Because of Geography [part 1]

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While parents from other continents take their children to school, we Africans are sent to school. That etymology has never ceased to baffle me, “sending a child to school’. And it sort of makes sense, when you come to think of it, because most of the time the education you get from there is never yours. It belongs to your parents. They have even more of a claim to that KCSE or KCPE certificate or degree than you do. They will flaunt it when you pass and there is no mad man in any village market that will hear the last of an African child completing a level of schooling. Well, technically, that cert only becomes theirs when you pass. When you fail, you are disowned. In the spirit of sending her child to school, Karua only ever accompanied me to Maranda High School twice. I could say thrice to include the day of my admission, but that would not be exactly right. On that day she had a busy schedule at jobo, so a relative from dala took me to school; she met us there.

The first time, I was in Form Three. It was in the middle of the term and I had been suspended for (you won’t believe this) sleeping in class. You would think that this is a silly reason to be suspended until you met Mr. Odipo – Deputy Principal of Maranda High School at a time when the school was in between principals – and distant cousin to Mother Karua. That man instilled the fear of Dothraki bloodriders in students. So when it was found out that some school prefects and captains were extending – Maranda slang’ for skiving dawn preps, he called them out during the next school assembly, stripped them of their red ties (regulars wore blue ones) and made a decree that anyone found sleeping in class would be suspended indefinitely. This was in the middle of the term. Midterms were lingering a week ahead and if you think that Mr. Odipo was scary, then you had not met Mother Karua looking at the result slip of a failed child. If I was to get a suspension, my goodness, Karua would gladly have my head on a spike. She gave me life, after all, so she could take it. And not because ati I have been suspended, but because I would have missed exams. I am one of those Africans who were sent to school to fetch education for my mother.

Of course I stayed awake throughout the week. Mr. Odipo made good his promise. If you extended, you went home. If you slept in class during dawn preps, class time or night preps, you went home. I kept faith.

Until Saturday morning.

Teachers on duty do not patrol on Saturdays. Yet I stayed awake, until the last fifteen minutes when I felt someone nudge my head and when I opened my eyes, he was right there. A new teacher with annoying diligence and a need to prove themselves to the administration. He asked the class monitor to write my name down and as soon as he walked out, the bell rang to announce the end of dawn preps.

Karua found me at the shop we owned inside Lake Market. “Are you sick?” No. “So what are you doing here?” There is no nice way to tell Karua that you have been suspended. I came out with it, plain and straight up, thereby awakening the vein in her forehead. Her eyes grew large and terrifying and I knew right there and then that I should be expecting a slap. “What did you do?” she asked, as if it even mattered. Fought, smoked weed, caught sneaking out, cheated in exams, killed the school nurse, impregnated a teacher’s daughter, extended…it was all the same to us. She had sent me to school and the school sent me back.

“Sleeping in class,” I said, wondering why that slap was running late, wondering why I was still alive.

Instead of a beating in the middle of the market, I got a question, whose depth you cannot really grasp unless I say it the way she said it. In Dholuo. She asked, “Koro gidwoki ka mondo inind koda?” So they sent you back so that you sleep with me?  Even in a language as polite as English, it still sounds horrible. Yet what she meant was different, more innocent. She was merely exclaiming at the foolishness of being sent home for sleeping in class, so that I can sleep some more.

The next morning, she dropped me at her cousin’s office, gave him permission to set me on fire if that would please him (she would still sleep eight hours), gave me 5 sok pocket money (oh, I was spoilt!) and then went to work. Normally parents whose children have been suspended come to plead for their children. But Karua was not a parent whose child had been suspended. Ah ah. Karua was a mother who had sent her son to school. Nobody messes around with her education.


Maranda High School sign at Nyapiedho Market

The third time she accompanied me to school, I had refused to go. It was not out of bravery. It was out of fear. It was somewhere in mid January and no school was open. I knew I would go to Maranda and find myself all alone. There were rumors that the government had issued a warning instructing heads of schools to keep their gates shut until told to do otherwise. Karua was not listening to any of those rumours. And even if it was true, those were orders from an illegitimate government, therefore it was not just her right to ignore them, it was her duty. What she believed was what the report form from last term said. That schools were to open on the first Monday after New Year’s. It was now the second Monday and in her head, I was already missing out on coursework. It also did not help that I was getting into Form 4 – the final year. I was a candidate. There was no use staying at home because Nyapiedho was at least 850km from Nairobi so whatever was going on at State House had no effect on my curriculum as far as she was concerned.

“But mummy, there is nobody in school. Could you at least call ahead?”

“Omera, were you also vying to be president?”

“Lakini even Kisumu Boys hawajafungua!”

“Are you a student of Kisumu Boys?”


“Which school did I send you to?”

I kept silent. That was the end of that argument.

“I asked you a question? DWOKA!”


“Is Maranda open or closed?”

“I do not know.”

“Haiya. Let us go and find out.”

Now that was the end of that argument.

Mother Karua and I got into a matatu at the stend and went to school. There were only 50 of us. Out of at least 800 students, only a handful had showed up. There was no teaching happening. We were all put in one dormitory, and that night as I lay down to sleep, I laughed at myself for wishing that my mother could see the pointlessness of leaving me there. I saw no cruelty in it. She merely did not want to miss a single thing. She wanted me to be there when schooling started. Most likely to shed off any excuses on my part for failing. Let nobody say, if I failed my KCSE, that she kept me at home when others were learning.

Two days later, we were sent back home. Karua was not happy. Which was fine. I was happy for the both us.

This was 2008. Kenya had fucked up. Royally.

Before the 2002 election, everything I knew about Kenyan politics was learnt in school and in the silence of our Migosi house in Kisumu. There was a time, around 1998, when I used the pointed end of a compass to write the letters LDP on my mother’s wall unit. The help found me and reported me. I knew for sure I was going to receive it, yet Karua simply told me not to do it again. She did not even yell at me, or excuse her side of the family from my foolishness. Instead, she warned me. She said it was not safe.

2002 was my first conscious election and even then I was eleven. I do not remember much of it other than posters screaming Kibaki Tosha. That and the one hit song from back in the day that I sing at karaoke; Unbwogable by Joseph Oyoo and Julius Owino, better known to the likes of me and you as GidiGidi MajiMaji. It was composed as a celebration of purely Luo political figureheads; both a dirge for those who left too soon (Ouko, Mboya, Oginga) and an exaltation of those present at the time (Raila, Orengo, Nyong’o). Despite not having an inclusive theme to it, it was too lit to be ignored and that is how it ended up as Mwai Kibaki’s political anthem. Nobody cared that no leaders from any other tribe were mentioned in this song, and even to date, very few even realize this. Can a young Luo make money anymore? This song barely reflected the times of its creation. But that did not matter. What mattered is what it said. That they were unbwogable. That they were not scared. That nobody could touch them. And this is exactly what the Rainbow Coalition was telling the retiring Mad King who was now being forced to unclench his fist and loosen the 24 year old grip he’d beleaguered us with. That children could now sketch whatever the fuck they wanted on their mother’s wall units with no fear other than the fear of their mother’s fury.

A tyrant had fallen. Kenya was exhaling. Thus Unbwogable spread throughout the land like a false rumour. Of course it did. Only for GidiGidi MajiMaji to receive KES. 5,000 in royalties from Music Copyright Society of Kenya two years later.

Since then, as if in obedience to some unwritten ordinance, every time Raila has offered himself for an election a theme song has to be composed. I cannot remember who sang what in 2013. It was that obscure. In 2017, Onyi Jalamo just gave us this useless arraignment of verse with no meaning whatsoever; a 7-minute waste of time that merely rides on a catchword, TIBIM, invented by former SONU Chairman, Babu Owino. NASA (the song, not the coalition) is, at best, a pile of fermenting garbage. That NASA (the coalition, this time) even chose it to be a campaign anthem is a tragedy. That jingle is so bad it can cause brain decay. Here, try it.

If ever there was a person who serenaded a Raila presidential candidature, it was a twenty-five-year-old high school dropout from Suba District. Onyi Papa Jey. Practically nobody had ever heard of this young man even though he had been lurking in the shadows of the ohangla industry for a while, touring both Kenya and Tanzania alongside the Benga dreamboat, Jack Nyadundo. Yet the moment Onyi released an album in 2007, everyone went mad in Kisumu. His music infected every club, every estate drinking hole, every matatu and every household you could come across. His song “Raila-ODM” did not become a favourite simply because Raila Odinga was currently the heartthrob of the nation, most favoured to win the 2007 election and highly likely to become the 4th Commander-in-Chief of the Kenyan forces. No. Well, maybe in a small part this was also a factor.

But to give credit where it is due, this was not just a song. This was a soundtrack to the coming to life of a dream that Luos had longed for, for nearly 40 years. A presidency.

With nothing but a branded kitenge garb, a feathered headdress, a fly whisk and three girls dancing near Lake Victoria – most likely Dunga Beach – Onyi Papa tells the story of how Luos had come to find themselves here, at the brink of realizing a four-decade old dream. In it, Raila is the prince who was promised, riding in a red Hummer. He exalts The Pentagon and reminds his listeners of its history. How Samuel Kivuitu, the then and last ECK Commissioner, gave Kenyans a choice of either a banana or orange. The referendum. How Raila chose an orange and the rest flocked to his side. Onyi mocks the banana people, calling them jokabimbe.  ODM is born.

In this song, Raila says Ng’ou ma ne baba na nopitho nasegamuko, gitiende.Ng’ou mapidho kenda jokanyanam, ok no badha kata matin. That if he uprooted the tree his father planted (Moi), then this tree that he planted himself (Kibaki) will not stress him even a single bit. Then we are taken to 1st of September 2007 at the delegation vote where Najib Balala gave up his presidential bid for the ODM ticket to Raila thereby securing his bid.

Then everyone’s favorite scene comes up. The football match. The music video is an Einstein juggle of footage from several Chelsea matches and images from a ubiquitous calendar from 2007 depicting Samuel Kivuitu as a referee officiating caricatures of ODM and PNU soccer players. PNU players are said to start the game led by Martha Karua and Uhuru Kenyatta. They give the ball to Kalonzo Musyoka who, the moment he touches the ball, gets sent off for some reason. Red card. Now ODM has the ball. Ochillo Ayako to Musalia Mudavadi. Mudavadi to William Ruto. Ruto to Joe Nyaga. Nyaga to Najib Balala. The ODM Pentagon are now past their half and now into enemy territory. The Number 7 starboy Najib Balala presses on. Balala anakata, tena anachenga. Balala passes to ODM player sporting jersey Number 9, Raila Amollo wuod Odinga. The Tractor himself. Tinga welcomes the ball with a head touch, then places it gingerly on his chest, before dropping it to his right foot. The crowd comes alive. The first one to attack is Raphael Tuju. The son of Rarieda is sent the wrong way. Raila proceeds to unleash a series of embarrassments to PNU FC. Chenga Saitoti. Chenga Michuki. Moody Awori charges in full speed,sliding in with a potential career ending tackle, but the ODM captain switches his play to the opposite direction, sending Uncle Moody sliding on his ass all the way to Funyula. The ref ignores the incident and waves Play On. There and then Raila, now depicted as a Chelsea striker from the footage, remains one on one with the goalkeeper. Goalie approaches and he is dressed with a kanzu, before The Tractor fires a deadly shot.

The song then winds down with a promise to the Luo nation. It asks them to calm down. That this thing is ours. That there is a hailstorm coming. Bed uru mos, JoKisumo, bed uru mos. We refused to listen. There was no way we could keep calm. How could we? We sharpened our knives, tethered goats and picked out chicken to slaughter. Victory was in sight. We had to prepare bwana!

By any standard this song was a 17.18-minute love letter to Raila Odinga. It is said that Onyi Papa Jey was gifted with a brand new car by the son of Odinga for this song. But then again, this is politics. A lot is said.

Of course you can imagine by now just how huge this song was. You can imagine the magnitude of real estate it occupied in our hearts. In December of 2007, Karua and Nimrod went away to Siaya. They had applied for and landed ECK jobs there and since elections were on the 27th, it meant that they would be away for Christmas. My sister was a first year student at Lakeland College, USA, courtesy of the Zawadi program run by Susan Mboya. This means that the only people left in that house were myself and Deo – the brother I follow. We were just the two of us. We followed the results on all the networks, especially Citizen TV. By the time we fell asleep on the couches while counting votes, Raila Odinga was waaaay ahead of Kibaki with no chance of the latter catching up.

We slept easy. Looking back now, I wish we had taken a hint from the greatest Raila Odinga anthem ever created. While that song gave us hope, its video had foreshadowed what would later cause me to look at my mother and tell her I would not let her send me to school. 2007-08 Post Election Violence – the end of which taught us a lesson we should have already learned a long time ago. The end of which saw me reporting to back Maranda High School somewhere in February, this time for alone and for good, only to realize that some of my classmates who had schooled with us since Form One would not be returning. Joseph Kimondo, Obwocha Mayaka and others. We did not ask why. We knew why.

In that Onyi Papa clip, at  exactly 12.18, Raila scores in lyrics only. The video tells a different story. It tells of a player receiving a pass, positioning himself perfectly, and pulling a strike that delivers a lethal shot…the goalkeeper dives in vain to stop it, the crowd goes into a frenzy, but then the ball never really goes in. Instead, it hits the top bar of the goalpost and ricochets.

No goal.

Cover image by Boniface Mwangi


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  1. Wow . During the 07-08 PEV, I was to join class 7 the next year. ( do not calculate my age ????). I dont remember much, but what i do, is embedded in heart ♥. We reported to school and as we prepared to go to the next class, my best friend since class one, since we joined primary,came to class. I was so excited to see her. Catch up on our holiday. She walked to me, gave me back my sweater I had given her the previous term, and said, i quote, ‘ mlituibia kura, I am not talking to you’. I was flabbergasted I couldn’t believe her. She walked back out and in two weeks, (she didnt talk o me in the two weeks) she transferred. I was so heartbroken. The whole cannot eat cannot sleep always crying heart break. It hurt so bad.

    Ofcourse we reconnected in class eight when we sent each other success cards.

    I know my story is a grain of sand compared to the kind o damage actually done to kenyans directly or indirectly .

  2. Oh boy, I really loved that song by Onyi Papa Jay . Enyewe it had a deep meaning though his work was really never appreciated.The car you are talking about is a “ghost car”.It was never bought.In fact hakupewa anything .It is even sadder to imagine that his career has been dwindling and now we hardly even hear about him.
    Nice Read as always.

    • Great piece.
      I have watched Onyi Papa Jay’s video but has never been keen on that part of No Goal,will rewatch to confirm.

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