Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A(nother) Nice Laugh at Aid Inc.

The Aid industry takes a ridiculous turn more as a rule than as an exception. This ridiculousness finds a zenith point- one that is quickly multiplied- the moment the Aid industry makes contact with Africa. The reason is simple: Africa, still remains, the great unknown. At least in the eyes of your average Westerner. What becomes clear is that while philanthropy in Western soil is a direct response to clearly discernible dispossession; an attempt to ameliorate the self-evident vagaries and social-economic divides that Capitalism inevitably produces, with Africa that philanthropy responds to a different reality. That of the imaginary.

The problem with Africa, in the eyes of the average Western philanthropist, is that which citizens of the West first imagine and then declare to be the problem. And for where there is a problem as solution must be provided. So the Aid industry comes in, bungling on its way and making the rules as it progresses, with solutions to Africa’s problems. But no one really asks the Africa: what is your problem?

In the end, for every imagined problem, an imagined solution. And because every Westerner who has a mind to can come to Africa and become the change, then for every Westerner in Africa a set of imaginary problems and one of imaginary solutions to match. Suddenly, in a crowded field of solutions, the need to be groundbreaking arises and since all the sane things have been done it seems as though the competition begins to be one for the most ridiculous solutions.

It is all so funny that I have always felt that, with the mounting critiques of the Aid industry, the only response left to some of us is satire. Why, I ask, should I bother with learned critiques while the Moyos and the Easterlys can do a far much better job of it? It really is the reason why I (N.M) set up the Black Campaign and borrowed the line this blog, Don’t Come to Africa, Send Money. (That I haven’t done a good job at keeping the satire coming is a different story all together).

That aside, it is always refreshing to see Bill Easterly come up with the sort of hilarious post he did this Tuesday where he wrote:

“An expert commission of African leaders today announced their plan for comprehensive reform of music band U2. Saying that U2’s rock had lost touch with its African roots, the commission called for urgent measures to halt U2’s slide towards impending crisis.”
That aside, I must admit that I love Bono the musician while Bono the activist makes me gag. Well, of course I mean Bono the activist for Africa because the Bono (and U2) of Sunday Bloody Sunday did once speak to the social conscience of my youthful years. And yes, I still do like to listen to U2. Oh, and didn’t Adam Clayton live in Kenya for a bit when he was little?

Apart from the final four paragraphs, this post is culled from the draft of an incomplete essay by Njoroge Matathia.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Writing, I have learnt, is about a time and a place. I am not claiming to speak a universal truth, just what my experience has taught me. It could be a truth about others, and then again it might not be. But it is a truth about me; a self-revelation and maybe, especially in times of drug induced self-analysis, an epiphany. That truth, simply, I write better when here. Here being the ‘old neighbourhood’. The place where what later became known as A Kenyan Urban Narrative began. The space, next to and a little to the left of Mutua’s kiosk, where we sat on stones, sipped on Napshizzle and wrote.

I have spent the last few months in and out of this place. In and out of this place trying to track old friends and make new acquaintances with the hope of reconstituting The Potash Book Club. In and out of this place trying to find an entry back in and be able to, once again, call this home. My successes have been way too few and far in between. Most of the old friends are long gone; most of the new acquaintances are too young and ‘intellectually’ distant from me. It really is a shame about the kids that hang out here now, they idle away their time just like we used to, but they do not indulge their mental faculties in the same way we did. They drink a lot more than we did and read a hell of a lot less. Which is polite for: They read nothing.

In truth, I have had only one real success, here, in the last two weeks. I have been writing. Writing seems like the only way I profit from being here. And when you think that it is the writing that took me out of this place, to begin with, and about the only thing I took with me, then it seems as though that has always been the worth of this place to me. But it isn’t and it shouldn’t appear to be so. This place gave me writing and a lot else too. A lot else like friendship and the camaraderie and firm bond of a shared experience. Family. At least all that when it lasted because I do not feel it anymore.

Trying to reconnect with this place, I feel like all the things that this place gave me have been stripped away and all that is left is the writing. The writing that seems to come to me, words and sentences instinctively forming in my head, the moment I enter this neighbourhood. The only thing being that then more I stay, the more time I spend talking to people here, the swifter the words and sentences arrange themselves into paragraphs.

Over the years, after I first left, I felt as though my writing was getting bland. Worse still, I felt as though I had lost familiarity with my writing voice. That I had even no story left in me to tell. Sometimes, agonised to tears, I would come down this way. Come down in search of both the muse and voice I believed I had left behind. But nothing. All these trips turned out to be were pilgrimages to the past of a writing me. A past not grand in itself but at least one that was insurmountably better than my present. A present of more craft and less art. A present of words correctly spelled, sentences well punctuated and, alas, no story.

It is then that I realised that the audiences might be out there but my writing lived down here. So, with big little steps, I have been working on my return. My return to this place where what later became known as A Kenyan Urban Narrative was born. A place where audiences will elude me but my writing will get better. A place where I can write and write and hope to be read, at least, when I am dead.

And with yet another, perfunctory Hello World of a blog post behind me, do allow me to return to the real writing.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


I have long learnt the folly of using the Bible as an excuse/ explanation/ Justification for anything. When I was a young boy, growing up in a very Christian family, I was taught that the Bible was the word of God. “In the beginning was the Word,” the Gospel according to John begins, “and the Word was God.”

Then I grew older, read a lot more than the Bible, and suddenly it was like Jesus Christ himself was standing before me yelling: Ephphatha. Open up. And the eye of my mind become open to the fact that if the Bible was indeed the Word of God, then God is man’s literary plumbing. The truth of the Bible became to me not the words but the words and meanings that men put into it. And there could be as many truths in the Bible as there were men who would care to read it. I could find my own version of truth in the Bible as much as the next man could find theirs, or in some cases, the lack thereof. The Bible thus became for me not the word of God but an oracle as crazy as its next reader.

I still read the Bible, but now only as an exceptional work of literature and philosophy. And to this day, the book of John remains one of the texts I admire the most. From a literary point of view, of course. The Jesus in the Gospel of John has the eloquence of Khalil Gibran’s prophet retold in the mystical realist voice of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I say these things because one of my Facebook Friends brought an interesting website to my attention. Sex In Christ- Sexuality according to the word of God, a site that argues that threesomes are scripturally, kosher as long as it is a husband and two women (two men and one woman is homo, silly!) has to be read to be believed.

This site, which reminds us that sex between two men is condemned by the Bible but that joining your wife and her girlfriend in bed is holy in matrimony, must have been written by a heterosexual male pervert who uses the Songs of Solomon to jerk off. If it was up to me, the site should be called The Straight Man’s Bible of Kinky Sex.
But before I let you go and leave the site to speak for itself let me tell you why, according to that site of course, anal sex (before marriage, no less) is in accordance with God’s will:

“Are you saving yourself for your wedding night? The Devil wants you to fail, that’s why he puts stumbling blocks in your way. But God wants you to succeed, and that’s why he has given us an alternative to intercourse before marriage: anal sex. Through anal sex, you can satisfy your body’s needs, while you avoid the risk of unwanted pregnancy and still keep yourself pure for marriage.

You may be shocked at first by this idea. Isn’t anal sex (sodomy) forbidden by the Bible? Isn’t anal sex dirty? What’s the difference between having anal sex before marriage and having regular intercourse? Let’s address these issues by debunking some myths about anal sex and God's will.”

But no, why don't you go find that out for yourself... I have drugs to abuse!

Sunday, November 01, 2009


“That's what the niggers don't realize,” says Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed (2006), “If I got one thing against the black chappies, it's this - no one gives it to you. You have to take it.” It is the same problem with Kenya’s gay activists, or so thinks our guest blogger. Njoroge Matathia of The Black Campaign returns to these pages with a demand for a more forceful political and social engagement on gay issues in Kenya. Arguing that in the eyes of the Kenyan public there are no homosexuals here, he concludes that the gay community has itself to blame for the perpetuation of that misconception. Matathia then proceeds to call for a more public approach to activism and falls slightly short of demanding that the gay movement radicalise.

We share these opinions, our emphasis though being on the need for radicalism, but if he has failed to express them succinctly in his rather long essay then the fault is his and not that of this blog.


by Njoroge Matathia

“The union is abnormal. As an African and a church leader, I am ashamed. We should advice others not to do the same,”1 Anglican Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, said. He was responding to the news of a wedding between two Kenyan men held in London recently. A wedding that, according to media reports, Kenyan religious leaders have described as “unacceptable and unnatural”.

The Archbishop’s point of view I respect, it is his collation of Christianity and ‘Africanness’ that I sneer upon. I desired to respond to that, point out the irony in a casual call to ‘Africanness’ by someone whose job description begins with ‘Anglican’ but I held back telling myself that I, like him, would be missing the point. The point being: A wedding.

People love weddings. Love weddings because they are a celebratory rite of passage into that much revered social status of Married. Weddings usher in marriage, the only state within which societal sanctions allow you, nay, consider you respectable enough to have sex and to raise a family. Ideally, weddings are seen as a celebration of love between two people. A love so deep and special that those that share it declare it publicly and make a commitment to love and care for each other until death parts them.

Weddings let the whole world know that X loves Y. Weddings say: Charles Ngengi loves Daniel Chege Gichia and promises to do so, forever after. Love and companionship are the dominant tropes weddings sell with sex remaining a subtext too subtle to be discerned by the youngling flower-girls and pages who these events are meant to and do inspire.

But when Njenga wedded Gachie, the tables turned. Sex was elevated from subtext to issue- the only issue. Worse still, it was as though a sexual pervert had stood up in public and threatened: I, Charles Ngengi swear I will bugger that Chege guy to death! And over the next few days our MSM (pun intended) and online media spaces proceeded to work up and host what seems like a national disgust at the idea of, not just any men but two Kenyan men having sex with each other. For once an opportunity, to see and hopefully discuss homosexuality as more than sexual intercourse between people of the same biological sex, was ours to grab. Kenya, as a nation wasted that chance, the Kenyan gay community- its so called activists, specifically- squandered it.

The Kenyan gay community had a chance to say, look it is not just about sex, it is about human relationships. If we must talk about sex, then let us begin with the fact that two gay girls can meet, date and fall in love without ever having had sex. You know, just like with ‘normal’ people, if one partner is not ready then she just is not ready. And if you really care about that person and that relationship then you, well, wait. Sometimes a gay boy sees another boy and is filled with lust for him- you know, just the way a straight boy would feel about a girl- he propositions him and if the other is good to go, then he is good to go. Bottom line is casual sex is simply that, casual sex. If the issue is sex, then all sex is sex regardless of where your penis ends up. Thank you very much for your questions but we must now move on to a more important conversation: Sexuality.

Gay folks, in Kenya, did not do that. They neither pre-empted public debate’s, predictable, slide into how gross gay sex is nor attempted to shift it back to sexuality and lifestyle choices when it did. Right from the get go, the homophobes came out to play and for now the ball remains in their court. Maybe until Moreno Ocampo arrives next week and Kenyans can forget that small bit of gay silliness and get back to real issues: politics. Get back to politics the deafening silence of the Kenyan gay community having once again established the fact that there are no gay people in Kenya. That there are no gay Kenyans, just a few misguided youngsters who knowing no better allow themselves to be fooled by mzungus and their money into allowing themselves to be sexually abused. I mean, wasn’t that Ngengi guy lured by a mzungu guy to London? Now he is recruiting for them and we do not know what to do but leave our children to the grace of God.

Granted that, in truth, there exists a huge gay community in Kenya, nobody is gay in Kenya. A paradox it may seem until you consider that physical existence is never a guarantee of social existence. In colonial Kenya, the Africans it was said were to be seen but not heard, it is worse for gay people in Kenya today- they can neither be seen nor heard. In those days, the Africans lived at the social periphery- their existence known but their presence ignored- but gay people are living in social cemetery- unheard of and unknown. Gay people in Kenya are not ignored, they do not exist.

Because gay people do not exist in Kenya is it not preposterous to enshrine gay rights in our constitution; protect the interest of homosexuals as a distinct category? As we speak the Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review, charged with preparing a draft constitution soon to be put to referendum, has stated that they will not include gay rights in the draft. In a telling, if slightly ironic statement, the Nation reported a member of the committee, Mr. Otiende Amolo, as saying that

“[t]he new constitution is supposed to cater for the interests of both the majority and minorities, […] but same-sex marriages had been rejected by all religious groups.”2
Of great import too is the manner in which the issue of gay rights was, allegedly, presented to the committee. Mr. Amolo, it is reported, said:

"On several occasions some British MPs have approached us on the gay matter. They wanted us to include homosexual and lesbians' rights in the draft. But we told them that such a thing cannot happen because if we did so, a majority of Kenyans will reject the draft during the forthcoming referendum."3

Assuming the Mr. Amolo was not misquoted, then two things become self-evident. First, that consensus amongst all religious groups (their leaders to be precise) means consensus amongst all Kenyan minorities and majorities. Second, that gay rights were only put on the committee’s agenda (not by any Kenyan or group of Kenyans) by foreigners. By British MPs, specifically, in whose country two Kenyans have already found a safe haven for their ‘unnatural and unacceptable’ union. The two points together speak to the argument- proven through deduction by the lack of any memoranda from gay Kenyans to the committee- that there are no gay people in Kenya.

Big jump, maybe, from weddings to constitution making but with it a significant reframing of the homosexuality debate. To begin with, though the stance against homosexuality taken by the religious groups is based on their moral and doctrinal perspectives, by arguing these points in a political space, they politicise homosexuality. By not responding- in political spaces- to the politicisation of their way of life the Kenyan gay community cedes any political ground there is to be won. Importantly, by not being the first to politicise their interests, the gay community becomes relegated to the unfortunate place of second guessing the political agenda set by their opponents.

It can be argued that their existence being, technically, illegal in Kenya means that homosexuals cannot publicly present memoranda. But truth is that declaring oneself to be a homosexual in Kenya is not in and of itself illegal. While Kenyan law criminalises acts- sodomy and the cryptic ‘acts against the order of nature’- it is society that anathematises homosexuality as a concept, identity and lifestyle. Thus, a public declaration of ones homosexuality puts you in danger of social ostracism and mob justice rather than criminal prosecution and jail. Therefore, if the written law and social values were two cats, gay rights a mouse and we had only one bell, which one ought we to bell first? The more vicious one of course; social stigmatisation of homosexuality rather than the laws that purportedly criminalise it.

And the first steps towards fighting social stigma are a broader public awareness of the stigmatised social reality coupled with, hopefully, a level of acceptance or, at the very least, tolerance.

Unfortunately, acceptance or tolerance are processes rather than events; fortunately, what is sought is not universal acceptance or tolerance but a modicum of it. It is in this environment that changes in the law begin to make sense. Laws in themselves do not change people, reason does. If it were, by any wild chance, possible to enshrine the rights of sexual minorities in the Kenyan constitution now, the only thing the gay community would come out with is the lesson that constitutions do not make homophiles. Just look at South Africa and their much celebrated gay friendly constitution and then look at their statistics on the ‘corrective rape’4 of lesbians.

But all is not lost. The rights that gay Kenyans deserve can be achieved but they will have to be earned. They will have to fight for them on two fronts, the social and the political. In the social, an intense public awareness campaign around gay issues must be embarked on. One that begins with the subtle and progresses towards the blatant. Think of a move from pamphlets, stickers and other merchandise in not only English but also Kiswahili and other languages. These can be dropped at market centres, people’s doorsteps and such places. Guerrilla social marketing, if there is such a thing. With time it will even be possible to have a gay character in a local TV show. The key thing, though, is to target rural areas more than the urban ones.

The political front is the hard part. The Kenyan gay community will need martyrs for this. It must be borne in mind that all significant political change in this country has been cut with blood. Why should gay people hope to be any luckier? They must get out on the street and march for their freedom, wipe off the spit and blood from their torn bodies and souls and march again. History has taught that easy civil rights victories are few and far in between. In the meantime gay Kenyans must ask themselves not what laws are against them but what laws are for them.

What laws protect them not as homosexuals but as both citizens of Kenya and human beings? Does the Sexual Offences Act limit rape to actions against heterosexuals? Does the penal code say, categorically, that the assault, infliction of grievous bodily harm or the murder of a homosexual is not a crime? Because lawyers, judges and policemen are products of our homophobic environment, it means that crimes committed against homosexuals do not get prosecuted, do not find their way into civil court and if they did the offender could claim the victim’s sexuality as a mitigating circumstance or cause for extreme provocation. But for how long can a precedent setting prosecution remain elusive? Haven’t we seen one yet?

It is alongside laws that rights and responsibilities exist. One great argument proposed by sexual rights activists, and one that I have used often in other writings, frames sexual orientation within the language of rights. That sexual (orientation) rights are human rights. Unfortunately rights are a moral issue that can only become legally relevant when they are politicised. And as we have seen, the Kenyan gay community has lost both the moral and the political argument. They have lost by default merely by not being seen and heard, in any significant way, enough to count as a constituent demographic group in Kenya. They have lost the advantage of having drawn first blood; stepping up and stepping out to frame the public discourse on homosexuality in their favour. They have refused to exist validating the myth of their non-existence through inaction.

It is this lack of political action and a refusal to engage the public on their issues that irks me the most about gay activists in Kenya. If they are involved in any activism at all then it plays out in formal spaces socially and intellectually distant from the broader publics they need win over. They play safe- talking heads at conferences that preach to the converted- while the world out there is living in the blissful heathenism of homophobia. “We are here, we are gay,” they whisper to each other inside their closet and then wonder, at the next exclusive conference, why no one knows they exist.

1. http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/673614/-/uo10l1/-/index.html
2. http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/674074/-/uo1kcr/-/index.html
3. http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/674074/-/uo1kcr/-/index.html
4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrective_rape

Njoroge Matathia is a Nairobi based writer and social scientist. He can be reached at http://theblackcampaign.org Check that site over the next few days for a downloadable PDF version of this essay.