The one thing I love about Big Mac is that even when the lights go out, the music from his trumpet still shines true in the hearts of men. For him, the show must go on. This we came to learn last Friday evening during Salsa Night at Artcaffe. The Oval, where this particular branch is located, suffers spasms of blackouts while the band is playing. Power comes and goes at will like asthma attacks; unexpected. Big Mac continues to play, even more passionately still when a blanket of darkness swallows upon the restaurant like a deadly virus. And just like Big Mac, the dancers do not stop dancing. Men hold their women by the waist, moving in two steps, forward and back, twirling them around, carrying them. It is a gracious sight. For those of us who cannot dance Salsa, we watch in awe, wishing that we could move the way these people move. To us, everyone on the floor is a pro. We sit, sipping cocktails from straws and chowing down the monstrously sized Mexican salad.
Behind me is this white lady, seemingly in her thirties, dancing with this black guy no older than Twitter. While the guy wears a smile broader than daylight, the white lady shows little emotion. She must be his dance instructor, because there is no passion in how they dance together. It is too physical. Clearly they have been dancing together for a while now, because he does not even seem to charm her in any way. Black dude, with a punk hairstyle, stripped shirt and a broad smile, leading the dance in the basic meaning of the term, but he is not really leading, because she knows exactly where he is going to take her, and sometimes, she goes even before he shows her. I watch in secret amazement at the kind of power dynamic that is going on there. She is not following. She has made a conscious decision not to.
Meanwhile, approximately 15 kilometres from where we are, there is this white-bearded man having a conversation with a news anchor on national TV. He is denying being involved in an incident for which he had, just a few hours before, apologised for. The man is Antoine Christophe Agbepa Mumba, popularly known to the likes of you and me as Koffi Olomide, and to himself as Mopao (Lingala for ‘Boss/King/Lord’ presumably a self proclamation as King of Lingala), Mopao Mokonzi, Rambo du Congo, and Le Grand Patron. True to form, Kenyans have been in love with this man’s music, and deep has been this love such that there is not time a club in Nairobi will play lingala without playing Danger de Mort, Loi, Skol, Effrakata, and more recently, Selfie. However, what Koffi Olomide does not understand is that Kenyans are amnesiacs. Kenyans do not owe anybody any form of allegiance. Today you are the most delicious plate in town and tomorrow you are a cold sandwich.
It was just four months ago when Koffi Olomide sold out his show at Koroga Festival. In fact, it is said that he made so much money when he came to Kenya that he decided to cancel other shows, just so that he could come back and perform in Nairobi one more time. He believed in this big man hype. Got high on his own supply and as a result, grew arrogant. So much so that when he landed in Nairobi on Friday morning, he had the temerity to take a break from an interview to kick one of his female dancers. The whole thing was captured live on camera, in full view of the Kenyan airport police. But then Kenyan police can sometimes be nothing but blunt instruments. They were begging him to cool down, seemingly pleading with this big headed prick to mind his temper, instead of arresting him for what is clearly a cognizable offence.
What followed afterwards was something that Koffi Olomide’s team had not expected, and the Kenya Police had, in their foolishness, taken for granted once again. Kenyans went wild on social media and in just a matter of hours, #DeportKoffiOlomide was trending on Twitter.
I had seen this fire spark earlier in the day, and even when I rebuked Koffi Olomide’s kung-fu antics, I knew that this man was probably still going to perform. His show was still going to be sold out and the man was still going to leave this city with a shitload of money, because violence in itself is something that we Kenyans have somewhat become accustomed to. Come to think of it, it was just the other day that a human rights lawyer, his client and his taxi drivers turned up dead after being arrested by the police. At the same time, the Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero and Senator Mike Sonko have both been known to have, at different times, physically assaulted the Nairobi Women’s Representative, Rachel Shebesh. In both occasions, people protested, while others cracked jokes about it. Lately, the Bungoma Senator, Moses Wetangula has been having marital problems with his wife. She has allegedly assaulted him more than once. Again, that was a proper chance to talk about Gender Based Violence – about how it is not just a women problem, but a human problem, but then what did we do? In the first instance, the Deputy President William Ruto himself mocked the Senator, and Kenyans held their aching bellies in laughter, saying how in another life, our DP would have made a good comedian. Then in the second instance, Kenyans on Twitter greeted Wetangula’s misfortune with derison, using his domestic woes as a basis to deny him the right to vie for presidency next year.
— christabel Adhiambo (@christabelodhiz) July 15, 2016
#WetangulaBeatenAgain then he wants to be President!!! Smh…Luhyas unite behind Mudavadi we make it to second round and we beat uhuru
— THE REAL SHIX (@shikalia) July 15, 2016
And it is not just the grown ups who have normalised violence. Even the young-ins have been watching and learning from the best. That is why in this year only, about 78 high schools have been razed to the ground by fiery students in various parts of the country.
So yeah, knowing the kind of people we are, I would have bet top dollar at the time of viewing Koffi’s video that condemning what he did was going to be useless. He would buy his freedom at the right price.
But then there is this one tiny detail. Koffi Olomide is not a Kenyan. He is an outsider, and that is what made people even more angry. That someone had the guts to come here, break our laws in the full view of the public, the police and rolling cameras and basically give not even a single fuck about it. Of course, it was only after the temperatures rose that he put up a video on Facebook, trying to justify his actions. In the video with him was his dancer, Pamela, clearly under duress with a face that looks like a broken promise, trying to make us believe that Koffi loves her and does not beat her. Only that this was too late. Offended Kenyans have this untapped gift of finding dirt. By the time the apology came, we had already known how busy Olomide has been.
- 2008 – Accused of assaulting a photojournalist from a local TV station in Kinshasa who was covering his concert.
- 2012- Arrested in August 2012 for assaulting his former music producer, Diego Lubaki, and was handed a three-month suspended prison sentence for the assault.
- 2012- Charged with three counts of rape and illegal confinement of his dancers in France.
- August 2012 – Arrested for assaulting his producer at a hotel in the DRC.
- December 2012 – Assaulted a photojournalist in Zambia. The police dropped the case in July 2013.
- December 2012 – Accused of kicking a freelance photo-journalist, Jean Mandela, in the face during a concert in Zambia.
Of course most of these are accusations and charges, most of which were settled or mysteriously dropped, but then all of them, coupled with his lapse of judgement in Kenya, tell a very saddening story. A story that Meshack Yobby in this post succinctly summarised by saying “He [Koffi] has a history of doing this thing. But people see the beauty of his music and somehow, fail to see the ugliness he brings with it.”
As we sit at Artcaffe, soothed by the jazz spilling from the speakers, and couples dancing freely like nobody’s watching, one of the ladies on our table (her name is Awino) all of a sudden startles us with a sudden leap of joy. For a moment, I imagine that she has just won Pambazuka, or even gotten lucky with Sport Pesa. Nothing of the sort. Awino cares for football as much as I care for The Mindy Project. She passes her phone around. It is breaking news about Koffi being arrested outside Citizen TV studios, and ferried to the cell at JKIA. Being a Friday evening, what that is supposed to mean is that Koffi is to stay inside the police cell until Monday, when he is to be presented before a Magistrate to face whatever charges the police have slapped him with. The other girls on the table cheer.
As for me, I am taken back to December 2004. It is the first time I ever saw a man beat up a woman with my own two eyes. I had just cleared KCPE and so my mother thought it would be a great idea for me to decompress. I ended up at her sister’s place in Westlands. Then one evening, my cousin and I came back home from playing to a heated argument between my aunt and her husband, and immediately he saw this he began crying. I did not know what to do, because never in my entire existence did I ever witness my dad raise his voice to my mum. Maybe he did, but not in my presence. And here we were, watching my uncle and aunt exchange words, listening to this man call my mother’s sister names that, even now, I cannot call anyone when drunk, leave alone my girlfriend. And when words failed, his fists began to send the message he thought was not getting across. My cousin ran inside to the bedroom and slid under the bed. I stood, watching helplessly, as this man threw my aunt to the ground and then stomped on her with the same vivacity that Pentecostals stomp the ground with when admonishing the Devil. I made for the door, opened it, and just as I wanted to leave, my aunt yelled at me, “GEORGE, CLOSE THAT DOOR! Where do you think you are going at this time?” In hindsight, I think she did not want me to get help; that would be, in Luo speak, undressing her naked in front of her peers. The following day, we took the next Akamba bus back to Kisumu. We spent that Christmas with my aunt and cousin, but still, when the year turned, she went back to her husband.
Unlike the white woman on the dance floor, she had allowed her man to do whatever he wanted with her. The beatings never stopped. They never do.
Presently, as the women on the table high-five in celebration, I rush to Twitter and Facebook. And let me tell you guys, there is no better time to cull your friend list than when something like this happens. Stupidity never fails to raises its ugly head. And so in a spate of fury, many users were online talking about how we were blowing this little thing out of proportion. Beating someone (and not just women) is not a little thing. Mistreating someone whose career depends on you is not a little thing. It is bullying. That is why I said at the beginning that violence has become such an everyday thing. It is now ‘one of those things’ that you do and say “Ooops I did it again, my bad,” and expect people to forgive just like that. More so when it comes from such a public figure in whose music many other people revel, a person who has as huge an influence as Koffi, committing acts of violence has a higher impact, not just to the dignity of the victim, but the decency of the society in general. Why? Because people are paying attention. You can’t just brush Koffi’s violence with broad stroked oversimplifications and excuse it as a peccadillo that shouldn’t get our knickers in a twist. It should get our knickers in a twist. It should hurt. It should squeeze our nuts until we understand that we are talking about savage cruelty and not a fart.
Then there are the ones who hurt you because you expected better. You see them write things like “I do not support violence against women but….” It is always after the BUT that everything crashes and burns, because I cannot imagine anything that can qualify a sentence that begins with I do not support violence against women. What? That they deserved it? That they had it coming?
The most annoying were the people who took this opportunity to remind those who were celebrating the arrest of Koffi Olomide, that we Kenyans are hypocrites. Simply because Kidero and the likes got away with similar wrongs. You know what? I remember people went crazy online in the case of Kidero, as well as Sonko, only that with these two, politics came into play. All of a sudden, the assault case turned into a fight about the never peaceful politics of Nairobi, and the scramble for the county cake. But still, there was a harsh outcry, and simply because these guys may have forgotten, does not mean that it did not happen. It is only that these naysayers needed another act of violence to be committed for them to remember a previous one, just so that they could use this unpunished injustice to justify a future injustice.
It is true that the fight against domestic violence is far from over. It is true that people like Kidero, Sonko, Wetangula’s wife, and many others have somehow managed to get away with it, but that does not mean that Koffi should get away with it too. That does not mean that we cannot celebrate a little victory like this one. Koffi Olomide being arrested and deported is just but a small battle victory in a war that began long before Achieng Abura and Suzzanna Owiyo were nothing more than naughty ideas in their father’s heads. Even the struggle for Kenya’s independence did not happen by sleight of hand. Our grandparents did not just wake up one day, go out to fight, and by evening, were already free. It was a series of small battles. Both in the political scene and in the bushes of the Aberdare forest. And that is exactly what the fight against domestic and gender based violence is. A long fight. In some cases, we lose and lick our wounds, and in some cases we win and celebrate to keep the spirit alive. Of course it would be foolish for us to imagine that now that Koffi has been deported from Kenya for assault, then the coast is clear…and quite honestly, with all due respect, we do not need anyone to remind us of that. We already know.
It is sad that many right-thinking people still support a man who is nothing more than a vile, unapologetic, but unfortunately talented, suit. The apology video that he had earlier put on his Facebook Page to show solidarity between him and Pamela, no longer exists. Clearly those were mere empty words. Cheap talk. He only said them in a futile attempt to save his show, because the first step in disaster management is damage control, and that is what that ‘apology’ was. Damage control.
Currently, it seems like Kenya’s love affair with Koffi Olomide has passed its sell-by date. The love is gone and there is not even a warm spot where it used to sit. After Koffi’s Visa was cancelled, what remains on Mopao’s Facebook Page is this impersonal parting shot to Nairobi;
Of course, judging a man so harshly opens one up for interrogation. Am I perfect? No. Nobody is. The perfect ones, just like the beautiful ones, are not yet born. But that does not mean I cannot call bullshit when it starts to stink.
I had not expected to start thinking about all this when I came for Salsa Night with my friends. I came here to let loose. The winds of winter had brought with them a gift for me; a cold that clogged my nostrils and made me feel like I was carrying around a bag of cement on my chest. So I simply wanted to nurse my cold with Dawa, enjoy the company of friends, watch to Big Mac hold his golden trumpet like a long lost lover he has just been reunited with, as he kissed her and made her cry. I wanted to watch people dance exotic dances, and feel jealous. I simply wanted to be. But then my plans went awry, for a short spell, just as the best laid plans of mice and men are often known to.