The Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) office is located off Juja road in Nairobi’s Eastlands. It is situated in a single-storeyed building planted right at the edge of Mathare Valley. The building stands out in contrast to the sea of tightly packed shanty dwellings with rusty brown tin roofs dissected into two parts by the congested Mau Mau road running through the bottom of the valley. Dark grey smoke rises from the valley depths and one catches a glimpse of the murky waters of the Mathare river flowing parallel to the busy throughway. Visitors are primed to see ruins and deprivation, but residents speak of its beauty. A Rastafarian man named Jah Driver told me to think of Mathare as a chocolate city, and in a phrase, that captured the essence of Mathare’s complex sensory qualities.
Bagamoyo is in my 10 historic destinations to visit in Africa. Also on the list is the House of Slaves and its Door of No Return museum on Goree Island in Senegal that is a memorial to the victims of the Atlantic Slave trade. However, it is Bagamoyo that I have to start with next door in Tanzania. For a long time Bagamoyo was a name out of the sketchy history lessons in school. I knew little about the East African slave trade, the notoriety of the slaver Tippu Tip and the slave markets of Zanzibar. My reading of slavery in pre colonial Africa dwelt on the Trans Atlantic slave trade that devastated Central and West Africa.
You cannot sing African music in proper English – Fela Kuti
Now, more than 40 years later, it might be difficult to imagine that Kenyan Benga music was associated with freedom fighters in Rhodesia’s Bush War (the Chimurenga) in the late 1960s through to the late 1970s. In the fight to end white minority rule for the soul of a new Zimbabwe, the homeland of a black majority, Benga music embodied the liberation spirit. The music of D.O. (Daniel Owino) Misiani, George Ramogi, George Ojijo, Collela Mazee and Victoria Jazz is what Zimbabweans in the 70s in rural townships stamped their feet and swayed to in the hope of a new future for Zimbabwe.
Rikki Stein was Fela’s friend and manager for 15 odd years. He spent a decade with Fela’s blessing, digitally re-mastering and releasing his entire catalogue and was involved in the creation and production of the Broadway musical Fela! This is the obituary Rikki wrote about his friend, following Fela’s passing on August 2nd 1997.
Timothy Murere Njoya is a retired Presbyterian minister, a human rights activist and a theologian. During the repressive Moi regime, Njoya turned the church pulpit into a platform to demand for political and social justice reforms in Kenya. Njoya was among the leading lights in the 80s and 90s from the church who mustered the nerve to speak out against the brutality of Moi’s government. He is also a prolific writer and as I came to learn, an ardent student of philosophy. Njoya is the personification of courage and purpose.
I was eager to grab a copy of Timothy Njoya’s memoir, We the People, published by WordAlive, that was launched on July the 3rd at Daystar University in Nairobi. Unfortunately, there were no copies for sale. Njoya in his address claimed that the book had been delayed deliberately by saboteurs. 30 years on, the words of this small bodied man with a wicked sense of wit still makes the authorities tremble. It was a compliment to his work that some busy bodies in government had to go through such extreme measures to stop Njoya’s ideas from spreading. The publisher reassured us that the challenges at the port would be resolved…soon.