Sunday, 24th July 2011
I do not weep. I was socialised that way. The refrain, "Men don’t cry" was deeply ingrained. My tear ducts were scorched dry with the pain of circumcision. I do not shed tears for pain, for joy, sorrow nor for mushy reasons, and hardly ever due to onions, flu or eye-sickness.
The most tender and tragic stories, in real life or film, leave me equally dry-eyed. Yet I have been on the verge of tears this past fortnight.
True, the story of the Irish potato famine of 1845 scared me: the picture of starving children looking on as absentee English landlords exported its beef. The story of the European famine of 1945 left me broken, as narrated in Canadian journalist James Bacque’s Other Losses: German POWs starving to death in barbed-wire post-war camps while Eisenhower insisted, ‘treat them rough’. Other great famines in history, like the Chinese and Indian famines, left me gagging with horror. But no, I did not weep.
I have not wept on suffering loss or witnessing miserable events. Pain and the suffering of others have softened my heart. But through all this, I have remained dry-eyed. This is typical of the Kenyan male: we don’t weep, period. The broken male may whimper but he will not weep. Men are often unmanned by tears, whether from a child or female companion. Though tears be a gift, we are happy to do without.
Still, the growing famine in parts of Kenya and neighbouring Somalia is enough to drive one to tears. Famine is not the same thing as drought. Drought is a climatic condition, famine is often man-made. Drought is part of a wider cosmic cycle. It can be planned for in advance, or planned against when it occurs. It may shrivel crops or kill animals, but drought doesn’t kill people. Famine does. In today’s world, famine is not so much lack of food or water, but lack of resources to get needed food and water. The most tragic famines occur where the lack of resources is caused by active denial from a neighbour.
The English landlords who enclosed Irish farmland and dragged the Irish to the edge of ruin caused the potato famine; not the widely-reputed potato blight. The German POWs were starving even as Red Cross trains from Switzerland packed with relief food were being sent away. The 30 per cent annual death rate in the POW camps resulted from the policy of the occupying forces.
Likewise, Kenya’s deafness to the plea of starving Somalia is appalling, because it is the deafness of a neighbour. And so we will allow man-made borders, not of barbed wire but of barbed policy, to frustrate the relief of starving Somalia. We will use the unfortunate argument of national security to even deny women and children admittance to refugee camps. We will complain about cost, even though Kenya has only been asked to open the gates of its borders and the gates of refugee camps constructed by foreign aid money.
Some Kenyans, familiar with the biblical story of the Good Samaritan, hesitate when asked, "Who is Somalia’s neighbour?" We point fingers at countries far away, while we not only share a border but also a people with broken Somalia. Will we really allow them to starve and blame al Shabaab and Western countries? Are we really unable to open the gates of our hearts to aid the relief of Somalia, even as we fight our own famine?
I am on the verge of tears, because innocent people are dying of famine in Somalia. And instead of Kenya taking the diplomatic lead and political responsibility thrust on us by reason of proximity, we are bickering and blaming as a country slowly starves to death. There is a Kiswahili offertory hymn with a powerful lesson for Kenya: "to give you need a heart, not riches."
The starving people of Somalia have even lost their tears. Weep for Somalia then, and extend a helping hand.
—The author is an advocate of the High Court