15 November 2012

Kenya: Literary Postcard - Obama's Clinton Missing in Kenya's Political Equation

Look at our bride breed

Cast in a pilgrim's pride

Dazzling in a tribunate toga

Eyes wide with a dramatis drum

-Khainga O'Okwemba

W.E.B. Du Bois, like Cheikh Anta Diop, that subversive Senegalese public intellectual after him, is regarded as the father of interdisciplinary methodologies in the study of African and African American history, culture and society.

He wrote at least five novels, poetry, short stories and monographs. Du Bois was a great essayist and polemicist. Thus his salient legacy lies in The Souls of Black Folk, that poetic and haunting book of essays memorised by every American student.

In The Souls , Du Bois writes, "The disappointment and impatience of the Negroes at the persistence of slavery and serfdom voiced itself in two movements; the slaves in the South, aroused by rumours of the Haitian revolt, made three fierce attempts at insurrection - in 1800 under Gabriel in Virginia, in 1822 under Vesey in Carolina, and in 1831 again in Virginia under Nat Turner."

The other was an attempt at self-development, especially in the Free States. But to understand why the African American believed that only by way of armed struggle would he achieve freedom and dignity divine, one needs to hear his and her testimony about life in bondage.

What was the experience of blacks in slavery? Prof Henry Louis Gates, Jr the greatest living scholar on African American history provides the answer in The Classic Slave Narratives.

Here Prof Gates, Jr has put together the four most famous biographies by blacks, also known as "slave narratives" or "Literature of Escape" as representations of the more than six thousands ex-slaves personal narratives said to have been written by the fall of 1944. Here the reader will come across Fredrick Douglass, Olaudah Equiano, Harriet Jacobs, and Mary Prince.

Prof Gates Jr has deliberately chosen two blaring voices of men and two sorrowful lamentations by women in order to provide gender balance in understanding the history and nature of slavery.

The Slave Narratives show the triumph of memory and the power of the written word. Above all, they attest to the resilience of the human spirit.

These men and women of letters were the forerunners to African American literature of which Du Bois was a delightful heir. Du Bois observed that the "problem of colour" did not end with Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. In his novel, Dark Princess , Du Bois depicts black heroes enraged with racism striking their white offenders.

Du Bois signed off The Souls of Black Folk with a prayer: "Hear my cry O God the reader; vouchsafe that this my book fall not still-born into the world wilderness.

Let there spring, gentle one, from out its leaves vigor of thought and thoughtful deed to reap the harvest wonderful. Let the ears of a guilty people tinge with truth, and seventy millions sigh for the righteousness which exalts nations, in this drear day when human brotherhood is mockery and a snare.

Thus in thy good time may infinite reason turn the tangle straight, and this crooked marks on a fragile leaf be not indeed." Du Bois did not live to see his prayer answered.

Harassed by his fellow Americans, he renounced his American citizenship and went to Ghana upon invitation by founding President and illustrious Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah, where he died and was buried in 1963, symbolically having returned to the land of his ancestors.

Slightly over 100 years from the time Du Bois invoked the prayer, Barack Obama of African descent has twice been elected American President.

How did he do it? Because he had the leadership skills and character needed for high office. Because he formed a coalition of women, youth, and minority groups to defeat the tide of racism.

Because in Bill Clinton flows the fountain of human brotherhood. Alas! In Kenya brotherhood is either alien or synonymous with tribalism.

Kenya is dangling on a political cliff since her coalitions are driven by personal egos and tribal bigotry. Filthy bigots purchase political power oblivious of a faintly and disturbing voice: It's because Kenyans have not understood the country's problem!

Khainga O'Okwemba is the acting President of PEN Kenya

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