No one does anything in Kenya.
Official and unofficial writing is filled with erasures, fingers that point nowhere. “Beginning on June 15, 2008 current accounts will be closed.”
Bodies without embodiment.
“The Management.” “The Board.” “Government.”
“Mobile phones not allowed here.”
“Last week four men were found dead.”
No one ever does anything. Our sentences have no characters, no subjects who act, no agents. We live in a non-agential country, where actions simply occur.
What does it mean that we absent ourselves from our writing? What does it mean that when I revised my sister’s work she complained that I used “I” too often, even and especially when discussing her accomplishments? How does this rhetorical strategy tell us something about how we understand acting and actions, about how we construct social intercourse and, most especially, about terms like “responsibility” and “accountability”?
How can anyone be responsible when in our written language, the language in which we write instructions and orders and make plans and execute them, no one acts and no one orders?
Authority is rendered invisible.
How can anyone be accountable when we erase all signs of agency from our writing, learning to write, for instance, “loitering will be punished.”
Who does the instructing? Who does the punishing? Who executes decisions?
If we erase all signs that we have been here, then how can anyone be found after we leave?
To look at our rhetorical strategies as an index of how we understand responsibility and accountability might seem like an exercise in sophistry (though not really sophisticated enough to deserve that description). And, only literary critics and those who study rhetoric might find such an exercise useful.
However, if one believes, as I do, that we write ourselves into being, then it’s possible that these sentences devoid of characters describe, in some way, how we feel about ourselves in relation to the life-worlds we create and inhabit.
We desire the anonymity of non-accountability even as we demand it from others.
Everyday Kenyanese says more than we realize.
How did this become an appropriate, acceptable, and even commendable response to the question “how are you?”
What does it mean to “just survive,” and this voiced by residents of our “better” suburbs?
What kind of present does “just surviving” occupy and what kind of future does it anticipate. Is there not something perverse and wrong in believing that the fact of waking up is blessing enough?
We should be grateful simply to breathe, no matter the state of our bodies, our lives, our relationships. We have no richness to inhabit, to create, no beauty that illuminates the everyday, no joys to share, nothing.
We “just survive.”
And it is conscious.
Someone says to me, “if you’re not struggling in Nairobi, then you’re not really living in Nairobi.” This from a resident of our “better” suburbs.
I have written, elsewhere, how this narrative of shared deprivation masks and actively erases class distinctions. It is violent. And it is strategic. In this statement, there are no “haves” and “have-nots.” We are all “pushing along.” (The Gikuyu is much more eloquent, and those who know it will recognize the reference.)
We are addicted to “solutions.”
In every public forum I’ve attended, I have heard “no more theory, we want solutions.” If one doesn’t have solutions one doesn’t have anything.
And yet “solutions” are so conceptually bound to “problems” and “crises,” that even if the solutions are “creative,” they cannot escape their embedding in “problems.” Put another way, we cannot seem to think outside of the problem-solution dyad.
We suffer from a lack of imagination. And this, for me, remains our greatest failing.
But this statement requires texture.
We allow imagination as long as it is tethered to religion. Our cults and independent churches flourish. And we drown ourselves in their temporary numbing.
Yet, as I’ve found in conversation after conversation after conversation, any thought that veers toward abstraction, that dares to think outside of “problem-solution,” that introduces conceptual density into a society driven by the empirical, albeit an often badly conceived empirical, this thought cannot find fertile soil.
One can never assume that there’s such a thing as over-explaining. And, even then, one can never assume that there’s ideological space for thinking otherwise. This, this is hard.
How does one talk about gender, when it can only mean woman? How does one critique heteronormativity when nothing exists except heterosexuality? How does one dare to imagine otherwise when one is constantly blocked by facts, figures, the reality of “just surviving?” How does one speak of impoverished discourse to those whose heads are full of facts and figures and action points and strategic plans?
How does one speak of our collective soul when all the souls are already pledged to an indifferent deity?
Imagining otherwise is hard, almost impossible.
One must dare to inhabit what Raymond Williams terms the “emergent”: what is still in solution, unformed, inchoate, what may or may not sediment into recognizable form. Where one realizes that there is more besides and beyond a “problem-solution” structure, that possibilities abound when we let go a little, just a little.
This is difficult.
And we are reluctant to let go of the security that enables us to “just survive.” As I keep being told, we have elected the same politicians over and over and over, despite their records.
We are so wedded to the power structures we inhabit that even radical groups desire to attach themselves to powerful individuals with clout, and would rather submit to the ministrations of experts rather than think creatively, innovatively, not in or out of a box, but without the box at all.
We don’t need the box. We continue to fail as long as we tether our actions to its spatial allocations. In or Out.
There’s more than this.
We can think of more than solutions. We can refuse to be problems that need to be fixed. We can inhabit structures of conflict without killing each other. We have yet to even imagine what we can do. But we must imagine.
We must imagine.
We must refuse to accept the lie that we can only inhabit the reality principle, a lie peddled to us from our educational system and by our politicians. We must refuse to accept the lie that we have already seen all there is to see, that our dreams end once we enter leafy suburbs and buy new cars, that we are what we own and can buy, that the right solutions will finally do all for us.
We are more than solution-seekers and solution-creators.
Yet our language continues to betray us. We continue to be somnambulists in someone else’s dream, afraid to inhabit our own dreams, unaware that we can be more than restless figures in a morality play scripted to make us grateful to “just survive.”
This. This I cannot write more about. This. This disturbs me.