What is his name, the child whose death you spoke about, Kiraithe? by Ayo Bole
Note to Readers: Because of the extraordinary violence and instability at present in Kenya (the "fog of war"), we are unable to verify all of the assertions contained in this essay. We present it as an authentic primary source, by a person most affected by the extraordinary events. The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the writer. We believe that this voice is important to the record, and present it unedited. We also recognize that some facts may emerge that may modify the perspective of the people engaged in these events, which may lead to their reassessment of their own views. We encourage you to fully investigate the situation, draw your own conclusions, and hope that you, too, will appreciate the importance of the human toll of events in Kenya that is apparent in the accounts we present.
There is this cheeky lad on television. He is at the front of a small crowd of men and two women. You notice him because he is in a black t-shirt, he wears a cap and he is pulling at his ears, stretching out his tongue at policemen dressed as if they are an alien invasion force. He laughs, we imagine, because we see his teeth gleam. Teasing and weaving. He has a way about him, a good dancer, we think. A teenager. Hip-hop boy. Kisumu style. Youthful face, energy, defiance, mischief. It radiates. Ngo’ngo. We laugh because he makes the whole crisis seem ridiculous, lightens the mood.
Quite a character. What is his name?
You see him. He is in that small crowd that mocks the dolled up state keepers-of-law-and order. Men with bullet proof bibs supported with big guns and fat shields, face-to-face with a mischief-making audience armed with voices, gestures and pebbles.
A man’s voice shouts, Piga huyo.
Who shouted that? What was his name?
A group of three camouflage-gear men. One pulls away. A man in helmet, bib and heavy boots.
Admittedly, he looks puny. He floats in his protection gear. Small man with a big gun. He ducks and glides, and leaps over stones and fire. He runs and shoots, runs and shoots. The crowd disperses. The man slides along shacks and abandoned huts.
Someone has been singled out.
He points his big gun, this little man in camouflage gear.
Good, brave man.
Following orders without question.
The teenager, the cheeky one in black, stumbles.
The man in camouflage aims the gun at him and fires, and fires.
The teenager twitches. Then he gets up, pulls off his cap, chest up. The brave man in camouflage gear, kicks him once, twice, thrice, surveys his surroundings fires again and fires twice and the teenager at his foot rolls. The boy gets up again, on his face, pain-fury-mischief. Lop-sided glide, he favours his left arm, defiance is etched in his now-pouting mouth. Mocks his death, not afraid, not cowed. Amused?
What is his name?
He falls again. The camouflage man fires his big gun. He kicks the boy. He kicks the boy. Brave man who bounces away, with that drag foot pride associated with ghetto superstars. Brave man in camouflage gear, and bullet proof bib and AK 47, keeper of law and order, courageous tax payers’ beneficiary. Following orders, doing his job.
In the next scene we see the crowd gathered around the boy who is lying in his back, chest exposed, face turned away.
He is dead.
Last moment of life scene.
Shared with the nation.
A gift, a question.
Will we each meet death with laughter? Will we be able to rise one more time and give a shape and form to our death, stare at its face in defiance, humour and lop-sided hope? Will our death also be dressed in camouflage gear, disguising its puny being, hiding under cover of the state?
Just doing its job?
Little policeman with a big gun, today, did you think about your own end? Do you understand that like the child you killed, one day you too will die? Or is that not in your contract with the State?
Later, statements and opinions flood the viewers’ sets.
The police spokesman, his name is Eric Kiraithe. He says the evidence of our gaze is a lie, insufficient evidence of murder-by-the-state. Live bullets not allowed. He says. (Exceptional circumstances permitted, like a boy making faces at armed men in bibs. Except in provinces occupied by perceived enemies-of-the-state). He says that the crowd we saw running away was actually attacking the police who were ‘forced to defend themselves’. He says the boy had confronted the little security man who was representing the long arm of the law. He says the man in camouflage gear was doing his job.
(Dear Kiraithe, you are merely one in a long line of historical folk who have said this. For example, the Nazi Nuremberg trial transcripts have a list of those who toasted human beings and scattered their ashes and repeated that they were just doing their job.)
Kiraithe also wants the cameraperson, the one who shot the non-evidence to give himself up, report to the police station and write a statement that will ‘help police with investigations’. He says the evidence on our screens is insufficient. Not state approved murder. Merely the overzealous act of a single, thin policeman in a too big camouflage jacket and bullet proof bib.
Just doing his job.
Like the cameraperson.
Too late, Kiraithe.
Some deaths become our own. They become us, however many words used to try to wash them away. Some deaths move into and reside in our souls, and can never leave us. Like that of a tallish, teenage boy with a cheeky grin and a lop-sided swagger. Kenyan boy, Kiraithe. Kenyan, just like you. Can you imagine so strange a thing as being a living Kenyan?
‘Ngo’ngo’ a boy’s final deed in life.
I wonder Police spokesman, if you ever contemplate what your last act in life will be. But you who have lived past your teenage years, might even enter into your dotage, enjoying the gift of life to the fullest.
When that time of reflection comes, as it must, will you remember that you were once young and outraged? Surely you must have been young enough to cherish dreams about your future, the future that made you a spokesman for a young man’s death? You must have also known that rashness of youth that believes it is invincible. Inside your memory, you will probably flinch a little at the memory of the look of surprise at dying on a child’s face.
Or not. But you will certainly smile at the need of all young men for heroes and heroic dreams.
Yearnings that led you to policing.
Listen Sir, there was a time you must have thought there were some things in life you could love strongly enough to die for. Incidentally, do you have sons, Kiraithe, young men with big but fragile dreams about their own lives? Maybe teenagers just like a cheeky lad dressed in black who died yesterday.
What was it about that impish boy, what was his name, the one whom one of your men killed, what was it about him that irritated you all so much? What was the one thing he did that eradicated his humanity for you and your men? Was it that he jeered and seemed to enjoy his harmless mockery of a Government force-with-intent?
He did not take you seriously? But how could he? Have you seen how beetle-like your men look like in that invasion get-up? You too would laugh if you could take a step back, you know. You would also stick out your tongue at them and pull at your ears.
Or was the boy a casualty of this season of national uncertainty and lunacy that has the world divided into two; the righteous and the beasts? But you do understand that when this time is over and done with, when the rhetoric disappears, both righteous and beasts will merge and become merely human. That there will be nothing left that will explain the death of a cheeky teenager from Kenya dressed in black.
What was his name?
That naughty young man who tried so hard to live. Did you see that scene of him getting up and striding one arm raised, blood on lips, with anguished mischief etched on is face?
Just doing his job.
What is his name, again, Sir? You remember him. You saw the footage of his choreographed death on January 16, 2007?
By the way do you now wonder what your last act of life will be or who will speak to the world about it? Please pray that no conceited spokesman will attempt to trivialise your existence. You get the sense that that type of thing offends some of the gods.
Like talk of the life of a teenage boy in black.
What was his name?
Some deaths are historical and precious by themselves. Kiraithe, some deaths, especially the hopeful ones, must also become our own. Some deaths are named after a teenage boy in black who died on January 16, 2007 before our eyes. What was his name? This boy who danced for us before he died, for us.
What was his name?
We need his name, Sir, because next to the revered icon of Dedan Kimathi close to the Hilton Hotel, there is a space large enough for the image and likeness of a cheeky boy in black trousers and a hat, pulling at his ears, stretching out his tongue. The national saint of humour, youth and relentless hope. Like our country. Not still born. His death, like Dedan’s gives birth to our resolute living. What is that boy’s name again?
N.B: By the way, small policeman in bullet proof bib and big gun, hope you realise that when the chips are down, you will be sacrificed. You may want to write down the name of the man who commanded you to piga huyo. You will need it for the day you stand in front of a trial judge and say you were following orders, just doing your job. You of course, already know that the spokesman of police will not be on call that day to speak for you.
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