February 5, 2016

Koigi wa Wamwere: Why I will buy Uhuru Kenyatta a bible

button print grnw20 Koigi wa Wamwere: Why I will buy Uhuru Kenyatta a bible

Koigi wa Wamwere abandoned the university at the age of 21 to fight President Jomo Kenyatta when it was almost a sacrilege to lift a finger against the man reverently referred to as the Burning Spear.

This week, the former Subukia MP, who was detained for 13 years, is still in his rebellious element.

Seen by some members of his Kikuyu community as a traitor and by a section of the public as a Kikuyu apologist when push comes to shove, he has now trained his guns on President Uhuru Kenyatta.

He fears the President could be reading a script from the discredited regimes of his father Jomo Kenyatta and political mentor Daniel arap Moi, and believes that for the Jubilee leader to succeed he must commit political suicide and read a certain verse in the Bible.

Kerry Kennedy in Speak the Truth to Power, which lists the 63-year-old firebrand as one of 50 ‘Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing the World,’ says Mr Wamwere has emerged from the experience (of successive incarceration) “with a wisdom and a sense of peace almost beyond measure.”

Mr Wamwere shared his wisdom with Saturday Nation.

Q: You dropped out of Cornell University in the 1970s where you were studying hotel management. What is your education?

A: I went up to second year at university. I arrived in the US at a critical moment. This was when the US had lost the Vietnam War, the vestiges of Portuguese colonialism were being felt, the outcry over apartheid was at its peak and the Cuban revolution was happening.

All these, together with meeting such people as Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Maina wa Kinyatti radicalised me. We began questioning whether we had achieved independence without freedom. When I landed back in Kenya without a degree, my mother asked me whether I was mad. When I answered I had come to fight the Kenyatta dictatorship, she was shocked. Perhaps I was naïve, but I don’t regret it.

Q: In 1980, you gave a three-hour lecture on Marxism in Kiswahili at the University of Nairobi’s historic Taifa Hall. What is the root of your love for Kiswahili?
A: I started reading Swahili literature as far back as my primary school days. I read books like Juliasi Kaizari and Mwakilishi wa Watu — translations of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Achebe’s A Man of the People. Many world leaders like to use their national languages and then get translations even if they are fluent in the second. This way, they are twice informed.

Q: In your book Towards Genocide in Kenya: A Curse of Negative Ethnicity, you identify tribalism as a cancer. Was the March election an ethnic census?

A: Yes. It was an ethnic election. People voted the tribal wind and it is terrible because I thought we should have learnt from the 2008 violence.

Q: The book reveals that Kikuyus in 1969 engaged in massive oathing disguised as tea-taking in Gatundu, during which they vowed never to vote for a kihii (an uncircumcised man). Is this what informs their voting patterns today?

A: Yes. Even in this last election there was semi-oathing disguised as goat-eating. Its main objective was to unite the community.

Q: Do you think the Uhuru-Ruto alliance will bring about national healing?

A: Absolutely not. How can an alliance of two communities unite the whole country? A lot of suspicion is still palpable among Kikuyus and Kalenjins, it is really a union of the two chaps at the top. On another note, the Jubilee win was ethnic victory.

People voted for it on the basis of tribes with the hope that it will bring goodies to their communities. It is a government of exclusion of others but inclusion of political allies. They have just appointed their cronies.

Q: Which presidential candidate did you vote for in the last election?

A: I won’t tell you that. Founders had a good reason for making the ballot secret.

Q: Okay then, tell us what values you voted for.

A. I voted for a candidate with a history of struggle, progressive ideas and a vision to take us to Canaan. I wanted a Joshua because Moses brought us from Egypt through the Red Sea of Mau Mau but abandoned us in the desert of poverty, where we have been all these years. I am afraid those who made it are not Joshuas.

Q: You are the only key politician who attended the burial of Chelagat Mutai with whom you fought the Kenyatta dictatorship. Was the war lost?

A: Not all. The war continues until the children of the real freedom fighters sit on the high table. We are surviving on crumbs but at least we eat those crumbs in freedom, not in detention.

Q: As a journalist, what is your take on the recent editors’ breakfast session at State House?

A: Journalists should be the bravest and the best amongst us. They should be cynical and keep a healthy distance from the ruling elite, whom they are supposed to check.

It was a shame to see journalists fall over each other for photo opportunities and a hug from the President, literally sitting on each other and even openly soliciting for jobs. Agents of dictatorship within the media are pushing for the wrong side of things in the country.

Q: You spent your lifetime fighting Nyayo, to the extent that you only shaved your trademark dreadlocks after he had left power in 2003. How much money did he pay you to eat ugali with him?

A: I have never begged for money from anybody. During the ‘No’ campaigns, I didn’t take any money from him, though that does not mean I have never eaten with him. There is only a time when we visited him with my wife at Kabarak and later he told me:

“I know you are okay, lakini wacha nipatie mama kitu kidogo (let me give mama something). As we moved away from Moi’s earshot, I told her that she couldn’t receive money from another man. She gave the money to me and I promptly handed it to our campaigners.

Q: How much was it?

A: I think it was Sh20,000.

Q: During Kibaki’s first term, you and the late Mirugi Kariuki defended the same ills for which Moi detained you. There are those who say you transmogrify into a Kikuyu apologist whenever you move closer to power and privilege. Did you fight Moi because of his tribe or the system he led?

A: But I fought Kenyatta yet he was Kikuyu. Did I support Kibaki? Yes I did, whenever I thought he was right. I criticised him where I felt he was wrong.

Q: But as the assistant minister for Information, you supported a controversial law whose aim was to gag the media.

A: I am a media man even now and I support self-regulation. But I also support a dose of control for discipline and responsibility.

Q: Your critics say the Kikuyu elite considered you a hero when you were fighting Moi. Now that one of your own is in power, they think you have outlived your usefulness.

A: That is true. They say I should keep quiet now that one of “us” is in power. The language used against me in the social media, for instance, is unprintable.

Q: William ole Ntimama last week described former President Kibaki as a silent dictator.

A: Kibaki’s dictatorship was limited by the Constitution. But extra-judicial killings took place under his watch, even as his promises to unearth perpetrators of past killings were never followed through. My most enduring impression of Kibaki, however, is that of an incredibly arrogant man who thought very little about other people.

Q: A former detainee, Willy Mutunga, is now the chief judge. Has he stayed the cause?

A: When I lost my two cases for compensation over my detention and wrongful incarceration; when I saw the verdict on Raila’s election case — both judgments which I don’t consider fair — I was convinced our comrade has joined them. Judgments coming out of the Judiciary lately reveal that anti-reform judges have the upper hand.

Q: The Jubilee Administration is marking 100 days in power. How do you rate their performance?

A: I fear that Uhuru and Ruto want to rule the country using Jomo Kenyatta’s script. When I heard that Eliud Owallo, Raila’s aide, had been summoned to answer questions over claims of plot to destabilise the government, I shuddered.

I was hearing echoes from past dictatorships. This was usually the first step against a leader before jail or detention beckoned. And you know the foolish, terrible mistake Kenyans did was to bring back detention in the Constitution. If one wants to use it, nothing would stop him. Raila should be very, very careful.

Q: What book would you buy for President Uhuru Kenyatta?

A: I have heard that Uhuru wants to meet Fidel Castro. I recommend he reads My Life, an autobiography on the Cuban leader. You know the Jubilee government has no ideological moral compass and perhaps the book could help him decide where he wants to take us.

I would also suggest he reads the story of King Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12. Rehoboam was the son of Solomon. Israelites went to him and beseeched that he should not commit sins that his father committed. He dismissed them and embraced the deeds of his father. Uhuru, too, should do better than Jomo.

Uhuru must transform himself ideologically and commit suicide for him to succeed by deciding to work for the poor people who staked their all to make his presidency possible instead of the rich political elite around him who also feel they own him.

Q: And Raila Odinga?

A: I would urge him to read the Bible and Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. He needs patience. Mandela waited for 27 years. Raila has a responsibility to build a rainbow nation in which all Kenyans, regardless of their tribes, live together in peace. Before that rainbow is midwifed, Raila should not succumb to intimidation to leave the scene.

Q: In 1975, you wrote an article critical of Jomo Kenyatta in the Sunday Post newspaper and you were subsequently detained for three years. Where did you summon the courage to draw a sword at the Burning Spear?

A: We had read about the Cuban revolution and Lenin’s victory over the Tsar in Russia. America had lost a civil war to a small country (Vietnam). This made the Kenyatta dictatorship look like a paper tiger. We believed that dictatorship will lose to forces of good.

Q: Do you still believe the effort to overthrow former President Moi, which you were said to be involved in, was legitimate?

A: It worries me that he (Moi) does not seem to remember what he did. The act was legitimate. Rebellion against a dictator is obedience to God. We were not fighting a democracy. As we used to say those days, quoting Patrick Henry, you either give me liberty or give me death.

Q: Do you know how to use a gun?

A: Yes.

Q: So this Bahati Police Station raid thing was not far-fetched?

A: No, no, no. That was total fabrication. I was in Nairobi on the day of the so-called robbery. And when I stepped in Nakuru they even dragged bodies from the mortuary to the supposed scene of crime. But I understood that politics was war and war is politics as The Art of War had taught us. War is fought with deception and that is what Moi was doing.

Q: You caused your mother to strip naked in protest against the government. Do you sometimes feel you caused her needless pain?

A: Actually, my father bore the greatest brunt of my politics. He was a very strong man who could not brook a situation where we kowtowed to authorities, be they white or black. For some reason, when government agents came, they would arrest my mother, my sister, myself and three of my brothers. Persistent arrests of his entire family killed him by multiple strokes.

As for my mother, my burden became her own. She was the last woman to leave Uhuru Park even after I had been released. She left only after the last of our comrades, Apili Sijeyo, left jail. She would again later camp for six weeks outside Nairobi Hospital, where I was being treated.

I learnt that the pain of a mother for a child is greater than that of a child for the mother.

Q: Have you forgiven Moi?

A: Philosophically, yes. But it is not an excuse for the wrongs his government did to the people. I cannot live with bitterness against Moi and Kenyatta. Bitterness will kill. I continue the fight knowing that our struggle for a just and democratic society will succeed, however long it takes.

Look at Charles Njonjo, for instance. He was the most hawkish of the Nyayoists but he is busy reaching out to people he could have wronged. He reached out to me; he has embraced Raila and even attended Chelagat’s funeral service. I encourage Moi to follow suit.

Q: You are the author of several books including A Woman Reborn, Justice on Trial and I Refuse to Die. Do they pay your bills?

A: No, they don’t. Books don’t sell in this country and publishers are not honest enough to pay royalties regularly. It is only A Woman Reborn which pays, and it is not even much. The last time I checked, they had paid me Sh35,000.

Q: So why do you keep writing?

A: I write as a form of release. Books are about pontification. If ideas were not released from my head, I would have been buried long ago.

Q: When is your next book coming out?

A: There is this book I have been writing for the last 20 years and publishers have asked me to revise it a little. It is called Revolution in Olduvai written in the mould of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Q: How did you become a reader?

A: For me to engage in the struggle, I have had to read a lot. At some point I had over 2,000 books which were carted away by the Special Branch.

Q: Which books shaped your world view?

A: The autobiography of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King’s speeches. Books on the Mau Mau and Mao tse Tung also influenced me a great deal.

Q: So what are you reading now?

A: Lenin: A Biography by Robert Service.

Q: Some have argued on these pages that there are no serious Kenyan author(s).

A: Our country suffers from a dearth of good books. It is very embarrassing that whenever you get on a plane, the best of our men and women watch movies after meals and others drink whiskey for trips taking as many as eight hours. But people from other parts of the world flash out books to read.

Q: In Tears of the Heart: A Portrait of Racism in Norway and Europe you seem to bite the finger that fed you.

A: I am ever grateful to Norway for saving me from the jaws of death. But in the book I am telling them: you are Norway, a heaven on earth, the judge of the world. You dispense Nobel Peace Prizes, but you are infected with the same disease of racism that you fight elsewhere.

I have never seen a society take a book so seriously. It was on the front pages of their newspapers and I could cut with a knife the tension in the air. They were looking at me through the windows in buses and on the plane and wondering who the hell I thought I was. Needless to say, the book was voted the most racist book of the year.

Q: You insisted the Ethiopian peasant Lema Ayanu was Mau Mau hero Stanley Mathenge. Do you regret it?

A: It was embarrassing but when journalists like (Joseph) Karimi told us they had met Gen Mathenge and President Kibaki himself wrote the letter of invitation for Ayanu’s visit, who were we not to believe it? I adore Mau Mau heroes and I would go to the airport again if I am told Gen Mathenge had been found.

Q: Koigi in your language means an outspoken leader. Do you think you have been heard?

A: I am a frustrated man. People are not listening. But I must continue speaking. I am because I speak.-Daily Nation