So as you can already detect, depending on your emotional intelligence level or EQ as Daniel Goleman calls it, this is more of a “Dear Jane” love letter to Kenya than a serious political exegesis of its current political imbroglio. Am trying to curtail the serious policy side of me in this blog, less I blog you to death with highfaluting policy talk, but pardon me should I slip every now and then, sometimes the day job creeps into the night talk…you know what I mean? Yes, so, lets get that clear, this is personal not political. And yes, love affairs do evolve between humans and countries. How, you ask? Well, let me tell you a tale by moonlight: ....“once upon a time”, “…time, time”:
There I was going about my business, writing my report at the top floor of the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi. It was mid-November 2007, I had arrived in Nairobi late that evening and went straight to bed only to wake up early the next morning, open my curtains and before me were the bounteous bosoms of Nairobi. And wasn’t she something? Oh, how ever so curvaceous was her city centre! I could not take my eyes off her, she was the most engaging and intriguing of views. One look at her that morning and that was it. I was hooked. Something in her called my name and I answered and hence began our love affair. From that moment, I woke early each morning with my steaming coffee to watch the sunrise as the streets of Nairobi came alive with swarms of people and cars. It was like watching a lover wake up beside you each morning: the soft flutter of her eyelids, the pursing and subtle quiver of her lips, the gentle opening of her eyes, the half tired, but joyful smile she gives you when she sees you lying next to her and that warm embrace that says “ good morning darling, thank God you are here with me”. Kenya did that to me each morning and it became my morning routine for about two weeks. How could I help falling in love with her? She loved me so well, falling for her was the most natural thing to do. After my break-up with London, for her coldness, moodiness and emotional austerity, I needed a city to love. A city that was colourful, warm and adventurous and Nairobi, Kenya seemed to be it.
You see, Kenya drew me in with her charm, caressed my face and wrapped me up in her soft sunshine, pacifying my fears with her “pole, pole” easygoing attitude and soothing me with her blue skies. She reduced all my defences as her subtle winds constantly whispered sweet things in my ear and even sprung a giraffe to welcome me at the airport – how romantic and it was not even valentine’s day! Oh, that baby thrilled me, she won me over with her up-market cosmopolitan bars, lounges and clubs; her cosy wi-fi enabled cafes, arty bookshops, vibrant shopping malls; her outdoor arts and crafts markets, lovely restaurants tucked in hidden back roads; her jamming night clubs, tapping private parties, fantastic radio stations, engaging intelligentsia made-up of thriving young middle class and the colourful and hospitable folks who seemed to love to “chop life” as much as Lagosians. Being in Nairobi was like being in Lagos with less traffic, less people, more racial diversity, better infrastructure and regular electricity. It was the best of all my worlds merged into one. Lady Kenya had won my heart and though when I left, I had not seen all of her, I knew that I had to return and get to know her better, taking my time to tour the whole country.Now, to be honest, I should tell you that Kenya and I have been flirting for quite a while before all this happened. I have always had a connection with the country and its people right from my days as an undergrad studying African Politics in South Africa. I was inspired by the visionary leadership of Jomo Kenyatta- her father- who led his people to independence and who tried to create what we Africans have not quite got right till date: African unity. Kenyatta, Nkrumah of Ghana and Azikiwe of Nigeria had all tried to unite the continent as they felt that our power as African people was nested in our numbers and the wealth of our shared resources. But as recent events have proven, we cannot unite a continent if we cannot unite a country.
Another reason I connected with Kenya, was because of the pulse of its people. Perhaps it may be the shared British colonial experience, but Kenyans and Nigerians have a similar sense of humour, personal pride and confidence and a keen zest for life and its better things. Put us around a table – with enough music and booze - and the party is on. Like Nigerians, they are very at ease with foreigners and are ready for a good party. I also find that Kenyans are vey cerebral and socially conscious people with very broad minded liberal views- perhaps more broadminded than Nigerians. I remember, that when I lived in South Africa and many Africans there from across the Limpopo river where subjected to xenophobia within South Africa, Nigerians and Kenyans came together to form our own African expats crew and we would hold dinner parties, poolside soirées and paint the town in all kinds of colours of our national flags. Kenyatta and Azikiwe would have been happy, we united after all, ….well may be not in the way they expected, but hey, we did it anyway. Anywho, though I had lots of friends from several other African countries, my strongest link was always with Kenyans. We just clicked and never stopped clicking. It however took a while for me to really get to taste Kenya in her true beauty and depth. We had brushed shoulders several times on my way to Addis Abba, Ethiopia or Kinshasa, Congo but I never got to say hello or stay longer than a few hours. But as you can see, all I needed was one night with Kenya and she had me. I melted in her embrace and letting go was a struggle.
In this first real trip, I found myself changing my ticket often to travel later than initially planned and staying longer and longer until I never wanted to leave. Thanks to my soul peeps Musonda ( check out her blog-http://musbaibe.blogspot.com), Thomas, Eve, Carole, Brenda, Gladys, Dannie and all those fantastic people I met and hung out with, I felt like I could live in that lovely country. No, actually, I felt like I actually lived there already. Kenya healed the scars of London and made me so happy, I started getting ideas, should I come back and stay? When I returned to London which had been my base for several years, I fell straight into depression – as usual ( after living there for so long I had had it with London’s sterility and cold distance). I missed Kenya like a lover misses the beloved. I could not wait to get back into her arms. So, on my way to Lagos from London a few days later, I routed my trip through Nairobi and stayed for one day that seemed like a week. Being with her again was magical. All in me came alive again and I knew it then. I was in love. I had to come back. When I left this time around, I had made up my mind. I would go to Lagos, pack up and move to Kenya for at least a year. She and I would be together and see if we could make a life together. Our romance had officially become a relationship and everything was going to be beautiful!
But alas, we all know what happens to ‘the best made plans’: First in Lagos, I found out the embassy was shut. The Consul had gone off to Kenya for the elections and no one could issue me a visa to go back. Though I wanted to travel on 31st of December to start the New Year there, I had to wait till the first week in January when the embassy re-opened. I was frustrated and dejected, I wanted Kenya, to touch her, to breathe her, to feel her, to feel the warmth of her embrace once more, to be in her. You see, she gave me butterflies and for an old travelling dawg who has said too many sad goodbyes like me, this was an anomaly. I needed to be with her again. In my forlorn state, as I longed for her, Lagos also made a bid for my heart and unrelentingly courted and seduced me. Okay, fine… I admit, in my weakness I fell for Lagos, but even then, I was still bent on returning to Kenya. But alas, fate would keep us apart. In retrospect, I realise that fate was watching out for me because not long after the elections on 27th December unprecedented violence broke out in Africa’s oasis of peace. The rest is on CNN and Al Jeezera. If I had gone, I would have been right in the centre of it.
Today, as I sit in Lagos and watch the carnage in Kenya, especially Nairobi, in such turmoil, I feel sad and betrayed. Here was this lovely lady who made me feel like she was peaceful, loving and caring. I turn my back and she becomes a warring, fractious and harmful entity. I knew Lagos was a philandering lover, so what happened between us could have happened to anyone, but Kenya, Kenya seemed faithful. Now I look back and wonder if it was all an illusion. Watching CNN and seeing Zane Verjie the CNN reporter shot with a tear gas canister or Eve telling me by text that the protesters where just near her house - which was a quiet and peaceful suburb, or seeing all the places I wanted to go to next Kisumu, Kibera and even Mombasa erupt in violence and destruction made my stomach churn. Did Kenya deceive me?
There I was doing my own thing and she came with her emotionally sweet and socially voluptuous self. And just as I succumbed to her enthralling charms, she changed on me. That’s right, my angel grew horns and a tail and lost her wings. Am left here wondering what went wrong; if there was something I could have done but didn’t do? If I could have loved her more, if I should have stayed, if, if, if,….. “Bar tender, bar tender, another round of CJD!...hic.” Ok, more seriously, my sweet babe Kenya had turned vicious in less than two weeks, just as I was about to commit. Now I find that I have to review our relationship and that we can’t be as intimate as we had planned. Now I know we can’t live together anymore. I am hoping we can stay friends but I know it will take sometime to rebuild the trust. It’s a shame that all this happened just as we were getting to know each other, but as Janet Jackson ( with bra intact) said, “that’s the way love goes”.
I sympathise with all the innocent people who lost their lives, loved ones, limbs or livelihoods in Kenya because their leaders failed to lead aright. I sympathise with all those whose hopes and dreams have been dashed by Kenya’s fall. I say sorry to all those who were waiting for me to return into Kenya’s arms if they feel I have disserted them. To Kenya: I know you are hurt and bleeding too darling and I share your pain, I wish there was more I could do from here. But baby I don’t think this can work anymore. I am sorry. You broke my heart when you changed and I had an affair with Lagos in between. Perhaps we didn’t know each other as well as we thought we did. We can’t make that kind of long-term commitment anymore. The trust has been broken, the foundations have been shaken, we can’t build a castle on shaky ground. Do know I will always think fondly of you and remember the great times and dreams we shared. Asante Sanna for those lovely times Kenya. Besides we never know what the future holds for star-crossed lovers. Pole Kenya, Kwa Heri. Sawa sawa, its just another sad love song, this one I entitle: "Heartbreak Kenya".