18,250 Days

I’m haunted by 50 years of independence. They follow me everywhere I turn, reminding me to celebrate. Reminding me that I am the crazy one. As if somehow, everything that we have seen, said, done, felt, heard, whispered, reiterated, permitted has been imagined. I think about how easy it is to construct a cocoon of self-preservation.

BirthdaysOn the way home today the bus driver takes an alternative route to avoid skirmishes in Kibera over land titles. I hope the skirmishes don’t leave the slum and make it to my doorstep. I feel guilty for having that thought. The guilt fades as soon as I am back on my couch.

Kenya is moving on.

The official death toll in Moyale is 27 and rising. I’m reminded about the heirachy of lives as was shown in the Westgate Siege only months ago. Judith Butler writes:

“Ungrievable lives are those that cannot be lost, and cannot be destroyed, because they already inhabit a lost and destroyed zone; they are, ontologically, and from the start, already lost and destroyed, which means that when they are lost and destroyed in war, nothing is destroyed.”

The government pays selected twitter users KES 100,000 to send out tweets talking about why they love the country. Uhuru Kenyatta fist bumps construction workers. The ministry of health does away with the department of mental health – does that make us crazy? 

Memories are ghosts.

–          Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Kenya at fifty means being “squatters in someone else’s dream.” An ideal Kenya is imposed on us. Our attentions are shifted to the now, the sensational, the more important. We are reminded that the real role of the media is to keep our meat from gathering dust as we walk the paths to our homes.

I begin to read poetry. Shailja Patel writes:

a pregnant woman is a pregnant woman is a pregnant woman
Garissa is Kismayo is Nairobi

“It is impossible to be poor in Nairobi,” a friend tells me. He insists that the act of being poor involves lack of self drive and hardpoverty work. He does not believe in institutional oppression. I remember to choose my friends more carefully.

blood is blood is blood is blood is blood

Mandela dies. We all try not to write about it, but it is everywhere – except where Kenya at 50 is. His death is a death that we cannot erase. He is not one of the 27 in Moyale. He has a name, a legacy, and love.

take everything else

this is ours 

our grief

is not

open for business.


I am told age is a number. I wonder what the number 50 means to us. Why we have been told, and accepted that it is of great importance that we celebrate these 18,250 days since our oppressors changed the colour of their skin.

I find myself incapable of celebrating Kenya at 50. To pay homage to roads and buildings in Nairobi. Or to the picturesque green of the highlands.

This is how erasure happens.

Health workers are going on strike tomorrow. I feel like such statements should be lead with “public sector.” I agree with my friend, being poor in Kenya seems like the most impossible endeavor.

  4 comments for “18,250 Days

  1. Rhena
    December 10, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Michael you took the words right out of my mouth.I too find it hard to celebrate Kenya at 50,heck,i find it hard to believe this #weareone campaign.Are we to celebrate retrogression in the state of housing,transportaion and education? My heart bleeds for our country,i mourn,there is no time to celebrate when as you’ve said,our oppressors changed the color of their skin

    • December 11, 2013 at 10:34 am

      There really isn’t time to celebrate.

      Thank you for reading

  2. Sue
    December 10, 2013 at 11:18 am

    The DP iconised Madiba so well; and yet does the leadership in itself consider these words?

    Do we ever consider our legacy, or doesn’t it matter… Okay, so it doesn’t. But how do they sleep. Oh but they do, behind feet of concrete, electric wires and armed guards.

    You celebrate success, you celebrate freedom, you celebrate choice. Mmhh Success in a few hundred metres of tarmac? Oh, but we are a regional powerhouse, really. Freedom isn’t because we don’t have shackles, but am I free to walk, talk, do without looking over my shoulder? What about choice, do they choose to be poor?

    What are we celebrating? Oh I remember, imperialists!! Yes, we are not yielding to the demands of imperialists! Really?

    Okay, let’s try again, we are celebrating, that I can have this over priced cup of coffee, which I will continue to pay as I leave this parking and on the roads (new toll stations coming up even with fuel levy), and then to the askari because you must tip them because you never know.

    Let’s then celebrate… that we recognise we do not have leadership of a moral example, selfless, honourable and with principles.

    Because in the 12 steps, you celebrate that we are not in denial…

    “The world has lost a moral example of selfless leadership, a man of courage, principle and honour. The African Continent is poorer without Madiba. We are mourning a father to multiple generations of Africans. Madiba left a legacy of leadership and he was a shining example that we should all emulate,” DP Ruto

  3. January 19, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    You bring to the fore the problems that afflict our nation. the very issues our leaders have turned a blind eye to. It is unimaginable that they keep attaching importance to the irrelevances. We are in deed more concerned with celebrating 50 years as a milestone when we have nothing to write home about. The problem in our country as Chinua Achebe once put it is a problem of “poor leadership” Good read Michael. kudos

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