The Star (Nairobi)

13 December 2012

Kenya: Sarah Obama Writes Letter to God

Long ago, a traveling theatre of mostly university students visited what is now Kisumu County to perform at the museum. Rollicking youths from schools in the municipality trouped into the amphitheatre that evening to watch the performance organised by Education department and UNESCO.

I clamoured into the hall and squeezed myself between two merry friends whom I had known during a literature symposium in a girl's school.

Standing on the rostrum, a man in a mournful garment implored the audience to participate in reciting a poem jointly written by great African writers in memory of slain Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa.

The poem, he said was titled, A poem of silence. So we remained silent, after which he said, thank you, in the end! We were all gripped in emotional grief.

Ken Saro-Wiwa was a popular Nigerian journalist and creative writer whose arrest and subsequent killing by a military junta on November 10, 1995 shocked the world.

He courted death with his uncompromising opposition to corruption and injustices in society. Kenyan students will remember his short story, Africa Kills Her Sun, a punning of Africa Kills Her Sons.

Saro-Wiwa's adaptation of the epistle, like St Paul among the Gentiles, is profoundly poetic. That letter, smuggled from prison through the help of a corrupt officer, has become the incessant voice of a stubborn ghost.

His alter-ego, Bana, writes with a magical touch and affection to the anonymous Zole, a friend he has not seen in 10 years.

The love letter bares the grim message of inevitable death. The letter is written from a prison cell a few moments before the author is killed by firing squad. Asked by a fellow inmate why he is writing a letter at the point of death, he replies, "I have felt a need to be close to a living being, someone who can relate to others why we did what we did."

The letter is an outlandish explication of decadence and plunder of the kind practiced by the African political class: "I came faUntil we begin to realise that tribalism is a political ideology, we might as well give in to disintegration.ce-to-face with the open looting of the national treasury, the manner of which I cannot describe without arousing in myself the deepest, basest emotions. Everyone was busy at it, and there was no one to complain to."

He is glad to leave a world that grows more dreary by the day. Many writers have grappled with the question of disillusionment.

Kenya, once described an island of peace, has been in the grip of political turmoil that made the project of making a Kenyan nation unviable.

Why, because our politics is driven by sheer avarice and a hegemonic project. Until we begin to realise that tribalism is a political ideology, we might as well give in to disintegration.

In Sierra Leone, the Creoles were pitied against other blacks. In Rwanda, Tutsis have driven Hutus into hiding. In Uganda, it's the subjugation of Nilotes by Bantus. December is torrid! Elections are coming. We could slide that bloody path again.

Serve Africa Retreat Centre has mooted the "Write to God Initiative," a nation-wide peace campaign where Kenyans from all walks of life are invited to reflect on their lives and their country, and write a letter to God.

Writing pads are available at major shopping centres across the country. Letter-writing is therapeutic. Talking to God is spiritual. In these letters are inner hopes, dreams, fears, gratitude, and aspirations for Kenya.

On December 4, 2012, Sarah Obama, grandmother to American President Barack Obama, wrote, "I saw the war in Rwanda, and I saw the Peace Museum.

I am of the view that such a thing should not occur in this our beloved Kenya. Whenever I see conflicts on television, I keep on wondering if Kenyans really value peace.

So peace of God should bind us together and guide us. In this world we came to bask in the sun. When time comes we all go into our houses and leave the world alone.

Then why kill each other? Peace!" The advisory board comprises former Attorney General Amos Wako, former Director of Culture Silverse Anami, founder Samantha Fraser, Irish media consultant Niamh Brannigan and Mauritian motivational speaker Dharmesh Punushottam.

Khainga O'Okwemba is the President of PEN Kenya

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