Friday, October 30, 2009


It has been one of those times when the Nairobi cultural scene has more to offer than the time one has. And when I, who has so much idle time in his hands, says I am pressed for time, then you know it has been an intense schedule. The German cultural weeks, beginning October 18th and ending tomorrow have been particularly charming. But I only managed to attend two events: the screening of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others (2006) and Wanuri Kahiu's 12 minutes long sci-fi Pumzi (2009) at the Goethe Institute. Too bad I cannot be bothered to write reviews because they are both really important movies in their own rights.

On the 27th of October, I was back at the Goethe Institute for the opening of IngridMwangiRobertHutter's exhibition, Intruders. Ingrid Mwangi was born, to a Kenyan father and German mother, in Nairobi in 1970 while Robert Hutter was born in Ludwigshafen, Germany in the same year. Together they form the 'artisticly inspeparable identity', IngridMwangiRobertHutter, through which they do their art and, as Hutter puts it, 'other things together'. Those other things include raising their four children. Intruders, on show till the 12th of November at the Goethe Institute, is IngridMwangiRobertHutter's first solo show in Kenya.

At the opening I met up with Andy Teichmann and Sasha Perera. Andy, who I did a night out with back in February, is one half of the techno DJs unit Teichmann Brothers while Sasha of the Berlin based eloctronic band Jahcoozi. The Teichmann Brothers and Jahcoozi will alongside the b-boy artist Raphael team up with the Kenyan acts of hip hop DJ Bob of Headbangaz, house and techno DJ Drazen and the Swahili hiphop crew of Uko Flani for a party to draw the curtain on the German Cultural Weeks. Christened URBAN BEATS, the party will be held at the Marshall's service workshop in the ground floor of Marshall's House on Loita Street from 9.00p.m on the night of October 30th.

*Unfortunately, I can neither post the event poster nor attach links because either blogger or bad internet will not allow me. I cannot even format the text!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

POTASH BOOK CLUB: Letter to a Convict

Then he answered and spoke to me, saying, "This is the word of Potash to N-, saying, 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says commander of Armies.*


Some people say that jail changes you, and it should. But that only if you are a criminal; a menace to the public, judged so by a system that is both fair and just. If on the other hand you are a prisoner of conscience, put away- the machinations of the unjust working in overdrive- to silence you, prison should not change you. Must never change you.

True revolutionaries; earnest believers in a just cause, can only be judged not by what they said before they went to prison but by what they say after. What did Kenyatta say when he left prison? What did those tortured under Moi say when they, finally, took over the reigns? What will you say, when tomorrow they set you free? That God is God all the time, huh? So let us forgive them for they know not what they do?

God is good, indeed. The God otherwise known as Capital.

It has been a long road since November 1997 when a third column was presented to you. Many have been martyred that no one will ever know of, many have sold out who history will judge harshly.

But one thing is certain, the Potash Book Club will rise again. Damn well it will, and this I swear by the spirit of our forefathers.


*Proper attribution for this quote is problematic. Early on in this decade, a slew of photocopies of handwritten texts were to be found circulating among the youth of several low income areas in Nairobi. Many of them contained lengthy passages from both Shakespeare and the Bible reworked with Kenyan characters and situations. With every subsequent photocopying, came redactions as is evident from this quote that is obviously originally sourced from the book of Zechariah, 4:6.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Homosexuality: A Brief Rant

Nothing irks me more than a bigot with a bad argument. With the reports, in the last week, of a marriage between two Kenyan gay men and the introduction of an Anti-Homosexuality Bill into the Uganda parliament, this type of bigot has come out to play. The basic argument: Homosexuality is both against Christianity and Africanness.

Previously, on this blog, we have had a quick read through of what the Bible- the foundation of Christianity- has to say on homosexuality. That we insist is our own reading of the Bible and respect the fact that others can choose to read it differently. Anyone can read the Bible and find in it justification for all manner of hateful behaviour and that, whether it be slavery or homophobia, we respect. Respect it in the same way we respect all other opinions even when they significantly diverge from ours. To respect the opinions of others does not make them right, but it calls upon them to respect ours too or at least gives us the right to demand that our opinions be respected.

The opinion, held unwaveringly on this blog, is that up there with other recognized freedoms, id est, speech, religious belief, ownership of property, et cetera, lies sexual orientation. Whether people are born homosexual or choose to be so is moot our concern being that there are human beings who are homosexual. Irrevocably homosexual. And because they are does not mean they deserve special rights. What they deserve is equal rights. In the language of rights, homosexuals should not exist as a distinct category, because they belong in the same one as Ours: human being. In the same vein, there should be no category of laws that address homosexuals, specifically.

We, also, hold that the greatest sexual crime is non-consensual sex; where consent is established- between adults of a sound mind- the law can go jerk off.

Rants aside, we hope to engage you more on the Bahati Bill in Uganda and the whole business of homosexuality and Africanness soon. With time, it can be hoped that our region will arrive at a decent place where you do not have to be a cow to demand that cows be slaughtered humanely. But before then, universal human rights, must claim martyrs. Stand up and be counted.

Tweet your vitriol to @Potash

Friday, October 16, 2009


Self-effacement might have led Just a Band to describe themselves as an Experimental Boy Band but what they have turned out to be is a cult. That is a thought, I must return to on another day, but for now I have to go hustle because money, El Nino or the lack of a ride cannot get in the way of my attending the launch of their sophomore album kesho. The album, simply titled 82, will be launched at The Godown Arts Center, Industrial Area.

Here are the details, also available on Facebook:

“We've just released our second album - 82 and we'll be putting it out there with song and dance. Join us on Saturday 17th October from 7pm at the Godown Arts Center till much later (with the help of DJ Drazen). The album will be on sale for... Kshs. 500.

Advance tickets: Kshs. 400
Gate tickets: Kshs. 500

Advance Tickets available from:

The Sound Africa Store,
Ground Floor, 20th Century Plaza
Mama Ngina Street
CBD, Nairobi

The Bonk Store (opposite Steers Westlands)
Bishan Plaza, below Black Diamond
Mpaka Road, Westlands

The Godown Arts Center,
Dunga Road, Industrial Area

AND from any of us band members, should you meet us. :D

With the gracious support of Penya Africa, The Godown Arts Center, ESL, bONK, Kiss FM and Kiss TV.”

Just a Band is as Urban Kenya as it gets, and this blog is proud to big them up big time, now and in future.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Only about 300 acres of the original over 4,000 acres of settlement land granted to the Nubian community by the British in Nairobi remains. That is one of the claims made by Khamis Ramadhan’s 27 minutes long documentary The Nubian Question in Kenya. Premiering this Monday, at the Alliance Fran├žaise, “the film brings forth the plight of the Nubians who reside in Kibra (now known as Kibera). The production revisits history and discusses the origins of the community, the struggle to own land and their effort to preserve their identity and culture.”

Nairobi is the Aid industry capital of Eastern Africa and the Great Lakes region and at the heart of Nairobi lays the crown jewel of that industry, Kibera. Kibera- where poverty and deprivation are only spoken of in superlatives- where your humane purse is coaxed open, not by a voice or face, but by a statistic. Wherever you are in the world, Kibera will find you and demand that you take urgent action now to save Them. Them that live in the biggest slum in, depending on the Aid Agency’s penchant for grand statements, Africa; Africa outside South Africa or East and Central Africa. Kibera is always about size and numbers, never about a people and their way of life. It is no small wonder then that the troubled, warped and complex histories of Kibera remain blurred by the infamy, nay, notoriety of its present.

It is thus by focusing on a people, their culture and their origins that Ramadhan brings one of the few noteworthy cinematic expeditions into Kibera in recent times. This is no more-slum-shots-from-Fernando Mierelles or Nathan Collett saving Kibera one Red One at a time but engaging social commentary. I am not saying that there is no social consciousness in The Constant Gardener or Kibera Kid; just that its rhyme and reason is wasted on Kenyan’s. Kenyans see their lives their lives through politics and politics is what, in the end, Ramadhans film delivers.

And Ramadhan, through the voices of his interviewees, makes political statements that, while at times grand, are pertinently Kenyan. Central to his documentary is the one thing that Kenyan blood has been and will continue to be spilled for the most: Land. If poverty, tribal animosity, ignorance and disease are the demons that haunt us, then land, to borrow an Edgar Poe phrase, is their avatar and seal. Kenyans are land poor; Kenyans fight each other over so called ‘ancestral land’; Kenyans want to live in the blissful ignorance of a long gone subsistence agriculture and pastoral economy that access to land is the only way to livelihood; Kenyans lack proper health care because public land earmarked for health centers has shifted to private hands. And in Ramadhan’s Kibera, decent housing is not the issue, as one of his interviewees notes, it is not that we are unable to build permanent houses here we just do not do it here because we do not own title deeds to this land.

The question of land in Kenya is immutably tied in with those of ethnic identity and the British colonial adventure in this region. The Nubian question in Kenya, as the documentary suggests, is one that becomes a volatile mix of all these. The documentary argues that there are about 200,000 Nubians living in Kenya today with twenty per cent of them living in Kibera. Importantly, all these people are direct descendants of Imperial British soldiery.

This last claim, as we see it, is important in that it pre-emptively rules out the needs for a screening in case restitutions and reparations are made available in future. It is one of many, of an astute activist nature, that raise further interest in Ramadhan’s work. Work that seems to paints a portrait of a community that served both the British Empire and the people and people and government of post-independence Kenya. A community that was in the end ‘marginalised’ by both.

Take the Nubian contribution to the struggle for independence, for instance. During the Emergency years, Nubian elders were approached by the British and requested to lend their support to the war against Mau Mau. The Nubians, according to this film, refused. If the implied claim ‘if we weren’t against these freedom fighters, then we were for them’ does not suffice, then there is more. Did you know that many a times Jomo Kenyatta would hide out here? Yes, the documentary, casually mentions Jomo Kenyatta as having, at one time or other, been dressed up as a Nubian and disappearing into Kibera.

What about that cockerel in the KANU flag? Do you know where it comes from? According to Ramadhan’s film, Tom Mboya used to spend time in conference with Nubian elders who used to wear blazers (maybe as part of some regimental dress) with a cockerel on the breast pocket. Later on as Mboya went on to form the PCP and with the emergence of KANU, he took this symbol and incorporated it into their signage.

Originally from the Sudan, the Nubians arrived in Kenya as soldiers, guards and porters loyal to the British crown. Principally, recorded history has the Nubians as- having been recognised as formidable warriors by the British- being hired to support Britain’s East African campaign at the end of the 19th Century. In the early years of the 20th Century, they became a part of the regiment known as the King’s African Rifles (KAR) formed in 1902 to protect British interests in East Africa and beyond. These forces not only saw action in numerous wars of occupation and the gorier ones of ‘pacification’, all the way to Uganda, but also fought gallantry in the two World Wars. The film tells us that the British always maintained comprehensive records of all Nubian males of a fighting age and fitness, who they considered a reserve force, and called on them in times of war.

To brand them mercenaries is to use a far too broad brush-stroke, for many of them, the film claims, had been forcefully conscripted. One interviewee tells of how large tribal dances would be organized and in the middle of which loud whistles would be heard and shortly heavily armed soldiers would surround them and take them captive. They would then be forced to join the British colonial army and sent to serve in far off places. The film states that that today Nubians can be found in places as far off as Burma.

Those in Kenya, who served alongside the British, have documents acknowledging that service but nothing more to show for it. Though Europeans who served in the World Wars were well rewarded- with among other things, large tracts of lands in Kenya- the Nubians who served alongside them, as with all the other Africans, received very little by manner of gratitude and or compensation.

The film claims that part of what the Nubians got was the land that they called Kibra. That land stretched from Dagoretti Corner, all the way to Wilson Airport on one side and bounded by the National Park and the Department of Defence on the other side. The only problem is that the British never gave them title deeds to that land. Neither did the Kenyan government. Why not? is the real Nubian question in Kenya. Or as one old man puts it: if the Indians and the Europeans have acquired land and citizenship, why not the Nubians?

Whichever way, The Nubian Question in Kenya might invent and reinvent history; no matter how much I see this as yet another Royal cock-up for Kenyans to deal with, one thing remains clear to me, the Nubian question is ours to deal with. And no matter how few our options are, only those that are just; those that have Kenya- the modern state of Kenya- beginning on the same day for all of us, no matter the road that brought our ancestors here, should be considered.

Note: Apologies for lack of text formatting, they are Blogger's not mine!

*PCP here refers to Tom Mboya's Nairobi People's Convention Party, which even his perennial rival Oginga Odinga admits to have been the best organised political party in Nairobi, in the late fifties and before joining KANU at its formation in 1960. (See, Oginga's Not Yet Uhuru, Pg. 147, 161, 181, 183, 193, 203)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Takhzin Diaries: You Never Chew Alone

One cardinal rule, broken again and again even by old hands who should know better, is to never chew miraa alone. Miraa is generally considered a mild stimulant but, as with all drugs, threshold levels vary from one individual to the next and so does the intensity of the physiological and psychological effects. Also important with miraa is that because it is consumed in its natural state, with absolutely no laboratory processing, determining the potency of the product is still much of a fluke even for the self-professed connoiseur.

The active ingredients in miraa, Cathine and Cathinone, are ingested through chewing of fresh twigs and leaves of the Catha Edulis plant. These twigs and leaves are harvested all year round and, naturally, the crop from the dry season is bound to vary in potency and ease of consumption from that of the rainy as well as that of the cold season. The geographical location, age of the plant, the nature and extent of the plant husbandry, the lack of or the existence of inter-crops (and the nature of these crops) among other things are all conditions likely to mildly-to-significantly alter the potency of the product.

The unpredictable nature of miraa though has been demonstrated to me though by the observation of variance between what its chemistry says and what I have seen in real life. The most active ingredient in miraa, Cathinone is believed to decompose within forty eight hours after harvesting. This is to say, and all effort is made to ensure that, the product has to be delivered to the consumer long before the end of this period. Chemistry aside, everyone swears by fresh miraa and your supplier goes to great lengths to convince you that his stock was plucked and delivered on that same day. Yet, I have sat, chewing with a bunch of four other people who got mighty high even though they were chewing miraa that was at the very least, two days older than mine. Also, I have to admit that one of the very few times that I have had a head-rushing kind of miraa high, a feeling I can only occasionally induce with the smoking of the cheap, unfiltered Rooster cigarettes, was when I was chewing stock that had lain on my floor for at least five days. This days-old miraa, referred to as kilalo in allusion to its state of having ‘slept over’, seems quite as potent, albeit a little rough on the palate, as the fresh pick.

And reverting to the idea of solo chewing… I for one spend long hours chewing alone. Usually, I am seated in the same position reading or, as in the case now, writing. I cannot for a fact say that it enhances my productivity but the down time occasioned by post-chewing lethargy is significant. Then of course there is the anorectic effect which when coupled with the sore mouth makes eating a decent meal- assuming such can be found- quite a chore.

Maybe, because my mind is constantly focused on the reading and writing, at times even when chewing in a group or the fact that miraa affects me in a different way- I do not become hyperactive- I have not experienced certain things that many others have reported to me. It is common, for instance, for many people to get home while still chewing and clean their houses inside out. A story is also told at my regular chewing base of this guy who was chewing all alone in his house at night when he started to feel all sweaty and dehydrated. He got up and went to the corner of his bed-sit where a pack of jerry cans stood, Nairobi style. He picked one, took a massive swig from it and poured the rest on himself. It is the burning sensation in his mouth and the distinctive odour of paraffin that quickly enveloped him that brought him to his wits and sent him gagging into the shared toilet outside.

Of course the veracity of most of the stories you hear in the course of chewing, especially those from second hand sources and those that you hear different versions of in different chewing bases is impossible to ascertain. But attempts to poke holes in them are not only silly but bad form because story-telling is the Big G that binds the takhzin. If you have to take them any other way but as truth, then it must be as plausible.

The next story though, told to me last night is straight out of the mouth of a horse of my acquaintance. A few years back, my boy Ngure, used to chew out on Kirichwa Road in Kilimani. One night, at about two a.m. he decided to drive to his house, and as he had a bunch of sticks left, chew on his balcony for about another hour, screw his wife and then sleep. As he was driving, he started to hear this persistent humming sound and became convinced that he had a puncture. So with the one-track-mindedness that miraa induces he stopped the car, right there in the middle of the road at that ungodly hour. He stepped out of his car and inspected every single tyre, twice. Nothing. Vexed, he stepped back into the car and only then realised that what he had thought was a humming sound was actually his car’s stereo. Laughing loudly at himself, he set about lighting himself a cigarette and then as he was pushing his gear into drive, realised that he was parked on a bridge.

He was in Kikuyu, headed out of Nairobi in the opposite direction of his Langata house.