A good friend asks me if I want to meet members of Mungiki.
He tells me that more people support Mungiki than admit, that our much-vaunted economic successes fuel resentment and hatred, that we don’t know how to discharge the energies in our lithe bodies, that bodies extend themselves into spears and arrows. That this slippery slope associational logic lives in a too-near, too-present, too-possible future.
Stories are told matter-of-factly, almost flatly: they killed us, we killed them. Distance seems impossible, disidentification an academic fiction. From the States, comparisons to Rwanda seemed far-fetched, exaggerated. In well-appointed middle-class homes, the stories continue to circulate and the comparisons seem all too apt.
People will be surprised when Mungiki hits, I am told.
The dialogue seems unreal. In public. Among the well-appointed, where one cup of coffee costs more than a packet of milk.
What strikes me is the guyness of it. The admiration for a code of manliness, a mode of gender performance that joins Rambo-style bravado to economic desperation.
Kenya, meet your sons.
Those we used to term kichwa ngumu have acquired weapons and a unifying philosophy, have found each other, have discovered that the terror inflicted on them in classrooms by teachers, on the streets by policemen, by bigger bullies in big cars can be re-deployed, have discovered the pleasure of dominance.
What are the homoerotics of terror?
It is impossible not to think about bloodlust, about the ritual obscenity of taking life, of circumcising other men, of quantifying body parts, foreskins, hands, heads, of the cold deliberation that gains its energy from what can only be described as jouissance.
I sip my juice. He puts honey in his oh-so-healthy organic tea blend.
* * *
I realize that I have been wrong.
The distinction I want to make between the rank and file of Mungiki and other terror-causing groups and the middle- and upper middle-class from which they are presumably excluded is less stable than I had imagined. People like me know Mungiki. Some of us support it. Not simply in material ways or through inflammatory rhetoric.
I am reminded that joblessness in Kenya, as increasingly everywhere, is unrelated to educational status.
I realize that much of what I seem to be observing seems banal, perhaps boring. What strikes me is that these are conversations with intimates, with my very best friends, with relatives, with family. It is this that seems so unfathomable.
* * *
I cite my gender critique of Mungiki, the violence-laden patriarchy, and a woman tells me: “oh, yes. On that point I agree.” This critique, which I take to be so foundational, a deal-breaker, that Mungiki believe in and enforce oppressive gender norms, registers, but does not rupture a form of allegiance.
This is a world where one would rather serve jail time than “rat” on someone else. It’s the only comparison my limited mind can imagine.
And so the ordinary becomes a necessary impossibility.
We pick my nieces up from school, go to the market, debate whether to get tomatoes or potatoes, cook and clean, scold the dog, wash dishes, bake muffins, and avoid having conversations.
* * *
I’m not yet sure what it means to resist ethnicity, and I am struck by what seem to be the limitations of my much-trained mind.
Offered, “without Mungiki we would all have been killed” and “the newspapers only print negative things, but there are many positive things about Mungiki,” I realize this is not a world I had imagined, that I have been naïve in many ways, distanced, that something known as “Kikuyu Nationalism” exists, and thrives.
That my skin crawls seems irrelevant.
I can no longer write about this, not today, perhaps later. But not today.
I remain awed by those who have lived here, with this, have written, continue to write. And I realize how much I owe them.