Thursday, February 27, 2014

Kiriamiti’s My Life in Prison: A Memento of His Redemption

Photo courtesy of Margaretta wa Gacheru

The average Kenyan reader is familiar with John Kiriamiti. In a way, young Kenyan readers are inducted into reading through texts that are populist in nature – appealing to a wide audience. Kiriamiti’s My Life in Crime, My Life with a Criminal: Milly’s Story and My Life in Prison fit perfectly well within this paradigm. In these texts, Kiriamiti attempts to reconstruct the story of a criminal, that of the girlfriend turned wife and that of a prisoner respectively. Using a persona to creatively put together a story that is essentially about himself and those close to him, the writer succeeds to share his escapades and experiences in crime and punishment without necessarily indicting himself as a person.
On the contrary, it is in his My Life in Prison that the writer retrospectively writes in a manner that casts him as remorseful. Much of what appears in his first two texts could easily pass for thriller/adventurous stories that celebrate the personae’s cunning and conquest of law and order. Take note that the three texts underscore the personalisation of the stories by way of the possessive “my”. It is an attempt to own the story and to entice the reader that the ‘tale’ s/he is about to listen to is a first person’s account/witness of the way things were. As a result, the reader is wooed, albeit unconsciously, to identify with the persona.
The choice of the use of the possessive “my” in the trilogy helps the personae in the story to own up to the events and actions thereof. Such personal stories resonate with autobiographical writings and it would be expected that the texts would edify the reader especially since they deal with criminal experiences. Unfortunately the first two books are more or less devoid of the ability to live up to Aristotle’s perception of what constitutes a good story: ethos, pathos and logos. But it is the bold step of writing about his experiences in crime that creates a space for the writer to bare his soul and to entreat the reader to forgive him for his inequities.
My Life in Crime and My Life with a Criminal: Milly’s Story achieve ethos or credibility in that the personae are believable and they resonate with the reader. The same applies to the texts’ ability to connect with the reader’s emotions. The reader easily empathises with the persona in these texts and is at times angry that the police seem to be catching up with him because in the eyes of the reader the persona is a hero. Conversely, it is in the aspect of logos, the ability to reason logically and convince that the reader finds the texts wanting. Basing our argument on the fact that the texts explore crime and punishment, it would be assumed that the persona would demonstrate remorse and express his desire for penitence. In the end, both texts come across as subtle celebrations of the persona’s ability to evade police capture, to break into banks, to loot goods and thousands of cash, to indulge in reckless partying amongst other carefree activities. It is for this reason that the reader essentially distances him/herself from the persona’s lifestyle.
Kiriamiti’s My Life in Prison encapsulates the story of the capture, imprisonment and release from maximum prison of the protagonist. The seeds of doubt in the reader’s mind about the possibility of the persona being redeemed are quashed. In this narrative, we begin to see an aperture through which criminals can and indeed are transformed from hardcore bank robbers and murderers to humanised individuals that eventually integrate back into the society. Through this text, we are able to understand that it is not necessarily a physical journey but one that is largely spiritual and cemented in an inner person’s ability to desire for contrition. It is a process that the persona claims is pegged on a person’s desire for individual character change and not necessarily premised on the rules and tortures reminiscent of Kenyan prisons up to the late 20th century.
Photo courtesy of Magaretta wa Gacheru
The text is humorous. It is violent. It is graphic and scary. But it is also captivating and humanising in nature. There are pockets of comic relief here and there such as the persona’s attempt to appear insane so that he can be taken to Mathare Hospital where he imagines it would be easier to escape. He succeeds to flee only for greed to land him back into prison and this time round he serves his term until a presidential amnesty comes in handy to free him from the shackles of prison and hopefully the tag of crime.
In addition, we find it laughable, albeit tragically, that the warders also suffer the life ‘in prison’. The persona says “In remand prison we were very poorly fed, but I could see from the warder’s face that his life wasn’t a picnic either.” He mocks the profession of the warders by asserting that “I felt I would rather be employed as a grave digger than look for a job as a warder” (p1). As a prisoner, the persona’s perspective enables us to empathise with the denigrating work of the warders and the juxtaposition with the image of a grave digger makes the latter seem a better job.
The violence that rocks prison the world over is also best recreated in this text. The vivified images of the murder of a prison warder by a mentally ill prisoner are embellished on our minds long after we are through with our reading: “Kairu ..., proved worse than a common lunatic. He took a very sharp chisel, three-eighths of an inch wide, bent over his victim and struck into the brain using the hammer, blood started oozing out” (p87). The horrific actions of Kairu symbolise the repercussions of keeping mentally sick prisoners together with the rest instead of putting them away in mental institutions. 
Above all, it is the power of the text to edify the reader that this narrative stands out amongst Kiriamiti’s trilogy. In this story, the persona confesses and admits that he has been in the wrong. He determinedly makes a deliberate move to change for the better and we identify with his suffering as he goes through the process of transformation when he is sentenced to jail and punished for his criminal activities. When he finally gets acquitted, we experience catharsis and desire to see him reintegrated to the mainstream society. The persona narrates thus: “As I said I gave up crime. I joined the society and fitted in beautifully” (224). The persona confesses that he is a changed man and we attest to this when he makes a public declaration of his perceived redemption through a national newspaper.
Therefore, it is the persona’s ability to appeal to the reader’s emotion (pathos) with a story that has a moralising effect (ethos) in a manner that is credibly and reasonably acceptable (logos) that we are convinced of his having turned a new leaf for the better. It is no fiction that the writer of these books was an armed gangster but it is no fiction either that he has long redeemed his character and engaged in the more lawful fruitful task of imparting moralising lessons to the society through writing about his life in and after crime. As a result, I consider this particular text an autobiographical memento of the writer’s journey from a convicted criminal to a redeemed individual. Find a study of his work here:,%20J.%20B..pdf?sequence=1-accessdate=21

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Treatise to Bad Leaders: The folly of power play

Dear blog:

Kindly allow me to ventilate about what I consider to be the folly of offices and administrative positions. It is one thing to be a leader but it is another to wield your ignorance and vanity over those you serve. I have never considered myself a perfectionist but after making observations of people’s failure to take initiative even in the least of situations I might have to reconsider my verdict.

This morning, like a number of other mornings, I ran into what I like calling the daily hiccups at the work station. Is it just me or are all work stations similar in their dissimilar ways? When people pretend to work but at the end of the day harbour nothing to show for their sweat then I am tempted to make them the butt of my disgruntlement.

Why is it that some people are obsessed with having their egos rubbed or is it oiled? It seems that some people will never let us have peace in our duties unless we make an effort to pamper their inflated egos! How else do you explain why people will insist that we must physically see them and seek for their approval over something in person? Even when you do an email to request for something a good number of people will still demand that you print it for them! Duh! Then what is all the crap about going green!

It does not add up for me when corporates insist that they are going green and then at the end of the day we are compelled to print forms that contain requisite information that suffices to communicate our needs, expectations and even at times our work tasks.

I guess this is what I term the folly of power play – some small minded people who are progressively being rendered jobless by technology. In their desperation to appear relevant, they frustrate the rest of us when they engage in developing strategic plans, drawing up policy briefs etc. when we begin doing our jobs efficiently, they suddenly appear, nay, intrude and demand that we must show them what we have been up to. For heaven’s sake don’t spend money on a system if you want people to work manually.

I know human beings are social beings and need to interact. But at times we also need to retreat, rethink and re-strategize without having to make consultations. It would not hurt if we developed systems that enhanced efficiency even if it means reduced physical interaction. Then the zealots of condescending attitude would be sorted!

My dearest blog, allow me to pen off here so that I can toil for my bread and butter. I hope that I will not be frustrated again with needless demands that interfere with my pursuit for professional growth. I wish you a wonderful day, of course one filled with fulfilment and a sense of self actualisation.

Yours Sincere Pal,
Larry Ndivo

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Smoking: Any Rationale?

An article I wrote as a 2nd year student at the University of Nairobi. Thank you Nicholas Kariuki @Africarising121 for safely keeping this article for about 17 years!! Dedicated to my ENG 112 students – be yourself, be vulnerable and write your thoughts down!

Photo Courtesy of 
 Smoking is a pain that a person experiences to come to more pain. It is an act that is consciously practiced with no justifiable reason to back it up. On average, people have two reasons why they do things: the logical reason and the factual reason. Is your reason for smoking logical or defended by factual statistics? What is it that is in a cigarette that makes smoking a pain that people endure to come to more pain?
The label on the packet honestly informs us that cigarette smoking is harmful to our health. This leaves one wondering whether smokers doubt the truthfulness of the statement or they are just ignorant. Indeed about 90% of smokers never read past the brand of the cigarette they smoke. As a result, the warning has become banal and people view it as additional decoration on the pack! I suspect that if you told a smoker that smoking is risky they would think that you said smoking is healthy.
Despite the capital letters of the warning, smokers smoke on. They empty as many packs as they can in spite of the fact that the price of cigarettes like that of other commodities in our country is forbidding. If you have never stopped to ponder whether cigarette smoking is harmful to your health, I would like you to stop for a minute before you strike that lighting up for the millionth time and think of the consequences.
Cigarette smoking increases your chances of developing lung cancer and other smoking related complications. If you happen to have a high cholesterol level in the blood your chances of developing high blood pressure can be heightened.
According to Mutuku, a third year BA student, cigarette smoking is ‘fake’. “It gives you foul breath and you become the most unlistened to person in conversations.” He calls smoking an ‘untidy game’ that is addictive and one that draws you ostensibly into other harder drugs.
I read somewhere that smoking is also linked to miscarriages in pregnant women. It can also give them breast cancer and we all know the devastating effects of cancer in our society. I mean, the statistics of cancer are alarmingly increasing by the day and the toll on our loved ones is becoming unbearable.
Paul Nyagah, another BA student, smokes. He confesses that it is a habit that is financially draining. Asked whether he would quit smoking, he undoubtedly admits yes but sadly states that “to quit is every smoker’s anthem.” But is this really so?
I believe every dark cloud has a silver lining. Mutiso another student says that he cannot face a new day without puffing away the first thing in the morning. As if in solidarity, Charles an engineering student declares that there is nothing as refreshing as cigarette smoking after a meal. Other students who smoke staunchly defend it by insisting that it is a remedy for stress. Accordingly, they say that you can always numb your frustrations by smoking.
On the other hand, other students who indulge in the pastime of smoking consider it as a form of social interaction. Their take is that smoking gives you a sense of belonging, class and sophistication. But is killing oneself class? Do smokers really understand the magnitude of the dangers of smoking?
Your never knew nor believed you could start smoking until you tried; also, you will never know nor believe that you can quit smoking until you try. You hardly realise it until what begun as a joke, a puff for pleasure and leisure, lures you into a state of frenzy and addiction. Eventually you end up being stuck in a world of I can’t stay without smoking.
Smoking is not about oxygen but rather inhalation of toxins that are harmful to our health. The worst thing we can do is nothing, the best thing we can do is something – ban smoking. I wish we could all live according to the philosophy of Muthondu, my next door neighbour in Hall five at the University of Nairobi: “life is sweet and short and we need to live healthy and longer.”
Quit smoking! That is the only word I have for you now, that is the only word I can ever have for you – quit smoking!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Scaling the Thermometer a Celsius a Day

No one can deny that the world is getting hotter day by day. Although I come from an ASAL region – Ukambani to speak – we have a myth that whoever is rained on gets taller. Am I a specimen in evidence of this? I don’t know but at least I know that I played and danced in the rain countless times in my formative years. Those who are close to me know that I would give anything for a wet weather! I mean, there is no way I would exchange a muddy, rain soaked terrain for a hot, dusty one.
It must be the influence from having been raised in a dry land. But that is not my point here. We are progressively experiencing the coastal weather even though we are located on the highlands. We have listened to debates about global warming but we seem to care less. So who is going to save us from all the heat – and I mean this one literally with all the pun intended?
When I first came to Nairobi in mid 90s, I was awed by the aura and the weather patterns. The months of June and July were perpetually wet almost having drizzles throughout. What has happened then? From a layman’s perspective I now believe that global warming is a reality. Men, you just can’t walk around comfortably anymore. You will be scorched by the heat and a couple of steps away you will be covered in a thin layer of dust. During those years when I first habited Nairobi, a hot day like today would be graced with late afternoon showers to moderate the heat and the dust.
Currently, we have witnessed persistent hot days without a change in the skies. It is becoming progressively difficult to see clouds up in the sky. What are we doing to Mother Nature? It reminds me that for every small bit of waste I drop about recklessly, every tap I leave running or lights I leave on, I characteristically take part in the slow death of the lifeline of the future generation. At times I wonder is this the place of cool waters that the Maasai community discovered.
I mean, the nights are warmer, more humid and no one can contest the fact that we will soon be unenviably tempted to sleep in our birth suits – in the nude so to speak! I miss Prof. Wangari Maathai and her unassailable love for trees. How I wish that I would demonstrate just one percent of the courage that she had in fighting for the restoration of Kenyan forests. Can somebody please tell me if there are policies in government structures meant for the preservation of natural habitats!
For the communities that have nurtured their culture selfishly, one can glean the truth that there is a dialectic relationship between a peoples’ culture and the preservation of the environment. I am no cultural agent for teaching of local tongues but neither am I one to take a bullet for those blowing their whistles loudest in deterring the inculcation of mother tongues amongst the children. All I am saying is that communities that are proud of their mores are also proud of the cultural regulations governing the use and management of natural resources.
Kwa hakika, mwacha mila ni mtumwa! We are now spending lots of millions of shillings begged from foreign cultures who seem more concerned about our environment than we are to talk about the effects of global warming. The truth is that these communities are more worried about themselves than us. Ironically, they also seem to have more forest cover than we do! I will not be surprised if a medic releases statistics demonstrating that the high rate of lifestyle diseases is directly proportional to how we have vandalised the environment.
I am penning this as a reminder to myself that I should do something about environmental conservation. It is a tribute to my nostalgic moments about those years ago when I would walk around the streets of Nairobi with my shoulders hunched and my hands clasped tightly across my chest to ward off the cold of chilly Nairobi weather. Call me a romantic I will not deny. But neither will I deny that we have given Mother Nature a raw deal and she is pissed off with humanity. If and when she decides to retaliate remains for all to see. Turkana is a good example.
It is a good example of our avaricious appetite in destroying the environment. It is a great illustration of the thermodynamics taking place in the thermometer of weather patterns. The tick tock of the clock is a plea to us that we need to pay attention to the rise and rise of temperatures and sea levels. The Celsius or is it Fahrenheit is being calibrated differently everyday and we need to be worried. May be the weather has a telepathic feel of some sort because as I wrap up on this I can smell the soil signifying some rain drops have fallen on the dusty streets of Nairobi. May it rain oh Lord, may the flood gates of heaven open!

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