Kenyan Youth Trapped By Chains of Despair


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And so he chained himself to his grandfathers’ statue?

Kenyan media in their usual fashion gave this a cursory event of the day coverage. This perturbs me. I am disturbed by the lack of interrogation of this incident. The disturbance that it calls and creates not only in the day to day life within that particular street [I can only imagine how horrendous traffic was at that moment] but also I am particularly distressed by that it took the grandmother of the chained man to come to Nairobi and through tears cajole him to unchain himself from the statue and ‘come home’.

If you have watched the video and hopefully understand the language, the nuances of a grandmother calling you ‘cucu’ may not be lost on you. It is a term of endearment. It is a term mainly used in delicate situations. It is a term that not many boys past adolescent want to be called – at least not publicly. And yet, this young man was willing to take that risk. To be called ‘cucu’ by his grandmother in full glare of media cameras and in-front of maybe his spouse, uncles, aunties, cousins and extended family.

I am struck by a couple of things;

First is the use of a chain to bind himself to his grandfather. The grandfather whose colonial-history penned by the status quo tell us was the lead general in the fight for Kenya’s independence – an unshackling from colonial chains as it were. The younger Kimathi chose to chain himself to him. As if to say, ” you were part of the people that unshackled us from the colonial powers, I am still shackled to you grandfather”.

It is not lost on me that the remains of Dedan Kimathi are allegedly still buried inside Kamiti Maximum Prison [an angle some media houses chose]. Kenya got independence that Dedan Kimathi and his troops went to the forest for, Kimathi the man is still physically imprisoned in his grave inside a maximum prison. His grandson chains himself to the statue, an embodiment of a fighting spirit – is the grandsons chaining himself to this statue a symbolic gesture of his own enslavement? A protest against an artificial freedom?

Second; his insistence that he will remain chained to hia grandfather’s statue and that the only person who can get him to unchain himself, is his grandmother. A pre-meditated strategy one may presume. This flummoxes me. Within Gikuyu culture [I am not an expert here and stand to be corrected] when there are difficulties between a son and his biological father, the next person for arbitration is what is referred to as ” Older father” – i.e. your fathers elder brother. It is a patriarchal setup where women do not ‘meddle’ with ‘male business’. … until a time when they are directly asked to by a council of elders. What is it about the grandmother that had this young man appeal and respect her so? The grandmother, Mukami Kimathi, travelled all the way from Kinangop to intervene. Even a phone call would not do. The picture of the old lady weeping as she beseeched her grandson to unchain himself left an indelible mark in my conscience. I ponder, where is his father? His Mother? His uncle? His ‘elder father”? What does the grandmother represent that the patriarchal arbitration hierarchy could not? The media was abuzz with news of the former PMs son being ensnared by the terror that is alco-blow, I wonder if he conjured images, spirit and wisdom of his grandfather as he awaited that judgment.

Some-thing has been snatched from an entire generation such that children are now looking to their grandparents for ‘redemption’ and as figures of authority and respect. It seems there is a truncation of the process to manhood. Could this also be a symptom of a truncation in the process of Kenya moving from being an independent state to an independent ‘nation’? Where are our ‘older dads’ as a society?

The third generation curse: those in the know some times subscribe to that notion that the sins of your fathers shall be passed to their sons unto the 3rd generation. News reports indicate that his biggest grievance is that his family has been ‘forgotten’ by the state, he was lamenting unkept promises and the malaise of anticipation for reparations. Could it be that his helplessness symbolizes a festering frustration among young people? Days of “leaders of tomorrow’ rhetoric are not over. Promises to and for the youth abound especially during the campaign period. These promises are halfway met. Youth view them with skepticism. Couple that with a ‘get rich or die trying’ or ‘hustler’ culture that has deeply entrenched itself in our society. The implications is that enjoying the fruits of these promises are still out of reach for many youth. Young semi educated, socially emasculated men caught up in this cultural frenzy have taken to inebriation as an escape route. Could chaining himself to his grandfather be a call for attention from his father? A week earlier we witnessed the emotional virality of #BabaWhileYouWereAway. If you are a “baba” are you being a ‘baba’ or doing ‘baba’? Do your sons go above you to seek solace, advice and direction from their grandparents?

Finally as I mulled on these and other perspectives of this incident, I asked myself, “If I had known earlier that he would chain himself to Dedan Kimathi’s statue, would I have chained myself with him? Would I have dared to stand up with and next to him? Would I have dared to be ‘my brothers’ keeper”?

This may pass as an incident by an insolent young man; however, the symbolism of it points to much larger societal issues – sins and consequent wounds bequeathed to a generation; grandmothers as guardians of values and understanding; a bludgeoning generation anxious to finally enjoy the fruits of freedom only to realize it’s “Not Yet Uhuru”.

Peter Irungu is a social justice practitioner. He comments on social, cultural and policy issues affecting social justice for Kenyans. Twitter: @irungupeter email:”

-The Star

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