Exile and Activism: Dangerous Proximities

My friend Philo Ikonya is president of PEN Kenya and is currently in exile from Kenya, living in Norway. It feels strange to write this, as though I had traveled back to some Kenyan past from which I am forever escaping. Post-Moi still feels very much like Moi; affective densities do not so easily dissipate, and recur. To write this, I must write about Philo, or at least begin from her.

Over the past day, Philo has been sharing a remarkable story about danger and activism, a hopeful story, even though it has rough, unfortunate edges.

On April 22, 2010, Kenneth Kirimi, a human rights activist affiliated with Release Police Prisoners (RPP), was picked up by plain clothes policemen. Kirimi has been at the forefront of challenging police abuses of power. Kirimi was driven to Thika–his friends and colleagues visited prisons in Nairobi to get news of him, but to no avail. From Thika, he subsequently ended up in Narok.

The good news is that he has been found and is on his way home.

Yet, his being found is not simply a matter of luck. A number of individuals and groups, including RPP, Bunge la Mwananchi, Front Line, and individuals such as Philo called, sent emails, traveled across Nairobi, made enough noise, I think, that Kirimi had to reappear.

He is one of the lucky ones.

Lucky because he reappeared. But he reappeared after being tortured.

So far the mainstream media in Kenya has said nothing about this story, at least the last I checked. And the police, because they can so conveniently label young men “mungiki” or “terrorist,” have learned to manage the fine act of “disappearing.”

We are still being “disappeared” in post-Moi Kenya. And this scares the shit out of me.

Let me give Philo the last, practical word: “Kirimi, I hope to wake up from this sad reverie and find that you have been found. In the meantime we shall keep your wife company with something for her to buy bread and milk for she fully depends on you.”

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