The Post election violence, it would appear, has inspired a lot of creativity from Kwani? Readers are treated to an unprecedented double edition of the Kwani? Journal, and most of it revolves around the post-election violence.
It has been said that countries that have suffered violent upheavals tend to produce great writers and by extension great stories. Could this be the one event that finally lifts Kenya’s creative writers from the doldrums? Could we see our writers competing on the same pedestal with the exciting southern and West African writers?
Those are some of the questions Kwani? editor Billy Kahora is grappling with in the second edition of Kwani? 5. “Are there even any defining texts for the present or for the future, let alone from the past?” asks Kahora. “I am yet to read a work of which I can say: yes, this is a Nairobi, in all its plastic glory, these are the Nakuru, Kisumu, and Mombasa that I recognise…”
Well, Kahora is speaking from his experience of having been a co-judge of the Commonwealth Regional Prize for Africa. This is a question Kahora should be directing to the Kwani? society. After all, when they happened on the scene about seven years ago, they promised to make a clean break from old generation of writers, earning themselves donor support in the process.
Well, there have been flashes of creativity from the Kwani? fraternity, and that is something to be proud about. Parselelo Kantai story You Wreck Her, was this nominated for this year’s Caine Prize for African Writing. This is Kantai’s second nomination.
This is not forgetting Kwani? founder Binyavanga Wainaina and Vyonne Awuor, both of whom won the Caine Prize in 2002 and 2003 respectively. Maybe we will have to wait for a little longer for books from this quarter.
Back to the latest edition of Kwani? For the better part, the book deals with what happened in January last year, and its aftermath. It for example contains interviews with victims and in some cases perpetrators of the violence.
Ideally, these interviews would make for extremely interesting reading were it not for the fact the interviewers were all given a template of questions to ask. This has the effect of limiting the responses to only the questions asked.
Still, there are some creative non-fiction stories that stand out for their freshness. Samuel Munene writes a piece on the rice wars in Mwea Constituency, juxtaposing it with the 2007 parliamentary campaigns in the constituency.
Millicent Muthoni writes another excellent piece on the Kigumo parliamentary campaigns and elections, although I got the feeling that she was quite close to one of the candidates.
Kalundi Serumaga, is one writer who features prominently in most Kwani? publications, and in this edition, he has an interview with Alfred Mutua, the government spokesman.
While he subjects Mutua to very tough questioning, one can’t help getting the feeling that he has certain issues to grind on Kenya and Kenyans.
This came out quite clearly in a very emotional piece he wrote on the first edition of Kwani? 5. In that story Kalundi pours out his bile on Kenya, based on his early life as a refugee, having fled from the chaos in Uganda.
From his argument in the story, he seems to say that what happened to Kenya during the post-election violence was poetic justice for Kenyans, for having mistreated him and his family when they were refugees in Kenya.
While I sympathise with what happened to him at that time, it is not enough excuse for him to take it out on Kenyans in his writings. In any case no one said that the life of a refugee should be a bed of roses.
Tony Mochama, who recently launched his book, The Road to Eldoret recently, makes a return to Kwani? with his irreverent poem Give War a Chance. The poem is a satirical piece full of dark humour. He takes a look at the different ethnic communities and what role he thinks they played in the 2007 elections and the subsequent violence that met the announcement of the results.
Petina Gappah breathes fresh air into the book with her short story titled An Elegy for Easterly. Petina, who was in Nairobi for the Storymoja Hay Festival, recently launched a collection of short stories under the same name. Petina who practices law in Geneva tells the story of slum demolitions, in Zimbabwe, at the height of Robert Mugabe’s autocratic rule. An Elegy for Easterly tells the uncertain existence of shantytown dwellers in Harare, and how in spite of impending demolitions, life must go on.
The twin edition of Kwani? 5 records the horrors that took place during Kenya’s violent period, takes a rare peek into the minds of Kenyans during that time, and hopes that we will learn from our foolishness.
Isn’t it insulting that the two politicians we fought and lost lives over are now feasting together, polishing of bottles of champagne while planning to shield perpetrators of the post-election violence from punishment?