It’s about that time of the year where we here at Will This Be A Problem present our annual anthology. This year, we tried something a little different from the usual. For the 2016 anthology, we opted to incorporate an open call for submissions. The theme was Speculative Fiction and we received stories from across the continent.
And so, I present the stories our judges picked for the anthology.
“The Mortuary Man” by Mark Lekan Lalude (Nigeria) “What Happens When It Rains” by Michelle Angwenyi (Kenya) “Future Long Since Passed” by Lausdeus Otito Chiegboka (Nigeria) “The World is Mine” by Kris Kabiru (Kenya) “The Real Deal” by James Kariuki (Kenya)
A bonus story from WTBAP:
“The Last History” by Kevin Rigathi
And the prize winning story –
“Rise of the Akafula” by Andrew Charles Dakalira (Malawi)
The 3rd issue of our anthology will be released in the coming days. For now, see this beautiful cover art by Peter Marco, based on the winning story.
The African short story is an established art form, as is the African storyteller. It is a comfortable format, requiring less commitment from both the writer and reader, but still delivering an engaging experience. In the case of Tropical Fish, an anthology from Ugandan author Doreen Baingana, eight stories are woven together into a satisfying whole. The premise: three sisters – Patti, Rosa and Christine Mugisha – come of age casually and normally in Entebbe, in a post-Idi Amin Uganda. He does not make a personal appearance (unlike the cleverly named President Munino) but his shadow looms long – Indians forcibly expatriated, roads unrepaired, universities descendent.
Against this background different moments are lifted from time to map the departure from childhood worlds invented for the fun of it to worlds invented for survival – the worlds in which adults take refuge. This larger scope is neatly encapsulated in the very first story, “Green Stones”, using Christine’s voice. The most introspective sister, Christine can be considered the main character, and in her memories we find the moments when sunlit motes turn from floating molten gold to signs that someone somewhere didn’t dust well enough.
The short story structure does leave a few moments of discontinuity – Christine’s later travels, for example, are of uncertain motive. Rosa and Patti are only a year apart and apparently attend the same high school, but seem bafflingly oblivious to each other. Certainly a sister’s presence in the same school would have had an effect on Patti’s suffering and Rosa’s experiments – whether helpful or not. Formative events also have no cumulative effect – once an episode is closed it is closed, with very little reference to it later.
Considered on their own, the short stories are all of good quality, varied enough in tone that different readers are bound to have different favourites. Special mention must be made of “A Thank You Note”, Rosa’s declaration of life and war. In this story as well as “Passion”, her voice is deliberate and bold in its determination to experience life through sensuality. “Thank You Note” in particular is wonderfully written, evocative and cynical and eminently self-aware. Talk about a refusal to go quietly into the night! It is defiant life screaming refusal at the abyss, Edith Piaf singing about regretting nothing, nothing at all. A life measured and accepted as hers, chosen deliberately and whose consequences are accepted with dignity. Against considerable odds, Rosa chooses her way and is satisfied.
This attitude is a key illustration of how calmly sex is handled in these stories – as something to be explored, tamed and ultimately owned through consent, experimentation and reproductive health. The tone is never preachy, and so natural curiosity and exploration co-exist comfortably with a “lifelong training to catch a suitable mate.” It is treated with as much consideration as religion, something which takes much deeper hold with Patti than her sisters. Patti is not mocked or made out to be a fanatic, except perhaps by her less enlightened classmates. Ms. Bangaina, it seems, is commendably capable of allowing for multiple ways of being.
Indeed this multiplicity, a prime component of the immigrant’s arsenal, is something Christine struggles to gain when she leaves Uganda. Questions of identity and home arise in the final tales, where the romantic turns prosaic. Christine dabbles in white men and goes abroad, and after a long sojourn as a foreigner, truly becomes one on her return. She is caught in the classic trap for those who try to carry home within them – the realization that this is the only place the home they visualise exists. Beyond this, then, what is one todo? Accept reality or change it?
When it comes to her questions of identity there seems to be the same self-consciousness present in much of African literature: an avoidance of the Western gaze so deliberate it sketches out a negative space that still identifies it. Here we are, Africans reading and writing about Africa, not anybody else. The search for representation that we all feel consciously or not – is this what creates characters who search for missing connections in the novels they read? It grows into the self-conscious irony seen in the mild derision Christine feels for Zac, who has convinced himself he is black American, or in the crowd of bayaye who yell insults at a white man in a language comprehended only by his black, female companion.
The inclusions of local language and games and food in the books we read are regularly recognised and remarked upon. And so for a book that chronicles the early experiences of young women – a description that would fit many of the books I loved when I was younger – I wonder what my reaction would have been to these inclusions if I read it then. Would I have so obviously appreciated them? Would they still be felt as a homecoming? Before I ever listened to Chimamanda and others wryly comment that Blyton gave no explanations for lacrosse or snow, before I ever met Achebe through curriculum-mandated set books – would I have just enjoyed the stories, free of the burden of analysis? And yet – would that same self have picked this book off the shelf at all, or ignored it in favour of other options simply because it was written by an African and so probably not my thing?
In any event, meta analysis aside, I’m glad I read Tropical Fish, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good, quick read that is equal parts thoughtful and entertaining.
(Nairobi-based readers may buy a copy of Tropical Fish online from Magunga.com)
This time, we’re doing something a little different for the Will This Be A Problem Anthology. A public call out.
The theme this year is Speculative Fiction set in African countries and we will be accepting short stories from any African citizen.
Here are the submission guidelines.
Your story can be Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Magical Realism, Alternate History or an unholy mash of any them.
While your story must be set in an an African country, feel free to place it in any timeline you please. You may also set it in alternate versions of these countries. i.e. A Kenya that was never colonized.
Our target length is between 2000-5000 words. However this is just a baseline, if the story is strong enough it can be longer or shorter.
Last night I went to see a movie with a friend (Star Trek Beyond if you’re curious). There was some weird mix up at IMAX and we ended up at a later showing than we had intended. When we left the theatre, it was around midnight.
When I think of scary places at night, the image that often comes to mind is full of darkness, shifty strangers and narrow alleyways. That’s not what this night was like. We were on a wide street, it was perfectly lit and while we didn’t know the people on the street, most of them were policemen on patrol; recognizable figures. Perhaps in some places in the world that means you’re safe — Nairobi is not one of those places.
We weren’t really panicked or anything. We only had one street to cross after all. A minute or so and we’d be on our way home. We just acted casual and walked. That’s the thing with situations like this, you see the police and you want to believe that these are the good ones. There’s always that little bit of hope that things will turn out well this time. You’re not doing anything wrong and so they won’t bother you, right?
One of them stepped right in front of us and asked to see our IDs.
When I was telling this story to my boss today, he stopped me before I got to that part to ask “Police? Did you have your IDs?” He asked because he knows what most of us know. There’s a kind of step by step to an encounter like this with the police and this is where it usually begins. They don’t want the ID to identify you, they’re just probing. They’re looking for a mistake, an error on your part. Your ID is a bit of a shield. Having it won’t protect you exactly, but it will likely determine how far they’re going to push you, how much they feel they can squeeze. If you don’t have it, you’re likely in for a long and terrible night.
We pulled out our IDs and he didn’t even pretend to look at them. When an ID is only interesting in its absence, you know what kind of story this is going to be. What happened next might as well be part of a script or a handbook.
There was the leading question: “What are you doing walking around at this time of night?”
The false incredulity: “A movie!? What kind of movie shows at this time? No no no. I don’t believe it. Let me see the receipt.”
The first hint: “Oh, I see, you have a lot of money to be spending on movies.”
The handcuffs on my wrists followed by the threat: “Lorry yetu iko pale. Mtalala cell.”
The I’m-doing-this-to-teach-you-a-lesson speech: “You people make our work very hard, you know that? Your friend here, if she were to be walking at this time and she got raped, you know we will be blamed? When you report, will you say you were coming from a movie, eh?”
A mix of threats and meandering speeches suggesting that some great crime was committed, though never specifying exactly what it is, all leading to the finale. The ask for a bribe. “If you want to go…you have to pay a fine.”
At this point I started getting angry. Not because we were getting robbed by police but how familiar it all was. I knew this, all of it. I’ve heard of and seen and gone through so many variations of this scene that I know the steps. I’ve been robbed more times like this by policemen than I have by what we normally call thieves. It’s just how it is. And surely, how can that be normal? How can that possibly be so normal that I was getting impatient for him to get to the punch? To just ask for his bribe and then leave us alone?
So, I thought about calling his bluff. Seeing what happens if you don’t capitulate. I wanted to fight, to push back, to do something other than the usual song and dance. But a quick look around told me to do none of that. First, there were a lot of them. I think there were 10 on that street alone, and we had seen others walking around. There was almost no one else. Second, they were in military garb with no identifying number or anything I could see. I don’t know what that means and I didn’t want to find out just then. Third, My friend was somewhere to the side surrounded by about 4 of them. I don’t know what they were telling her but I figured maybe today was not the day to be testing boundaries. Best to end this as quickly as possible and leave.
I paid, he gave me a stern warning about this vague crime I should never repeat and uncuffed me.
I’ve heard people say that the police get a bad rap. That people only report the negative, never the good they do. This is probably true. But I know that my image of the police is not just from the media, it’s from experience. It’s from how I, and the people I know, have interacted with them. Because, when you think about it, what happened last night was a robbery wasn’t it? It was a shake down … and it was business as usual. Even as we talked with the policeman, he knew I knew what this was and he expected me to act accordingly. It was a role he was familiar with and he accepted it easily.
Just this Friday, a friend’s workmate was stopped by the police in Westlands. He and his friends were leaving a club going to look for some food. It was pretty much the same story but he didn’t pay up and so they locked him up for being drunk and disorderly. He doesn’t drink.
One of my friends has been in the same situation twice recently. Once he got arrested for running to the police because he was being chased by thieves.
None of this is new. We have all heard and seen things like this. But for some reason, last night actually got me thinking. Not of solutions, I have none. It made me wonder the last time I didn’t at least in the back of my mind think of the police as some kind of danger to be avoided. When it became so commonplace that I stopped noticing how crazy all of this is. And most of all, it made me wonder if I can even imagine this country when the police not only feel safe, but like they’re the people protecting us. Wouldn’t that be something.
“There is no moral. I just felt like telling you a story.”
Before narratives became a Buzzfeed-era buzzword, they were made of music and prose and poetry: vehicles of information as old as humanity itself. The world as we know it has amply provided certain types of narrative that as consumers we then modify with our own nuances. But the world is becoming both bigger and smaller and modification of a larger [mostly Western] narrative with a local flavour is no longer enough. We need to know about the other cultures that exist, islands like our own in a sea of Made-In-China-For-America pop culture. For this reason there are increasing calls for stories from the marginalized for the marginalized.
Born On A Tuesday by Nigerian author Elnathan John is one such story. Through its narrator Dantala we sit in on seven years in the life of a Hausa boy as he deals with challenges both ordinary and extraordinary. Dantala’s growing pains and joys take place in a radicalizing state in Northern Nigeria – a place arguably less fictionalized and explored in mainstream Nigerian literature than say Lagos or Enugu.
Elnathan John has been quoted as saying Northern Nigeria has no demand for nuance, which may explain the almost bare style with which he handles language and plot. Descriptions are perfunctory, deaths are banal, and violence is so casual that you can be halfway through a paragraph before realizing the people in it are under attack. It makes it hard to deeply engage with the events and characters, most of whom are sketched in broad strokes. Despite this a layered complexity is still present, especially in the depiction of the religious and political landscape.
As a reader with a Christian background in an increasingly Islamophobic world, it seems unusual to encounter a novel where the milieu is entirely Muslim, and positively so. There is a pervasive sense of community, especially in the calls to prayer and rhythms of life wherein resides the comfort and security that remains one of the chief attractions of organised religion. Questions of fate and the existence of evil, difficulties of interpretation and the resultant frictions are tackled in conversations between characters as well as Dantala’s own inner voice. Thus, beliefs and tenets are explored that would otherwise be mere stereotype, or banners around which the non-Islamic world is called to rally in fear.
The mosque is a natural refuge for Dantala, one to which he often returns and finds succour. His life is rooted in it, and while religion seems to hamper for him the excitements of his peers, he is perfectly happy to think himself above pursuits such as football and pranks. However, it also complicates his relationship with sex, which is very tainted in this book – the only sex that is described as worth a happy giggle is in an illicit affair, which is a shame. It is commendably inclusive, though, with sodomy being treated no more or less haram. Dantala is just as anguished by and afraid of homoerotic wet dreams as he is of his first sexual encounter with another person – a hand job from an unnamed female prostitute.
Perhaps it is these difficulties that lead him to treat women with none of the compassion we come to expect from him, and it is frustrating to read. It is hard to decide whether this is a reflection on the narrator, the society he lives in, or the author. Female characters in the book play one of two roles: either mother/provider, or whore. Interestingly, Aisha, the main love interest, manages to be both. While still in her dimpled, big-breasted maidenly bloom, she reminds Dantala of his Umma, but once she is married sports a gold Mecca tooth, as last seen in – surprise, surprise – the prostitute’s mouth. Women suffer in the sidelines of this book, which in itself is not unusual as everyone does. However, they are denied any means of survival apart from being long-suffering and enduring. In a book already short on levity there is painfully little female laughter.
To describe this as a coming of age story is inaccurate, as everything Dantala will become by book’s end he already is when we first meet him under the kuka tree. He is unhappy with the world as it exists but his fatalistic acceptance of it allows him to move through time and space with resilience. It is this resilience and instinct for survival that make sure there is a story to tell at all. His escapes from peril mean there is always a new episode in a rather circular repetitive life, and against considerable odds the book manages to end on a note of continuity – life goes on, if and as Allah wills it.
Overall this scores a ⅗, and would probably score higher if it passed the Bechdel. (Nairobi-based readers may buy a copy of Born On A Tuesday online from Magunga.com)
This year has seen quite a number of fires in schools and it appears the students are the ones setting them. I’ve kept up with the questions asked and the solutions discussed but I don’t intend to throw my hat into that particular ring today. I will only say that, as many have already suggested, if you actually want to get to the why of the fires, you must involve students in that conversation. What I do want to discuss is a spin off topic that’s grown from all of this; the relationship between schools and their students.
There is something very wrong with how Kenyan schools view their students. I am of the opinion that many don’t see students as people. At least, not really. They see them as potential, as expectations, as blank slates in need of shaping and direction. More often than not, they are ‘almost people’ with no wants and desires of their own. Any frustrations and grievances they may have, so long as no law has been grossly violated, are irrelevant. When their futures are being determined, they don’t get a seat at the table. When they are accused of something, they rarely get the opportunity to even state their own motive; that too is decided for them. Any attempt to protest any of this is filed under the catch all phrase– disrespect of one’s elders.
“There’s a word for people our age. They call us children and they treat us like mice”
– Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card.
This does not always start at the schools mind you. The older generation would have their children believe that they were all first in their class, that they wasted no time on frivolous entertainment and that their school lives were spent studying at all times except when they absolutely had to do something else. While the ubiquity of this story among Kenyan parents is actually kind of funny, the hilarity tends to fade when it presents very real expectations. Impossible levels of focus and dedication to school work are often demanded without regard for how ridiculous they actually are. No one, let alone people of school going age, can possibly sustain that kind of thing. Yet, it is treated as failure if they don’t.
If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they start to fidget.
– Sir Ken Robinson
The school system is founded upon impossible expectations towards a group of people that we don’t acknowledge are in fact, just that, ordinary people. It’s why so often we subject students to conditions that we would not willingly agree to endure. Parallels have been drawn between some schools and jails. The leadership systems that many schools employ lean heavily towards fascist ideals (Strong leaders who must be harsh to the point of violence and resort to rule through fear in order to maintain social order). It is a mess.
But how is this the case? How has this system not only endured for so long but actually been defended as right? I suppose it comes down to the fact that most of it is not malicious but is actually well intended. Children are complicated and not renowned for their fine decision making, this is no secret. They are a challenge. Those charged with the responsibility of educating and taking care of them often see the difficulty of the task, want to do the job well but there is just no clear path there. And, it would be so easy if there was one, wouldn’t it? A one size fits all set of solutions that could be reached for any time. A profile of the student mind that could be referred to whenever necessary. Simple motives that could be attributed in any situation. This would all make every school’s, and even parent’s, work so much easier. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. Even more unfortunately, we like to pretend that it does.
If we do not do these things, we will get undisciplined, lazy brats who do not respect their elders. There is no other way that works. Spare the rod, spoil the child. That is often the root of the reasoning. It’s a good story, a safe one. Safe because it gives control. It simplifies the matter into actions and consequences that make for easy decisions. It becomes the only easy thing in a complicated, high stakes matter. It makes the responsibility bite sized and more palatable, especially if you are in charge of other people’s children. Tempting as it is, the story is flawed and must be rejected.
But if we are to dismiss this story, then what is the alternative? What has to be done? Well, first one has to accept that students are individuals. To listen to them. To treat everything on a case by case basis and find the answers that are most helpful to the people involved. I don’t say that lightly by the way, I understand just how complex that would be. The workload alone would be near impossible, not to say anything of how to do it right. And because they are young, and don’t make the finest of decisions, the students would no doubt try and take advantage of such a system. I acknowledge all of that. But this matter will never be easy. And if anyone is to accept responsibility for educating and raising children, shouldn’t they aim for the very best regardless of the difficulty?
The truth is, the easier way is clearly not the best. Worse, it encourages behaviour from teachers and figures of authority in schools that tend to create new problems. An example that holds in most schools is that If a teacher punishes someone for something they didn’t do, they are not allowed to protest. If they think they were wronged, they can only bring it up after they’ve done the punishment – if they dare.
I’ve always found it somewhat amusing that many teachers who subscribe to this principle will also turn around and complain about similar aspects in the politics of the country. As if they are not spending years demonstrating that truth and justice must come second to authority and power to their students. And this is not a one off. Many of the problems that we face in this country not only exist in the school system but are actively reinforced there. It is where we start to learn that accountability only goes down the chain and respect only goes up. Where we see that things that are otherwise wrong somehow become right if you have enough power.
All of that being said, my intention is not to slander teachers and schools; they do important work. Many Kenyans spend a great deal of their younger years in boarding schools and in truth are brought up by these people. But this is precisely why it is important to acknowledge the problem and it cannot be denied that there is one. The interaction between students and their schools is so often characterized by hostility and enmity that one wonders how much damage is caused by enduring such things for so long. It is a problem. A whole host of problems.Something has to give.
We often forget that as time passes, we know more. Students grow up knowing more than we did at their age and as a result they see the world differently. Our past is not truly their present. We do not know them; we do not know their experience and we cannot unless we listen.To ignore them is to invite consequences for all of us. Because, when you deny somebody a voice, ignore them unless you want to put them to work or to punish them, it cannot possibly end well. Eventually, they will find a way to make themselves heard. A way that you cannot continue to ignore. I cannot say that this is why we have been seeing these fires but we’re all paying attention now, aren’t we? It would not surprise me that if we keep ignoring the words of students, we might have to contend with learning to read smoke signals.
Decolonisation! A term I got acquainted with when I first commenced my studies at the University of Cape Town. It’s rather a peculiar term that I had never heard before and I must say, I was confused at first about its meaning or significance. How do you undo something that has already manifested itself?
My idea of colonialism stemmed from the vague education system I received in high school. The chronological events of colonialism: the Berlin West African conference, the partitioning of Africa, the arrival of missionaries and the colonial administration systems. Therefore, with such a layman’s understanding of colonialism – one that emphasized the course while neglecting the cause, the consequences, implications and effects – I really wondered what people meant when they spoke of decolonisation. Did it mean we ought to reverse the whole colonial process? As in go back to Berlin and redraw the borders and build ships and take back all the descendants of the white man? Take back all they stole from the hinterland? It sounded rather unrealistic for me.
There ought to have been more to this, perhaps I was missing out on something and was oblivious to a more conscious understanding of what colonisation was exactly and its implications.
Exploring the concept of Colonialism
Have you ever heard of the poem “the white man’s burden”? This is a poem which grasps on the idea that the white man was burdened with the task of trying to civilise the dark continent of ‘savages’. That is what they called us. To them, civilisation involved causing a paradigm shift in the mentality of the natives. It was a doctrine that regarded the natives lost souls in dire need of redemption, education and a new language. One wonders what was to be left for the natives to take pride in.
Therefore colonialism primarily involved addressing the mind of the native in a way that would lead to a people with an inferiority complex. A people who might unconsciously disdain their uniqueness, colour, customs, culture and heritage, discarding it for the culture of the white man.
Another important aspect of colonialism was the issue of divide and rule. It all started from the macro level by dividing territory without the consent of the ethnic tribes. This proved to be problematic for it meant imposing unity among different tribes and perhaps separating tribes without any consultation with those tribes. On the micro scale, this division entailed enticing enmity among the natives, tampering with and undermining their existing customs and elevating the ‘good boys’ at the expense of the traditional chiefs which resulted in tension between the former and latter.
Then, the most apparent aspect of colonialism was the extraction of Africa’s raw materials, which further boosted the economies of the metropolitan states of the colonisers while impeding Africa’s growth.
Therefore what does decolonisation entail?
If we are to address the issue of decolonisation pragmatically, in a way that does not make it ambiguous and cause confusion like it did for me when I first heard of it, we ought to begin by addressing the key elements listed above. This means for the purpose the article, trying to achieve decolonisation first entails deconstructing the mind-set and mentality of Africans. Dispositioning them from a state of inferiority to one of self-pride.
Decolonisation also entails promoting the ideology of unity and Pan Africanism. This might assist in fixing our continent which is deeply entrenched in intra conflict within states of which Politics, ethnicity and religion remain the genesis of the conflict. Decolonisation also means addressing the major problem of Africa’s resources which seem to benefit external players. We dwell in a neo colonial system that has found inconspicuous means of continuing to suck out Africa’s wealth while disguising itself as the functional global economy.
Well, is the Decolonisation Project Practical, Viable and Possible?
Knowledge is Power. Addressing the mentality of the African people will take a great amount of effort on both the people instilling this knowledge and the people receiving it. With the education system pervasive in Africa, one that emphasizes primarily on making people potential job candidates, we might not reach the level we want as a continent. We need to incorporate elements in our education system where we expose students to different narratives of African literature, ones that are also intellectual and not primarily academic. Ones that do not enforce a white supremacist doctrine. Now, we are forced to depart formal education with the mentality that civilization and modernisation is western and affiliated to whiteness, neglecting the fact that Africans and black people have made major contributions to the world’s modernity. So what we need is an education system that exposes the detrimental effects of colonialism and its impact today, while promoting a culture of breeding think tanks and problem solvers with solutions on how to fix the problem. Only then can we envisage the decolonisation Project’s success.
The problem of Unity. Unfortunately, we have not excelled on the topic of unity and we might not have taken any steps in this journey of a thousand miles. This is linked to the previous point as our education system can also endorse the agenda of uniting and appreciating each other as Africans in our distinctiveness. I am also convinced that unity should not be a concept that is only ideological but should carry practicality in it. If Africa does not promote a culture of interaction between states, through regionalisation, trading and more multilateral and bilateral relations we will always remain a delusional continent. This notion stems from the neo liberal school of thought and the ‘prisoner dilemma’ notion that states are likely to cooperate together when there are institutions that promote practical interactions and trade among them. I was impressed by the recent development as there might be an introduction of the African passport. However, its implementation remains in question.
Thwarting Neo-Colonialism. Today, Africa remains a continent that boasts of its mineral wealth but shies away from the fact that it remains an impoverished continent up to date This is the incongruent nature of Africa’s current affairs. Many will blame the international system for continuing to undermine Africa’s potential however I must state that the endurance of the enemy’s oppression is partly determined by our tolerance and acquiescence. The main problem remains political. Africa suffers from the cancer of unscrupulous leaders, who enrich themselves at the expense of the economies of their respective countries while serving the interests of the western and eastern giants hungry for Africa’s goodies. Therefore decolonisation in this regard will depend on the willingness of the leaders to prioritise national goals and the national and African vision above their self-interests.
My next article will carry the same theme as I analyse the African Union’s contribution to the decolonisation Project.
My dear friends, for the longest time, I have said that the age of heroes is long past. Alas, the 21st century is no place for vigilant groups of the righteous. King Arthur and his knights of the round table are no longer with us. Jesus and the 12 disciples are more than 2000 years gone. It appears that the virtuous no longer come together to fight the good fight. The forces of evil that corrupt the minds of men have been given free reign upon our world. And so it is with tears of unrestrained joy that I write these words, dear friends. I was wrong. The heroes are not gone. In one place, in my very own nation, they have returned.
I need not tell the virtuous among you that I can be referring to none other than the Kenya Film Classification Board or KFCB as they have styled themselves. These individuals have taken upon themselves a responsibility that many would shy away from. They have appointed themselves the thankless task of not only safeguarding the national, cultural and moral values of Kenya, but also determining what they are.
I remember the first time I saw the now infamous coca-cola advertisement. A man and a woman, kissing in broad daylight on my television before 10pm. I nearly had a heart attack. The onslaught of urges to sin and fall into temptation almost consumed me. For hours I was in a panic imagining how much worse it would be have been, had I been a child possessed with none of the mental armour of an adult. I remember how I wailed at the fall of this great nation’s morals. Which would we be if this was allowed to continue? Sodom, or Gomorrah?
Imagine my relief when I heard that someone was looking out for us defenseless Kenyans. Someone wanted to protect our feeble minds from this filth. They would watch these things and weather the storm of temptation so that we would not have to. A last line of defense. I salute and acknowledge your sacrifice great ladies and gentlemen of KFCB. Well Done. You could have been satisfied with rating films and handing out licenses, but no, that is not the path of the hero. You aspire to be more as all those meant for greatness should.
The public however, have not been kind to you despite all you have done for them. They have questioned you at every corner. Criticized all of your great work. But did you let the pressure break you? Did you relent? No you did not. You know better. You know that Kenyan citizens cannot be allowed to determine their own national values. Someone must tell them what they are. Someone wiser than they.
Their utter lack of wisdom has been shown in how some have said the horror and offensiveness we witnessed in that advertisement was just a kiss. What is harmful in a kiss on television, they have asked. The answer, dear readers, is everything. Everything about it is harmful. These things are all connected you see. A kiss on television can lead to hug in real life (yes, a hug! One with real contact between the unmarried sexes. Perish the thought). And a hug can lead to a real kiss and a real kiss can lead to things virtuous people do not speak of. If you do not believe me, look to our history, my dear Africans. Do you know how Shaka Zulu was born?
Wikipedia tells us that:
Shaka was conceived during an act of what began as ukuhlobonga, a form of sexual foreplay without penetration allowed to unmarried couples, also known as “the fun of the roads” (ama hlay endlela), during which the lovers were “carried away”
You see how so called “harmless” behaviour can escalate? And, worse, what did this Shaka do after being born? He went and fought the coming of Christianity. CHRISTIANITY! And so you see my fellow Kenyans how these TV kisses will lead to our young producing Shaka Zulus who will in turn erode our long held and cherished christian values. That is the danger, KFCB in their infinite wisdom, have seen and diligently strive to avoid.
But now that I have spoken of your good work KFCB, I need to make some suggestions. Do not take this the wrong way, I do not mean to criticize you brave souls, but there is still more to be done. There is still more evil lurking in our televisions waiting to pounce upon and corrupt our young.
Let me direct you to an advertisement that has evaded your sharp eyes (through no fault of your own I’m sure. The wicked are indeed cunning). It is the JTL Faiba ad. The one that contains this man.
Look at him. A man strutting around in a dress and carrying a handbag. And it’s not just any dress, it is an indecent one. Baring the chest and leaving the thighs almost entirely exposed. In the Same Love video incident, you told us what we should think about the unspeakable breach of our values being carried out here. Yet, this animated miscreant has been allowed to run amok on our televisions (DURING THE PRECIOUS WATERSHED HOURS) with impunity. What is this fellow encouraging our youth to look for on this internet he is peddling? Just imagine it (but do not imagine too much lest you fall into temptation and require the services of KFCB to censor your thoughts).
The next figure is even more disturbing than the last. This man has been hosted on television several times even appearing on the news.
I have asked about him and some people have made the truly shocking accusation that he is not only part of KFCB but is the CEO. I refused to believe these rumours. You would surely not fraternize with such a man as this. Surely not the great KFCB. Imagine my horror at finding out that this accusation was nothing but pure truth. I will not lie to you KFCB, it broke my heart. I felt betrayed. How could you?
Now, many of you may be too virtuous to know his crime, for this I commend you. But those of us with darker pasts know what this man is doing. How he must be taking advantage of the ignorance of the devout and moral people at KFCB. Direct your attention to this man’s face dear readers. Do you see it? Just above his his lips. You see it don’t you? That thing is something the seedier parts of world call, a 70s pornstache.
Yes, a pornstache. I know, it is shocking to speak of such things, but sometimes we need to learn of what the forces of evil are up to. That mustache this man sports was for a long time a loud and proud indicator for those men who took part in the pornographic industry. It could perhaps even be called, a badge of honour.
Now we have spoken of how small things can lead up to Shaka Zulu fighting Christianity. Imagine oh dear readers, a thing as great as the leader of Kenya’s greatest heroes, the KFCB, flashing such a thing on our televisions on all hours of the day. Imagine it’s power. The message it sends. I fear the KFCB have been infiltrated and a subliminal message is being passed on to our youths. A message that may serve to undermine all the good work KFCB has strived for.
So, KFCB, I come before you with my humble appeal. If you care, if you stand for what you claim you do. Please, I beg you, get this man off of our televisions and, if possible, away from a place anyone can see or hear from him and thus be taken down the path of darkness. In the name of all that is holy, do not allow the fibres of this wicked man’s pornstache to corrupt and entangle the moral fibre of the Kenyan people. Do your duty KFCB. Let no one ever hear from this man ever again.
Racebending is a term used to describe a process where a character’s perceived race or ethnicity is changed in a narrative by an adapter as it is created in a new media form. Racebending also takes the name of Whitewashing when white actors and actresses are chosen to play characters of people of color, sometimes using make up to make them look black , asian, non -white latinos, south asian etc. (this very offensive practice is known as blackface , yellowface or brownface).
One of the most recent and criticized examples of whitewashing in Hollywood, is the movie Exodus directed by Ridley Scott. This movie is a super production that tells the biblical story of Moses and Ramses, and the flight of the Hebrews from Egypt. Despite the fact that the characters are supposed to be inhabitants of ancient Egypt and Hebrews, the main characters are played by white actors and actresses , relaying actors of colors to secondary roles.
Another example of shameless whitewashing is the movie Stonewall, released in 2015. This movie tells the story of the Stonewall riots, considered as the starting point of the fight for LGBT rights in the USA. Those identified as being at the origins of those riots are Marsha P. Johnson, an African American trans woman and Sylvia Riviera, a trans woman of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan origin, both Drag Queens and activists of the gay and transsexual movement. In the movie they are replaced by the fictional character of a young white man. Here, the whitewashing falsifies history and invisbilizes the contribution of LGBT people of color in the fight for their rights, and all of this in a society where LGBT people of color are already quite invisibilized.
In France we have the example of the movie « L’autre Dumas » released in 2010, which tells the life of the writer Alexandre Dumas, author of the famous novel « The Three Musketeers ». It’s the french actor Gérard Depardieu who was chosen to play this character.
Why is this whitewashing so insulting? Let me explain it to you : in France the History of black people is completely invisibilized, our contributions to this country and our historic role in its construction are ignored. As author Leonora Miano writes in her book Tels des astres éteints, “we have not been entered into the family tree of France.”
A black child attending school in France will not only learn nothing about the important black historical figures of France (Le Chevalier de Saint Georges, Toussaint Louverture, Alexandre Dumas, Félix Eboué etc.), but is rather likely to come across teachers who will tell him/her that colonization did have positive effects or that the « black code » was created to protect slaves.
Alexandre Dumas was a mixed race man with light skin, which is obvious in the portraits that represent him. So why using Gerard Depardieu to play his role ? Following the controversy that followed the movie, some people responded : « Alexandre Dumas is not black, he is French ». I can not help but smile, noting once again that France loves to acknowledge its people of color only when it’s convenient, while the rest of the time this people are ostracized from this nationality and are reminded every day that they are not French enough and never will be. Alexandre Dumas was French AND black, and I doubt that his ethnic origins would have been a small detail in his life given the era in which he lived and the social environments he was part of. Furthermore, if race is of so little importance in the representation of historical figures, I look forward to seeing the actor Omar Sy playing the role of Louis XIV -the sun king, and the actress Aissa Maiga playing the role of Marie Antoinette. We all know very well that this will never happen.
Racebending also involves using people of color to play characters perceived as white, in order to address the lack of diversity in movies and series. Obviously this does not please everyone as recently demonstrated by the controversy surrounding the possibility that the actor Idris Elba could play the role of James Bond. The role of James Bond is not in itself limited by race because his main characteristic is being a subject of the Queen , which means that any British actor could play this role. However, it is clear that seeing famous characters being embodied on the screen by people of color, irritates many people. This also comes from the fact that the characters are by default considered to be white, even when nothing specifies it; so white actors and actresses are by default chosen to play these characters.
Recently a black actress was chosen to play the role of Hermione in a live stage adaptation of Harry Potter. This choice has raised many negative reactions, until the author JK Rowling herself tweeted this: « Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever.White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione. » Indeed nothing in the book specifies that Hermione is a white girl.
Between blatant whitewashing and controversy caused by the choice of actors and actresses of color to portray characters perceived as white. People of color have found the solution: to write their own narratives and go behind the camera. There are many initiatives in that direction and not surprisingly, a big part of them are taking place on the internet. We will discuss this topic in the third and final part of this article.
Le Racebending est un terme utilisé pour décrire un processus où la race ou l’origine ethnique perçue d’un personnage est modifié dans un récit lorsqu’il est adapté dans une nouvelle forme de médias.Le racebending prend aussi le nom de Whitewashing (blanchissage) lorsque des acteurs et actrices blanches sont utilisé.e.s pour jouer des personnages de couleurs, parfois en les grimant (cette pratique très offensante prend le nom de blackface, yellowface, brownface en fonction de l’origine ethnique censée être représentée).
L’un des exemples les plus récents, les plus flagrants et les plus critiqués de whitewashing á Hollywood concerne le film Exodus réalisé par Ridley Scott. Ce film est une super production qui raconte l’histoire biblique de Moise et Ramsès, et la fuite des hébreux d’Égypte. Malgré le fait que les personnages soient supposés être des habitants de l’’Egypte antique et des hébreux, les personnages principaux sont incarnés par des acteurs et actrices blanches, relayant les acteurs de couleurs aux rôles secondaires et á la figuration.
Un autre exemple de whitewashing éhonté est le fim Stonewall sorti en 2015. Ce film retrace les émeutes de Stonewall, considérées comme le point de départ de la lutte pour les droits des personnes LGBT aux Etats Unis. Les personnes identifiées comme étant á l’origine de ces émeutes sont Marsha P. Jonhson d’origine afro américaine et Sylvia Riviera d’origine portoricaine et vénézuélienne, toutes deux Drag Queens et activistes du mouvement gay et transexuel. Dans le film ces deux personnes sont remplacées un personnage fictif de jeune homme blanc. Ici,le whitewashing sert á une falsification de l’histoire, en contribuant á l’invisibilisation de l’apport des personnes racisées au mouvement LGBT, et ce dans une société ou les personnes LGBT de couleur sont déjà assez invisibilisées.
En France nous avons eu l’exemple du film L’autre Dumas sorti en 2010, retraçant la vie de l’écrivain Alexandre Dumas, auteur du célèbre roman « Les trois mousquetaires », et qui a été incarné á l’écran par l’acteur Gérard Depardieu.
Pourquoi ce whitewashing est-il si insultant ? Commençons par le commencement : en France l’Histoire des noir.e.s est totalement occultée, nos apports á ce pays et notre rôle historique dans sa construction sont passés sous silence. Comme l’explique l’auteure Leonara miano dans son livre Tels des astres éteints, nous avons n’avons pas été entrés dans l’arbre généalogique de la France . Un enfant noir allant à l’école en France non seulement n’apprendra rien sur les grands personnages historiques noirs de France (Le Chevalier de Saint Georges, Toussaint Louverture, Alexandre Dumas, Félix Eboué etc. ), mais est plutôt susceptible de tomber sur des professeurs qui lui diront que la colonisation a quand même eu des effets positifs ou que le code noir a été créer pour protéger les esclaves.
Alexandre Dumas était un métis à la peau claire, ce qui se voir très clairement dans les portraits qui le représentent. Alors pourquoi utiliser Gerard Depardieu pour l’incarner ? Suite à la polémique qui a suivi la diffusion du film, certains ont répondu : « Alexandre Dumas n’est pas noir il est français’’. Je ne peux m’empêcher de sourire en remarquant encore une fois qu’on adore franciser les personnes racisées lorsque c’est convenant, tandis que le reste du temps ces personnes sont ostracisées de cette sacro-sainte nationalité et qu’on adore leur rappeler qu’ils ne sont pas assez français et qu’ils ne le seront jamais . Alexandre Dumas était français ET noir, et je doute que ses origines ethniques n’aient été qu’un détail dans sa vie compte tenu de l’époque à laquelle il vivait et des milieux qu’ils fréquentaient. De plus, si la race a tellement peu d’importance dans la représentation des personnages historiques, j’attends avec impatience de voir Omar sy dans le rôle du Roi soleil et Aissa Maiga dans le rôle de Marie Antoinette. Nous savons très bien que ça n’arrivera jamais.
Le Racebending consiste également à utiliser des personnes de couleur pour jouer les rôles de personnages perçus comme blancs, pour faire face au manque de diversité dans les films et les séries. Bien évidemment cela ne plait pas à tout le monde comme l’a montré récemment la polémique autour de la possibilité que l’acteur Idriss Elba joue le rôle de James Bond. Le rôle de James Bond n’est pas en soi limité par sa race car il est supposé être un sujet de la reine, ce qui suppose que n’importe quel acteur britannique pourrait jouer ce rôle. Mais il est clair que voir des personnages célèbres incarnés à l’écran par des personnes racisées irrite beaucoup de gens. Cela vient aussi du fait que les personnages sont par défaut considérés comme blancs, même si rien ne le précise; des acteurs et actrices blanches sont donc par défaut utiliser pour jouer ces personnages.
Récemment une actrice noire a été choisie pour jouer le rôle d’Hermione dans une adaptation théâtrale du live Harry Potter. Ce choix a soulevé de nombreuses réactions négatives, jusqu’à ce que l’auteure JK rowling tweet elle-même ceci : « Canon : les yeux marrons, les cheveux frisés et très intelligente. La peau blanche n’a jamais été précisée. JK Rowling adore la Hermione noire« . En effet rien dans le livre ne précise qu’Hermione est une jeune fille blanche.
Entre whitewashing flagrant et vives polémiques causées par le choix d’acteurs et d’actrices racisées pour représenter des personnages perçus comme blancs. Les personnes racisées ont trouvé la solution : écrire leurs propres narratives et passer derrière la camera. De nombreuses initiatives vont dans ce sens et sans surprise tout ça se passe en grande partie sur internet. Nous aborderons ce thème dans la troisième et dernière partie de cet article.