Mau Mau Detention

Greetings, friends:

This past week I had the immense privilege of moderating Nanjala Nyabola’s launch for her second book, Travelling While Black. I know books are always described as ‘poignant’, ‘moving’ or even ‘spectacular’, but Travelling While Black is all this, and more. Describing how much Nanjala’s writing shook me to the core feels like peddling clichés – and yet. What moved me most was her reflection, through an essay about Botswanan author Bessie Head, that there is futility in genius in the absence of privilege or structural systems to support it. “Fame in writing almost never translates into material wealth, and your favourite writer is often one tragedy or one mishap away from dying penniless and getting lost in the annals of time,” she writes, “…writing as a career is about networks and privilege, and the rare story of the person who makes it despite it all is rare for a reason – because it just doesn’t happen that often.” This was true about Bessie Head’s life, and struck me so deeply because I know it is true about so many of us writing, investigating, creating, publishing. The task in itself is arduous, but more than that it is lonely and isolating, one has to grapple nearly all the time with a sense of internal exile, to paraphrase Edward Said.

I’ve been thinking about this more in the context of the current climate of information warfare and historical revisionism that we are living in. Few things are as deadly to the artist as not being able to trust one’s own sense of reality, and this is the situation we find ourselves in, as Charles Onyango-Obbo wrote back in January: “In Kenya today, most critics of the political establishment are not beaten, jailed or bribed with money and jobs. They are, instead, driven out of their minds, forcing them to careen into frustrated unhinged rants, thus discrediting themselves.” Is there anything more heartbreaking?

I lay out this bleak picture to underscore how proud I am of what we’ve been able to achieve in Baraza Media Lab’s first year. We’ll have more of this in the next newsletter (the last one of 2020), but I’m especially uplifted that despite a global pandemic, ongoing structural violence and political dysfunction, those within and adjacent to the Baraza community have been able to do so much – write books, launch podcasts, host masterclasses, grow subscribers, and more. This gives me life – actual, literal life, in a world that is trying to snatch away our life at every turn.

More on this in a fortnight, but in the meantime here’s:

  • What We’re Reading: The History of CTRL + ALT + DELETE. Yes, seriously. In 2013, Bill Gates admitted ctrl+alt+del was a mistake and blamed IBM. Here’s the story of how the key combination became famous in the first place.
  • What We’re Watching: 40 Sticks, another Kenyan film on Netflix! I’m particularly excited to see Cajetan Boy in a production once again. If you don’t know Cajetan Boy, you need to know him.
  • What We’re Listening To: Case Number Zero, a new podcast by Nation.Africa which we’re really excited about. The first episode explores the disappearance of blogger and journalist Bogonko Bosire in 2013, as the International Criminal Court cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, were hitting a crescendo. 

As always, I remain yours,

Christine Mungai

Curator | Baraza Media Lab

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