Monkey Business

Greetings, friends:

I’ve been thinking about that monkey that shut down the Kenya Power grid a few years ago. It’s strange, the way the mind can wander and then fixate on something as random as that. The vervet monkey apparently jumped over the electric fence at Gitaru Power Station and landed on a transformer, tripping it. That set off a cascade of events that resulted in shutting down the entire national grid, and the country losing power for three hours. 

We have so many random stories like this in Kenya’s history that I think deserve a deeper treatment, more exploration, even expansion into comics, animation or even a podcast. Imagine an animated film exploring the fictional backstory of this intrepid monkey — what’s her backstory? Who were her influences? What was she running from as she risked her life to jump over this fence? Or was it something more malevolent, a revenge mission perhaps?

I asked these questions on my Twitter account last week, and I was surprised by the response and engagement it generated. I took that as confirmation that as a country we have so many “unfinished” stories that are just crying out to be told. It is said that Kenyans have short memories, but perhaps this is less a sign of apathy and more the result of carrying around so many unfinished story threads. Because so many story fragments remain incomplete, the best we can do is set them aside, not because the story is over but because the story is in limbo.

As storytellers, we must always work to our stories having some measure of completeness, which is to say even if we may not know everything there is to know about a story, we have actually put in everything that we know, for now. This doesn’t mean that everything has to be longform; even a short story can be complete. But you can’t get around this. Audiences can tell when we’ve given it our all, and when we’re just breezing through and skimming the surface, for whatever reason. Otherwise, the unravelling of various and disparate stories will inevitably threaten to unravel us too

As usual, here’s:

  • What We’re Reading: Refugees help power machine learning advances at Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon by Rest of World, exploring the dystopian phenomenon of microwork, “a globally dispersed complex of refugees, slum dwellers, and casualties of occupations, compelled through immiseration, or else law”, to label videos, transcribe audio, or show algorithms how to identify various photos. I’m still grappling with the horror show that this really is.
  • What We’re Watching: Maisha Mkanda, on DSTV and Showmax, produced by Africa Uncensored. What makes this show stand out from all the investigative docuseries is the depth, nuance and tenderness with which even difficult and heartbreaking stories are told. 

What We’re Listening To: This 45-second video on TikTok. I don’t want to give it away, but I was shouting at the end

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