erode the gains made since the promulgation of the new constitution in 2010.

The youth constitute the most economically disadvantaged segment of the population. An assessment by the World Bank reported that Kenya has one of the highest youth unemployment rates among developing countries. Kenya has the highest youth unemployment rates in East Africa despite having the biggest economy. Disadvantaged populations are economically and socially excluded and face may barriers to success that may have negative implications both today and in the future.

Article 10 of the Constitution of Kenya calls for equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality, non-discrimination, and protection of the marginalized groups. It is on this premise that the government created affirmative action funds to improve the economic engagement of youth, women and persons with disabilities (PWDs).

A recent study by The Institute of Social Accountability (TISA) used a social accountability approach in measuring the extent to which the youth are able to exercise accountability in youth funds. The study looked at three aspects: transparency, accountability, and public participation. Jipeshughuli is a youth participation in governance campaign which seeks to empower citizens as a means of combating widespread corruption.

There are four main funds that targeting the youth, women, and PWDs. The Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF) was established 2006 to create employment through the promotion of entrepreneurship by providing loans services to small and medium sized enterprises. In 2007, the Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) was established to provide accessible and affordable credit and/or expand business for wealth and employment creation. In 2013, as an initiative under Vision 2030, the government also created Uwezo Fund to expand access to finance and promote women, youth and persons living with disability led enterprises at the constituency level. To date, YEDF has disbursed Kshs 11.7 billion to 850,000 beneficiaries, WEF has disbursed Kshs 6.3 billion to 63,342 women groups, and Uwezo fund has disbursed Kshs 5.2 billion to poor people at the constituency level.

Transparent systems ensure that there is availability of information to the public and clarity about government rules, regulations and decisions. A transparent government empowers and supports the right of citizens to know, which enables them to monitor the implementation and performance of affirmative action programs. More than half of the target population for the funds do not have access to information due to limited publicity at the local level, according to the #Jipeshughuli study.

On the other hand, accountability means that government officials are able to account for or take responsibility for their actions. Citizens who are socially accountable have the capacity to hold the state to account. In the case of affirmative action programs, there must be clear and practical mechanisms for addressing grievances from fund officials, as well as space to appeal to higher level supervisory and oversight bodies to ensure that services are rendered efficiently. Issues of accountability persist. Corruption remains an unending sore in the administration of the funds. From the TISA study, 13 percent of applicants for YEDF were asked for bribes, 15 percent in WEF, and 14 percent in Uwezo fund.

Article 10 of the Constitution also demands rule of law and participation of the people in policy and legislative processes. Participation builds on individual and collective capacities to enhance the willingness and ability of citizens to engage with government officials, local leaders, and service providers. Active engagement of citizens with local governance fosters democracy. The degree of public participation remains worryingly low. Take for instance, in the TISA study, 73 percent of YEDF beneficiaries stated that the officials did not involve youth in the management of the fund, 63 percent of women were not involved, and up to 81 percent of Uwezo fund beneficiaries decried lack of involvement in the fund affairs.

There were various measures that should be put in place to reduce corruption such as inclusion of beneficiaries in management, regular monitoring, enhancing transparency, rotation of officials, and digitization of the process. Public participation remains minimal, and there is need for more involvement of beneficiaries in the design of these funds.

The efficiency of the YEDF can also be improved by simplifying the loan application process, rolling out a robust training and mentorship program, and expanding access to the fund through increased budgetary allocation. The conditions for collateral and guarantors continue to lock many women out. These prohibitory collateral requirements disempower the youth, women and PWDs and deny them access to affirmative action funds.


#JaladaFestival Diary: Day 01

Today marks the beginning of a journey, gladly awaited, one that has now become. As journeys are, the unaided eye can only see as far as is naturally possible, but the spyglass has been mounted to aid in seeing further into territories that now seem uncharted. We all thought the day would not be here, that the beginning of the inaugural Jalada Mobile Literary & Art Festival, across 5 countries, over 4500 kilometers of travel, art and literature, would not stand, as it is standing now, on our very doorsteps, doorsteps now ravaged by the pestilence of hope. What is there to say but wait, but commit, but open that new bag of energy and pop a few vials as one inspects the hat, straightens the tie, stoops and ties the shoelaces, walks out of the door into the sun of trial?

So let us all wake up today to what we massaged for a long time, we have nothing but duty to let it go out now, go with us to the uncharted lands. So we welcome everybody today to the start of the festival that will run across five countries in East Africa. It starts today in Nairobi. What do you need to know about the next three days?

1. Masterclasses will run for two days in #Nairobi at the Goethe Institute. The masterclasses will focus on creative writing and travel writing. The creative writing masterclasses will be instructed by Jalada’s gifts to the world: Kiprop Kimutai and Linda Musita, of Lesleigh Kenya – both are incredible talents and Jalada inhouse editors. The creative writing masterclasses will be instructed by the one and only, Editor-In-Chief of Panorama, Amy Gigi Alexander and Richard Oduor Oduku. These will run from 9am-5pm on March 3rd and 4th 2017.

2. Because it is a Friday, we have scheduled our Panel discussions in the evening to allow all our friends and art and literary enthusiasts to come. We’ll have a panel discussion on the “Role of Local Language Broadcasters” in Kenya. I will moderate a conversation featuring John Maloba & Nyambura Wanjirusardóttir Mutanyi.


3. After the conversation, we’ll have a performance, “We Won’t Forget”, directed by Yvonne Mwavuganga and featuring a cast of Abu Sense, Ngartia J Bryan, Laura Wanjirũ Ekumbo, William Mwangi, Carol Tiri, and Bobby Mbace. You don’t want to miss this.


4. The last conversation of the night will be on “Tracing Nairobi’s Benga Beats’ – a conversation moderated by Anyiko Owoko and featuring Billie Odidi and Dan Aceda.


And it is free. No charges. You just walk in, fix yourself down, and be an active participants in the conversations, in the experience of “We Won’t Forget”, an examination of acts of terror in Kenya and effects of post-election violence through stage monologues, poetry and dance.

Don’t forget to buy a ticket for tomorrow’s festival showcase at the Kenya National Theatre.


The Jalada Mobile Festival: 10 days to go!

A year and a half ago, certain dreams were uttered, like all dreams sometimes are, to fill up the silence between friends, or to share inner lives, inner hopes, inner aspirations. The fabric of that dream was how different places of literary and cultural production could be linked, could be made to drink from each other, could feed each other’s health. And so the dream was thrown to the net of reason and the factory of manufacturing reality from imaginations began operating, with nothing more than raw enthusiasm and commitment.

The dream was big. And the core of the dream was the idea of a literary tour across East Africa. The dreamers were Jaladans and Jalada friends. Initially the dream covered seven countries, but it later became five – Kenya, Uganda, DRC, Rwanda, and Tanzania. Remember this was something that was too ambitious and had not been done in our part of the world, at least not to that scale.

With time the idea became bigger and clearer. Instead of just a literary tour, the dream became a hybrid between a traditional place-based literary festival and a literary bus tour. And instead of Jalada running around every town searching for venues and artists (not that we haven’t), we began seeing each town as a place of cultural production, as a place where there were organizations working with local artists to create literature, art, dreams. We began looking for ‘anchoring hosts’. These anchor hosts were to serve as places for hosting a ‘place-based festival’ and the ‘bus’ was to serve as a bridge between these places, as a connector – the river that runs between cities, as an enabler of mobility, a vehicle through which knowledge and ideas could be transported from one place to another.

Much of this is a story we’ll tell you pole pole so that you savour it well well.

But we began to fill the puzzle. We began with the idea itself, developing a concept note for the festival that covered not only the concept of a ‘hybrid festival’ but also the content of this festival – people, places, spaces & what will be produced, what will be discussed, what will be performed. In brief:

It will celebrate cultural diversity through multi-lingual performances and exhibitions, and revitalize cross-cultural interchanges between Africa and the world through writing, translations, and publishing in digital spaces. It will also interrogate the place of African languages and translation in the 21st century.

It will create living connections between artists, cultures, and places and showcase an expanded retinue of traditional literary panel discussions, multi-lingual performances, master classes, workshops, art installations, exhibitions, and historical excursions.

I take this special opportunity to welcome the peoples of East Africa and the world to the inaugural Jalada Mobile Festival.

The Festival will run from 3rd March 2017 to 31st March 2017, and will involve panel discussions, masterclasses, workshops, performances, art exhibitions and installations in towns spread across 5 countries: Kenya (Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru, Mombasa), Uganda (Kampala, Kabale), Democratic Republic of Congo (Goma), Rwanda (Kigali), and Tanzania (Mwanza, Arusha, Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar).

There is an expanded list of activities in each of these towns.


Who are the partnering institutions? We have partners in all the 12 towns/cities that will host #JaladaFestival events. We’ll talk about all these institutions in time, about all the people involved – everybody that has made it possible, about all the places we’ll go to, about everything we’ll do in these spaces.

Since the festival starts in Nairobi, and runs for three days in the city, let us only go through a set of what is planned for the Nairobi leg.

In Nairobi, our main partners are the Goethe-Institut Nairobi, who have been incredibly supportive since the old days of the draft festival concept, and they have crazy enough to believe in our dreams and resilient enough to stick with us up to now and into the far future. The Goethe-Institut Auditorium and the Kenya National Theatre are going to the main avenues for interactive panel discussions, masterclasses on creative & travel writing and translations, book discussions, and performances.

We’ll have two main panel discussions + a series of conversations. One on ‘Tracing Nairobi’s Benga Beats’ and the other on ‘Local Languages Broadcasters & National Unity’. We’ll have a 2-days long Masterclass on Creative Writing, Travel Writing, Translations & Publishing. We’ll send out acceptance letters in a few days to those who applied to participate.

In recognition of Saro Wiwa’s call that “literature should be taken to the street. That is where, in Africa, it must be”, we’ll have a special session of street poetry, street dance and mchongoano, and we are partnering with our brothers at the ArtEast Hub.

Jalada has also created a Jalada Night Festival Showcase, at the Kenya National Theatre, on March 4th. It is a ticketed event, at only Kshs 1000, and only 300 tickets, featuring the best of the best. The poster goes out on our pages, tomorrow. Be the first to get yours!

The purpose of this post was to say that apart from being tied to the intricacies of planning, I’ll also be blogging about the festival as the ‘tour bus’, which we will unveil soon, I can keep that a secret at least for now. I’ll be posting things here as frequently as I can and keeping you abreast of everything. I’ll also be serializing all our partners and anchor institutions as this story unfolds.

Explore the festival website too.

Did you know about this? (below?)


The Book Caravan will be part of the Jalada Mobile Literary & Arts Festival.

The Book Caravan will give enthusiastic readers an opportunity to access a variety of new literary productions across Africa. Books for sale from collaborating publishers and authors will be sold during the festival events at recommended publisher prices, while donated books and souvenirs (pens, notepads etc) to selected schools across the East African region.

Our implementing partner, TheMagunga Bookstore, will be in charge of selling all the books pooled from collaborating publishers and institutions, in all Festival events.

#‎StopExtraJudicialKillings‬ in Kenya

If I was the President, I would stop extrajudicial killings. I would mourn with the victims when innocent people are massacred either by the police or terrorists. My comments would be a reflection of my ideals, a testament of a vision I have for my country. My speeches would radiate from my being and show my convictions on issues – state violence, human rights, corruption, freedom of speech and association, equity in resource allocation etc– is would be a reflection of the values my society should aspire to. I would not go for the lukewarm or impersonal standard speeches that only shows the disconnect between the political elite and the citizenry. As a top civil servant, I’ll know that my clear stance on issues has the potential to influence the society. The power of a transformational leader is the positive influence they have on their followers. What vision of Kenya do our leaders believe in?

In ‘They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45’ by Milton Mayer, we learn how the Nazi built a system of oppressive violence right in front of people’s noses. No one seemed to notice that there was a widening gap between the people and their government. It took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised. Manufactured crises kept the public so occupied that they could not see the slow motion underneath. They could not see that the state was becoming remoter and remoter. When they began to notice, it was too late. They woke up when the government could do anything necessary, so long as it could get away with it.

Milton tells us to ponder on that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’

But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. Kenyans must resist the acceptance of violence and extrajudicial killings as a normal thing in our society, or we’ll wake up when it is too late. Ever wondered how citizens of some countries found themselves under a dictatorship? They didn’t resist the beginnings.

Tribalism in our politics creates warped lenses. You stop seeing a human being for the person they are. Your compassion becomes imprisoned by ethnic prejudice. So we have a country of people who celebrate the misfortunes, particularly, the deaths of others, for the mere reason that they are not them, that they don’t come from their tribe, and we have created self-serving narratives that help us justify our ‘he or she deserves it’ derision.

Arthur Schopenhauer taught us that compassion is the basis of all morality.

There is no Them. There are only facets of Us.

I stand in solidarity with lawyers countrywide and their decision to down their tools from today for a whole week in protest.

I commiserate with the families of Josephat Mwenda and Joseph Muiriru and feel a deep sadness for their loss. There is probably no need for a legal system if representing clients in court also puts a lawyer on the firing line.

I support LSK’s calls for the interdiction of the officers involved in the murders, and support the demands for the resignation of top police officers commanding rogue units.

But I’m not blind to the hypocrisies of our selective public outrage.
Kenya deserves better.

It is time we all read the famous and provocative poem by the anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

Speak now. Or when they will come for you, there will be no one left to speak for you.

Reclaiming Words

This morning I’m thinking about reclaiming words.

Linguistic reclamation is the reappropriation of a pejorative epithet by its target, to turn an insult into a positive term and deny others the ability to define it.

‘Black’ has been used in English literature in a derogative way, even the evil is black and Jesus is white. But here we are, standing proudly and saying that black is beautiful. We have reclaimed black.

Hip hop in black America has helped reclaim ‘nigger’. Nigger is a big bad word in the United States, a symbol of centuries of black people dehumanization and oppression. But how do you snatch its potential from the hands of the oppressor? How do you deny such symbols their potency?

Hip hop took the word and symbol of oppression, the word nigger, a word meant to hurt, from the hands of the oppressor, reclaimed it and has continued to erase its agency, its potency, devalue its currency through overuse until it is completely oppositioned to its history. A thousand rap songs with the word nigger.

Though there are the N-word privileges. It is used when among themselves. Sometimes there is a honorary pass, and Latinos are allowed to use the N-word, but not all Latinos. Jennifer Lopez was criticized for using the word, while Terror Squad is allowed to use it all the time. African-American comedians use it all the time, but no white American can use it without a backlash. Context is key.

pigga 1

pigga 2

pigga 3

So when black people use it, it is not only a shared history and identity, though painful, but a testament of ingroup understanding that there has been a reappropriation of meaning.

‘Nerd’ has been reclaimed. Bitch, dyke, Jesus freak, slut, queer, gay. Now we have queer on the covers of books and queer theory being taught in universities. Gay has been reclaimed. Calling someone gay used to be an insult. Now LGBTI has reclaimed the word. It’s no longer an epithet.

A great way of taking the pain of a hated epithet out of it, is to reclaim it for the group it’s used against. Calling someone queer was a way of derision. It used to hurt, it was meant to hurt. Now millions wear it as a badge, a clothe of honour, of individual identity. The unruliness of black hair used to be problematic. Now our women have made natural hair a thing of beauty.

To reclaim is to recapture the power to define.

The Death of Europe




Her lyre rots unplayed by countrymen,
Sovereign Queen half-sleep, watches
the diseased sceptre of the Great Empire.
her enlightenment torches, clouded
by a miasma of complacency, die
as peasants and Cambridge elites
cheer on Thames bank.
The boat race has ended, the camera is dead
past glories run to the pod – to hibernate.

The devil’s tears beneath Arabian deserts
is angst and barters with long stifled ire,
cards crush under cheap Chinese shoes;
above the table a new rule is blessed.
Days of opium for sugar are long buried
and Africa: yesterday’s pot of hope,
bleeds gold and diamonds no more:
her ravenous striplings
guard her stores day and night.
She is pregnant with the world – again.

Europe’s holy sins butcher like graffiti
bathing on sighs of awaited tumult
the calabash is broken, the pot leaks
the past has risen to rob the present
of a glorious mat spread on mire.
With World War laurels dirty and torn
the Union eats the hands of democracy
jotted on fading sovereign titles and notes,
twenty seven bouncing boys yesterday – now
they close their eyes one by one – to everlasting rest.

Richard Oduor Oduku ©2013

Chinese Racist Ad

A supremely racist ad by a Chinese detergent company (Qiaobi ) has been going the rounds.In it, a black man and a Chinese lady are flirting. It looks like he’s going to get some. But as he leans in for a kiss, the Chinese lady thrusts a detergent capsule in his mouth and bundles him into a laundry machine and then sits on top as the black man spins and screams inside. True to the power of the detergent, when the washing ends, the laundry machine spews out, not a black man, but one who has been washed and has now become a handsome Chinese man in a clean white t-shirt.

chinese ad

It is 100% racist but it did not make me angry. I’m tired of being angry about racism. I’m also coming to the realization that we cannot complain about racism forever. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the ad was a result of what the people who made it have been taught since they were young. Recently, a writer friend posted a picture. She was in Vietnam (I think), seated in a cafe, and there is this young boy, who was curious and was scratching at her skin, wondering why the black was not coming off. It is the image of a kid trying to scratch off a black skin so that it would become lighter, whiter, like his and the highly educated adult designer developing an ad where a black man is pushed into a washing machine and washed until they become white, so that a white female can accept them as a lover.

Chinese racist ad

In both cases, the reaction is coming from the black people, from the ‘othered’, and this shows that the societies where these things happen have internalized the othering. For the kid, it shows you that their parents and schools have completely eliminated any references to a black person, and images of black people, whether in history, in music, in movies, in art, in writing do not exist in the worldview of these kids. They simply don’t know that there are black people in the universe, and so their innocent curiosity allows one to see where these kids are coming from.

In such a society, it is easy to see how the person making the ad did not think of it as racist. What is racism? How can an ad be racist? He doesn’t view the black man being pushed into the washing machine as human, as deserving of being treated as human. That is what they were taught since they were kids, to exclude the black people from human civilization, from the dignity of being human.


Now look at the contrast in black families and schools. One can say that in the 21st century, it is only black children who are aware of the complexities of the human species. Before 10 years, an average black child in a village in Siaya has encountered images of all races. This kid knows the difference between a European and a Chinese. He knows Europe is not a country, neither is Asia. The white man colonized Africa and installed whiteness. They send you Europeans and Americans in the villages for charity, to teach Africans to stitch and make bangles (read ‘economic empowerment’). They are the new Mother Teresas.

Today, in most places, the image of a white priest is sanctified in the minds of all Catholics. They bow at the feet of the Pope. They have been taught that this bowing means respect. They have been taught that humility is a virtue. That submission is a virtue. Like among Catholics, in all Christian denominations, this image of whiteness is an archetype of holiness. Almost every church, despite their Bible telling them that Jesus was a Jew, hangs a picture of white Jesus on its walls. White beautiful baby holy face. Blemishless. Long holy hair. Arms are held in prayer position. It is a picture than introduces all Christian babies to the godliness of whiteness, and throughout their lives, a certain deference will always be extended to a white man.

Back to the subject of awareness, so an African child may stare on first contact, but deep down in their brains, they are not imagining the human skin as something artificial, as something that can be wiped off or blackened to look like them. I have never heard any story where a black kid asked a white person why their skin is white. Have you? Do share.

They are aware of the world, of diversity, of different humans. Of course this awareness, coupled with institutionalized inferiority complex, makes these kids see the white man or the Chinese as superior. Something which has serious negative effects on identity and self-esteem. Plus all the narratives, in history, in music, in movies, in art, in writing are narratives of superiority. Outside Africa, children are either taught negative narratives about Africa, or Africa is completely excluded from their worldview. I think it is only in African schools where world history is taught. From ancient irrigation in Mesopotamia, China and Egypt, to past empires, to very specific histories in all world wars of any history of ‘world importance’. Most Africans know so many things that when they get scholarships, they perform so well in their classes, much to the surprise of many.Now this awareness of the world is what Africans take for granted. This awareness can be used to conquer, not submit.

There are only two options: we can exclude other people’s ‘superior’ histories from our syllabus and replace it with our ‘superior’ histories. or we can create a balance – 70% African history, 30% world history, and because we are more aware, it should be easier for us to see the imperialist strategies of China in Africa , or decades after China will have recolonized Africa and settled 400 million of their population here to become the new administrators of Africa, our grandchildren will be complaining about the same racism we are complaining about today. But we are sleeping. Our government’s snore can be heard as far as the Pacific. We’ll wake up once our politics and our economies have been overtaken by a ‘benevolent colonizer’. We’ll wake up as colonial subjects in a future that is already taking shape.