Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Philo Ikonya.....

For the background story on Philo's arrest, click here

To read Philo's latest work - "10 Million Cuttings for 10 Million - A Valentine Story", click here

Special Thanks to Dipesh Pabari, of SukumaKenya for allowing the sharing of information on his blog site.

The Kenya I Cannot stand - Notes from Philo Ikonya's night in a Kenyan prison

I am at 330 am because after the news of our arrest at 12 .30 pm was flashed last night, for some reason, I was released on a bond signed by Jaoko of the Kenya National Human Rights Commission after activist Ann Njogu, Wangui Mbatia and others told her to take action because I needed medical attention.

Thanks so much for all your actions. Shailja and Dipesh.and Bunge and CKW and all… and all…. even to the most powerful in the land. It is dark in Kenya… very dark… our freedoms are not ours anymore and all Kenyans are suffering. I do not want a seat in a bunge like that, never. But in the darkness the voice of a man in the cells.. “Madam, they are trying to break your voice.. but it is powerful and unbreakable.. is your spirit. I saw it here in the cells… you have made me.. we were wondering who will speak since we lost voices to politics…. I will never be the same again … just watching how you deal with things here…” Sorry it was about me.. but I have to be honest.

For some other reason, even when they told them about Fwamba and Kamotho; their case was not heard. I refused to leave them in the cells but once a bond is signed one cannot stay in as it is illegal.

Needless to say, I feel much compassion for Fwamba and Kamotho who were also beaten up especially Fwamba .Tears flood my eyes… when I remember how a merciless cop would hit him in the ribs every time he spoke up after I was boxed under the chin. He spoke gently but the cop yelled at us… he ( the cop) had said he knew me and that I should have kept quiet not to be arrested… I had told him I did not know him and could not abandon Fwamba,,.. he was alone… ( thank God Dipesh had mobilized Press) but now here we were in the car being told there was no camera there…. And so we would see… Here at home, I could not sleep and certainly not with the lights off as they had insisted on confining me in a dark cell alone…once we were hurriedly and as usual dangerously again transferred shoeless to Gigiri as they sneaked us out through the back since Central Police was too close for other activists to sustain pressure…

But in those hours at Central Police- we were transported at about 650pm and I managed to alert Mwalimu Mati whom I saw through the grills of the back of a van but police hit the car on all sides so that he could not hear- every few minutes they called us (over 50 men (5 women) out of their cells for a roll call. The Officer In-charge asks them what is their problem and they come forward fearfully and mutter something. “I need to see a doctor, my chest hurts.”
”Rudi ndani….. utamwona.” Another, I need to go home, I am now here in the cells for three days, my eight-month old baby is in hospital admitted and I have nobody to help me take care of him.” I need… I need and I need…..But really all the officer is doing is intimidating fear. Here comes a young man with a big swollen cheek and he later asks me. “Madam, I am sorry that they boxed you…you see this huge swelling on my cheek, I was not like this before…. They hit me.” For Mukono, who pleads a case of mistaken identity and for many others, including the woman with the sick baby, the 24 hours in which they are supposed to be held in police custody before they are produced in court, ( only those held for murderer can take 14 days) long, long expired. But they are still here. And there is crawling lice, the toilet for women is a little hole as the so called ‘proper toilet’ is inside the gate of the men’s cells. Yes, there are gates inside here and they have lock and key. Now since they learnt that the two of us who are human rights activists are in here, they tell me it had not been so strict for the women until I came. We are now thrown into an innermost cell and locked up more securely, it seems. The place stinks.

But every time we meet in the little antechamber of the halls, I remind the police officer that I have no clothes on my back, since his boss, the Deputy OCPD tore them up on the street. I complain bitterly about having a bare back and being in the same room for the roll call with men arrested for different purposes… one of them told me he was definitely going to be hanged for robbery with violence and he said this after suddenly taking charge and yelling at Fwamba whom he told he was worse than the policemen whom we seemed according to him to cow. But the office in charge…every time he says, You will get them Madam,” and each time he finishes his roll call and throws us back in there as if we had not said anything. I can see from a little grille Kingwa Kamenchu showing them a paper bag with clothes in there for me.. I can see a disturbed Khainga… I can see Keli, Abel, I can see Kingwa being pushed out of the way with my clothes, I see many faces I know, I see Cyprian and Jane and Mwalimu Mati.. and the Tshirts they try to pass us.. the ones… are roughly confiscated… Fwamba being made to undress and I still left with my uncovered back.. ( the others are on their laurels but the cop has realized not even their blows keep me quiet… they were laughing as the cop who guarded us in the car was telling them “vile tumewekwa… how it was given to us… and by the way on arrival in Central I was made to sit on the floor and the brute of a policeman took Fwamba upstairs and confining him in a room tried to even pull his private parts.. beat him even more and told him not tell anyone…) But now we are with the juniour officer in charge of us…He is very rough if one continues talking but I have taken this opportunity of the men sitting on their laurels to keep standing up and telling them that we must change our country. That the law does not allow for police brutality. That the police are not judge and jury. They are shocked that I address the policeman by the number he wears on his lapel. The policeman who beat us up this afternoon, in town and in the car almost turning us into pulp and hitting us where no obvious bruise can come up like under the chin, I remember asking him if he was going to break my jaw had no number on him. But we know him. He is the Deputy OCPD at Nairobi Central Police and when Fwamba and I get to the police station and activists flock in, they tell me that is the same man who last year molested Ann Njogu on the streets as he arrested her. I am horrified for indeed each time he hit me I told him to look into my eyes and see God and his eyes looked opaque and distant… he hit me again saying he would take us where we could never talk again- I suppose he meant the grave. But I continued to tell him, ‘ My father had never hit me, nor any man on the streets nor any male in my life… no one… and that therefore, since he was oppressing me in the car – At the Inter Continental Roundabout I had yelled to motorists saying, “ they are killing us…” and he had only hit us more turning the front seat of his vehicle low and leaning back and shouting at the cop on our back seat for letting us talk…and hitting Fwamba in the ribs and menacingly staring at us and swearing…but no one heard us in this torture chamber. The journey between Parliament and Nairobi Police Station down City Hall Way, past Kimathi’s statue and through Moi Avenue was just blows.. and our voices since we are convinced that being threatened with being silenced is the last thing that will cow us. what I tell them happened to us in the police mobile torture chamber; a huge cop sitting in front, the one who had told me not to talk all the time, leans back and boxes me in the neck all the time. Well, what to do, with each blow we tell him to stop it. He beats us again and with each blow I tell him I was never beaten except by the state and sincerely ask God to bless him and since he has taken the law into his hands and is all ‘powerful’ as we are confined in the car, and is pretending to be a god, I tell him he is not one but God would bless him.

At the station, Fwamba is thrown out roughly and I escape the brutes side and walk with the cop guarding us… I think I noticed that he could not stand this at some stage but his boss was showing him the way, we first sit, as I said before Fwamba is taken up to be beaten and to be asked who I am. They have perfected every stroke of intimidation… he thinks Fwamba will start spinning yarns but he only lets him beat him more… at this stage once in their hands Kenya Police – Dhuluma Kwa Wote – can kill you as they smile and move their shoulders to show that the job is satisfactory and that the orders from above have been fulfilled… I ask myself many things… “ Just why is my country so dark….”

I told you they can kill you and you perhaps thought this is a story… listen to Bilha and her mother who shortly join us women in the cells. Bilha is preganant… her mother arrested in tow with her looks horrified when they come back to the cells. Bilha is 30… and Bilha’s story kills me. No wonder she looked stupefied when she came down till I massaged her head in the smelly cells… her story is something about having been duped to hold a child in town as someone went into a cyber… and immediately being blacked out and having all her property stolen and being left with a child she did not know… ( Feel sorry for the child, and for the child in her womb but another friend in here – is saying that babies can just be dumped in bags because women have to move on… she wants her puff badly.. yes, she is the woman who has a baby in hospital.. but she says… she had tried to abandon hers because she has no food for herself…) But Bilha… ten women cops upstairs in the station beat her up even with a wooden stick. They beat her and told her they would insert hot pepper in her vagina for an hour.. they beat her mother too on her back.. and then brought them in the cell. You can imagine my fear of a miscarriage and when they whisk me out for fingerprinting and I find Ann Njogu I shout out the story.. since the cops will not allow me a minute of sanity.. here they are asking me my tribe again…And in comes another clean woman later in the cells where all agree this is where the clean ones are. She was arrested at 10 am for not having a coverall at her little eatery. She and four others. They were driven from Kasarani to Kiambu and all over town the same day while they tried to raise 4000 Ksh which the police wanted in order to release them… a bribe.

And I remember why we are here. Corruption = Death two of us chanted outside Parliament. My hands were in paper bag gloves; empty packets of maize flour. People are dying of famine, 10 million Kenyans and MPS sit in there not paying their taxes… a lot happened outside Parliament as women supporting the Minister who has mismanaged the maize harassed and tried to beat me first before the police…hurling all sorts of abuses.. and they were not arrested… I tell the women in the cells never to give bribes.. the mother of the 8 month old tells us she was accused of stealing a phone by a man who would not pay her after a night ( does anyone remember that poem…I once wrote.. and it won a prize..? the man came over to the police and apparently bribed all of them… he is rich, he is from the DRC. The girl… has been in for four days today.

And suddenly we women have a chorus – I had sang a few on my own to keep from reflecting too directly- and it goes like this:
”Did you say you have an eight month old alone at home, I was worried for my six year old!”
And I for my 8 year old son…
And I for my 13 year old who is a candidate this year… “
And Bilha does not talk. She carries a baby she might lose in her womb….
So, when am with the cops alone and on the journey to Gigiri- part of the reason we must be transferred before our 24 hours are over is the influence we are bearing inside… and also the many questions we ask…- I tell them, especially the woman not to touch me with hands that have hit Bilha… but the men look on and later they tell me after some verbal sexual harassment that I should not care so much for Bilha for the seed is by a man… she is pregnant from a man. At that point=there is a huge jam and not even the cops can manouevre- I start singing my Ave Marias in different languages if only to derail them from talk I cannot stand. They were warming up after threatening us with how they are going to deal with us on Forest Road where there is a cemetery. Later I tell them, the four with us- that the system they work in has eaten their souls and that they need to reflect. They tell us strange things…. They confess they need help, they soften and toughen and begin to call me other names that are not mine. We are at Gigiri and am raving at the dark cell. Then, when I think they are going to transport me again… and separate me from Fwamba because they put me in a place with light but the bulb has expired, I am called outside… the cops had told me they watched the news…I hear Pius Gachoka speak and he says they have come for me. I see Wangui, Florence Jaoko (KNHRC Chair) and Ann Njogu. I am shoeless but I am in a car going home at midnight to go to court at 8am……I must now get ready…

Kahlil Gibran: The Garden of the Prophet

"Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking... Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation."

implement the Waki Report
Philo Ikonya

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Damned if you do, Damned if you don't.

Help me out a little here. I am trying to understand what exactly people want. On the one hand, the Americans now have a president who promises greater transparency, accountability and change from the bottom up, and he’s taken some pretty drastic steps to move in that direction. On the other, you have a hungry media, desperate for a story that will point out his fallibility – all through the campaign, the bane of their existence was that they simply could not find anything that he could do wrong.

So now, there are two nominees that have stepped down of their own volition, and have also taken responsibility for messing up on filing their tax returns. Obama has also stated openly today that ‘he screwed up’. The press have decided to put this out there as impending doom for Obama's administration. They owned up and apologised and took responsibility for God's sake!!!! What more do you want??? IF they've stepped down, it's because you morons would have harped on it till kingdom come, and distracted everyone from the real issues!!

For me, it doesn’t get much better – who the hell said it was going to be a perfect process – when you have a system that has been running on bullshit for so long, how the hell does one expect everything to fall into place all at once.

Perhaps the republicans can be excused for taking up the mantle of bashing the new administration. Their defeat was a very bitter pill to swallow, and it takes a great human being to take humiliation sitting down – and we know there are no great republicans.

But the media – well now – if they don’t get that they would serve a far more noble purpose by focusing on the positive things that are coming out of this upheaval, then they have, once and for all missed the point. But of course, the story is always bigger than the larger welfare of the Whole.

Yes the global economy is in a meltdown, and yes millions are losing their jobs, and yes, everyone is being forced to re-think how they live. But who the hell said that real change was going to be easy?????

Selfishness and self-serving lifestyles have been the norm for the longest time, and somewhere along the line, it became acceptable to live off money you didn’t have and wanted things that you couldn’t afford. Banks, corporations and celebrities have all been central to propagating a system that has woven an illusionary consumerist fantasy of what it means to be wealthy. And the people have allowed it.

So now, the illusion has revealed itself to be exactly that – and people are realizing that their dreams are not even made of paper, and it’s been about an electronic house of cards. And everyone is going down whining.

Because it’s been about top-down domination, it is no wonder that the ones to suffer the most are the ones from the middle down. The ones at the top may worry about their failing system, but they’re not the ones who are worrying about how they are going to feed their families. And so they will ask for quick solutions to jump start the system again. After all, the electronic illusion can be easily manipulated to weave an even more fantastic story of ‘how to become rich’ – all you need to do is wave the wand a little differently.

We can either look at this as a disaster, or we can look at this as a tremendous opportunity. For the ones who have lost their jobs or homes, if they allow their new president to take them down a different path, a path that was perhaps traveled down in the past but forgotten about in the last two decades, then they will see that it may take a while, and it may be painful for a bit, but the rewards will be far greater, more solid, and certainly more tangible than anything they can expect from the current system.

So he was right when he said it was going to be about patience, and sacrifice and humility.

And this is not just for America – this is time for global re-assessment, to reexamine and to question what it is that we truly hold dear, of what is and always has been sacred for us.

This is not going to be a time of band-aid solutions, nor is it going to be one of fitting into the old status quo – we are going to have to go as far as to even re-define our definition of success and to identify those values that bring us together as a collective and not separate us through our differences.

There is no stopping of this snowball that has started its downward descent. We either prepare ourselves now, at the bottom of the hill, or around it as it makes it way past us, and perhaps try to prepare ourselves for what we think the picture is going to look like when it settles wherever it decides to.

If I were to list out the number of things going wrong for us here in Kenya, the list itself would be the size of an average blog post. But I have decided that I am going to dispense with focusing on what’s going wrong – I am instead going to lend my energy to those people who refuse to take things sitting down, and who are working tirelessly to expose the selfishness, corruption and in efficiency – Bunge la Mwananchi, Youth Agenda, Partnership for Change, to name a few.

It is going to be from within the system (yes, there are a few good people on the inside who perhaps need to be supported as they challenge the status quo of the existing system), and without, with the action of the groups that I mentioned above that we are going to bring about the changes for our collective future.

It is going to take time, a hell of a lot of hard work, diligence, persistence, sacrifice and determination to get us where we want to go. And it is not going to be easy. But the days of sitting back and whining and complaining, of complacency and despondency, of handing over our power to the elitist few who never has our best interests at heart in the first place, ARE OVER.

I looked back at all the blogs that I have posted over the past year, and I realised that I have pretty much repeated myself in quite a few of them.

If I could put it all down in a simple paragraph then it would be this:

Start to take responsibility for yourself and for those around you.
Practise generosity – of mind, of temperament, of your time and of your resources.
Be mindful of how your presence on this planet affects it – you are not here simply to take but also to give back and to contribute.
Define what success means for you – I’m willing to bet that money isn’t one of your top priorities.
Don’t compromise on your core values – when you do so, you only rob yourself of a little more dignity, integrity and self-respect.
Have the courage to define life and its rules for yourself, based on your core vales.
Don’t give your power way to your so-called leaders – they are after all, only human and just as if not more fallible than you.
Spread dignity – in uplifting someone else, in honouring them, in acknowledging their existence, you exalt yourself.
Look after yourself, and your family, and your community – sometimes, sharing yourself is infinitely better then sharing your resources.

Don’t give up – I’ll be damned if I do.