When my people came on the television wearing towels on their waist and walking bare chest saying “Pwani si Kenya” my head thought, the world has gone insane.
Though not surprised with the manner this discussion was started, it generally is a Kenyan way to start conversations, dramatically, so as to be heard. I thought that there was perhaps a better way to start than having topless men on the news chanting “Coast is not Kenya”
The Kenyan coast enjoys diversity, which is what makes it rich. The melange of colors and races gives it a unique exotic feel. And even now that I work here I see the cute little children of Arabic descent all speaking Swahili. It is quite a sight to uphold, how almost naturally they as children are not aware how different they are. Yet the paleness of their skin and their big beautiful eyes are quite distinct from my own brown skin and tiny eyes and a signature of a nose, to show that I am truly African.
But really what would make any part of Kenya not want to be part of it anymore? I assumed any leader would have been interested to know? It is like saying, you want to remove a leg, off of someone’s body and the rest of the body remains silent. No one wants to know why after so many years of this love relationship, what has gone sour?
The reality of these words would only make as much sense, only when I came to live in Mombasa. In one word, I would say it has been ADVENTUROUS. As I worked in the news room, the only stories I told daily were stories on tourism until it became obvious to my editors that I was all about party living. Whatever happened to my creativity and nose for stories . But, there is more to coast than the ultimate pleasure of the luxurious beaches.
Later on as I became a producer of a political show and had to go deeper in to the communities where my people lived, it is only then that my reality opened, that perhaps, more than being a tour destination there was the dark side, unattractive, yet to be uneearthed. There are places in this earth where lack is the lifestyle, lack actually defined existence.
On this day that my eyes were opened on the other side that is not so touristic, I was headed to KWALE known for it’s famous diani beach, named one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Later, I realized on this day that it had beautiful sugar cane plantations and even a factory for sugar, which was recently revived, turning in to a large sugar producer or if not yet a large potential for sugar supply.
The journey as any trip at the coast is exciting. Despite the many times that I have been on a Ferry, I never seem to get over it. Me, like the many masses are racing to catch it as we queue in our cars, on our feet that we may get ashore.
For many, there is no other way to get home but to be on it, for others just an experience on it is calming in the mind, and gives you a treat of what a great holiday should have. The taste of the ocean breeze and the smell of the waters is so beautiful. For many of us whom this is not our daily experience, our hair stands. It certainly is one of the most beautiful feelings. Floating on water, and seeing life from a waters perspective. There is something about this experience that you have to be there to feel it, to even understand just how amazing it is to merely cross over waters to get home.
As you get ashore, you are ushered by the smell of fish and populations of life and commerce of foods which is what mainly is one of the greatest assets of the coast region; food. We are headed for Msambweni far in the interior of this region, a road to which could lead you in to Tanzania. I almost crossed the border that evening.
We pass many trees as populations get fewer and fewer along roadsides. And we are welcomed to shorter houses patched with mad and stone, surrounded by huge coconut trees that remain a constant reminder that you are at the coast. It gives you a feel of true nature in it’s fullness. An experience, you can only get away from the luxurious urban center in to the coconut palace.
It was such a long drive of trees and trees and eventually we get in to a space where we now see humanity. Women elegantly graced in lesos and others in bui bui, oh so beautiful and graceful. The men in barazas and even younger men in groups. But shy of our cameras, they are convinced we have brought our cameras in order to sell pictures of them.
In an almost defensive state, you can tell the suspicion written on many faces. It gives you a sense of danger. Perhaps a history of mistrust from earlier years, or perhaps a protection of territory. Lucky, we speak the language and thus we felt safer and so we spoke. Though like the rest of other Kenyans we have the full figured noses and dark skins and could easily be mistaken to be “upcountry people”
Historically, the South coast has been volcanic. It was in this region where one day people woke up, looked for people from upcountry and chased them in what was known as “Kaya Bombo”. Insufferable pain from the sleeping giant where one day, masses were forced to evacuate from the south coast and especially Likoni region. Some of whom had not known anywhere else to be home.
And, perhaps that became the death of tourism industry on that end of the world, for no matter how much one loved the beach, life would be necessary to even have the ability to go to the beach. So Volcanic was it that it saw many hotels in that region deserted and left in decay. What once were glamorous hotels had turned in to hollow haunted halls of silence. As we drove on, there was not one tourist, not one person who seemed foreign. The larger population comprised of course of the indigenous masses. Many just like anywhere else experiencing daily routine of everydayness in a place of not that vast of opportunities. Perhaps selling food and fishing for many.
What begun as a tour became an exposure to the the truth of my people deep in the interior. A truth that many of us are in denial about. Always insulting international media for covering stories on our poverty. Yet we “knew”, we were not “poor”, we were “rich” , why doesn’t anyone focus on the beach we have for example?
Our journey ends with a burden heavy on my chest. Of the issues that still remain pressing to my people. The issues of borders on their waters. How the locals can not be able to access their own waters for fishing and the inevitable of a struggle for basic needs for a population too many. And the worst which is the issue of land that bonds the Riftvalley and the Kenyan coast like a placenta. That made these two regions extremely volcanic and sometimes extremely dangerous. Its like a hot spring of water waiting to explode. So fragile are the rocks that stop it, that could be triggered by anything at all.
Many Seething in anger that slowly simmers in to peace, that is just temporary because sometime it feels volatile, more could come as history has shown us. Or maybe not, this peace may be genuine this time.
A little over a year, I was burying my young cousin. Full of life, strong, tough, handsome and with a promise to marry in what was the near future. One day he went missing and resigned from his airport job in to being part of gang. He wanted to be a revolutionist!!
In twenty five years, his life was a wrap, and perhaps to others, his legacy lives on as a soldier, but for others, that is an example of a wasted life. But most importantly to the girl who was to bare the children of his seeds who had lost a confident in a “hopeless war”
And whilst all this was happening, there was silence. Silent to issues that secretly lay in the hearts of many. Issues that only were discussed in grass thatched huts. Issues that year in year out continued unsolved until a crisis arrives.
Of many systems that were preaching hate. Birthing anger and hatred to the young lives whose lives are even so short lived as son after son was dug deep in to the ground in that year. “What really happened there?” Could history be so fascinating, than the future possibilities that were being created seem so mundane. Did the past burn more that the fire and passion of hope of what the future could be. Had fear succeeded over possible love that once joined these people. What happened in the night? When we were sleeping, who stole our sun.
Coast is just one of those regions like the many Kenyan regions who over years have had land issues unresolved. This is not a problem exclusive to the coast region, however many do not know so. In eastern province, the easterners cry for the same, perhaps in the north, or even in the west. Most Kenyans share the same problem. Sad was the post election violence, the incidents at tana, and many others that are election triggered, but have been in topics in closed huts. No fight ever starts suddenly, these were the hushed tones causing divisions that had exploded. Of the tribes that had been victims of hate more often than once. That even as you travel across the country, there was mass unoccupied land, how is it then, that we had landless people. Why did borders mean so much, that the African value of providing homes to those who had non, be diluted with fear. Until today, it has become hard to settle IDs in a number of regions.
The misunderstandings of what really is the problem. The failure to explain and failure to create platforms where discussions can be held and the future negotiated. How did we get here? And who truly is the enemy, if at all we share the same problems, then how did we suddenly manage to convince ourselves that we were the minorities. And if at all all we were, how then can we rise and not be minor, but significant contributors to the economy.
The current government has done quite some work on trying to eliminate some of the issues, especially in regards to land. They have even stretched their hand in attempt to eliminate the feeling of discrimination. Physically giving land titles to the inhabitants of the coast, having discussions with some leaders of Islamic as well as christian origin and even sitting with leaders of affected regions.
The County government has come along way in solving many of the problems. There are many more opportunities. These are naturally great milestones , but deep in the roots are deeper problems that need deeper resolution. These were were perhaps not just political and Economic problems, but social problems. Poverty, not just of lack of things, but of information, dialogue, an ear that truly listens to the plight of the masses.
The unaddressed suspicions, sometimes you hear from the language or reference and dehumanizing manner the whole Kenyan community refers to another. Sometimes it feels as if, only one region is the victim, everyone against one. Sometimes not in closed doors anymore, even openly on social media. Even coming out from the mouths of our leaders goes on to show that the problem is huge.
Certainly not withstanding Injustices that are equally inexcusable. The controlling large land masses and dishing them out at small fees for them, notwithstanding those in most cases were people’s homes. Owning these lands would certainly turn them in to squatters. The hushed word, TRIBALISM, NEPOTISM. It is spoken of quietly. Yet this issue almost took Kenya to war.
Inevitably coast and other regions will in the near future be like Nairobi, already it is a very cosmopolitan region. Mombasa has all peoples represented in it already. This is great news as it means an evolving economy, however even as the transition happens there needs to be some form of consciousness. That amidst all these developments, may the locals also benefit in ways that they too would appreciate these developments. That they would feel a sense of ownership in more ways than being neighbors with empires and suffering in poverty.
Eventually, all communities will discover ways to co-exist, as no man will ever live in complete isolation. The question is how then can this be done without tribal wars.
The reality of the country and the perception of the country gets real when you move out of the leafy suburbs of Nairobi in to a whole different world. You see true hunger and poverty in the midst of wealth. Is it possible for that wealth to trickle to the communities through even corporate social responsibility, for even the government cannot stand alone.
Later, on our drive back, I was in much silence. I could only see vast, and yet wondered why we often so scarcity. I could only possibilities, yet we often inability. And I wonder, what can I do as daughter of Kenya, how can I contribute in this healing. And then suddenly I woke up to lights of beautiful Mombasa, where all manner of happiness exists. And finally I can smile. For I know that, Mombasa had just been a dream, now a reality. That is possible for the rest of Kenya, it is possible too for the rest of coast.