Dear Nelson Mandela,
I am writing to you to firstly thank you for having worked so hard for freedom. I always feel that I have you to hold up in many places when much of what comes from our different countries is not very good. I am a Kenyan recently moved to Oslo as a guest writer under ICORN ( International Cities of Refuge Network). I am a human rights activist and writer.
I grew up and went to school in the Rift Valley and not in Central Province where I was born in Kiambu and somehow, my identity in terms of pronunciation of words in my mother language was modified by exposure. Now I speak my mother spoken Gikuyu, English, Kiswahili, Spanish, a little Italian and French and now am learning Norsk. I studied Linguistics and I understand Latin as a root language. I long very much to learn Lingala and also Maasai and once am comfortable with Norsk these are the languages I want to learn this year.
Thank you again. When I, sometimes like today read about Mau Mau in Kenya and remember the stories my father used to tell us about his time in Manyani camp, I miss my father very much. He died in 1991 at a time when I had not analysed things enough for me to thank him for his part in the struggle which seems he passed on to me in a special way with his actions and words.
So, in this letter, I want to thank more than one hero through you. I thank my father, and so many people I have met who fought for freedom. I thank many women who suffered untold things and whose sufferings when told even by a third party leaves one shattered. I have been reading Britain’s Gulag ( the end of brutal empire in Kenya) by Caroline Elkins recently. I thank also the children of Mau Mau times. So brutally were many of them treated, dying on mothers’ back sick and without any form of relief.
The other day I watched Amandla. I thought so much about Vusifyile Mini, Thandi Modise ( the woman who got a baby in prison just before she killed herself), the children of Soweto, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and your letter to him outside prison..and the workers especially the free on Thursday nannies.. and I thought you too and this is partly why I have written. I thought about the long struggles of African people to be free. I thought how Kenya has never found the remains of Kimathi Wa Wachiuri and reburied them with dignity like South Africans did with Mini’s. I thank them for that. And I thank those who wove the struggle with song and brought it to us in Amandla. Thank you for song in the struggle South Africa. For perhaps only in her song and literature can Africa show its true brilliance to the world.. before it overtakes in other fields such as technology and on discovering the cure for many disease still incurable, Aids included.
I have been reading the memoirs of Ahmed Kathrada and see so many people of Asian origin in Africa struggle to help us weave like Gandhi did, a cloth of perhaps cobwebs which as the Ethiopians say, can tie down the marauding lions which I sometimes see as those leaders who refuse to behave like good lions.. simba and guard our homes..our countries. I therefore want with this background and a little more to ask you three questions. But before that, a little more.
When I arrived in Olso, I have been here only two months and one week, I hardly used to dream. Not even about my Mother whose last embrace as she sat on a couch in my flat which I was soon to vacate lingered on me like the 'physical' memory a mother has of the clinging of a child whom she had to abandon at a tender age to go to work or to a trip, did I dream. I still remember that feeling of something is missing from my chest, what one feels after putting a baby down particularly we in Africa who are so used to carrying babies strapped on our backs. But I did not dream of her. Instead, I regularly, when I remembered my dreams, they were of police attacking me or us in demonstrations. I do not think I dreamt out of fear as am very courageous and was often talking ot them to see why it was wrong to torture people or not to allow us to demosntrate and that it was a pity they went against us with such roughness when we were fighting for principles which if they disappear on a society- when no one is vigilant- irreparable damage is done, damage which haunts a society for generations as you well know.
Well, I had one more dream in those early days and I recorded it as I used to record my police nightmares. It was a dream which only had one word in my Mother tongue and you are the one who said it. The word is, ‘huranira’, which I would translate as ‘struggle for me’ although the root of the word, hura, mens beat..which also includes struggle as in many languages of the earth. This dream was short but so clear, I sent it to a friend. And it is this dream and the history of my mother language that has made me write to you. But still before my questions, let me share with you a little more.
I would like to write a happy letter to you. The kind of letter which you would celebrate, a letter which would leave you smiling and not recalling the pains you have had nor the pains of Africa. I always see in a bracket that a time of greater happiness for Africa was knocking at our doors when you were in prison and that we failed to seize it and keep it intact, for you and for our children, so that when you came out prison our celebrations would last. I refer to the time one breathed deeply hearing Nyerere speak, the time of Nkurumah, the time of Pan Africanism with all the names in it from Blyden to Marley and in between all those powerful people like Lumumba Patrice, Sankara, Seko Toure and our American and Latin American brothers and so on.. Azikiwe Nnamdi.. and so many others.. and yourself.
Today we also have voices we can glory in; the elders of Africa: Mandela, Koffi Annan, Graca Machel, Wangari Maathai, Desmond Tutu, Ellen Jonson and others I may not know and perhaps of some in the list we may not all agree.
Now, my three questions. Africa has disconnected itself from its ancestors as a continent.. what do we do when it is so obvious for instance that Kenya prefers to forget persons like Kimathi wa Wachiuri, Me katilili wa Menza, Somoei Arap Koitalel and then rush in to call for help when things go wrong because we have destroyed the silent place in every leader/politician that must be distilled to know that Africa cannot play around longer with issues of justice and freedom? Why should there be Africans in exile now, after your own imprisonment and the exile of many others in the past? Why so many refugees even? Why should Somali children be happy to fall and play in the snow.. if they cannot return home too to play in their little rivers and sunshine? I would not mind if they could play in both countries. Doesn't the blood of famous children such as the children of Soweto and other martyrs such as Biko and Chris Hani suffice?
Africa is so blessed. So full of resources, so full of human love.. ubuntu. .but what prevents us from spreading the power of liberation that vibrated with song from south to north and east to west?Who rules the world Mandela? Who makes DRC such a pittance to look at when it is so rich? Who makes Somalia fail when for 15 years she resisted the British attacks at Darvenish?
My other question how will we save our languages of ancestry if they are spoken by people who refuse to use even traditional democracy to help integrate us all? Why should we, women be proud of my ethnic group that first of all does not count on me and then when there is trouble am suddenly thrown into its brackets to be blamed for being this or that tribe and sometimes even killed? Yet,if I forego my mother language and links with culture, does that mean that my ancestors will abandon me? Who will help us make clear that ancestors like Shaka Zulu fought for justice for the people they belonged to as they knew them then but now will fight for all of Africa. Who is helping us define our identity in the struggle? Who can unite Africa?
Do we agree that our languages are weapons of war when they conserve so much wisdom in their proverbs? Who is stealing us?
Now, then, the last question refers to your message in the dream. Are you looking for young Africans, the other generation like Obama’s that is not showing up with enough strength in my country, to go and meet leadership at the grassroots and generate hope for a world in trouble? Are you truly saying to me and to many others, huranira.. struggle for me? I hope so. Your brave words encouraging new leadership even if few are badly needed and will always be remembered.
I urge you to stay with us Mandela. Do not go. The night and the day are both as long as the evening shadow, the sun has refused to stand still at midday so that we can show the brilliance of Africa with her skirt spread out proudly yet decently carrying her children on all her sides.. making strides. Do not go and if you must, as we all must, tell Dennis Brutus to make a team up there or down there with the ancestors because still the struggle is long. Still it has not started. Stay with us, Mandela, do not go the going of the gone. Stay in our dreams. Let me hold on to mine. And work to teach the children that all of you did not labour in vain. This then, is my message to you. I must give it in tears and in pain, but I am a word, a story and I was born to tell.
With all my affection and with my wounds open sincerely, to heal Africa, if you bless me now, because after, I may stagger with doubts. I ask for that blessing now, father of our people.