Who’d have thought the children would be given bullets, not bread?

Saturday June 29 2024

A police member fires tear gas at a demonstration over police killings of people protesting against Kenya's proposed finance bill 2024/2025, in Nairobi, Kenya on June 27, 2024. PHOTO | REUTERS


The presidential inauguration of William Ruto in September of 2022 took place on a Tuesday, and there was some serious church music being blasted in Kasarani Stadium as the crowd waited for officials to arrive and for the ceremony to start.

As I bopped along, because East African praise and worship has some sick beats, I thought to myself: Is this, like, kosher? Because if we did that here, not only would I finally have cause to write a whopping series about the separation of Church and State in modern African performances of statecraft, but it would also be Major Domestic Drama.

Perhaps not as major, nor dramatic, as the youth protests that have been buckling Kenya this week.

There are human stories that recur so often across time and space that we end up encoding in our mythology. It is an easy way to pass on our collective wisdoms to the young ones, cushioning hard truths in the safe pillows of fantasy and a hazy past.

“Once upon a time, there was a large and lovely land. And in this land there lived a smart and industrious people. And these people, they were ruled by a King... and that is why, dear children, we eventually developed the concept of republics and representative democracy and branches of government that are meant to balance power across the polity, and why your vote counts — choose wisely.”

Our stories are no match for reality. Happily Ever After, or even just Good Enough for One Lifetime, remain elusive. The fables contain lessons that we offer to ourselves and the powerful as a ward against the vagaries of human nature.


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So, here is an epilogue, one that we tend to leave out of the fables of self-rule: “Once the people have chosen to the best of their ability and the ballot boxes are cooled and stored until the next election, the real work of being governed well and wisely begins. After all, the wedding isn’t the marriage, is it?”

Kenyan youth took to the streets to protest the Finance Bill of 2024. I was nervous, but hopeful, that this time round things could go well. To live without hope is, after all, a deep betrayal of the human condition.

Of course, another betrayal of the human condition is eating the young, eh? Kenyan youth might be a lot of things, but armed they are not. They have nothing but the power of their convictions to wield.

And yet, there it is: The dreaded image of a mere boy, lifeless by the hand of the state. He was just with his compatriots, asking to be able to afford bread. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” asked a young Jewish teacher, according to his disciple Matthew, 2,000 years ago.

He broke bread with the taxman in his day. He died for his beliefs too, if I remember correctly, and became an enduring icon of the struggle for the rights of the downtrodden.

How far away September 22, 2002 must seem! Oaths were taken, and gospel songs were danced to, and nobody thought that one day the hungry children might be given bullets, because they asked for bread. Is this kosher?