Monday, March 29, 2010


"At home, I was socialised Gikuyu. Not the Gikuyu of We the Gikuyu- that doesn’t exist, anymore, outside of national politics- but Gikuyu according to my family. It was a Gikuyuness, like for most, nuanced principally by the brand of Christianity it had been filtered through. Outside of home, my Gikuyuness encountered that of others but important of all I came face to face with jaruo, maragori, kare-jini and other Beasts from the West."

*Bloggers cut from a work in progress. Other excerpts and thoughts under #PoBo link on the Black Campaign website.

Follow @matathia on Twitter and #PoBo

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wanaume Hufanya

“After my weekly psychiatric self examination,” I am saying to N.M., “I like to take the time it takes to smoke a gaff to contemplate the meaning of life.” This seems to stretch his mind like a miraa high for a bit before he starts to bang on the rolled up window of Dinda’s moti of the day.

“Wee, Dinda, huyu boyz amejidai nani raundi hii…?”
“Kaa sii condom…” Dinda yells back rolling the window back up, “usinisumbue.”

“You see that, Potash,” N.M. turns to me, “The man with the takeaway in the mots is my kind of man. And clearly he has no time to contemplate the meaning of life with you. And neither do I.” He fishes, in his jeans for a pack of Sportos. What’s with the Calvin Klein pipe and pointed boots, I wonder, giving him a once over.

“Is that Kenyan Marlboro man or post modern Gikuyu?” I ask him. “I thought khakis, brown loafers and a Bonk tshirt is the look of your Nairobi?”

“It is Friday night, Potash,” he sounds agitated, “and you are talking too much gay shit while all I want to hear is ‘do me… do me… oga my broda…la la la la la la…’”
“Smack that, yani,” I laugh, “Shaking it like in the Akon video lakini you jua how that shit plays out when you do the horizontal.”
“I know what you mean,” he smiles, “and those are the weighty issues of men. If you must contemplate anything…” He pauses to stuff a wad of leaves into his mouth and bite a G.

“Is how,” I interrupt, “you are kulaing goks these days?”

“If you must contemplate anything, Potash,” he stares me in the eye, “it is the fate of some pussy with your name on it that is at this moment katikaing huko Molly’s.”

Half-lifing me the gaff, he says, “No guts, no morning glory! So will you be man enough, as Conrad says, to face the darkness? And that is all the difference between a thinking man and a doing man on a Nairobi night.” Then he started to walk off towards Qs.

“By the way,” he said turning around, “seeing that you have all this time to think…” He laughed and started walking back towards me. “Frankly, I can see how you can find the time, I mean, jerking off is what… one minute… like short time and then you are back to the cogitations in lieu of production; living out their existential angst- real and imagined- instead of writing that is your kind of artist?

This is Nairobi, not New Fuck.” He was, briefly interrupted by a lupa dawg, whoz happening and one armed hug from a street boy. “Fucking Westlands,” I say to myself, “Didn’t like Tupac die?”

“Listen Potash” N.M. said walking towards me and offering me a cigarette. “In the time it takes for you to smoke that cigarette,” he mocked, “why don’t you ponder over what your online avatar does on Friday nights. You know, when you are offline in that hovel of yours writing shit that don’t mean shit.

He is a Kenyan man, No? Mwanaume hufanya.”
“Wanawake,” The street boy, still hovering around, said and walked off after N.M.

Monday, March 22, 2010

#PoBo #5

Apropos tech is good but we also need to bring back Story, personally, I tend to remember the people rather than the graphs. Recently, the number of Kenyans on Facebook has been thrown at me like two hundred times. But the figure never exists beyond a Stick It on my mind saying: so what? Who are these people? What are they doing on Facebook? Is anyone using them for social or political organising… what? Is it all cute cats; causes and high school reunions, really?

The numbers never stay with me the way stories- the technology user’s social experience- do. One day my cousin told me that his wife had scrawled the phone numbers of all his clandies on their bed. That to me was mobile telephony penetration. Ages later Safcom hit one million subscribers and I was like: So?

What numbers don’t tell me, stories do.

Yesterday, I was sitting at my local veve base catching up on my daily dose of boy talk.

“Weee,” Mwenda the miraa guy ulizaed Jamo wa taxi, “bwana ulichambua ile kitu ya Facebook?”
“Kwani?” Jamo chekaed. “Na imeshaanza kujileta kwangu ka hobby.”
“Facebook?” I asked, “yaani roundi hii Jamo unawakunywa na mtandao?”

My taxi guy picking up girls on Facebook? The internet has finally come to Kenya. Actually, as far as Facebook goes I am no longer interested in the numbers just how the street has gone Funga 2.0.

I mean, he drives a taxi and I am the guy with the blog.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Days I miss: when Kenyan blogs were about stories. The politics of every day- the Kenyan way of life relived by voices hitherto unknown- and not big politics.

In 2006 when I discovered Kenyan blogs, I stopped reading newspapers. I used to skim in fact rather than read newspapers because what Kibaki and Raila do is not news, how it affects me is. And newspapers didn’t tell me that. I cannot blame them, they weren’t addressing me… my demographic. Some blogs did.

As a blogger, a lot of my writing then was very political. Political in the sense of: how a certain kind of Kenyan responds to and copes with the consequences of bad governance. It wasn’t about the shenanigans of the political class but the ways in which some of us responded to them. When the political class made a cameo appearance in my blog it was because I, or one of my peers, had enjoyed their largesse. A largesse that faded into the new harems, bellies, Benzos and numbered accounts of a Kibaki era noveau riche class. In the Moi days, I liked to point out, they shared the love. You could walk into town and take a matatu home with a slice of Goldenberg money.

In Kenya most people are just trying to get by, trying not to shit where they eat and more often than not, failing. That is the story I told. Others told tall tales from their yuppie lives. I couldn’t relate, but the stories were so well told I read them anyway. Because they had place, and character. They were about a Kenya, but most important of all, they were not about News, they were about people. The internet lives and imaginations of certain Kenyans. The parochialism was not only charming, it put fluency and local colour into the blogs and for one moment a pastiche of an immensely stratified and arbitrary nation called Kenya was starting to emerge.

Not for long.

Outside our Kenyan web space it had became necessary, for some- almost always Westerners- to ‘showcase’ what was being hailed as Africa’s tech revolution. While localised web-rings had come into being much earlier and served as great go-to places for a non NGO or mainstream media mediated view of a given African country, they were quickly made irrelevant by a nascent but highly influential cabal of digitised African Consultants. A pan-African curation had emerged.

Unfortunately, it privileged tech. They defined what ‘Africa’s’ web space Is, Was and Will be: a place where the tech minority can say a lot about their innovations and very little about who they were making them for and why.

A bad situation, for the storytellers, turned horrible with the advent of Twitter. In the age of Twitter ‘our stories’ sound like this:

@X: I smoked weed today #maafaka
@Y: RT @X: I smoked weed today #maafaka
@Z: RTRT @X: I smoked weed today #maafaka
@A: Hihihi @X smoked weed today (via @Z) #maafaka

Why the fuck did you smoke weed? Where did you get it? Why the hell do I even need to know this? Constipated, stinky or both, a shit is just a shit and everyone takes one. The only reason I should know about yours is because it has more imagination than mine. #maafaka? Question: when it trends, what does it say about you- outside the internet- as an actor in time, space and social environments? That your life revolves around smoking weed, Twitter and Nigga
But Twitter, is an easy drug to blame the death of storytelling on the Kenyan web space on. The death of Story came when Bloggers turned into professionals- Internet authorities. Suddenly the broadcaster and his equipment became more important than the broadcast.

By then, many of us had started clocking speaking engagements to talk about blogs and blogging. And we talked about Wordpress and Blogger and some even went ahead and registered their own domains. Those that did so assumed that the world would take them more seriously if they blogged on their own domains. Problem is, they remained all domains- Flash, Twitter and Facebook widgets- and no content. Who could find time to blog anymore while shuffling from ‘How to set up a blog’- Tech Aid, Kibera- to ‘The future of African blogs’- Afri Tech, New York?

Meanwhile, words buzzed into meaninglessness: Social media; cyber-activism; citizen journalism and Story died.

The pan-African curators or the African Internet’s power axis- chugging deux ex machina like in the background, all along- came to the fore and absorbed the Kenyan blogosphere into a broader African Internet narrative. A narrative, invariably, defined by the trope of Africa in crisis. A crisis ever defined by body counts and mitigated by a dash of solar power. In the spirit of pan-African technological innovation who cares that even the primordial swamp was solar powered? Why should the African bother with inventions while it can follow those who already have a wheel?

Pan-African curation brought, to some, money and Twitter fame but it took with it our choice in the stories we told. The blogger big times rolled in, yes, but they had ‘tech’ stamped all over them. Any blogger worth his salt either went into making tools and gadgets or into talking about them.

Tech for Africa became both media and content; all our internet lives became tech.

The ‘social media’ crowd made serious games; the ‘cyber-activists’ made and talked about web tools and gadgets and the ‘citizen journalists’- with the indolence and gravy-train-spotting of their mainstream media kin- followed the social media hacks and the cyberactivists around.

We were firmly in the digitised world, where fame is a workaday quality. And the African version was defined purely by ones ability to innovate web tools and gadgets. Just having a drink with the small crowd of toolmakers and Tweeting about it was enough, though. But online, where, who and what is hot changes every second, all that we can remember is not even faces but social media handles and avatars. So, what about the reason why those people or objects had earned their second of fame?

No one is really inventing anything; no one is talking about the tech-distance between their innovations and their purported end users. The hell, in this entire tech-speak, there is no analysis, there is no, ‘are these the innovations you need as a Kenyan writer on the web?’ We have gotten too busy realising the infrastructure of an imagined Africa Information and Communications Technology bubble we have forgotten the communication part. We have obliterated the social- the stories and their meanings - in Social Media.

Tech is good and I fully support and admire those who are doing it, but if anyone wants to know: As a storyteller, I struggle with writing; writing is not the way I learnt how to tell stories, so how does innovating Wordpress make my work easier?

Monday, March 15, 2010

#PoBo #4

IX. Do You Write (or Read)?

I wish I could say, yes, I write checks. Like P. Diddy. But me… me I am a cash guy. Hihihi… if I wrote you a cheque you best treat it with the same dharau you reserve for your M.P’s cheques. The big difference between that M.P and me, really, is that I am a businessman servicing a need while he is a make believe civil servant who robs the needy.

Honestly, who sleeps better, the guy that stole the poor man’s unga or the guy that sold some bangi? To a bunch of American exchange students for crying out loud. Yaani, to a bunch of mzungus who come here, get arse, get ghanja and get out. Go home and get therapy… N.M, in his Mongo-speak would say, ‘no Africans were harmed in Dinda’s ghanja plantation.

I am not a slave driver, that is the fucking muhindis…Me I am the good guy.

The other day Potash is saying ati I am like a Mombasa beach hotel, I do not like doing business with Africans, what the hell does he know about business. Who has got some ethics here but me? Me, I do not sell drugs to people who don’t have health insurance. How does that make me a bad guy?

Busia Gold is a fair trade product.

Let us save the rest of the bull for those who know nothing about being a business man out here in Africa. Business, I mean, not biashara biashara…kuhustle, kuuza nyanya marikiti.

As reading goes, I am not much of a reader but I can tell if it is a fifty or a hundred. If it looks like money but I cannot read the amount, then it must be Chinese… and I do not touch Chinese shit. Hell, I do not fucking do business with the bloody business. Someday I must tell you about how Kang’ethe got burnt on a Semenya deal. No, not that Semenya, Semenya is, you know, a dual SIM phone. Hihihi, it is kinda clever, really, wish I could say I coined it.

But anyway, I do not touch Chinese shit… I mean, angalia phone yangu, unaona kama imeandikwa fockya.

I went into biashara for the dough-lo…and the only schooling I needed in money I got.

Peddling on the streets of Nairobi doesn’t teach you shit. You are selling joints for twenty bob but all the money you worry about is the 30 grand the cops want from you after they planted a joint on you. What was left of the joint you had share with them, that is. Dadi, you are no better than the hawker who has to bribe the kanjo who just smashed her tomatoes.

Waafrika! It is not worth playing, really.

If you aren’t playing big then you must be playing niche otherwise you are not a businessman, you are jailbait. Niche was my kind of game. And niche if I can attribute it to one philosophy of the Potash Book Club, it is that it is better to be read by ten people who get you than by ten million who assume they do. At the book club they used to say that they write for Kenyans who seek the truth outside the Nation, what I say is that my product is for consumers who care to trace it from farm to fork, so to speak.

And as a niche player I rubbed holsters with the fat and the fabulous. Waah… I have seen a guy pay for pussy with a fake hundred dollar bill. And he wasn’t Naija, just acting like one. There I was thinking: stupid bitch, stick to the Karumaindos and the two socs that you are used to.

Me, I have been on the Highway, some chick shooting off my dingila and two Johnnies sitting at the back looking like Big Ben and his twin. Tucked away, at least for now, are their British Army issue pistols.

The Johnnies are driving a hard bargain on a stone of Busia Gold. They are acting like this is 1954 and it is their place to tell an African what to do including what to charge for his crop. They acting like mzungus after they have been in Kenya long enough to say ‘Tusker baridi.’ You know how they play: Oh, my cab guy can get me more than that for five hundred bob… sijui my colleague is with some NGO in Ethiopia and he is bringing me Shashamane. Well, you know what I say to that shit, ‘my stone is 20 large, that is why I am pushing a VX and not driving you around in a taxi.’

So I am saying to the Johnnies, ‘I am told the weed in Europe kicks arse something, but how good is it to you when you are planting landmines and chasing Samburu arse in Kenya?’

Between them Brit falas they have like five thousand Kenya Shillings. But they have British Pounds too. So I hit them and more- like twenty Kenya Shillings on every Pound.

Soon they are handing me Pounds and Shillings. And I have to count them, do the math and fold them. The Malaya wants me to smack her in the arse but I think it is silly and feel inclined to tell her to stop using me in her sales pitch to the bloody Johnnies. I want to tell her to get her mind back to Kenya where she lies on her back and I hit it- simple! I smack her arse, anyway, coz it feels good to do it with a fistful of money. Do it like a Jay Z no one has heard of yet.

Long of the short is that if you be playing on anaa level, you’ve got to know your money. Live it. Feel it.

Oh, and of course I never gave them Busia Gold. It must have been a sudden feeling of hatefulness, you know, suddenly thinking too much about what their ancestors had done to mine. So I passed them some pussy brand called Zion from Mt. Kenya where it is too cold and too wet for a good crop. But, really, British Army, Embassy Marines, Kenya Police… is all the same from my business end view. And I do not have an arsehole big enough to hold my shit and theirs.

Well, I know this was meant to be about reading and writing but then again they did tell me to write what I know. And the Business it is. As for lessons to take away, I always say that everyone always gets the lesson they choose to learn. But if I must impose one, it is: If you hear someone say it is never personal, just business, then they learnt their business skills from movies.

Monday, March 01, 2010

#PoBo #3

VIII. Shakespeare or the Bible?

Ati, what’s that got to do with anything…? Or do you mean to ask which one I penda, eh?

Skia, a guy… Just because I know some wannabe writers doesn’t maanisha ati I read them or anything else for that matter. Me, I read money…kwisha! I am a businessman… it is all I wanted to be when I grew up. And I am all grown now… and I am not saying that those boyz haven’t grown up yet, they just grew up into something I don’t jua.

I mean, how do you grow up with your boys, dinya the same chicks, half-life anything that matters with them and skive all the same classes… then you wake up one day and the guys are writing stuff that makes you go, ati what? Thing that puzzles me most is vile they are seaming: this is what it is like in our mtaa. But the only thing I recognise in those stories is the nouns.

Really, who are these guys, trying to tell more stories than my grandmother? And it is fine if that is what they want to do but why can’t they just tell stories like the rest of us. Yaani, anaa time I am in the old neighbourhood and I have brought 18 litres of muratina and you know these situations, people thank you for your largesse by giving you an audience. It is the same thing politicians do at funerals, yaani, if a guy writes you a cheque for five thousand bob, you have to sit and listen to his crap. So I am in the middle of a storo big time. See, I am right there speaking like a mtaa boy telling them about the hustle- cops sumbuaing, mafala kuangushwa- and you know what N.M says? “Dinda, man, conjugate?” I didn’t know what conjugate meant back then, but now that I do… conjugate sheng? Who the fuck is this guy, really?

If I am allowed to think, I can say that this writing thing is all good fun, when you are nineteen sipping on Napshizzle in the mtaa, but bro… by the time we are hitting 25 and I am living in one of those, so called leafy suburbs and Timi and P still don’t have a hustle… something is wrong. I mean, it is one thing to not believe in money but it is something else trying to at least try and afford your own fucking booze, you know.

So I am the guy that everyone is flashing because Timi’s sister needs school fees; the Stone Zone is grumpy from alcohol withdrawal; Jose has been arrested again and the OCS is on the case so we are looking at 10Gs, minimum, for the bribe and... Bobo needs another abortion.

It is the reason why us Africans cannot endelea…I mean, I haven’t shagged Bobo since she grew breasts but it is money out of my pocket when everyone else does.

But then again these are my people. It might keep a man like me, a man with ambition, down, but then a man like me cannot exist without a people like them. I am talking about community, belonging… and I cannot speak for Niggers in bloody Congo or Namibia, but what I know of Africa- Sekta III- down there they have a God who they call community. And I love my Sekta III people like ‘Bumpy’ loved his Harlem people. Because there was a time I was a ten-bob-a-joint peddler and yet they all loved me like a brother.

People had my back when I didn’t have shit and I was working choo namba nane. Insane times those, my friend, when I considered it a good day if I had sold nothing but got away with my life. Lived, as we used to say, to die another day. And you know, the boys would come down and shoot the breeze, write Kanjo Mavi on the wall… you know, just be around which a lot of times meant that some big, ugly street kid would not try to stick his mangy prick up my arse that day.

So, on the one hand I cannot bitch but on the other hand I have to hate the guy that invented Mpesa. It made it easier to give but it took away the speeches that go with it… the community. You know, long before Mpesa, when we would hit both an ATM and the nearest wines and spirits and then head out to meet our people, N.M used to say that, to Sekta III, I was like a visiting professor. I didn’t get it. But P put it better: “Dinda, you are the proud alumnus of Mtaa Senior School, who went out there and beat the system and are now returned laden not only with spoils but insider knowledge too. Tunakuinamishia…!”

Anyway, all I am saying is that a man’s money leaves him through many doors, question is: will people come to your funeral because you were a true Negro or will they come because someone has to dig the grave, anyway?

And what I say of me, Me I am a decent African man, the children I know off, I pay for, those that I do not, I pray for.