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OVER THE PAST few years, I have come to believe in honoring my ancestors. This has become a very deep part of my spirituality. I discovered this in South Africa, where I spent six months this year while still recovering from a stroke that nearly killed me two years ago. I was not ready to come home now. I was enjoying myself in Johannesburg very much. I find South Africa to be a deeply spiritual place. And I am nearly healed now. 2016 was a terrible year for me. For a large part of the year, I was waiting for a larger stroke that would finish me off, because my doctors said it was possible. The artery on the right side of my brain is 100 percent blocked. My sangoma, a person who helps people to get in touch with their ancestors, told me when I first saw her that it was time to go home. This was what she said on WhatsApp. Wednesday, 9 August:

“You have a Powerful Spirit that needs you to embrace…you need to go home in Kenya to honour the rich ancestral lineage that you emerge from…this is the source of disharmony in your life. I cannot say more on Social Media….”

I went after she told me that to see her, having decided to go home after the Supreme Court Decision. My country needed me. I needed to be there. So I went to see her. She told me what to do to honor them. I will do it.

I feel that my saying what I am going to say was meant to be.

 

MY GRANDFATHER was Mzee Paul Wainaina. He was baptized Paul. My great-grandfather was Mzee Wang’ang’a wa Kihara. My great-great-grandfather was called Kihara wa Mungai. We are from Kanyariri Village, Kiambu County. I believe in honoring my ancestors, but I have no problem now with Christians or Muslims or Hindus. I would like to say here and now with my ancestors witnessing this that what I am about to say is the truth. Thursday, the 26th of October 2017, will be a year of great consequence for the Gikuyu. I pray every Gikuyu who reads my text will reflect deeply on it.

My Kenyan spiritual Guide is called Wambui. This is what she told me this after I came out as gay. I came out as gay on my birthday in 2014, January 18. I placed this story on the Internet. This is what Wambui said:

“From where I’m sitting, and from how I’m reading things, the ‘problem’ you’re going through is that you’re on the cusp of becoming your true self. Not ever having come out before, I think you were living a narrative and speaking through a voice that was not the true you. And that takes a toll. Because one wastes so much energy and life force being a ‘half person’ as opposed to the real self. And so, there are all these pockets and rooms in one’s mind that are constantly churning a narrative that is not quite real, one that bolsters and drives the ‘half person’ that one has become…Does that make sense? So now that you’re out (and literally bust out the closet), your old narrative doesn’t work on a soul level (and it didn’t before anyway). Your soul is trying to formulate a new narrative to go along with the real you who has never lived openly before.

Basically, your soul is learning to ‘speak’ openly, after 40 plus years. Experiences/narratives you should have had when you were younger—as a gay person/African—your soul now has to formulate in middle age—while attempting to override the falsity of decades. And I’m not talking about ‘being gay’. I’m talking about the way your soul—if it had been free back then—would have expressed itself.”

I am a Pan Africanist. I am a proud gay man. I am a proud Gikuyu man. Kenya is facing the culmination of something that began in 2007, and is finally about to come to a head. It is important that all Kenyans who believe in the truth stand up to be counted. It is important that all Gikuyus who believe what I am about to say is the truth stand up to be counted. I believe in the biblical verse that says “the truth shall set you free.”

In 1992, I voted for Mwai Kibaki. I was, then, a very conservative Kenyan. I believed in unearned privilege. I believed in English Kenya. I believed in Mwai Kibaki, not Matiba. I believed I was an elite Kenyan, and deserved a president who would not rock the boat. I remember that election very clearly. I remember that it was rigged. In favor of Moi. At the time, as an Upper Middle Class Gikuyu, I did not consider Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s candidature as serious. I was still caught up in Moi-influenced politics. I was also deeply suspicious of Ngugi wa Thiong’o. It took a few years for me to get over the Moi era, and our bigotries at that time. It was not until 2002 and afterward that I started to crave a President who would bring real change to Kenya.

In 1993 Kenneth Matiba filed a petition against the election results. However, his failure to personally sign the petition resulted in the petition being struck out by Justice Riaga Omolo. Matiba was physically incapacitated and had given his wife power of attorney. In 2012, Justice Omolo was declared unfit to serve in the judiciary by the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board over this decision.

Whatever happened to Matiba afterwards was Moi’s fault. Matiba lost his businesses. Had several strokes. Small minded to the end, Moi, we knew, would do anything to remain in power. Kenneth Matiba would have made an excellent President of Kenya. Matiba was an exceptionally competent man. He ran Kenya Football Federation from 1974-1978, maybe the best time in KFF’s history. I am trying to think my way through my political decisions and what motivated them since Multi-Party elections began in 1992. Matiba owned a Chain of hotels, Hillcrest Schools, and exported cut flowers outside Kenya. But he was best known as a Superbly Competent Civil Servant.

At Moi’s behest, Matiba was held without trial at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in 1990 with Charles Rubia, a member of the Kenyan Cabinet who also called for multi-party democracy. While in prison Matiba was refused medication and suffered a stroke, which affected half his body and incapacitated him for some time. Later, a multi-party system was instituted and Matiba was released. Even though we knew that Matiba had won that election, and we missed the opportunity to be ruled by the most competent of Presidents, Kenya seems to have an elite, including me at the time, who are deeply resistant to change.

The elite that is resistant to change is the same elite that believes that Kenya must remain a country of ten millionaires and 40 million paupers. The same Kenya where white people own hundreds of thousands of acres of our land. The Kenyattas own huge amounts of land and other black Kenyans own equally huge amounts of land whose real owners are still alive. Land which was stolen by the British over a hundred years ago. Justice in the adjudication of land issues is one of the issues still pending in this great country of ours.

I believe this is Africa’ s century. I believe that this century, other continents will strive to look like Africa. Our democracy is growing. I am excited about this growth.

In 2002, I voted for Mwai Kibaki. I voted for him because Raila said Kibaki tosha. Remember two things. He became president because Raila anointed him. The minute he got elected, we saw on television that he sat without Raila and picked a cabinet. We didn’t get a new constitution until 2010 because Mwai Kibaki did not want one.

All this time, I became convinced that Raila Odinga, as the only elite candidate who had no friendly ties to Moi, was the right man to be a driving force behind our new democracy.

Moi retired the third election there were Multi-Party elections. 1992, 1997, 2002. If he had run again, he would have won because he would have rigged his win for the third time. He tried to rig that election, in 2002, in favor of Uhuru Kenyatta, but Kenyans made sure he couldn’t by staying at all polling stations late into the night until their votes were tabulated. Uhuru Kenyatta represented the past, KANU, in 2002. During that election, Kenyans voted overwhelmingly for change. We saw it during the inauguration, Moi humiliated.

Mwai Kibaki was a technocratic first president who did well his first term by building a lot of basic infrastructure. But his failure to include Raila whom he owed his presidency in the making of a cabinet started a bad faith that has dogged the Gikuyu from that fatal day in 2002. He got 3.65 million votes that election. Over 2 million of those votes because Raila endorsed him and campaigned with him.

Mwai Kibaki is a coward, and almost burnt the country down by refusing to leave power when he was defeated hands down by Raila Odinga. That primal scream of betrayed Kenyans happened because Mwai Kibaki failed to give up power when he was beaten in front of our eyes. I was in Lamu flying to Nairobi the day while the results were still being announced.  I took the flight out of Lamu with Raila ahead by more than one million votes. You see, Kenyans, I am speaking to all of you in this piece: in that election, we all watched the most consequential robbery take place on television.

Unfortunately for the Gikuyus, many of whom died in the political violence that was the aftermath of that election. That stolen election is the worst thing that has happened to Kenya since Independence. And I blame Mwai Kibaki for it. Roads are good things. I was pretty sure afterwards that Raila Odinga won that election. I did not want a Gikuyu victory then because I wanted an activist president.

Do you remember Moi’s days? Until the mid-1990s, we didn’t have free speech. We did not have multi-party elections. Raila was in jail. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had been in jail. Matiba was in jail. Charles Rubia was in jail.

Where was Uhuru Kenyatta all this time? Not on the side of the majority. All this time Uhuru Kenyatta has not stood behind Change. What is Change, to me? When an ordinary Kenyan has the same rights as a rich Kenyan.

Raila Odinga became every Gikuyu’s enemy in 2013. Because of the violence that was meted out to ordinary Gikuyus in 2007. I believe all that violence to have been Mwai Kibaki’s fault. I remembered that he was always on the side of a better Kenya in 2013, but I opted to support Uhuru Kenyatta. The twenty acres my mother bought had been part of a huge farm stolen from the Maasai by the British, the original thieves of Kenyan land, and they still own huge parcels of Kenyan land today. The willing buyer-willing seller idea being a controversial appeasement of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s government of British interests in Kenya. The truth is, we were in a Neocolonial situation then. We could not afford to say NO, to Britain then. We can now. Because I believe that the Maasai lands that were given to the British on 99-year leases have expired now. Kenyans need their land back.

In 2013, I started the year supporting Raila Odinga. I felt half-hearted about him because many Gikuyus had died in 2007. But looking back, I believe now that there has not been an election that was not rigged since 2002.

But the real reason I changed my mind about him, and supported Uhuru Kenyatta, was the deal that Uhuru Kenyatta made with William Samoei Ruto. I had gone home to Nakuru for the election. I was also selling four acres of land in Kabatini. And one day, a very thin, shabby man, came and offered me 400,000 shillings for the land. I knew his kind of thinness. It was not because of lack of food. He probably ate a lot of Mukimo every day. I knew the type of Gikuyu he was. You could see beneath his thinness, hard muscles like iron cables beneath his skin. This was a ‘wiira ni wiira’ Gikuyu man. A beast of labour. He was very nervous and restless. I do not speak Gikuyu, but I immediately felt kin to him. He told me he had 400,000 shillings in cash for me nearby. I was shocked. He was sweating, his hands were shaking. I believed him. So I said to him let us go to my home to discuss things further. Fortunately, there was some Mukimo in the house, in the fridge, the mukimo that has njahi beans. I warmed a huge amount for him, and fed him. He ate it all, his jaw clenching and unclenching, all visible muscles. When he was full, I asked him in Kiswahili whether he could afford 450,000, which was the price I was willing to accept for the land. He told me that he lived among the Kalenjin about 50 kilometres from Eldoret. He had five acres there. In 2007, they lost that land during clashes with the Kalenjin. His daughters, 6 and 8, still had nightmares from those days. He had lost his wife to the clashes in 2007. He had leased land to cultivate near pipeline in Nakuru. Nakuru was already divided tribally after the clashes in 2007. A half acre near pipeline, which was zoned to the Gikuyu, had quadrupled in price. I felt for him, but told him his offer was too low. Now what he didn’t tell me, but I could surmise from his nervousness, is he had been deeply traumatised by the clashes in 2007. He had not even gone back to his land. He seemed unsure whether to invest his 400,000 in land. I asked him what his nervousness was about. I told him I felt the deal would hold. He told me that he was nervous about Ruto. He did not feel confident yet that Ruto would keep his side of the deal.

I do not believe in the judicial process that was going on in The Hague. Right or Wrong, I believe it threatened our Independence as a country. My vote in 2013 was a vote for the security of people in the Rift Valley. I liked the deal Uhuru had made with Ruto. It would guarantee peace in Rift Valley while it lasted. It seemed durable. It has turned out fine. I like Uhuru Kenyatta. I think he has been an OK ruler of Kenya, bolder than Mwai Kibaki. And most importantly, the peace deal has held. Kalenjin warriors have not attacked Gikuyu settlers since 2013. The government alone should have won him this election in 2017.

I admit it now. I buckled under the intense pressure. I do not admit that my support for Uhuru Kenyatta was a bad thing in 2013. I still believe his and Ruto’s peace treaty saved the Rift Valley a lot of bloodshed in 2013. But there were consequences to that. I believe Uhuru Kenyatta, facing a court case in the ICC, together with William Samoei Ruto, under this pressure, must have agreed to be rigged into power in 2013.

I fear the force of the Military or the Police. Very much. I fear torture very much. But I have come close to death. I no longer fear it. If the powers that be decide that I am a barrier to them, they are free to pick me up and intimidate me. I speak the truth.

 

I TAKE FULL responsibility here for my decision to support Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013. Despite the fact that I now believe the 2013 election was also rigged in his favour. Things were too emotional at the time. In 2017, they rigged the election the same way they did in 2013. I did not know they had rigged the election in 2013 because Uhuru seemed genuinely popular. The problem is—and we know this now because of the Supreme Court ruling—that the powers that really rule Kenya were not prepared to risk Raila coming to power. Only they were caught this time.

Raila Odinga is my hero of 2017. I am Gikuyu. He is Luo. I am not going to be popular at all in my country once my position is public.

I came out as gay in 2014, and I am fine now sitting in my garden and writing this piece in Nairobi. I love all my countrymen. All these years, Raila has held firm with a dream for a better democracy in Kenya. The Supreme Court has said there were serious irregularities in the election, because the NASA case was deeply coherent. NASA must be thanked for being so strategic with the case. They left the Supreme Court with no choice but to fight for them.

The murder of IT chief, Chris Msando, should alert people that there was a panic in the heart of people who rule Kenya and who wanted to deceive Kenyans once again.

I would like to apologise to all the people of Kenya for not seeing through the attempts to rig the election in 2013. I believe that going to the polls on October 26 with the same IEBC is a mistake. We live in a country where there are many voters who are unaware of sophisticated attempts to rig an election. Fortunately there are lawyers to do that job for us. I myself did not understand the case ODM put up during the previous election in 2013 to say it was rigged. I know different now. Now I completely agree with Raila’s position that he will not run for elections on October 26. I want there to be all the things he needs in place before we have a reelection. I am very happy to wait.

What I want for Kenya is the same opportunities for rich people as for poor people. And for this tribal animosity to stop. The Gikuyu are not served well by people who want to rig elections. I dislike the term ‘tyranny of numbers’ because of the word ‘tyranny’. I do not want to live in any place that describes itself as a tyranny. If the country burns this time it will be the fault of everybody who stood back and said that rigging elections is fine. It is not. Our democracy is young. We can wait. I believe in my country, Kenya. I believe we want a functional democracy. I am deeply proud of all Kenyans who have fought for long for a more perfect democracy. I am especially proud of our Supreme Court who have not put a foot wrong, in coming to the decision they did. It is because of their courage that I can say what I have said here.

 

Graph image from Rebranding Kenya.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young was born in Aba, Nigeria and attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. A finalist for the 2016 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship, his short stories include: “A Tenderer Blessing,” which appears in Transition Magazine and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015; “Mulumba,” which appears in The Threepenny Review; and “You Sing of a Longing,” which was shortlisted for the inaugural Gerald Kraak Award and appears in Pride and Prejudice, an anthology by The Jacana Literary Foundation and The Other Foundation. His essays appear in Interdisciplinary Academic Essays and in Brittle Paper where he is Deputy Editor. His interviews appear in Africa in Dialogue, Bakwa Magazine, SPRINNG, and Dwartonline. He is the editor of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, Enter Naija: The Book of Places (October 2016), focuses on Nigerian cities. The second, Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (June 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. A postgraduate student of African Studies, he currently teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu, Nigeria. When bored, he blogs pop culture at naijakulture.blogspot.com or just Googles Rihanna.

5 Responses to “A Letter to All Kenyans from Binyavanga Wainaina or Binyavanga wa Muigai” Subscribe

  1. simiyu barasa 2017/10/25 at 07:59 #

    The day we shall be seekers of virtuous leadership not based on tribe, is the day we shall be free of all the fears above, Binya. The day we shall be able to call out the wrongs of our leaders even when they belong to our ethnic enclaves, is the day we shall no longer write such letters, Binya.

  2. Zuri Sana 2017/10/26 at 01:56 #

    I am surprised that a person with the great social conscience that you have took that long to be aware of the dirty murky politics and the continuation of the Moi era status quo.I’m surprised you bought into the revised story of what roles these “leaders” played in our modern history i.e the nineties ,early 2000s. I trust that you as our great Kenyan curator will write about those who suffered, got detained, shed blood for the concept of a truly democratic Kenya, and also, those, who was at the “local” ,drinking their days away with no shits to give about the ordinary person.

  3. muthoni Metho 2017/11/06 at 05:30 #

    I am really saddened by the history of the Kenyan politics. I am saddened especially by the assassination of Tom Mboya. I am greatly saddened of having to grow wishing to experience what he could have done for this nation was he given a chance.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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