Bonoko

Bonoko looks young and innocent, but he is hardened and shrewd. He gained his life experience on the streets of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, where thousands of kids live. A strong genge beat under a TV interview with him talking about police brutality, made him instantly famous in Kenya. “When you see a cop, you better protect yourself and run away”, he raps in the song.

“My father was a street kid, my mother is still alive. She used to sell glue for sniffing”, Bonoko says. Streets kids don’t have a long life in Kenya. “There is always war, there is always violence”. Thugs and sects do kill, but the major killers are the police. “No money for a bribe and you end up in jail”.

All the people of the Nairobi slums, all passengers in the public transport matatu vehicles, sing loudly along with the Bonoko. “What we experience on a daily basis is being said by Bonoko”, they praise the 21 year old boy whose real name is James Kangethe Kimani.

Bonoko was born on the streets. As a baby he slept with his mother under the verandas, as an independent street kid he preferred other places, like the gutter under the highways. The government started to pick kids up from the streets in 2011 and send them to special schools to be reformed. After being caught Bonoko ran away twice, once walking for a week from Kakamega in Western Kenya to Nakuru, on his way back to Nairobi. “The watchmen at these schools beat us too much”, he complains. He ended up completing only two years of primary school education.

Back in Nairobi Bonoko made Ngara his home and place of work. Kipande became his close friend, a young butcher who sold mutura, a traditional Kikuyu sausage, on the streets. “Me and my street friends gave him our pennies for safekeeping, and he gave us leftover meat. He was a good man”.

His big rival on the streets was Kisi wa Central, a nickname for a cop who exhorted money from people in the neighbourhood. “That cop had already killed some kids. One day a rich man hit me with his car. He wanted to take me to hospital and gave me money as compensation. Kisi wa Central took it and told the rich man to get lost”.

One day Bonoko’s life took an unexpected positive turn. Kisa wa Central had apprehended Kipande because of urinating in an alley. Knowing the reputation of the cop, Kipande fled. Kisi wa Central shot the butcher dead and planted a fake gun near his body, a ‘bonoko’ in local slang. James Kangethe Kimani saw it all happening and from that time onwards he would be known as Bonoko.

That afternoon a crew from Citizen TV came to do a story on the killing. “The butcher is not thug, the cop is the dangerous one”, the words flowed out of his mouth for the TV camera. Many months later he heard his words back as a ringtone on a mobile, and after a while also on his favourite Ghetto Radio. Somebody in the slums had used his interview to make a raw rap song on his computer.

The angry cop has sworn to kill Bonoko and that is one of the reasons Ghetto radio has given him a safe place to stay. “I finally sleep without lice on my body”. Ghetto radio dj Mbussy has given him a slot on his daily show. “I have been liberated from police terror. It is so nice to go to sleep, knowing you are safe from the police”.

 

 

Recruting for Al Shabaab in Nairobi

John is gently kicking the ball against the wall, still a bit insecure after his long absence from the football team in Majengo, one of the many Nairobi slums. “Once recruited to fight in Somalia, you never come back to Kenya”, he says. “I had already been taken by al-Shabaab to the northeastern town of Garissa and was on my way to Somalia, but after Kenya’s intervention in Somalia last month al-Shabaab got nervous and sent me back.”

His coach Ochieng has welcomed John back, but not without a stern lecture. “I have been telling all of you in my team not to listen to these recruiters for al-Shabaab here in Majengo. They are cheating you, they are brainstorming you, and they don’t take care of you”. Little John grumbles. “It is not true, coach. These people of al-Shabaab gave us shelter in the mosque, they gave us food and clothes, and even some pocket money”.
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Stranded in the war of Sudan’s Nuba mountains

I don’t want to start writing this story. I’ve been stuck in a rebel area in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, surrounded by hostile government soldiers, without any way to reach the safety of the outside world for several weeks now. I feel smothered by lethargy. Hope leads to hopelessness. Writing takes energy but energy creates expectations. In order to get through this I have to put my feelings on standby.

A new war has broken out in Sudan. In 1955, the black South Sudanese started a rebellion against domination and exploitation by the Arab people of northern Sudan. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended decades of fighting and eventually led to the independence of South Sudan on 9 July 2011. But the CPA didn’t solve Sudan’s fundamental problem: is this an Arab or a black African nation?

The black tribes in the Nuba mountains and neighboring Blue Nile State, as well as in the western region of Darfur, continue to resist marginalization and Arab domination. Civilians are the main target in the Nuba mountains; in order to cover this vicious conflict, I have to be here where it’s happening and so here I am. The resistance is being led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army–North (SPLA/N).

Everyday, government bombers fly overhead. The Sudanese government is using the same tactics it used during the first war: bomb the civilians in the rebel areas into submission. Tens of thousands of Nuba people have fled into the mountains to escape the bombs.

They can’t do much farming and the blockades around the cities mean that trading has stopped as well. Students don’t go to school because the bombing is indiscriminate. There is no medicine because foreign aid organizations have been prevented from entering the area. A few weeks ago, a pilot took a chance and flew me in. It’s been raining since then and the landing strip is just a mud pool.

There is no way to tell one day from another and sometimes I wonder if the sun will ever shine again. I want to be a cow and just endlessly chew and chew. Watching insects is a way to pass the time; sand flies during the day, mosquitoes in the evening and fleas during the night. Ants bite me anywhere they can and leave nasty red bumps behind. Tonight I’m going to imitate the goats: they climb up a rock-face and then slide down, scraping insects and bites off their hides. I want to scrape away the itching and the pain.

Julud was a mountain village during the first war. After 2002, the thousand inhabitants came down the mountain and created a new village; first there was a little shop, then a market with ten little shops and then more houses. Every day I go and eat my plate of beans at Arafa’s, she’s an attractive young tea lady. She serves beans with sugar or beans with crumbled cookies and sugar. She also has milk with sugar and tea with sugar. People in Sudan like sugar with everything.

Arafa brings Adam some cucumber and sour milk. When fighting broke out in the regional capital Kadugli four months ago, Adam fled to the rebel-held territory. “President Omar al-Bashir’s government wants to wipe out us Nubas,” he says loudly.

Government soldiers ransacked his house in Kadugli; anything that had any value was taken, including the furniture, the roof, the toilet and the kitchen sink. Then the soldiers brought in a bulldozer and flattened his house: Adam has nothing any more. His long political tirade in Arafa’s teahouse betrays a deep hatred of ‘the Arabs’. “It’s a genocide of the Nuba people.”

Adam tells about a bombing that took place yesterday, some ten kilometres up the road. Two women were killed by shrapnel wounds to the stomach. Exhausted rebel fighters stumble into Julud from the front lines; the government troops went on the attack but were intercepted, eight people dead.

The SPLA/N commander decides to move me to a safer area, further away from the front line. It’s cheaper in Tima; smugglers have managed to bring goods in from the besieged towns. There are tubes of toothpaste and lollies on the dusty shelves of the little shops and on market day, even a few bottles of fizzy drink. The richest person in the village has a teaching diploma and a television. In the evening, the silence is broken by a police siren screaming on a TV show.

There’s excitement in the air the following evening; the fighters welcome a man, they clap him on the shoulders and embrace him: “SPLA oyé,” they say jubilantly. He escaped from the nearby garrison town of Logowa and, after a two-month trek through hostile territory, finally made it to SPLA/N territory. He laughs, “I’m free here, I’m home.”

Will I ever get away from here? Will this ever end? I haven’t got anything left to read and there’s nothing else to do. I’m even running out of paper to write on.