Friday, February 1, 2008

Meanwhile in Kenya

Tomorrow is my daughter’s fourth birthday. She laughs more often than she smiles, she sings more often than she talks and she cries about twice a month. My wife and I relish in the obvious fact that she is fundamentally happy and we give thanks for that. One of the challenges that we face, alongside all parents, is trying to navigate the developmental path that keeps her identity as a child safe and her psyche and fundamental happiness protected. In thinking about that, I am concerned about the images of African and Pan-African people that she will be exposed to.

In the last few weeks it has dawned on me that my own psyche requires some protection from exposure. I can feel that my defenses are being worn down. The story and the imagery of Africa and African people that I grew up with do not match those that I am being bombarded with now.

I grew up reading about freedom fighters and Pan-Africanists – the heady and courageous days of Dedan Kimathi, Patrice Lumumba, Leopold Senghor, Kwame Nkrumah (Osagyefo) and Nelson Mandela (Madiba). I read about their intellectual fortitude, their courage and their visions of Africa and African people. I read about their influence on Caribbean leaders like Eric Williams, Walter Rodney, C.L.R. James and Michael Manley.

Conversations about them, their influence on the world and the identity of black people within it were an integral part of my household growing up, a part of the development of my identity. My own name, Kamau, is a Kikuyu name. I suspect that my parents were inspired by the Kenyan Mau-Mau rebellion and thought that a Kikuyu name, meaning quiet warrior, would forever connect me to this formidable Pan-African identity. What my parents did was to choose a developmental path that hardened the walls around my psyche, my humanity and my identity as Pan-African person.

Now I find myself besieged by images of African barbarism with white celebrities like George Clooney, Mia Farrow and Bono raising the flag on behalf of African humanity. The leaders and images that were the cornerstones of Pan-African identity are gone. What is emerging is an image of black people as fractured. We are victims of each other and of a global system in which we have precious little influence. The constant slaughter of black people by other black people, across Africa, in Jamaica, in Haiti, in Baltimore is becoming too much to bear. It is becoming difficult to protect my own psyche against those messages that say that we are a fractured people, somehow less than that oft referenced Other.

I learned my lessons from Minister Farrakhan and Malcolm X, indeed from the very leaders that were part of my growing up. I know the barbarism and deceit that white people can exact on each other and certainly on the rest of us and I would not reference my humanity against them. That isn’t the problem that I have. I find no solace in comparative suffering or joy in pointing out the weaknesses of others. I have a problem finding the far reaching examples of humanity coming out of the African world that originate and are articulated by African people.

These kinds of examples of African and Pan-African intellect and humanity are simply gone or are very difficult to find. They have been replaced by the images and realities from Kenya, from Sudan, from Liberia, from the Congo, from Haiti, and from Rwanda. In light of the pictures just from the last few weeks, I am searching for the developmental path. I am searching for the armor for my daughter’s psyche so that her identity can be linked to a broader Pan-African identity that is rooted in faith, intellect, courage and fundamental human decency.

It is a growing challenge….



luvlife0702 said...

Expand your news sources. just as kwame was writing in those days so there are numerous scholars, philosophers, sociologists, scientists etc on the continent forming new associations that reflect their growing significance (there are african philosophical conferences and a new african sociological association). there are many indigenous leaders but just as the late 60's and 70's had a news media fascinated with a liberation movement fraught with lots of internal strife that was not shown on OUR news, so do we now have a news media (a handful of white guys and corporate entities monopolizing our airtime and space) fascinated with teh strife in Africa but not in europe or asia.

like you said, you were named quiet WARRIOR which means since time immemorial our folks were fighting wars so that warriors were necessary part of their day to day reality. the main thing that has changed is that for a while we stopped fighting each other and went with the massa's fragile peace constructed as tehy saw fit to meet their needs. and now our weapons are a little bit more sophisticated and our anger more intense at it is fed by deprivation and the inherenet inequity formed by those liberation movements which preferred some and relegated others to driving around those in power who happened to be of a different ethnicity than they were. over time, that stuff seethes and boils to the top.

at the end of the day, our (foreigners) notion of nation state means very little to folks who live a tribal reality, whether urban or rural. and though i'm not doing the complicated picture much justice i think that at the heart of the matter, our romantic notions of 'independent' africa ignored the negative emotions that accompany many romances.

that said, if color or tribe is to be of import when we talk of brutality from one human being to another then it will continue because i dont give a hoot who's bringing attention and who's taking action because as we would say in jamaica, 'today fi mi, tomorrow fi yu'. this is not a black thing because if it is then we cannot ask for help from whence help will come. we must solve this on our own. and as these fights have gone on for as long as the griot can remember i wish us good luck.

i am not 'post-race' but human suffering is human suffering and i feel the pain no more because my pigmentation is similar to that of the kenyan or the nigerian.

these problems were caused by greed, racism (or tribalism or whatever name folks want to give it) both now and past and peace is about negotiating outside of some idealist notion of pan-africanism but on the needs and wants of the folks at war. while we think pan-african, teh kikuyu is thinking kikuyu and the baganda want the kingdoms to be returned to their ancient glory.

i too was raised on teh african liberationist and would speak of sir abubaka tafawa baliwa long before i really understood his importance. but i know that a hungry man is an angry man and when di dirty tough and di food no nuff man a go do all kinda nasty tings to odda man.

that said, if i have my way, i'll be back in the slums of babadogo outside of nairobi next summer because war or no war, mothers still give birth and folks still get sick and that's my developmental path. i go make my difference in the way that i know how and leave those who live teh reality of the politics to find their path and if i can be of help and they ask then i am duty bound to do what i can.

and what's in the 'protection of psyche' other than living in a bubble. best to teach how to deal with the reality than hoping the reality doesn't touch us because that's how this shit goes on and on. too many of us are 'protected' and too few of us know or care.

luvlife0702 said...

PS... so those who read your blog also see the images that disturb you and there are sooooooooooooooooo many more images that could have been selected.

i know that my colleagues wonder why i don't use pictures of dying babies etc to show the import of my ugandan project but folks already see that view of africa by turning on the news or looking at the pictures in the magazines.

like you and i know, there ARE african countries at peace and if we think about political trajectories we are expecting of Africa what has never been a reality for new nation states. these are growing pains as we find a way to live with each other that was not imposed on us by our colonial powers selection of the 'most nice' 'most popular' guy no matter what it meant to the new nation drawn by a ruler instead of ethnic realities.

i figure if the franks and huns (aka french and germans) can make nicey nicey and agree on not going to war in iraq, africa will also find her way. africa had war and violence long before white people evolved and i have no reason to expect that this will change. as far back as my british education goes historically, i can't recall a case of similar skin color preventing war cuz we humans didn't evolve as continents or straight-lined boundaries but as famlies, clans, tribes, nations and we drew blood and stole women and whatever it is that war makes us do.

just as the poor will be with us forever (if only mr. marx:-) so will war. get used to it and don't worry your psyche and your daughter's will adapt just fine. and i say this as a pacifist.

NikkiJ said...

On this very special day, wrap your everything (your mind, your thoughts, your heart...) around your little girl so that you may rest a day and shore up her joy. But tomorrow make a plan.

Hill Rat said...

So heavy man. I'm sure the day before BabyRat's next birthday I'll be more worried about cakes and decorations than the fate of an entire continent.

Stephen said...

I am from Zambia and when I interact with Kenyans I feel like I am part of them, they naturally feel like my people. So when I see this violence in Kenya, I ask myself would I behave is such barbaric form or what would drive me to act so.

Unfortunately, I feel every society given similar circumstances will probably behave the same. It's the human condition that surfaces in dire moments.

There is need to worry because of this human capacity.

I am ever sad to see a continent struggle to transform into an alien reality, way to quickly.