Khaligraph Jones – Call me di bleacher

A few days ago, Khaligraph appeared on NTV’s weekly show, The Trend, looking dapper and a little lighter skinned than usual, and his explanation was just ludicrous:

“Right now I am living a different life compared to the life I used to live. You know I am drinking clean water, I am driving my own cars, and I am not walking in the sun getting burned. My shawty introduced me to this thing when you go to the salon they scrub your face”

The streets started talking. Here was a chink in his armour. It was only a matter of time before other rappers ran to their social media profiles to fire the shots. Most were low level fire, most anti-fans, thousands of chiding Facebook comments. Octopizzo was the loudest of these voices, calling him ndugu Omollo out and inviting him for a talk on self-esteem when he jets back in America. Black Lives Matter. It was expected. He had given his contemporaries a free pass. He was going to be roasted if he didn’t bury the allegations in a big way. So he began by throwing a blame on NTV studio lighting, accompanied by new images of an un-bleached Khaligraph on Facebook.

Away from the general arguments against bleaching, hip hop has a special hell for artists who try to challenge “black pride”, “black is beautiful” norm. Allegations of bleaching, worse still for a hip hop artist, can completely destroy their career. To avoid any form of feminization, rap artists have always, almost en masse, embraced hypermasculinity – exaggerated male stereotypical behavior that emphasizes physical strength, aggression and sexuality. The result is that rappers, almost unconsciously, go for images, lyrics, and music that are manifestly violent and misogynist.

In the documentary film, Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Byron Hurt explains that in hip hop you have to fit into a metaphorical box to be considered masculine; “you have to be strong, tough, have a lot of girls, you have to have money, be a playa or pimp, be in control, dominate other men, other people.” These are the behaviours hip hop considers masculine, authentic, and those who deviate lose the street cred, “people call you soft or weak, pussy, chump, faggot” so everybody tries to remain in the metaphorical box. Weakness is associated with femaleness and homosexuality. It is deeply entrenched that even female rappers have to adopt the toughness of hypermasculinity.

To borrow Leonard Glass analysis of the contractions in hypermasculinity: the hypermasculine must be a “man’s man” – strong, dependable, rough, rigid, unemotional, dirty, mystified by women, but he must at the same time be a “ladies man” – smooth, stylish, sly, seductive, sexually predatory, knowledgeable about women, and emotionally counterfeit. This toxic masculinity is what gets a hip hop artist money because toxic black masculinity has been commodified.

Artists, who do not want to be cocooned in this hypermasculine box must find other ways to remain legit, but they must not, at all times, challenge blackness/maleness, their manhood must never be in question. Everyone tries not to be a bitch nigga. That is where Khaligraph Jones comes in.

I imagine him trying to figure out the options available for him. How to beat down the critics and pulp the small potatoes on the timelines. Rap music isn’t always simple. Or literal. One has to think fast, and well, or end up bazookaing oneself on the foot. So when I woke up to Khaligraph Jones Toa Tint (Mask Off) – a rebuttal of bleaching allegations, I was more than interested in the how, the style he has used to cut everything back to normal, and I was more than impressed.

Self-deprecation is an old and useful style in hip hop. The very use of the N-word by black artists, if we are now to be more politically correct, is a self-deprecation. I have written about it before here, on reclaiming of words to serve a purpose other than the one initially intended.

Rappers, in the past, have from time to time deserted the high table of hypermasculinity for the crumbs on the masculine  floor, in the sense of accepting that which is deemed undesirable and unacceptable within the culture, or turning it on it’s head by laughing at oneself, making oneself the butt of a joke through self-deprecating humour. Take for example, Skee-Lo’s “I Wish” (1995) and how it deals with the inability to measure up to the “ladies man” in hypermasculinity. Fatlip’s “Whats Up Fat Lip? (2005) comes to mind, in his openness about his inadequacy. Among the biggest rappers, perhaps Nas- Drunk by Myself (2002) comes to mind. They are many.

The master of self-deprecation is Eminem. He has used it over and over again. We can go back in time, to one of the most self-deprecating verses ever, in 8 Mile – Eminem Freestyle, the Final Battle vs Papa Doc. Eminem goes like:

This guy ain’t no motherfucking MC,
I know everything he’s got to say against me,
I am white, I am a fucking bum,
I do live in a trailer with my mom,
My boy Future is an Uncle Tom.
I do got a dumb friend named Cheddar Bob
Who shoots himself in his leg with his own gun,
I did get jumped by all 6 of you chumps
And Wink did fuck my girl,
I’m still standing here screaming, “Fuck the free world!”
Don’t ever try to judge me, dude
You don’t know what the fuck I’ve been through

I’m a piece of fucking white trash, I say it proudly
And fuck this battle, I don’t wanna win, I’m outty,
Here, tell these people something they don’t know about me.

How do you get back at someone who has completely deracinated themselves? Who has presented themselves before you as worthless? Even if you did, the disses would not be half as effective. This is what Khaligraph has done. He has collected all the disses and ridicules from the interwebs, exaggerated them and mashed them into a track. Nimebleach hadi ngoma natoa… /nimebleach hadi cladi navaa // hata naweza change sex na bado hamwezi nichallenge…// nimebleach hadi haga, nimebleach hadi balls..//  Lol! He has made himself the butt of a joke, the ridicule, the chiding. And because he did it before any rapper in Kenya threw one on You Tube, he has killed the hopes of any other rapper sweating in the trenches, penning a diss worth a beat. He wins. Again.

On the look out for Kenyan hip hop artists who have used this style before.

He is more like Drake becoming the meme, singing his way through hip hop’s manly obsession, challenging hip hop’s black machismo, and having a good laugh while at it. Or like Lil B.

I’m waiting to see how many will meme “Toa Tint (Mask Off)”, but like Drake, the ultimate outcome of all this will be in Khali’s favour.

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Poverty Porn – A New Prison for African Writers

A critic brings knowledge, taste, and meaningful judgement to a piece of work. The three elements imply that a critic cannot be neutral – to judge is to move away from the line of neutrality, and this is why critics are important. By consistently portraying the courage to have their judgments presented publicly, they become an authority, gatekeepers in a field. They are choosing ‘preferred literature’ to their audiences, and justifying their choice.

They are activists in a way, and done longer enough, a certain preference begins to emerge, a preference for a certain kind of book, a certain kind of literature, of art. Places that have few, major critics, the ‘superstar’ critics, risk having access to only a few approved choices. Since knowledge feeds on itself, and people tend to pursue few definable positions, a society needs many critics in order to have access to a diversity of approved choices, or the choices will become just another single story.

Recently, Ikhide Ikheloa, reviewed Fiston Mujila Mwanza’s Tram 83, a review, which though manifestly illustrative in its approach, I disagreed with. I made a series of Facebook posts clarifying my position and have decided to collect these posts, with minimal alterations and post them here on my blog for easy reference.

Pa Ikhide.s review reminded me of an old conversation – the suffocating tendency to view all African novels, of if you like, novels written by Africans, as anthropological, as ethnological documents. I also felt that his reading of Tram 83 was akin to Aesop’s fable, ‘The Dog and the Shadow’: he lost the substance by grasping at the shadow.

We seem to have this long list of instructions that a novel by an African should abide by. A few years ago, Helon Habila made an unlikely charge at ‘We Need New Names’ by NoViolet Bulawayo, that it was pushing an aesthetic of suffering – poverty porn. I couldn’t stop shaking my head. That was shocking. I read Pa’s review and I could not stop seeing the listing of what should be done, should not have been done … Pa also brings the poverty porn argument to Tram 83, calls it “rancid poverty porn. Re-fried beans as literature.” Pa’s argues that “I thought we had gone past the notion of African writing as a pejorative, the expectation that the only literature that can come out of Africa is one that reeks of misogyny, sexism, patriarchy, despair, poverty, wars and rapes, with women and children objectified as unthinking sex objects, hewers of wood and mules.”

You can actually see that Ikhide did his homework, going through the text, with a sieve, and listing thematic concerns, with regard to how they have been dealt with vis a vis his beliefs on “the role of an African writer”. He didn’t forget to remind us to read “Chinua Achebe’s insightful essay, Today, the Balance of Stories (in the book of essays, Home and Exile) to all African writers who wish to reflect on how they portray Africa.”

Why must writers from Africa always bear the burden of representing the continent? Taiye Selasi asks. I don’t have to reproduce the wealth of her argument, here, but it is now clear that “the African novelist is rarely granted the privilege of writing, as Tony Morrison famously put it, the novel she wanted to read. Instead the novelist is assumed to be writing for the west, producing ethnographic texts dolled up as literary fiction. It’s a curious allegation, one that denies both the agency and artistry of the writer while threatening to obscure, I think, the actual source of the unease.” Stop pigeonholing African writers, she says.

Would the tag “poverty porn” be applied to novels written by non-Africans, set outside Africa? I think we are creating so many prisons for ourselves, and will cry when it traps us in for another 50 years. We risk missing the next Dambudzo Marechera when he appears on the scene, repeating a mistake of the past.

This paragraph, by Ikhide, exemplifies the need for critics to expand their lenses:

After pages of this silliness, I understood the problem with the book. The “novel” must have been first conceived as a movie script, hawked around as one and when Mujila could not get a buyer, he convinced a publisher that it would work as a novel. The result is a clumsy novel clutching an essay that waxes incoherent on the looming demise of African literature and the world as Mujila knows it. In a flat one-dimensional medium of the book, Mujila tries using two-page long sentences to create scenes meant for the stage or a movie and he fails spectacularly.

Ikhide has been one of the most notable observers of transformations in artistic production in Africa, whether it is on short stories posted on Facebook or flash fiction on twitter. In an old address, Binyavanga Wainaina delivered at the African Studies Association UK 2012, on Afropolitanism, and captured by Stephanie Santana, here, these thinkers observed that we are living in a changing world, and nothing stands out like the “image of invisible digital networks of texts reaching ghost-like across continents, genre-bending “digital pulp,” a pan-African literature that moves vis twitter and sms rather than by printing press and shipping containers.” Even though Binyavanga has since clarified and expanded his position on Afropolitanism, as not inherently antagonistic to Taiye Selasi’s, this image of evolving writing and publishing systems remains. If modes of travel of stories are changing, how about forms? I quote this specific image, because I know Pa Ikhide has also talked about these changes in almost similar terms, and I was surprised at his criticism of the genre-bending nature of Tram 83’s world. In the 21st century, we should be prepared for more novels that blur boundaries. We should reimagine and reconstruct our knowledge bases on what form is, and how it is changing.

The complaint about long sentences is a peculiar one. One of the most intriguing books I have read is “The Melancholy of Resistance” by László Krasznahorkai. Sentences, in the book, can run up to 30 pages. I have not read any review complaining about length of sentences in his sentences. I know László is a little on the extreme, but James Wood’s “Madness and Civilization” on the New Yorker on the strange fictions of László Krasznahorkai is an exemplary way to dig deep into strange forms, in ways that increase our understanding of authors and their texts, as opposed to demonising it.

I moderated a conversation with the Etisalat Prize shortlistees. Fiston Mujila and Penny Busetto (The Story of Anna P as told by herself) came to Nairobi, and we had a rich evening of literariness. I also wrote an essay on “What Will People Say” by Rehana Rossouw, published by Saraba Magazine, Special Issue: Etisalat Prize. One can say that I was deeply engaged with the texts and authors. I hold the opinion that Tran 83 is elegant surrealism, beautiful madness – intelligent, strange, hypnotic, unconventional.

An interview Sofia Samatar had with Fiston Mujila lays bare, apart from jazz, the influence of surrealism, the excesses of Congo, and his languaging of experiences. He says:

“I am a music lover, not just of jazz but also Congolese rumba. I dreamed of becoming a saxophonist when I was a child. That wasn’t able to happen, since there was no music school in my hometown and I couldn’t get hold of a saxophone. When I was nineteen or twenty I realized that literature or writing could play the role of a saxophone or bass clarinet. I was reading the surrealists a lot at the time. There is a connection between automatic writing and improvisation. Since then, I compose some of my texts like scores. I also make performances, often accompanied by jazzmen.

Music allowed me to explode the story in order to conform to the characters’ whims and excessiveness. I come from a country that exists only on paper. The Congo—by its very history, its everyday life—is an extraordinary, or shall we say paradoxical, country. There is no such thing as moderation there. We are always immoderate, excessive, exuberant, etc. Everything happens as if the world was going to end in forty-eight hours and we should therefore make the most of our remaining crumbs. Everything happens as if we belonged to another planet, with our own ways of thinking, of getting drunk, of dancing the waltz, and so on. I therefore needed jazz’s (incantatory) energy to define the heartbeats of a territory ravaged by all kinds of predation but whose people remain standing.

Tram 83 is irrigated by other rhythms, including those of the freight trains and the Congo river—one of the longest rivers in the world, and the deepest, second in discharge after the Amazon. The Congo river rises in the south and wanders through the whole country, before committing suicide, or hurling itself out the window, it depends, into the Atlantic ocean.”

In the post-independent period, ‘political commitment’ in novels was the aesthetic attraction and novels that did not fall under this huge critical banner were castigated. Almost all critics misunderstood Dambudzo Marechera. He was way ahead of his time. His work was not welcomed in Zimbabwe. Critics and other writers accused his work of not contributing to “nation-building”, that it was “decadent” and “anti-African”. Nobody was ready for the vision of his poetics.

Most of the complaints about descriptions of place and people, reminds me of the “decadent” allegation heaped on Dambudzzo’s work. Poverty porn is our new prison, a lexicon borrowed from development critics. But this phrase even becomes more problematic when it is applied to a creative work, say a novel, because it automatically presumes that the work was written that way primarily to increase sales, for African novels, in a Western market, and there is a deliberate kowtowing to certain demands from the Western publishing system (editors, publishers, readers). It has become a simple way of shooting a novel down, of refusing to engage with its unpleasant contents.

I suspect that so many of such cases are happening. It would be sad if another Marechera is being washed down the drainage as we speak. Works are going to emerge that are so different from certain cemented talking points by African critics and they’ll all be labelled as not contributing to “continental building”, as not adding shine to the ‘sunny’ Africa we need to present to the West, and they’ll be demonised, when the problem maybe that critics have adopted narrow lenses.

Dambudzo was banned because how he presented the situation in Zimbabwe was unpleasant, it was not in agreement with the futures the post-independent leaders were singing about. However, it is good that in an interview, he made this choice rather clear. He said:

“I tend to see the writer as a kind of Cassandra figure with all this enormous talent to actually analyze, officialize intensively people’s destinies, only to be cursed by censorship, by persecution, by whatever, for having that talent. But precisely because you got that talent, you must continually activate it, in spite of any opposition from any quarter. If I am a committed writer, that’s what I am committed to. A vision like that transcends any political programme. This is one of the difficulties I have in writing because here in Zimbabwe people try to analyse everything from the particular contemporary political view.”

We have to be very careful not to analyze everything from a single “particular contemporary political view.”

I also keep wondering about the limits of fiction, or any other art for that matter, or why it must be read as anthropological or ethnological, especially for writings coming from Africa. I don’t understand the desire to impose our total order (in terms of how we view the world) on all creative productions. I think there is space for viewing the novel(s) as a world on its own, and when we draw parallels of similarity/difference with our world , there is space for not being to restrictive or not being prescriptive of what we would have preferred.

It also seems like the perfect novel, by an African, should be inert, should not be too much, should be balanced, because readers of African novels are always looking how the sunny-side of Africa is presented. It must be anthropological, but don’t caricature us. We are doing good. Africa is rising. It should be political and nonpolitical at the same time. The perfect novel by an African is published nowhere. If it is published on the continent, the critic will go for the ills of the continent’s publishing industry. They will mention the cover design and binding. Why is it surprisingly good for a book printed in Africa? They’ll take note of the editing, never forgetting to mention that ‘this is an improvement from what we’ve been seeing in books published by African publishers.’ If it takes three months for the book to get to them, a paragraph on poor distribution systems will suffice.

Woe to you if it is published in the West. They will start with blurbs. Who are they? Are they white people? If black, where are they living? Are they living in the continent? The irony that the critic may also be living out of the continent is often lost to them. Is poverty in there? How much crime, drugs, war, prostitution, misogyny, patriarchy, feminism, add all the identity-politics talking points here. Are you pandering to Western audience interests? Who was your agent, your publisher? White people, right? I knew. Have they influenced how you are presenting Africa to the world? Why is your imagination decadent? Your book should be banned. It is not Christian. It is spreading immorality in Africa. Poverty porn? I thought we all agreed that novels from our 54+ countries should have none of that. Why are you only talking about middle class and wealthy people sensibilities? You are not capturing the ordinary lives of Africans. Do that in your next novel. That is why your current book is not selling. Why are your stories experimental? You are not rooted in the African experience. The African novelist is a continental spokesperson. Never forget that.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?)

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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.

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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.