Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Life Changing moments

Do you have a story about a situation about your life that profoundly affected you and your life? Perhaps it is a story of something that made you grow up real fast, changed the way you do things or simply changed your perspectives? Well, send it to me.Muthoni Garland, Caine Prize 2006 nominee, is going to be publishing a series of short stories that revolve around the theme of life changing moments. Your story could be one of them. If you do have one story, do send it to me at  


I yesterday had the priviledge of attending a discussion forum organised by Kwani? during the Caine Prize for African Writing Workshop that is ongoing. The discussion basically revolved around African Writing.

From the onset, and all through, I have a serious opposition with the label African writer being attached as an identity upon my writing or that of any other writer, in addition. Why can’t the African writer just be a writer and so identified, bought and read?

These in a nutshell are my reasons:

First, from a socio-economic perspective, the perception that African literature has had in the minds of readers  (both African and International) is that African literature is mediocre. We therefore buy African literature to “support” our writers. Also, the “Africanna” section (as dileanated by the bookshops) is inundated with two kinds of books: factual books and fantastic books about Wildlife, Culture and some writer’s romantic view of an aspect of the traditional Africans.

Therefore, when an writer comes up with a comedy, or a thriller, or a whodunnit sort of book, the genre it invarably gets into is “African” and it is slotted among Kuki Gallman’s I dream of Africa and the Autobiographies of some African statesman.

Thats all very well, but when you know that people go into the shop looking for comedy or thriller or whatever other category, and that when they do go specifically looking for a particular kind of book, they will miss yours because it is misplaced in the Africanna section.

When you ask why the bookshops do this, you realise that its a matter of perception. The same perception that the readership has is the self-same perception that the seller has.

Secondly, when you apply yourself to the label “African” writer, you discover that the designs of the books are decidedly “African” in the sense that they are largely wildlife photographic covers or illustrations and such.

By Contemporary standards mostly the layout is not unique, the quality of paper largely chosen is of bad quality and all round presentation is not competitive. The writer’s defence is that its the publisher’s fault and they have no control. My position is that some marketing prowess should be tied to the publishing process – and I’m not talking about sales only but also building a relationship with the buyer.

The presentation has everything to do with managing the perceptive receptions of the book or work.

I warn you: don’t call me an African writer. For African I am and writer I am. But my writing is just that. How come you don’t hear African Doctors vs international doctors? Because a doctor is a doctor and so is a writer just a writer regardless of location or affiliation.

Shoot To Kill, I vote.

When an individual is able to congratulate himself on the attainment of enlightenment- or when such an individual reaches his Nirvana on a subject, it is a great day. When that enlightenment causes him to convert his belief and thinking, the day is brighter still.

I have had an epiphany that caused me to reach Nirvana on the subject of National Security – and indeed the enhancement of my own.

It is this circumstance that has led me to join the majority of officers of the Kenya Police Service and the section of wananchi that has directly suffered to “Shoot to Kill”as the most effective strategy to combat crime. This would be for me a controversy from the campaign that I have long held for the right of the individual and in truth, I have not diverted from this campaign, I have simply refined my approach to it. The end game is the same: reduce crime especially violent crime to the lowest possible levels – immediately.

The event of my epiphany occurred on the evening of last Thursday as I trudged up the hill to my little apartment in a leafy quiet area of Nairobi – an area that one would think to be highly secure and that is so, except for a few pockets here and there. Anyway, as I was walking, I met with a young man who made out to be timid about his gait and who tried to stop me with a “Habari”. Naturally i responded as I walked past him but when I saw the gun up in the air – a small enough pistol and i heard the click of it being cocked, well, i stopped and reached for the stars.

Another young man came upon the scene and a speedy ransacking was done of my person to find and retrieve any weapons and valuables as I might have had in my pocket. This incidentally was just next to the Railways Golf Course on Bunyala Road. I was then encouraged to cross the road to the darkened golf course by way of a fence that had been torn apart.

On the lush green, very nicely trimmed grass on one of the outer tees, I was asked to lie down upon my stomach, a command that I executed with alacrity. It was in this position that I watched as the young men painstakingly went through my bag and my person to take the things that they felt were due to them. I tried to negotiate with them, not to take the laptop, saying that I would lose my job and their answer was simple: “utapata ingine”

Presently, I was instructed back on my feet and I was told to quickly go. You can be sure I showed a clean pair of heels as I sped to the world bank and got help. A huge search was mounted even though it was fruitless. They were long gone.

I have to say Officer Mutiso and his mates as well as the Securex guards in upper hill showed prowess and they were lively in their pursuit. As we stood around after the search on the green, one of the officers asked me some penetrating questions:

Now that you have been robbed, how do you feel?” he asked. “if Maina wa Kiai came to you and said tutafute hao polepole and arrest them take them to court and prosecute for months before they are acquitted, what would you say?”

Hakuna dawa ingine, mzee.” Another interjected, “ni kumwaga wao tu”

The other cop explained that the public as personified by Maina wa Kiai, has a skewed perspective on the security problem. They get robbed violently (getting robbed is bad enough, being hurt or killed is much worse), the police are inundated and outnumbered by the villains, who many times have better artillery. In addition, the neighboring countries are violently running themselves wild and the borders are completely open apart from where the gate is.

In these circumstances, the police are having to wage war – and it is war. The robbers are leaving bodies in their wake and the police can’t keep up with procedure hampering the best of their efforts. At some point, they have to stand up and wage war.

A shoot to Kill policy has its merits. Yes, many will be killed – some innocent – but such is the situation in war. Uganda, Rwanda, and some Asiatic countries have implicitly had this policy and they are among the safest havens – Ask anyone who goes there or lives there. The cities in which human rights are upheld fanatically, are among the worst in terms of violent crime records – South Africa, New York…

By the way, in old Africa – and old America and old Europe – violent crime; indeed crime in general was rare because it was dealt with viciously and swiftly. A chicken thief was flogged in public, a violent man lost his property and in many cases the punishment was capital – flogged, killed etc. Barbaric, maybe but effective.

I say, lets deal with this issue in a barbaric way and do away with such nonesense. But I also say, we must look at the issue of the economic disparity and the optimism and hope that goes with that as well as – for God’s sake, Close those borders conclusively.

I have recently become a proponent of the Shoot to Kill as the policy to control crime in Kenya. This was after I had an encounter with violent robbers who releaved me of my possessions – including laptop, phone and some money – all at gun point. I have had an epiphany. I shall share it soon.

Levert, go well.

I was shocked to read today that Gerald Levert, left, passed away about 9 days ago. I wonder how I missed the news but well.

I first came into contact with Gerald Levert when I was a boy and he had just released that Song, “I’ll do anything to fall in love”. He had a great voice, that i wished I had – of course at the time, my voice would be breaking in appalling ways.

I remember LSG, the group that he, Johny Gill and Keith Sweat, crooned some amazing music.  Well, Njia ni hiyo moja.

Rest in Peace, Gerald.

I belong, by Toutatis

It did not hit me until I was well into the Uhuru Park walk way how nice I felt. It was dusk and the lights within the park had come on. The fast dimming lights of the fading day still illuminated the lush well cut grass and as I passed the jogger who always does a brisk run in the evening at the park – he lives somewhere near the Serena, i found out.

It was as i was going around the Nyayo monument, that I understood. I felt nice because I felt related to someone.

If I could just go back one step. I had just had coffee (well, chocolate milkshake) with a young man, just a little older than me and during the “coffee”, I realised that I shared so much with him – We both like choc shakes, we both are thoroughly business-minded and it struck me in a big way how much alike we were.

We are just getting to know each other as we met not too long ago under really bad circumstances. We had both lost a primary individual (our father) in our lives, which until then, had gone parallel to each other – with little likelihood of interaction.

And so, there we were seated in a coffee shop chatting and finding each other and finding our father in each other.

That for me was powerful. It simply said to me, I am related to him.

I had always looked for my father – and now, after his death, i am getting to know him – through my brother (that feels strange to say – my brother – and yet it is strangely liberating).

What was interesting was that I spoke to my dad soon after that (my step-father, who’s always been there with me all through) and he asked how I was adjusting to my father’s death and when i was coming home.

I feel like I belong somewhere. That, my friends, is the height of security.

Men and woman are different. They think differently, they do everything differently. They think differently. I found this article that demonstrate it.

The Difference between men and women

Let’s say a guy named Roger is attracted to a woman named Elaine. He asks her out to a movie; she accepts; they have a pretty good time. A few nights later he asks her out to dinner, and again they enjoy themselves. They continue to see each other regularly, and after a while neither one of them is seeing anybody else.

And then, one evening when they’re driving home, a thought occurs to Elaine, and, without really thinking, she says it aloud: ”Do you realize that, as of tonight, we’ve been seeing each other for exactly six months?”

And then there is silence in the car. To Elaine, it seems like a very loud silence. She thinks to herself: Geez, I wonder if it bothers him that I said that. Maybe he’s been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe he thinks I’m trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn’t want, or isn’t sure of.

And Roger is thinking: Gosh. Six months.

And Elaine is thinking: But, hey, I’m not so sure I want this kind of relationship, either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space, so I’d have time to think about whether I really want us to keep going the way we are, moving steadily toward . . . I mean, where are we going? Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy? Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this person?

And Roger is thinking: . . . so that means it was . . . let’s see . . February when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the dealer’s, which means . . . lemme check the odometer . . . Whoa! I am way overdue for an oil change here.

And Elaine is thinking: He’s upset. I can see it on his face. Maybe I’m reading this completely wrong. Maybe he wants more from our relationship, more intimacy, more commitment; maybe he has sensed — even before I sensed it — that I was feeling some reservations. Yes, I bet that’s it. That’s why he’s so reluctant to say anything about his own feelings. He’s afraid of being rejected.

And Roger is thinking: And I’m gonna have them look at the transmission again. I don’t care what those morons say, it’s still not shifting right. And they better not try to blame it on the cold weather this time. What cold weather? It’s 87 degrees out, and this thing is shifting like a garbage truck, and I paid those incompetent thieves $600.

And Elaine is thinking: He’s angry. And I don’t blame him. I’d be angry, too. I feel so guilty, putting him through this, but I can’t help the way I feel. I’m just not sure.

And Roger is thinking: They’ll probably say it’s only a 90- day warranty. That’s exactly what they’re gonna say, the scumballs.

And Elaine is thinking: maybe I’m just too idealistic, waiting for a knight to come riding up on his white horse, when I’m sitting right next to a perfectly good person, a person I enjoy being with, a person I truly do care about, a person who seems to truly care about me. A person who is in pain because of my self-centered, schoolgirl romantic fantasy.

And Roger is thinking: Warranty? They want a warranty? I’ll give them a warranty. I’ll take their warranty and stick it right up their ……

”Roger,” Elaine says aloud.

”What?” says Roger, startled.

”Please don’t torture yourself like this,” she says, her eyes beginning to brim with tears. ”Maybe I should never have . . Oh, I feel so……”

(She breaks down, sobbing.)

”What?” says Roger.

”I’m such a fool,” Elaine sobs. ”I mean, I know there’s no knight. I really know that. It’s silly. There’s no knight, and there’s no horse.”

”There’s no horse?” says Roger.

”You think I’m a fool, don’t you?” Elaine says.

”No!” says Roger, glad to finally know the correct answer.

”It’s just that . . . It’s that I . . . I need some time,” Elaine says.

(There is a 15-second pause while Roger, thinking as fast as he can, tries to come up with a safe response. Finally he comes up with one that he thinks might work.)

”Yes,” he says.

(Elaine, deeply moved, touches his hand.)

”Oh, Roger, do you really feel that way?” she says.

‘What way?” says Roger.

“That way about time,” says Elaine.

”Oh,” says Roger. ”Yes.”

(Elaine turns to face him and gazes deeply into his eyes, causing him to become very nervous about what she might say next, especially if it involves a horse. At last she speaks.)

”Thank you, Roger,” she says.

”Thank you,” says Roger.

Then he takes her home, and she lies on her bed, a conflicted, tortured soul, and weeps until dawn, whereas when Roger gets back to his place, he opens a bag of Doritos, turns on the TV, and immediately becomes deeply involved in a rerun of a tennis match between two Czechoslovakians he never heard of. A tiny voice in the far recesses of his mind tells him that something major was going on back there in the car, but he is pretty sure there is no way he would ever understand what, and so he figures it’s better if he doesn’t think about it.

The next day Elaine will call her closest friend, or perhaps two of them, and they will talk about this situation for six straight hours. In painstaking detail, they will analyze everything she said and everything he said, going over it time and time again, exploring every word, expression, and gesture for nuances of meaning, considering every possible ramification. They will continue to discuss this subject, off and on, for weeks, maybe months, never reaching any definite conclusions, but never getting bored with it, either.

Meanwhile, Roger, while playing racquetball one day with a mutual friend of his and Elaine’s, will pause just before serving, frown, and say:

“Norm, did Elaine ever own a horse?”

Woman or Human?

A couple of days ago, I was seated with some business executives who were saying that women executives are wired differently from men executives, in that they are more emotional and reactive. I was silent in that discussion because I just wasn’t sure.

This morning, I had the opportunity of dealing with two women executives who are completely different. One, handled a very dicey situation very strategically and logically and it was resolved within minutes. The other, shocked me in that in a situation where she could have been more tactful, she simply dealt with the situation badly.

The said situation arose out of an anomaly from her staff, and when this was put to her, she simply lashed out defensively at everyone involved, then when several different people objectively pointed out to her the situation, she simply lashed out some more.

This morning, I came into the office and said good morning and she would not respond. This is a senior leader of the organization, by the way. She simply would not speak to me.

I got thinking about that discussion, days back and I thought, could it be true? Or is it more a personality issue? I generally prefer to think that women and men in business are or can be just a tough and smart and there are women to proove it.

I also prefer to think that problem solving skills are a personality rather than a gender issue. But I wonder whether that is my idealism at play?

Alistair Cooke was a great man who influenced my young life and my writing a lot a few years back. Today, i have thought about him a lot. I miss hearing his voice every saturday night. So, again, I pay tribute to the man as i did when he died.

A tribute to a veteran journalist
Alistair Cooke writes off at 95
By Al Kags

Alistair CookeAt 95 years of age, my icon, Alistair Cooke not long after announcing his retirement from a long and exemplary journalism career. Renown for his 15-minute Letter from America program on BBC world service, Mr. Cooke moved to a slower life in retirement in his 15th floor apartment in New York’s Central Park where he lived for decades.

Born in 1908 in Salford, UK Alistair was brought up in a Blackpool boarding house. He graduated from Cambridge with an honors degree in English and joined the BBC in 1934 as a film critic. His first letter from America was broadcasted in March 1946. It was aired every Friday on the domestic BBC channel 4 radio and then repeated in the World service of the BBC heard by millions around the world.

Besides Letter From America, he also hosted Masterpiece Theatre in the United States for 22 years and has written many books. In 1973, Alistair was awarded an honorary knighthood and in 1974 addressed the United States Congress on its 200th anniversary.

He has received an award from BAFTA for his contribution to Anglo American relations and a Sony Radio Award for his services to broadcasting. He has also been the Broadcasting Press Guild’s Radio Broadcaster of the Year and the Voice of the Listener and the Viewer has recognized his Outstanding Contribution to radio.

In between times, Alistair has enjoyed a number of other careers. Any one of which would have been a source of pride and satisfaction to the rest of us: a quarter of a century as the Guardian’s man in America; a ground-breaking cultural television show – Omnibus – which changed the face of American television in the 1950s; writing and presenting the first full-blown TV history of the United States. This series so impressed his adopted home that the tapes were placed in every public library in the land; a stream of successful books culminating in ‘America’, which sold two million copies.

Alistair now inhibited by nonagenarian aches and pains can no longer leave his New York apartment or play golf in San Francisco on the West Coast of the US, as he loved to do. He is now a stooped old man a few inches shorter than his original 6ft height. But his energy to work and write remains boundless according to Nick Clarke, his biographer. “His enthusiasm for his work, well into his nineties, has remained undiminished, and he can still draw on that vast memory-bank for the characters and stories that enliven his talks.”

In his later years his determination to keep going became obsessive, so much so that several programs were recorded in hospital beds. Why did he keep going so long, and after so many other careers (Guardian correspondent, television star on two continents, best-selling author) – any one of which would have satisfied most journalists? The simplest answer is that Mr. Cooke saw it as a personal mission to explain America to the world, a job which he found himself to be uniquely qualified.

With much practice, Alistair had managed to corner the art of writing to a tee – as many writers struggle to learn and keep up – to inform, to captivate and to keep it simple. So simple perhaps that many people in Rural Africa listened to and understood him even though their English may have been a little rusty.

The first I heard that Alistair has retired was from the chagrined watchman at my estate who told me that it has been a ritual in his family to listen to Alistair Cooke since he got his first “wireless” in 1960 from his colonial boss who was going back to Britain. He says that it is from the letter from America that he learnt of the death of the American President JF Kennedy.

I found it interesting to sit in a modest pub in Nairobi and listen to several people discuss Alistair and the most memorable things they heard from Mr. Cooke. One particularly ardent fan impressed upon the group the Guardian’s 1968 editorial on Cooke that he had read and agreed with somewhat: “Cooke is a nuisance,” said the celebrated Guardian editorial, “He telephones his copy at the last moment. He says that he will be in Chicago and turns up in Los Angeles. If all of his colleagues were like him, production of this paper would cease. But we think he’s worth it.” How many journalists, the fan wanted to know, would have such professional privilege anywhere?

Alistair’s anecdotes read in a rhythmic clear tone over the radio, over the years informed his listeners – both young and old of world events from many years ago that may not have occurred to the young to know.

An anecdote that has stuck with me since I heard it from Alistair years ago was the story that for me found great relevance in Kenya. He went to his doctor and described the symptoms of pains and ailments that he had been suffering from for a while and his doctor assured him that after a certain procedure, he would be “as good as new”. A while after the procedure was done, he found that not only did he have the same aches and pains as before but he also had a new irritating itch. On describing this to the doctor, the doctor began to explain what it was. Mr. Cooke Interrupted him with the quip, “don’t name it, just cure it.”

Not many journalists and writers are able to consistently hold on to those careers for more than half a century and many do not leave to retire at the ripe age of 95. It is a dream of many writers (if not all) to do so and Alistair Cooke inspires these. He said recently that he was given this piece of advice by a well meaning producer, “don’t get too popular or they’ll drop you.” Triumphantly he proclaimed recently, “its been 51 years!”

Al Kags
Nairobi, Kenya

The Marketing Society of Kenya’s warror awards have been lauched. The well attended lauch was done last night at the Haveli’s restaurant at capital Centre on Mombasa road. On hand to launch the awards was the MSK Vice Chairman, Tom Sitati and Fred Simiyu, the head of the events committee for MSK who is working on the gala as well.

MSK warrior awards are the premier awards for marketing in East Africa and they are usually presented at the MSK gala, which will be held on December 1, 2006 at a secret location. In the tradition of MSK, the gala is always held at a location that is kept secret until shortly before the actual gala when people are normally told where to be.

It is the trend setting event of the Kenyan professional social calender.