What you need to know:
- The report’s aim is to discourage us from seeking fundamental political or social change by pretending to offer avenues for transformation.
- It suggests that we should continue assuaging demagogues among our political class, so unlike in 2007 they don’t stoke ethnic violence in the run-up to the polls.
Most people I have spoken to find the much-vaunted Building Bridges Initiative report underwhelming and shoddily written. But you would have to be unaware of the mediocrity on which the Kenyan government is run to be disappointed by such a report.
I have read the document several times since the government released it last week with great fanfare, whereby our so-called leaders publicly fondled their own tummies (and even crudely kept touching themselves inappropriately) in total satisfaction with the designs they had for themselves at the expense of their weakened rivals and the rest of the nation.
The report has no poetic value, except in one instance in which it alludes to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Caitaani Mutharaba-ini (Devil on the Cross) and, like the character Gatuiria in the novel, urges us to compose a “complex song of many voices” that celebrates the diversity of our nation. Then it lapses into contradictory verbiage about purity while pretending to abjure family and ethnic bloodlines.
Although my English isn’t all that good, I expect a presidential task force such as the one that wrote that BBI thing to know the difference between “this” and “these”. But because the report wasn’t meant to be better than a Primary Class Five composition titled “What I’d Like to be When I Grow Up”, I am happy to state that I like the thing the way it is. It reflects the low intellectual capacity of the clowns in charge of our country’s affairs and the public that follows them blindly.
The cocktail of malice, incompetence, and negative energy in our government is just out of this world. Maybe you haven’t come face to face with the animal species called a Kenyan government official. I have. When I was a young lecturer at the University of Nairobi at the cusp of the new millennium, a junior government spy (now a senior NIS mandarin) tried to trap me into some sort of a sex scandal. I don’t know what he’d have achieved from his efforts.
Pretending to be a love-struck female student of mine, he created a fake email account, through which the said girl sent me love letters, saying she couldn’t concentrate in my classes because I was “way too cute”. Could we meet behind the bushes in the evening and talk a little bit more about “the pleasure principle” (the Freudian notion that we instinctively seek pleasure and avoid pain to satisfy biological and psychological needs)?
Vivian, for that was the alleged girl’s name, repeated many times in her emails that she liked me because of my looks (my mirror told a different story but Vivian sounded like she had MRI eyes that could see my inner beauty). She added that my “no-nonsense” newspaper articles had swept her off her feet. Could we please meet behind the …?
Phallic symbols, my favourites ever, are references that recall male privates (such as a “whistle”, used a whole 22 times in the BBI report, and “root”, used 14 times). They subliminally remind us of masculine dominance of our society.
Because the launch of the report was largely a phallic affair, in which male politicians displayed their virility to the nation, women were given secondary roles at the function. In fact, their mention in some sections of the report is cosmetic.
When airing and archiving the event, the media followed suit in gender bias. The speeches by governors Charity Ngilu and Anne Waiguru have not been given as much airplay as the nonsense by male politicians. In live coverage, the centre stage of the event (the spaces next to the President, the MC, and their stand-fixed phallic microphones) were occupied by men.
When the cameras zoomed out slightly, the only woman we could see on the dais was to the right side of the TV screen. To make matters worse, her head was covered by the media house logo in all cases; we could only see her red skirt and black handbag. In effect, women were not supposed to use their brains at the launch. Their duty was to jeer the faction that supposedly threatened the phallic superiority of their paymasters.
I was born on December 26 a few decades ago. I would have been thrilled if the BBI task force had renamed that day for my dog Sigmund: Sigmund Day. The report proposes that we call it National Culture Day, ostensibly because “Boxing Day” is not African. This is very true. Let me emphasise that Christmas and Easter are “autochthonous” African concepts, to use one of the new words, used four times in the report, the task force taught me.
Say it after me again: autochthonous (indigenous rather than descended from migrants). Actually, it’s only that you’re too daft to notice this fact: the report is not in English but some “autochthonous” Kenyan language.
Seriously, though, very little in Kenya is autochthonous, except in relation to an imaginary notion of putative European colonialists or some other “foreign” ethnic communities we’d like to expel from our lands one day. We are a largely heterochthonous nation, with people who have immigrated from different parts of Africa and the rest of the world. Indeed, the illusion of ethnic and national purity the term suggests is the cause of most conflicts in the world.
After my first reading, I wanted to propose that we change Boxing Day to Hangover Day to capture the effects of our Christmas Day bingeing. But I almost immediately remembered that Kenyans, including our so-called leaders, don’t have to wait for Christmas to enjoy their tipple. We are shamelessly drunk even at public functions, and it is no wonder that nothing seems to work in this country.
Maybe because we are “autochthonous” Africans, remaining backward is our business. Written by mostly Judeo-Christian conservatives who don’t care about the contemporary issues progressive Kenyan youths are interested in (e.g., population control, climate change, and the rights of sexual minorities), the report is enamoured of biological procreation and the heteronormative family unit. It even asks the President to include “the state of the family” in his parliamentary speeches.
In support of this procreation initiative, my dog Sigmund and I yesterday agreed that we should jointly propose making November 7 the Bedroom Day in honour of the recent Kibra by-election, though he now prefers an “autochthonous” name for the day: twa twa twa. The mongrel also wants to be baptised Autochthonous by one of the BBI bishops.
The report preaches a “bottom-up” approach to Kenyan problems, but it follows old-fashioned ethnographic methods, in which the names of respondents are elided. To the elites who wrote the report, the individuality of lowly respondents means nothing. Unnamed, they could well be fictional. Going through the report, you would think you were reading Jomo Kenyatta’s Facing Mount Kenya (1938) or the condescending books of Jomo’s racist teacher, Bronislaw Malinowski.
As the report wasn’t meant to yield anything of value in the first place, it is better to do ourselves a favour and come to terms with the fact that we have been taken for a ride once again and it might be too late to do anything about it.
The report’s aim is to discourage us from seeking fundamental political or social change by pretending to offer avenues for transformation. It suggests that we should continue assuaging demagogues among our political class, so unlike in 2007 they don’t burn us alive in churches, stoke ethnic violence in political rallies in the run-up to the polls, or organise retaliatory attacks by youths who would then be all snuffed out to cover up crimes against humanity.