Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The ICC's ignorance on the Nandi Culture inexcusable (first draft)

Nandi male initiates. The male initiation ceremony is an age-old annual practise in Nandi
The International Criminal Court sitting at The Hague in The Netherlands is prosecuting crimes against humanity against three Kenyans in an unprecedented case. Unprecedented because a sitting President (Uhuru Kenyatta) and his Deputy and erstwhile political nemesis (William Ruto) are facing charges related to the 2007 election in Kenya. William Ruto's co-accussed is radio personality, Joshua arap Sang who worked for the popular Kass FM during the election period and thereafter.
The circumstances leading up to the referrals and confirmation of charges are not the subject of this essay. NO.
My attention has been drawn to the claims by the prosecution that Messrs Ruto and Sang allegedly hijacked the Nandi intiation process and deployed it to form the "network with which they fought other ethnic communities". 
Couldn't the prosecution at the #ICC do a simple audit on fact versus fiction in order to understand basic cultural truths? I find the claims to constitute an inexcusable distortion of fact, a blanket condemnation of the Nandi culture and a sorry case for setting the proud Nandi people to ridicule. Let us deal with the facts.

FACT 1: Nobody can remember the last time the Nandi/Kalenjin took part in anything close to an oathing ceremony. We don't have any elaborate procedure for oathing. We have elaborate rites for cursing wrong-doers. Those curses can NOT be used to coerce anybody to do wrong. My community is a community of pious and religious people. So much that even though I am not a language student, I know that if a language has a wealth of vocabulary on something it demonstrates the importance attached to it and its variations. Sin, transgression and iniquity are words in the English language that describe wrong(doing). In the Nandi language that is clearly defined on the basis of its strength and "forgiveability". 
  • Tengek (forgiveable sin)
  • Ng'oogi (unforgiveable sin, one requiring elaborate cleansing ceremonies)
  •  Kachilililutik (errors)
These words demonstrate a subconscious encapsulation of the community awareness to wrong-doing and a deliberate attempt to regulate it.
So when I saw claims of oathing including slaughter of animals I was aghast. How would this have happened? Was it performed by non-Nandi/Kalenjin people in our region? Was it a figment of somebody's imagination? Does the said claimant hail from an ethnic community in Kenya where oathing is part of daily life?
It is even insulting on our culture and an attack on the very core of our civilization to associate the slaughter of dogs, use of their blood or flesh for whatever ritual it is. That animal, the dog, just like a donkey, is a member of the group of animals which a Nandi would rather starve to death than eat. We simply can't touch its meat and blood. Talk of a goat or sheep. Talk of a cow. Those three are the animals we deal with each day. 
So when the prosecution buys this abracadabra about dog-slaughtering and oathing using animal blood, nothing could be wilder than this!

FACT 2: William Samoei Ruto and Joshua arap Sang, to the best of my knowledge, were both initiated into manhood vide the modern rites of passage. In Nandi county this was started by some converts to Christianity. It can be traced to a clansman of mine Jimmy arap Ketter of Chepterit, near Kapsabet. The alternative process is therefore called "KapJimmy".
I went through the Nandi rites. Every bit of the old way, ruthless and very heavy in symbolism. Nobody who went through it talks about it. Those who didn't go through it would stand out from a crowd. It is simply not easy to pretend to be one, because it is a process that trains one on, let us say "Body language".

The Nandi circumcision rites are so elaborate, and if you didn't know, password-controlled that unless one KNOWS the keys you'd not go beyond knowing what women know about it.

Essentially it's a system that has no respect for status (social or otherwise). It doesn't matter who it is NOBODY, and I REPEAT NOBODY, wields influence over the process except those who belong to the relevant categories: the mentors and the elders.
I hold the view that since William Ruto and Joshua arap Sang did not go through the rites, they are strangers to the process, hold no sway at all to the rites and would easily not get close to it for fear of the consequences (including curses). They know better than attempt it.

Then there is the outlandish claim. For the prosecution to claim that the two, who are strangers to the ceremonies, hijacked the process it is tantamount to claiming that boys and women could walk walk into a Nandi circumcision ceremony and play a role or even direct the strictly unchanging process.

That is simply unthinkable. 
It exposes a glaring lack of prosecutorial research, is intended to bring dishonour to the Nandi culture and tradition as well as bring disrepute to the great Nandi/Kalenjin people. That insult won't be excused.

FACT 3: Notably, the Nandi initiate their boys annually around end of November and early December. This timing coincides with the longest school holidays. Depending on when schools close, the initiation dates vary around end of November to early December. Therefore, before the PEV, and after that our boys have been initiated. In the period between initiation and graduation they live in a special "seclusion school" called Menjo. The curriculum that is taught there is one intended to develop a wholesome person. We were taught folklore and legend, respect for women and young girls (not to take sexual advantage of a drunk woman for example), for beasts and animals. We were taught respect for the stranger, that unknown man who passes by. Because he might do good, we were told. We were taught respect for the "teachers" and mother "who cooks for you". Do you notice how RESPECT permeates the whole curriculum?

I was never taught about enemy tribes and friendly tribes. No.
What the ICC has done is to destroy my pride as a Nandi, force me to tone down my association with my people as I walk through European capitals and interact with fellow scientists. My children would hesitate to identify themselves as Nandi because fellow German kids would say "we heard on TV" that your people killed others.
Our athletes, those guys who win golds and other gongs for Kenya shall walk off after the races for fear of being tagged with the reckless claims made by the prosecution.
Our reputation is soiled.
Is it that William Ruto and Joshua Sang are on trial or is it Nandi/Kalenjin?

The reputation, honour and international standing of what a Nandi/Kalenjin believes is under assault. I consider it right that we, the Nandi people of the world must seek court redress to cure the community name and restore ourselves to our place of pride.

We'll seek to cure that.

Thank you your honours!

Monday, October 31, 2011

New dawn for Nandi County: Online interview by Dr Seronei arap Chelulei Cheison for EmoPolitics Blog

A map of Nandi County
Brian of an online blog, Emopolitics, recently contacted me with a list of questions for an online interview.

EMOPOLITICS: In a nutshell, who is Dr. Cheison? (Family, origins, present locality and profession, any other information you would deem necessary for the electorate).

SCC: That is quite a bulky question there! Well, let us begin with the first question in CRE at Form one: Who Am I? I was born Barnaba Kibet on Tuesday February 20th 1968 at my grandmother Opot Tera’s house just above Chererees river at a place called Chebinyiiny in what is currently Tindiret District in Nandi County to the late Joseph Kiptorus arap Rugut and Julia Chemoso (nee Chebo Koisamoo). Notably, my maternal grandfather, Surtan arap Koisamoo, was a Maotiot to Koitalel Samoei and his "court" tree-shade (Ketitab arap Koisamoo) still stands at Taito right below Taboiyat Primary School in Nandi Hills. I was later given the “kureneet” name Seronei after my grandfather’s brother (Nyongi Seronei). I dropped my Baptismal name Barnabas at Kapsabet Boys after reading the literature set-book “Betrayal in the City”. In that book, a “meeting” was called in Kafira and the first item on the agenda was “Africanisation of our names”. A good number of us changed our names as a consequence. That is how Barnabas went. Because the exam registration could only take three names, I kept Seronei arap Chelulei Cheison. Obviously I was given the name arap Chelulei after I went through the Nandi right of passage in 1986, although I had been instructed by my paternal uncles to register it as I reported to form one in February 1986, well before I was initiated, in November of that year. My family and I are born-again Christians. We fellowship with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God in Kenya.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Nandi County take-off to prosperity: Core issues for 2012 and beyond

Nandi County in Rift Valley presents an interesting face of Kenya. Geographically, it stretches from the low-lying soiin to the south through the lush green highlands of Kapng’etuny (Nandi Hills) to the stretch of endless plateau in Mosop to the North. The landmass seems to rise laboriously from the tip of Kapseng’ere to the west through the pristine forested midlands of Chesumei through Kapsabet to the elevated ridge of Ol’Lessos to the forests of North Tindiret. In between lie the tea estates and a whisper of wattle plantations. Cultural melting pot it is also, owing to the ethnic diversity of the inhabitants and the over 795,000 residents enjoy what is no doubt an eye-catching mix of culture, economic and socio-political menu. Nandi is home to such minority groups as the Okiek, Ngerekek, Luhya, Luo, Kikuyu, Kipsigis and Terik all living in harmony. Thanks to the new constitution, each of these peoples’ rights are protected and future county governments must cater for them by ensuring their inclusion in matters of governance. There are also special populations like the disabled, single parents and widowed families each facing their unique challenges. Our society must provide space for them. Nandi is still faced with challenges in land ownership, lack of title deeds in some areas and people living as squatters. These are issues that require firm action in order to enable every resident feel a part of our rich county.

Nandi is home to some 66 potential tourist sites (from the eye-catching water-falls at Mulangu to the North to the caves in Keben to the East), holds the religious HQ of the Nandi at Kapng’etuny (Nandi Hills Town) which is home to Koitalel Samoei Museum, the traditional suicide cliffs (Sheu) at Kibolewo near Kaprochoke and Moropi in Kapsimotwo. The County is blessed with institutions of higher learning led by the prestigious Kapsabet Boys High School right at the centre of Nandi. In a radius of only several kilometres, one finds Kapsabet Girls, St Joseph’s High School Chepterit and the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton. These are not enough, Nandi needs more better schools, middle-level colleges to absorb and train artisans and youth who would be ready to go into self-employment as well as a university or two to alleviate the problem of shortage of education places. The future of university education might as well mean that there is need for 47 county universities. Nandi County must not be left behind in this.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Servant leaders, not servant thieves, please

We are elated because with the promulgation of this constitution, resource devolution was facilitated. With it too is the devolution of anything that was good and bad about Nairobi. The thieves who have been roaming the capital, pulling strings and cutting deals are definitely being devolved to Kapsabet, Eldoret, Kisumu, Mombasa, Nyeri and any other County HQ. Where we say politics is local, we could as well say thieves shall be local.

With this constitution, the requirement that one must be a first rate thief to steal state largesse in order to develop his area is no longer tenable. Our society needs a Senator who's a negotiator, a (wo)man who can stand and defend the need for funding of key projects in an open and transparent manner. Governors must be (wo)men who can't deep fingers in the gravy jar. We need servant leaders, not servant thieves. So help us God.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Welcome to Nandi 2.0

As the president signs into law the new constitution of Kenya to usher in the birth of the second republic, I can't help thinking that this is the moment that Nandi 2.0 is also born alongside Kenya 2.0. Kenya 2.0 is the product of a negotiated constitution which pitted Kenyans saying YES against those saying NO. In a rare show of maturity, Kenyans cast their ballots and retreated to their homes to await the results of the plebiscite. Those of us, like me, who were outside Kenya at the time stayed glued to livestreaming TV and blogs to monitor the goings-on in Jamhuri. I was elated. Partly because I had pitched for a YES vote and said as much in several posts on this blog and on Kass FM. Partly because this vote was, for the first time as far as my memory could recollect, the most peaceful and possibly the only one whose result was accepted by both victor and loser.

Kenya has had her share of upheavals. From destruction of property and life, from bodily harm to those pluralism activists to deaths of hundreds as we fought to restore our dignity as a people, Kenya 1.0 is a stark reminder of an aborted dream. It is that missed journey that we hope will not recur again, ever. Kenya 1.0, the first republic, was characterised by anything bad about government. From excessive police force (used) against innocent Kenyans to the corruption pandemic to impunity. Kenya 1.0 is synonymous with death, corruption, hate, bitterness, nepotism, skewed resource allocation, favouritism, political marginalisation and failure. It is Misri to us. Not that Kenya 2.0 marks an abrupt departure from the sleaze of the past. No. The RED sea is crossed but we need time in the desert to allow the relics of Kenya 1.0 to die off before we reach Canaan lest they bring their bad into the promised land. Most of the purveyors of those vices associated with Kenya 1.0 are alive and they are positioning themselves to transcend the RED sea and stake a claim on the prominent roles which must re-engineer Kenya o be in sync with a new order.

Nandi County is born, welcome to Nandi 2.0. With this birth comes devolution, of resources and of corruption and vices that have been localised to Nairobi. Unless the new devolved units watch out, change the leaderships and elect responsible and responsive representatives, it shall be business as usual. What with our 'ngo samis muriat ko bo goot ne bo'. That bad and stinking rat knows what to do to evict you from your comfort. It just needs to stink, and off you bolt. Leaving behind the devolved largesse, on which fellow stinking mice will feast. It is real. Devolution of misrule, devolution of corruption or devolution to increase efficiency? We, members of Nandi Kaburwo County must choose to say NO to devolved ills and shades of misrule. Already, I hear whispers of 'he was with us, read RED' or 'he was not with us, read GREEN'. Now is the time for leadership, NOT activism.

Just the other day, someone told me. You'd make a great Senator for Nandi Kaburwo lakini you were GREEN. I considered it unwise. Kenya is ALL Green now, the new GREEN constitution is law and whether you were RED or GREEN doesn't matter no more. We are all in a GREEN Kenya 2.0. Nandi Kaburwo too is GREEN and the move to Nandi 2.0 MUST include ME. I stake claim to this new Nandi because I have been part and parcel of the struggle for fairness. Furthermore it is time to compete for office and the people of Nandi Kaburwo shall determine who stands to serve their interests. I want to be part of that team that shall usher Nandi to the new heights. I want to be part of the new Nandi 2.0, born on 27th Aug 2010. Arye we inyee! During the campaigns for or against this constitution, it was popular to say NO even if you did not know why. I refused to go the popular way. I still believe my choice of a YES campaign, which I explained in this blog, was right. I am proud to have been part of the team that was on the right side of history. That is courage. Safe politics is not necessarily right. By saying YES, I jeopardised my chances of being a prominent part of the Nandi 2.0, but that decision was borne out of the desire to see fairness in matters of squatter landrights. That is why I want to be part of the Nandi 2.0 team.

Make the wish of so many Nandi Kaburwo members come true. Support this transition to new leadership in Nandi. We cannot solve Nandi problems using the same people who created them. Nor can we be fooled any more with stories like "elect so and so because he/she is a friend of XYZ". Nandi Kaburwo must elect leaders with a clear mandate to LEAD Nandi Kaburwo FIRST. Nandi Kaburwo must believe in the abilities of her sons and daughters, the same people in whom you have invested enormous resources and time. This generation is alive to the heavy tasks ahead. But we are up to the task. We need new thinking, an assertive but dynamic leadership. Here we are.

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