MORDECAI OGADA – Marseille 2021: The 2nd Scramble for Africa
If you want to see colonialism alive and well in 2021, one of the first places you should check out is Mathare, or one of Nairobi’s informal settlements. These are places where people are still not treated as full citizens, but rather as sources of cheap labor. Citizens deserve water, electricity, health care, education, roads, etc. provided or publicly accessible. But the people of Mathare are not treated as citizens. They are treated as disposable.
One of the clearest means by which elimination is police murders. In August, a week ago, police shot dead seven young men who were not charged and not convicted. But, while criminal suspects in other parts of the city are arrested and jailed, the police are killing the ghetto’s “throwaway” young men because society, in its complicit silence, has agreed it is more efficient to this way.
We know that Kenyan civil society has long spoken out against the killings of police officers. The recent murders of Benson Njiru Ndwiga and Emmanuel Mutura Ndwiga while in custody in Embu have rightly aroused public outrage. But what about the seven young men who were shot dead by police in Mathare during that bloody week in August?
On August 9, 2021, a young man named Ian Motiso sat down for a late lunch at a kibanda in Mlango Kubwa, Mathare, when a killer cop named Blacky passed by. Blacky drew his gun and shot Motiso down at that point. Just like that, Motiso is no longer with us. He was 21 years old.
Another extrajudicial execution. Another life cut short.
Even though police killings continue across Kenya, people are talking about it more than ever. A few weeks ago, the Ndwiga brothers were arrested in Embu by the police. While in custody, the police beat them to death. The audience responded with anger. National news covered it extensively. The lawyers took over the brothers’ cases.
But what about Motiso? What about the other six young men killed in Mathare that week? Almost silence.
People say that the young men killed by the police in the ghetto are âthugsâ. People say those who speak out against police murders just don’t understand what it’s like to be a victim of crime in informal settlements. I was born and raised in Mathare. I have been the victim of a crime. I know the pain of being stolen from valuable goods. I know the pain of the blows of heartless young men. I know the pain of losing loved ones to “boys” who stab with knives.
Motiso committed crimes. Motiso personally attacked me. And Motiso did not deserve to be extrajudicially executed. I believe so, although I still have an injury behind my right ear since he hit my head.
Two months ago, Smater Zagadat and I had just arrived at the Mathare Social Justice Center (MSJC) to conduct the MSJC Kids Club rehearsals as usual. MSJC Kids Club is an initiative that uses community dance and theater to advocate for social justice. Smater and I are the coordinators. That afternoon I was wearing a black t-shirt with the âDance with Zagadatâ logo – Smater’s trademark – so Smater picked up his phone to take a picture of it. Within seconds, three teenagers barged in and ripped off the phone. We ran after them towards the river and managed to grab the guy who grabbed the phone. Some children from the MSJC Kids Club followed.
We caught the thief and dragged him to the office so he could return Smater’s phone. But suddenly a group of young men came out of nowhere and attacked me. I only remember feeling their punches coming from all directions. Their fingers were covered with heavy coated rings. My teeth are almost out. I couldn’t see what was going on, but I could see blood coming out of my mouth. All this happened in the early evening on Mau Mau Road, between the bridge that connects Kambi Safi Road to the Kosovo Hospital Ward, a busy area – but no one came to my rescue except the children of the MSJC who shouted and cursed the attackers. .
I recognized one of the attackers. Even though he recognized me back, he didn’t stop beating me. He felt no shame in attacking someone he knew. He was Motiso.
Let me take you back, because I want you to understand something important. Motiso was born and raised in Mathare. He was very familiar with the six rooms of Mathare, from the elderly to children. By the age of 16 he was already a very talented dancer and part of the Billian Music Family (BMF), along with Smater herself. The community loved these dance groups, and in return, the groups inspired many children in Mathare, including myself.
The first time I saw the BMF dance group, I had just graduated from elementary school. The dancers were performing “Vigelegele” by Willy Paul along the Mau Mau Road. It was the first time I heard the name Motiso. The children, shouting over the booming speakers, applauded him as he danced.
“Umecheki vil Motiso amedo hiyo Stingo?” “
“Atakua mgori’s dancer!”
He was just so good, and I guess that’s why he so easily became famous.
Growing up in Mathare, we all start with sweet dreams. A dream of becoming a doctor, policeman, engineer, teacher, pilot and many more. The teachers told us that these dreams will only come true if you work hard. Maybe that’s why Motiso worked so hard to make his dream come true: to become a dancer.
Maybe if he hadn’t been born into a poor family, his hard work would have made his dream come true. But Motiso was born in a place that stinks of all kinds of human rights violations, poverty, ecological injustice. His dream stopped because of the environment in which he was raised. So, has he given up? Yes, Motiso gave up.
Imagine the fight he went through. First, he was unemployed. Motiso, like many of us in Mathare, was trapped in a cycle of wage slavery. You wake up, go to work, get a salary, barely make food and rent, sleep, repeat until you die. But your work never turns into a life of dignity. You are just trapped.
Second, Motiso was in the danger zone of being a man in his twenties living in the ghetto. As young men of Mathare, when we reach this age, we automatically become an enemy of the state. The ghetto is a place where a child grows up innocent, and then later becomes a victim of predators that target, hunt, and prey on him.
So Motiso went ahead and jumped on a bad train. He quit dancing and got involved in crime such as petty theft. The reason he chose crime over a righteous path is simple: he needed to survive.
Some people criticize his decision, asking him why he should commit a crime when the government has offered many job opportunities to young people, such as a program called Kazi Mtaani. But, if these people understood that Mutiso was the victim of the structural violence created by the system we were born into, they would understand that they are asking a young man to make “good” decisions as he suffocates in a system that never treated him as a human.
Mutiso tried to join Kazi Mtaani, in fact. A few months ago in Mathare, a group of young men went to the administration to register with Kazi Mtaani. But they were surprised to find that in order to participate they first had to bribe the zone chief 1,000 KES ($ 10). How do you look a young unemployed person in the eye, when you know that he has no job, and ask him for money? Maybe the thieves who stole Smater’s phone wanted to sell it to bribe the boss and get a job.
Motiso will always be remembered as a thief. He stole a lot. Many still cry because of what he did.
But remember, he was a friend too. He was a member of the family.
He never deserved to be born into a system that doesn’t care about the poor.
He never deserved to live in a world where the poor remain powerless to exploit them and, when they do what they want to survive, kill them.
He didn’t deserve to be killed by the people we expect to protect us.
He never deserved this.