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Cannibalistic Nation

A nation of cannibals.
That is what we have become.
Experts at finishing ours and our own.
While immortalizing Obama on the other hand.
Although if Obama’s life path would have led him to Kenya, we would have finished him too.
Like we did his father.

These thoughts are inspired by the tragic death of Dr. Muiruri. Also known as Ngethu Star . A young man who had transformed his life, had worked hard to excel, made the “jump” as I often ask people to do, and was just about to enjoy the fruits of his labour.

It’s true that the he is just one of the many senseless lives that are lost in Kenya (especially of young men) on a daily basis. But his story has resonated so deeply with me and many others. Why? Maybe because I’ve done that celebratory jaunt back home , and can picture me or someone I’m with getting into a silly fight at the heng and just like that it’s over.

A confession that’s relevant.

The longest I’ve ever been away from Kenya is two years and three months. It was painful. I was notorious for finding ways to go back home right from when I left (and have the grant applications to prove it!). I’ve worked in Nairobi every year since 1998, with the exception of that long stay.

So why did I stay away for so long? Because, after I found out I’d been accepted to HLS I had this morbid fear that if I went home something bad would happen to me. Specifically, some random tragic “killed by a speeding matatu while she was on the verge of going to Harvard Law” type storo. Of course, remaining in the U.S. did guarantee my mortality but you could not convince me to go home until I at least experienced a year at HLS…so great was my fear of being cannibalized by my country. It all sounds a bit silly in retrospect, but I was determined to do what I could to ensure that a could at least taste the fruits of my hard work…and I suspect it’s a fear shared by many in the diaspora (at least we have the luxury of staying away).

Anyway, I rambling now so I’ll let the words of someone more eloquent that I am convey my thoughts.



ife has never been as cheap in Kenya as it is now.
On Friday September 12th 2008, James Muiruri Nganga wrote the following words in his blog:

“With my thesis already submitted and in the hands of my examiners, I can feel that I deserve more from life. Therefore, destined for great heights and bigger things, I am now knocking on the doors of success and satisfaction . The world is now mine.”

Barely four months later, on Saturday morning, a car carrying police officers followed 29 year old Dr. James Muiruri Nganga headed home from a long night out in Crooked Q, a club in Westlands. I wonder what he and his brother might have been talking about as they headed home and as the sunlight hit their faces. Maybe they were wondering about the argument that had had them all thrown out of the club was all about. Some guy had picked a fight with James over a woman and the bouncers sensing trouble had thrown them all out. Or maybe, as the sun rose over the city, warming them, he felt just as described in his blog on November 4th 2008:

“Since being awarded the doctorate, every moment has felt like a quiet afternoon with the fresh air forming some summer saxophone note, rising and falling on a warm breeze. With jewels in my heart, it is heaven here and the light that glows inside my heart feels like the salvation that will hopefully free my soul and brighten many others.”

The drunken police inspector might have been the furthest thing from James mind as a moved to block the one James rode in. A few heated words were exchanged before the trigger happy policemen whipped out his gun, firing bullets into his head, shoulder and heart – a further two through his mouth for good measure after he collapsed onto the tarmac. Their vicious , drunken mission accomplished, the police officers sped off to report the killing of a “a mungiki bank robber” at Buru Buru police station. According to the Daily Nation, his father, Former Gatundu North MP, one of the first to arrive at MP Shah Hospital to receive the news was ” devastated by the death of his second-born son and said: “He was my life and my everything.””

Dr. James Muiruri Nganga isn’t the first to die this way. He isn’t the first hope of the family to be cut down in a hail of police bullets. His father, harsh as this may sound, is one of maybe even hundreds right now lamenting that their child, their life, their everything was slain.

If the stories I have heard in recent times are anything to go by, this extrajudicial killing of young men is a national crisis. James may well be one of hundreds of young men who have been killed by police all over the country in recent times. In every slum and every lower income neighborhood in this city, many youth claim – should you ask – that their peers have being slain by police every day in unprecedented numbers,. Its not uncommon for a young man from the slums to tell you that all his friends are dead. If you don’t believe me, you go ask yourself. Pick a youth, any youth in Kibera, Mathare, Huruma… and ask him what he believes the biggest cause of death for young men in the slums today is, and you’ll hear it for yourselves, with your own ears. And, like James, these kids are being classified in death as criminals or mungiki’s– or both. We have to be honest with ourselves and ask: if James’ father wasn’t an ex MP, or if he wasn’t a brilliant young man with a PhD before 30 and with his whole life ahead of him, would be forgotten just as the hundreds of other bullet riddled corpses that precede him have been?

In December 2008, just a month or two after James took his PhD Viva across the ocean in Sheffield, unaware that all his dreams were soon to end, I was speaking to a Nderitu, a 32 year old youth leader in MYSA, Mathare Youth Soccer Association, whose membership extends to 18,000 youth across all of Nairobis slums. Of all his concerns about all the terrible things going on in Mathare – the drugs, the disease, the unemployment – Nderitus greatest worry was what he called the loss of a generation, and he expressed this fear with clarity and anger:

“saa hi kukienda mathare mi huona watu wanafanya campaign za Aids mingi sana but watu wa young wana die karibu kila day juu ya kushootiwa saa nashindwa tunafaa tuonge juu ya Aids ama tuongee juu ya watu kushootiwa ? maybe saa hii haituaffect lakini niko sure another ten years ndio watu wata realize weeh,kuna generation iljkikuwa wiped out.” (“if you go to Mathare right now, you’ll see people doing AIDS campaigns, but young people are dying almost everyday, being shot by the police, and I wonder, should we be talking about HIV while people are being shot? Maybe at this moment we aren’t affected, but I’m sure that in another 10 years, people will realize a whole generation was wiped out”.)

It’s true: There’s a killing spree going on. And we can only hope that James’ death will do something to stem the tide. At the top of his eloquent, passionate , honest, highly intelligent and expressive blog NGETHU STAR (http://ngethustar.blogspot.com/ ) – he being the star friom Ngethu Village – he writes: NG’ETHU STAR: From that Destined Child beneath the Stars that light the African Village along the valleys of River Chania, to the Road to Doctorate and Beyond the eagle’s heights…

Today, I feel compelled to complete that header for him as the three dots he placed after the sentence seem to demand the completion of the premature obituary he unknowingly penned. I hope he would approve of it:
NG’ETHU STAR: From that Destined Child beneath the Stars that light the African Village along the valleys of River Chania, to the Road to Doctorate and Beyond the eagle’s heights… came the brutal slaying of a dream, bringing Ngethu Star spiraling back down to earth to die in a pool of his own blood, slain by those who swore to protect him in the country he loved so much. But through his death, he has allowed others to rise and soar to eagles heights, to be saved. To live. Indeed this brilliant young man shed his blood so that others like him may live on.

17 comments to Cannibalistic Nation

  • Shiku

    Well written!

  • Crystal

    A nation of cannibals…that is exactly what we have become!
    The passing of James has broken the hearts of so many. Considering all the loved ones of all the young men that have been gunned down by our “protectors”…we are a nation of broken hearts.

    Fare thee well James… May the Lord hold you in the palm of his hands…

  • Benjamin

    What a sad thing and untimely dealth that had befallen upon Dr. Muiruri Nganga. Sorrowly speaking, what else could Africa cries for more than losing an educated son who gave up whatever luxury a Ph.D. from America could afforded him and returned home to be killed by the Kenyan police. What have we become as people? The death of Dr. Muiruri Nganga illustrated how the black race had lost legitimacy in itself.

    I used to be anti-African intellectuals who tended to live and work in America or in Europe. However, I came to realize that the reason why they don’t go back is related to security and hatred from their fellow Africans. This point is illustrated by untimely death of Dr. Muiruri Ngaga. It is not good to write base on assumptions. But it is true, however, to say the least that the reason why Africa is so behind in everything could be blamed on lack of social capital that includes edcuated people, norms, trust, and solidarity. On the other hand, it is true that the educated immigrant minority group residing in the global north are mostly Africans. One would say that this group would be full of Asians. It is, opposite that they’re Africans. Why? Because majority of educated Asians tended to go back to Asia. Oppositely, majority of educated Africans tended to stay and work in the West fearing to be killed if they go back to Africa.

    Above all, I hope Lord rest his sould peacefully. I hope Africans could learn that the most important resource that could change the future of that dying continent is African people. We’re the most important resource only if we could value who we’re!!!

  • Anonymous

    i completely know/understand what you mean. if you read the orbituary sections of the Kenyan dailies at christmas or any other public holiday, most people died in RTAs! i’ve never not gone home for fear of death, however like you, i’ve timed my trips home.

    Reading james blog, it clear how far he had come and how important it was to him for us to know that he got his PhD by merit. May his soul rest in eternal peace. May his story inspire others to do thier best and be the best they can be. Life is short, live it to the full!

  • CMN

    This is one of the stories which simply breaks my heart and stirs up so much anger. I did not know James personally, but he and I share many friends and I am extremely inspired by the man that he was. As a young Kenyan woman living in the diaspora, I share the same morbid fear of something bad happening to me or my family. I have spent six years living away from home, I visit nearly every year, and as much as I love Nairobi and plan to settle back in a few months, the thought of moving back to a place where insecurity and injustice are the order of the day terrorizes me more than anything else. I hope it is not in vain for those of us who have accomplished so much abroad. I pray for justice and most importantly I pray for each and every one of our contry men and women to realize that this should not and should never be.

  • Moral of the story: don’t pick a fight with a stranger? (assumption being that the killer was a total stranger). May he rest in peace, and may we all learn from this.

  • Wambui

    My dear James,

    I am still reeling in shock so dont diss my penmanship too much. I know you prefered to go by Nganga but I couldnt resist throwing in one last “James”. ( I can almost see you screwing up your face to rebuke my “deeply ingrained neo-colonial mind set”).

    I woke up this morning with that now familiar dull ache in my chest. I can find no meaning in any of this. I am haunted by two thoughts. That you suffered, that death did not come instantly for you. And even worse, that I got so busy living that I neglected you my friend.

    I came across this post as I was looking for your blog page. I felt a strange connectedness with you on this page. I know you would have loved it, it would appeal to your sense of justice. You would be pleased that there are people who are not too over-awed by your background to understand that the loss your family feels is the same loss that hundreds of families feel when their beloved sons are torn from their breasts.

    It has been an honor to be associated with you. An even bigger honor to know that I influenced you in some ways (or maybe it was just my books that did the influencing). You have left some big shoes to fill my friend, but try I will.

    I love you Nganga,


    PS: This poem is probably too macabre for most people but you….. I know you would get it. I found it in the book we bought together at the Waterstones on the High Street remember? Maybe you even read it(??) if you did, I bet it resonated on some level!!

    Let me die a youngman’s death
    not a clean and inbetween
    the sheets holywater death
    not a famous-last-words
    peaceful out of breath death

    When I’m 73
    and in constant good tumour
    may I be mown down at dawn
    by a bright red sports car
    on my way home
    from an allnight party

    Or when I’m 91
    with silver hair
    and sitting in a barber’s chair
    may rival gangsters
    with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
    and give me a short back and insides

    Or when I’m 104
    and banned from the Cavern
    may my mistress
    catching me in bed with her daughter
    and fearing for her son
    cut me up into little pieces
    and throw away every piece but one

    Let me die a youngman’s death
    not a free from sin tiptoe in
    candle wax and waning death
    not a curtains drawn by angels borne
    ‘what a nice way to go’ death

    Roger McGough

  • Frankie Wanja

    even when gone, you are still shining in our lives. more than ever. i try not to be sad… for that is what you would have expected. celebrating your life is a huge task lol. i wonder how you did it, so many people to handle and reminisce with. i know ur in a better place causing a ruckus with the likes of cousin George and Muoka. you have always stressed on the need to be hopeful, prayerful and thankful to God in everything i do. i am. but im working harder on that if possible, that way im assured we will be re united someday. i love you so much and i know youre right here and u aint going nowhere,,, yes you heard me! always on my mind… you my best friend… are painfully missed… shurumai!!!

  • William k.m.

    Iwish to first express my sincere sorrowful feeling towards the murder of mr muiruri.however,i observe the action by the murder suspect as exceptional and police force wouldhave/will do nothing in future in a similar incident. Its for the larger soceity to put in “writting “how should a man/woman do when his/ her partner is stolen from him or her.for the meantime i advice you to keep off the police lovedones.what we can ask ourselves is why is the police kills the suspects?do the love kill people,how do the force identify killers when they make recruitment?suppose those killf were themselves policemen would they kill? Are these killings a kenyan or police problem?do police have tools to enable them garther enough evidence to convince court to convict suspect so as to get rid /isolate them from society?if ur ans is no, and not a complaint,then you agree the physical ridance of the suspected outlaws! Orteach police your new way of getting rid of mungiki without scientific(dna analysis,etc)investigations.

  • Lilian

    Nganga, I didn’t know you either but its obvious you cared for the little guy..obvious that you had a strong sense of what is wrong with our beloved country and what had to be done to bring some balance to that world. Its also obvious that you lived in your 29 years, a richer life than some older than you would ever dream of.
    So I mourn your loss like all those other senseless killings all around the world and especially in Kenya and I hope it comforts your family somewhat when they see how you touched people…Fare thee well.

  • rachel

    Honestly, I was sorry to hear about Ngethu star’s passing.

    But I always believe that in every situation/outcome is a lesson to be learnt. People,let his death not be in vain. The fight was over a woman…and egos must have been bruised thoroughly. My advice is: No matter, the situation always be the bigger person….walk away roho safi…live to fight another day…not everyone is as reasonable as you are. PEACE.

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  • Teria

    I’m sorry that Ng’ethe had to die in such a painful way. It is very unjust. In the same way, it is also very unjust to crucify an innocent man for Ng’ethe’s unfortunate and untimely death. Let justice be served. Alex Chepkonga should be freed!!!!

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