The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Tale of a New Kenya

opinion

'Explain it to me again...' says Borf.

'Well, he's the one we put forward for president, 20 years ago,' I explain.

'But he was wanted by the ICC.'

'Mm-hmm. Him and Duke The William,' I confirm.

'Wasn't anyone else eligible?'

'I guess there must have been. But it was a tumultuous time. And no one was really thinking.'

We are watching the Jamhuri Day Celebrations at the *YAY* ***I*NA* STADI**. Only those with memory that spans more than 15 years can remember that the sign once read 'NYAYO NATIONAL STADIUM'.

But that was before the letters started hanging dangerously off their screws and the wires that powered the neon lights were stolen. It's been 20 years of economic sanctions so the theft of the cables didn't even make the national news.

It was the least of the problems in a country that had seen its currency devalue even further than the Zimbabwean Dollar had. At first there was alarm when the price of bread tripled, then went up 10 times. By the time it cost Sh3,500 we had lost all feeling.

It had been a while since Borf, a one-eyed blob had crashed into my family's flat. He'd hitched a ride on the NASA rover Curiosity on its way back from Mars.

It was a funny coincidence because he'd been looking at planet Earth for a while wondering how he was ever going to get there. Suddenly with Curiosity it seemed that Earth had offered him a free ride.

His plans of landing in Los Angeles where he would easily blend in had suffered a major setback when the craft re-entered Earth's atmosphere. The fuselage had gotten too hot to hold on to and he'd let go, plunging 30,000 feet and crashing through the roof of our apartment in None-Of-Your-Damn-Business Estate. I had thought the food zombies had attacked.

We'd become used to attacks by marauding gangs fueled by hunger who'd break into your home for food. They weren't interested in electronics.

No one would buy them- a PC sold for more than 10 million shillings and electricity production was in the hands of The Breeder, a toothless hag of a man who'd tamed Nairobi's 12 million rats to run around in a homemade wire frame that generated electricity.

I'd taken Borf as a friend. The kids had liked him and my wife had designed a 'skin' for him out of chapatti dough. We'd resisted the urge on many an occasion to take a bite out of him because he smelt so good.

On warm days he would give off the aroma of a freshly baked mandazi. It was hard to resist him. We told the inquisitive neighbours he was an exchange student who got marooned here after the airport got closed down. (It had been more than 10 years since a plane landed in or took off from Kenya).

We sat there watching as the president, the son of a founding father circled the racetrack formerly covered with state-of-the-art Tartan polyurethane that the greats like Paul Tergat, Tegla Lorupe, Catherine Ndereba, Janeth Jepkosgei and Henry Wanyoike had raced on.

Those were the good old days when Kenya was known for its athletic prowess, great weather and tourist beaches. Tufts of grass now peeked out of gargantuan potholes but President Freedom, that was his name, refused to have the turf uprooted all together.

I guess even he was trying to hold on to the glory days with whatever he could muster. At this point Unep and international NGOs had moved their headquarters to Mogadishu, a glowing city that just like Berlin, had grown like a phoenix out of the ashes of the destruction of war. In international circles the word 'Kenya' had gone beyond being a swear word.

No one could be convinced to trade with or move to this economic and human rights desert. We knew things were bad when foreign diplomats started refusing to meet the president altogether and would slip their credentials under the door at State House leaving a handwritten note with the Comptroller.

As the president wheeled around on his cattle-drawn carriage made of termite-eaten planks of wood held together by sisal rope his servants threw pieces of bread to the starving masses who muscled up the strength to cheer, 'Long Live Freedom and Duke The William.'

The strongest in the throng of severely emaciated Kenyans climbed over the barriers and dived at the teats of the cows that pulled the carriage sucking and squeezing hoping for a drop of milk.

As they dragged their withered bodies on the ground, reaching desperately for a drop guards tried to beat them off with truncheons and whips. 'Leave them,' Freedom said with a dismissive wave. 'These people put me in power.'

'So why didn't Kenya field any other candidate?' Borf asked as the sack of bones next to us began to sniff at him thinking that he smelled of something vaguely familiar.

'Well the People of Red Soil felt that this was their man. And back then tribe was everything.'

'And now?'

'We're not allowed to discuss tribe anymore. Freedom says it's divisive.'

'Was it his human rights record that endeared him to the Masses?'

'He didn't have one really.'

'Surely, it was his education. Maybe a master's degree in Law, Business Administration, Agriculture.'

'It's not even clear that he had a first degree. Rumors abounded.'

'How about Duke The William?'

'Well his community protected him, too. It was strange. It wasn't the community on trial but he convinced them that was the case. It was like when there had been debate about changing the name of this stadium from Nyayo Stadium seeing as the man it was named after was a dictator.

The Hill People were up in arms saying that it was disrespectful to them. I had wanted to tell them that we could name the stadium after a different Hill People athlete every month and never run out of nominees.'

'What are sanctions, though?'

'Well economic sanctions are when other countries decide not to do business with you. Freedom convinced the masses that we'd be fine. No one expected it but even the Chinese grew a conscience.

They left road projects incomplete and since the old roads had been excavated to make way for the new all we had was deep valleys. Duke The William suggested that we let the rainwater fill them up and maybe we could farm fish.

'Is that why Lake Southern Bypass is called that? I'd thought it was a strange name,' says Borf.

'The Arabs wouldn't sell us oil. The Canadians wouldn't bring in the exploration machinery for Ngamia 1. There was 300 years worth of oil under the ground and we couldn't reach it with anything other than hollow Baobab trunks.'

'Did it work?' queries Borf.

'Well, our president is riding a cow-drawn carriage. What do you think?'

'How about the Americans? They weren't signatories to the ICC. Surely, they must have felt hypocritical imposing sanctions?'

'Well, when Kenya started to crumble al Shabaab lost interest. And then Somalia struck oil and the rest is history.'

'Wow,' said Borf, letting a sigh out of his gills shocking the sack of bones that had been sniffing at him nearly out of his skin. 'I really chose a dump to land in.'

'Yeah, you'd probably have done well to hold on just a little longer. At least you might have been able to find a good cup of coffee in Mogadishu and visit the al Shabaab Museum. I hear K'Naan is playing a gig there tonight.'

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