Informalisation of the economy has bred careless behaviour, indiscipline, and disorderliness. The way we drive unnecessarily aggressively and without regard to traffic regulations, our propensity to walk on the road rather than the footpath, the matatu playing loud music and making maximum noise with the horn in silence zones, are all examples of lack of discipline in contemporary society.—Jaindi Kisero
The point is that the Sinai pipeline tragedy was not an accident. It is the reward of impunity.
We tend to think of impunity as a culture associated with the high-and-mighty who regularly get away with mass murder and grand larceny.
But the fact is that the culture of impunity extends right to the bottom of the pile.—Macharia Gaitho
Slum dwellers go by many names: maid, ayah, domestic; petty trader, informal trader, the guy who makes things; unskilled labor, factory workers, exploited masses; my first sexual experience, my husband’s piece on the side, my wife’s satisfaction, my heart’s desire. They are intimately familiar with our lives and habits, knowing where we hide our booze, where we “store” the sugar and flour, how often we have sex, even the shape and quality of our bowel movements. They know how to detect lust and avarice, compassion and corruption. For too many of us, they are object lessons—“there but for the grace of . . .” while for others of us they are destinies. To them, we tell secrets that we believe will not travel where they matter.
Slum dwellers matter too much, and not at all.
What, then, does it mean to mourn as a nation for slum dwellers?
It is a gesture that means too much, and nothing at all.
Beginning tomorrow, more precisely Friday, I will be surrounded by poetry at the Hay Festival: workshops with Yusef Komunyakaa and Ben Okri and, later, conversations with Komunyakaa, Okri, Sitawa Namwalie, and the many other Kenyan poets who will be there. One or several of these poets will have taken up the incredible, perhaps impossible, challenge of writing about Sinai: mountain and slum, site of redemption and loss, site of plenty and sacrifice.
Moses descended from Sinai to smite idolaters. Kenya’s politicos descend on Sinai for photo ops. Serpents crawled along staffs, got tired of hanging out, and went hunting.
I want to stay, for a while, with the intimacies we share. I want, in other words, to refuse the “them” and “they” and “slumdweller” designations that have saturated the media and this post. I want, also, to unsettle the “we” understood as a “nation,” the “we are Kenyans together” that feels craven and opportunistic. Nations may be conjured up at sites of collective mourning, but they just as quickly fragment and dissipate. I want to avoid, as well, the too-easy turn from grief to grievance.
I want to stay with the intimacies we share to unsettle ongoing consolidations and sedimentations, especially the very frightening rhetorics of personal responsibility advanced by Gaitho and Kisero. And I also want to stay with the intimacies we share to avoid Moses-like pronouncements about sin and impunity.
Our intimates have died.