Of Names and Numbers



How many people do you feel you know well yet you’ve never met? Allow me to steal your thunder; Unye, Tinga, Hustler #1, H2Omelon… if these names are missing from your list you either live under a rock or outside Kenya. Most likely you’ll proceed to mention the pentagon, some governors, late politicians and church leaders, MPs(or is it MPigs?), Senators, MCAs, and your boss if you have one.

Let’s shift gears: how many people know you yet you’ve never met? Chances are you forgot former classmates. Chances are we don’t know each other and we will never do. If you stay with me you’ll see that we share a lot. Most importantly we make up the 45m Kenyans (it could be 47m, 50m; who cares?)

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of Names and Numbers.

Names are Excellent, Eminent, Honorable, Highness, Boss, Mtukufu, Tajiri, Senior this or chief that. Numbers are, well, just numbers. Fifty plus one. ‘30 passengers perish in a crash.’ ‘2.5m face starvation.’ ‘Four police officers.’ A Facebook account. KOT.

If he drives a Benz he could be a Name; if his head is protruding from an over-loaded, over-speeding Probox he is definitely a Number. If he cheers the arrival of ‘Mexican’ maize he is a Number; or a Name who knows how, when and where to get tax-free maize. If he earns 16k for working 10 hours for 26 days a month he is obviously a Number; if he earns 20k for abusing 2 people while sitting in a 200k chair he is definitely a Name. If he drives out of court in a fuel guzzler with an injunction or a stay order he is a Name. If he drives out of court in a Black Maria and afternoon finds in Ruiru weeding he is definitely a Number. If only rain and he comes come from above in your neighborhood he is a Big Name. If he treks to work he is a Common Number. If his lies and abuses and threats are broadcast on radio and TV he is a Name. If you applaud his lies and threats and abuses you are a Number, or a buddy-in-eating Name. If he flies out when he catches a cold he is a Name; if he queues all day at the health centre for cancer treatment he is a Number. If his call to kill and maim and displace must be interpreted by a court of law he is a Name. If his reward for stealing or killing is a job he is a Name. If he is lynched because he is suspected of a theft he is a Number.

Think of a wealth rank from 1 to 45m (or is it 50m?). We would have Names after Names. Then we would have Numbers. At some point, say, 2m, we would have a tie. Yep, a goddamn 40m + tie! And the tie is not number 100 or 200 but tyro! Numbers who wail in their sleep from the nightmare called unga. Numbers who survive because oxygen is free. Numbers if shot it’s not a major issue, just a fill-up item on the news. Numbers whose other name is ‘cheap labor’, the building blocks of ‘tyranny of numbers.’ Numbers in an election tally.

Names don’t throw stones or chop off heads because of stolen elections since they have Numbers to do it for them. If you see them in a demonstration a fuel guzzler is standby. And bodyguards. And ready cameras should a baton land on their heads.

Oh, my bad; it is his manifesto! No joblessness, water for all, heavenly roads, millions in every pocket, the works. Sorry to break your heart but he STOLE it from another guy who stole it from another guy who stole it from another guy. I doubt he has had time to read it since the cyber guy copy pasted it for him. We’ve had elections since independence yet we are still hungry and diseased and ignorant and overtaxed and unemployed.

Today he stokes your imaginations of a heaven on earth. Tomorrow he creates heaven for himself. As your ‘obedient servant’ he will visit Mexico and Egypt for culinary and farming lessons respectively only for you to sleep hungry because your day’s earning from his company can’t put a plate of ugali on the table. He won’t care because he gave you 200 bob during campaigns and you mis-used it.

If your hero wins he will visit your home everyday dancing and abusing and accusing real and imaginary foes on the TV. Possibly he’ll become a bigger hero for masterminding the next Goldenberg, who knows? If he loses he’ll need you in the streets because you’re known to throw the largest stone furthest. To you teargas is sweeter than Yu For Men. As a ‘mapambano’ guy you know a number of national anthems: ‘Haki yetu’, ‘bado mapambano’, ‘solidarity forever’. Of course ‘Ee Mungu Nguvu zetu’ is not among them. The police will cork their G3s but you won’t blink because your hero said the constitution says you shouldn’t blink and there is nothing to live for if he is not the winner. As the top student in his class at Kiganjo this police won’t shoot your leg but your head. And no, your hero won’t block the bullet because he will be miles away in his bulletproof V8. TV stations will fight to tell the nation how humble you were. They’ll inform us that you were only 23. They’ll air your crying wife who will narrate your big dreams amid sobs. We will curse and grind our teeth because we can’t share the ugali on the table with your malnourished kids now that they are so far and you are so dead. Your hero will attend your funeral because, well, it is leader-like to be seen with a lifeless body. He will promise your family manna and nyama choma and a milk tap only to block your wife’s number on departure. Five years down the line your hero and your villain will join hands ‘to fight for our people.’ That includes your kids whose photos will be doing rounds on Dandora Love People.

We know of Names who were killed over thirty years ago. Come on, don’t force me to name Names. Some perished in plane crushes. Some were shot. We still hope to unravel what ‘ate’ them. In 2007 about 1200 Numbers perished and about 500k were displaced.  ‘About’ here means ‘not less than’, or, more aptly, ‘more than’. I don’t know their names and I am sure you don’t, not unless they were family or close friends. If a list of their names exists it is in a forgotten file in a godforsaken corner in a nondescript office. 2007 is ten years. (No dishonor of the memories of our departed brothers and sisters is intended whatsoever. May they rest in eternal peace.)

By the time you finish reading this tirade a thousand Numbers will have died. You’ll never know it unless they ran in your circles. If a name dies he will be on the Breaking News. You will know if he has food poisoning. Or if his nose was bashed.

Wake up fellow Number, your family need you more than you need that politician. If you are ready to kill or be killed for your ‘servant’ you have too small an ego. I dare say you’re stupid. Oh yes, YOU ARE STUPID. Elections come and go; death puts you in the dirt.

It is not about tribe, it is about Names and Numbers!

Vote anyhow. Just don’t kill me for doing likewise.

(Help me stay ALIVE by SHARING this.)

Yours truly, Number number 45, 000, 000

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