What you need to know:
- Murungi’s poems cover much of the historical, political and economic development in Kenya over the last century.
- Murungi’s frustration with the endless cycle of political posturing in his article last week could have been from the poem ‘Honourable Members.’
‘Tell them/ That I’m tired/ Of all this/ Political/ Circus!/ Aha-aha-aha!’
No, Kiraitu Murungi, did not say exactly this in his incisive story on his encounter with coronavirus published in the Sunday Nation two weeks ago. Indeed, his harrowing encounter with coronavirus was not even an aha-aha-aha! matter. But, hey, he might have said it, anyway. Being a poet, writer and accomplished lawyer, the Governor of Meru, is more nimble with words and imagery than a monkey in a forest.
Rather, the above stanza is from the poem ‘The Circus,’ one of the 119 poems in his collection, The Song of my Beloved. The book was published in 2006 by Oakland Books. We’ll be singing this song later.
In his candid article which could as well have been a so long a letter to his political peers, Mr Murungi dropped some unflattering lines about politics and stated that he will soon be rolling down the curtain on his action-pact role in the “endless winds and storm of politics.”
“We are permanently on stage, making impressions, seeking to be liked and approved by others,” he submitted. “From now on,” he ruled, “I would follow the desires of my heart. I would ignore the noise, the psychological burdens of friendship and idiocies of politics.”
Reading the article, one would easily regard his views as temporal muses of a person going through the phases of recovery from a vicious Covid-19 attack which he contracted even after adhering to the stringent protocols espoused by the WHO and the ministry of Health. Even more frustrating is that this came after the governor had taken the AstraZenecca vaccine against the virus. In such a state one, especially if he or she be a poet, is prone to emotional fits and “spontaneous overflow of feelings.”
Indeed, the governor revealed that at some point in his affliction, he had become fatalistic. But as he recovered he began to reflect upon, recognise and respect some of the things and people he had all along taken for granted. “The coronavirus break,” he wrote, “gave me an opportunity to take stock of my own personal political journey. Politics had robbed me of my life and voice. Sometimes it had robbed me of my freedom of thought.”
While he attributes his latest views on life and politics to his lessons and experience from coronavirus, much of terse opinion on politics could be much older and deeper seated than a virus attack in just a couple of weeks. His reflective, unassuming mind is discernible from his past writings. Whether it be In the Mud of Kenyan Politics or in The Song of My Beloved, Mr Murungi, the human rights crusader who has won five straight elections since the advent of multi democracy in 1992, appears to be a man ill at ease with certain aspects of our political and socio-economic affairs.
Murungi’s poems cover much of the historical, political and economic development in Kenya over the last century. The poems come with such evocative imagery that University of Nairobi lecturer, Prof Wanjiku Kabira, likened him to Okot P’Bitek and other Negritude poets. There is an unmistakable streak of defiance and protest against all aspects oppression in his writing.
‘The Circus,’ for instance describes Kenya’s historical development over several bands of ten years from the advent of colonial settlement in 1920 to 2006 when poverty and joblessness is still prevalent despite the appearance of a popular change of government in in 2002. This sense of betrayal and hopelessness leads to the last stanza quoted at the beginning of this story.
Talking about poetry is a bit different from analysing prose. Whereas all sentiment in prose is attributed to the author, in poetry, literature exhorts us to distinguish a poet from the persona in a poem. Hence it would be safe to hold that the “spontaneous outflow of powerful feelings” (as Wordsworth would call it) in The Song of my Beloved are entirely those of the personae in the poems and not of the author.
Murungi’s frustration with the endless cycle of political posturing in his article last week could have been from the poem ‘Honourable Members.’ Like the persona, He is asking his political brethren “Honourable members, ladies and gentlemen/fellow pretenders/ how long shall we lose our voices in pretences?”
“The Peasant Woman” highlights the plight of African women who have to endure endless abuse by their husbands from dawn to midnight. The persona warns the misogynists that their days are numbered; “To hell with you/ Men of Africa/ The daughter of Baimungi/ Will take it no more.”
Whether Kiraitu will hang his political boots after next year’s election is something we will only be told by time. Who knows, the people of Meru might pay him a mighty visit to his Nkubu home. Then the next thing we’ll hear is that after much consultation, he has heeded the call of his people for the voice of the people is the voice of God. To ward-off unsettling questions he could throw in the adage “a wise man changes his mind, a fool…”
That is only a remote possibility for a man who seems to relish the company of his poem’s personae. Rather than continue with the “Reed Dance,” he has decided to wake up from the endless sleeping sickness and dance for himself a new dance and like the persona in ‘Those Who Love the Blues,’ has neither apologies to make nor songs to fake.
The author is an editor based in Nairobi. firstname.lastname@example.org