by Tongo Eisen-Martin
Only 24 hours in Nairobi and this trip to a megalopolis becomes internal. Or a run back and forth between the matter of return to the continent seen and return to the continent sensed. Opening sensory salvos of a fought for life after the U.S. imperialism imagined and necessary search for a missing pillar of revolutionary consciousness. What will convince us that we do not belong to america, nor are doomed to walk its value system into oblivion? And here, as in all journeys for liberation, I have millions of people to keep me company or pass me by.
I am a poet. And in a few days, the poems will walk well for an audience. An African Liberation Day celebration performing alongside the poet, revolutionary and instant brother-comrade, Dorphan. On the first microphone I’ve ever touched on the continent, I find myself moving fast through poems, but it feels more like the sentient life of a tree. I am more of an expression of a historical process than a protagonist to hang a movie around. An expression of imperialists’ attempts to de-animate a centuries-constructed billion people. And a billion people who can return themselves to power.
In two weeks, I will sit on the concrete mountain of a pedestrian overpass with the poet and oracle, Bonface Nyamweya, talking about diasporic unity. Bonface has become a partner in crime, our conspiracies continuing to this day. Talking about imperialist superstructures in which no quarter is given us. Talking about the nucleus of a Muddy quarter note and how the blues relates to revolution. Families passing down County Line and Frontage roads in the Deep South like silver jewelry to be loaded into shotguns. A Gabriel Prosser speech at your service. Walter Rodney, the preeminent revolutionary scholar, wrote:
“I trust that my use of the words such as ‘capitalism,’ ‘imperialism’ and ‘neocolonialism’ will not be deemed as a cover for sinister intent. My indulgence in those terms is aimed at opposing a system which is barbarous and dehumanizing – the one which snatched me from Africa in chains and deposited me in far off lands to be a slave beast, then a subhuman colonial subject and finally an outlaw in those lands. Under these circumstances, one asks nothing more but to be allowed to learn from, participate in and be guided by the African Revolution.”
Recalling babylon and watching many a night collapse at the feet of police and corporate employers. Recall us scouring praxis for missing radical ingredients; previewing a resistance frozen mid-stride and wondering what do you call this thesis about flight. Muscling praxis like trying to pick the land you meet God on and the kind of prophet you want to be. And what kind of room will represent your past incarceration. How veined are the walls. And how Euro-philic these penultimate shots at revolution may be as they exist in an inverted harmony with our repression. Or as Rodney relates, “Any diagnosis of underdevelopment in Africa will reveal not just low per capita income and protein deficiencies, but also the gentlemen who dance in Abidjan, Accra and Kinshasa when music is played in Paris, London and New York.”
And we can definitely say, Harlem too. The Harlems of the West. The Low Ends. The Swampy Deserts. Where we step into the war plumages formed from the casted shadows of housing projects. Casted vocalizations of double conformities. Vocalizations also at times adorned with kindness. Adorned city buses. Adorned buckets. Adorned warehouses of various epochs. Where they remind you to eat before the ransom ink dries in courthouses. Through Africa a consciousness’s key. From Rodney: “One rough yardstick which indicates the level or extent to which an African state has been decolonized in any profound [way] is the extent to which the African state is capable of entering into meaningful relations with the liberation movements.”
Abdi Rashid Jibril, a percussionist, educator and train conductor for the universe, has provided a home and headquarters. As introduced by the great writer and art leader, Karla Brundage, I must credit him with most of the soulful moves I will make through a slice of East Afrika. He spent many, many years engaged in heavy duty cultural work in the Bay Area before returning to Kenya to do even more world building. He is a living metaphor for what we can achieve. Inspired siblinghood on all sides of the diaspora.
Forty-eight hours in Nairobi and I have grown older away from easy images.
Social asthma produced by neocolonialism both slows and speeds time. A middle-hood imposed by geo-rulers. Or thatched silence before an imposed economy begins the day’s chores of exploitation. Or words by one of these white Adams made gospel. Rodney relates, “One South African saying put forward that ‘the white man has no kin; his kin is money.’” And also, “It is fairly obvious that capitalists do not set out to create other capitalists, who would be rivals. On the contrary, the tendency of capitalism in Europe from the very beginning was one of competition, elimination and monopoly.”
What I observe in a better than promised land? Similar to a continent, it doesn’t matter where you start in our unity. It doesn’t matter where within a hurricane you begin to trace our revenge. Just allow your priorities one location then another. The slopes of your consciousness one ascension then another. Imagine the end of your individualisms and hermitages and step into the necessary social endurances of collective invincibility. I am driving and building through Nairobi streets with South Sudanese writer Adut Loi Akok. The bridge to enlightenment back being a matter of friendship or family in the midst of a global hegemony fully grown, misspelled and addicted to everything. Nothing worth being confident in the money form. Rodney again:
“Under these circumstances, it is necessary to direct our historical activity in the light of two basic principles. Firstly, the effort must be directed solely towards freeing and mobilizing Black minds. There must be no performances to impress whites, for those whites who find themselves beside us in the firing line will be there for reasons far more profound than their exposure to African history. Secondly, the acquired knowledge of African history must be seen as directly relevant but secondary to the concrete tactics and strategy which are necessary for our liberation. There must be no false distinctions between reflection and action, because the conquest of power is our immediate goal and the African population at home and abroad is already in combat on a number of fronts. If there is to be any proving of our humanity, it must be by revolutionary means.”
I am in a room full of brilliant writers. This will happen several times as facilitated by contacts who are more like treasures. I am in the Nuria Bookstore that is more like cosmic dock. I am reading for St. Paul University students as quarterbacked by the brilliant writer and student leader John Gesora who is more like the strength of an assured future. I sit at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. On a porch that is more like a doorway. I am on a stage in the ever-groovy Che Che Bookstore with the genius Ngwatilo Mawiyoo who is more like a light. I am in the apartment of an expatriated revolutionary from the Midwest. In a conversation that is a doorway as well.
Rodney shares, “That universal tendency to seek freedom manifested itself among Africans even when the most careful steps were taken to extinguish it.” I chat with some artists and leaders, creators of the Until Everyone Is Free podcast, in a library that was once clandestine. My last move before the flight back to babylon. I think of Coltrane. Talking behind a love or top lock supreme. These comrades move fearlessly with brilliance, commitment, spirit and absolute
siblinghood with us. Stoneface makes sure I know he is not joking when he tells me I always
have a home there. I have related in conversation, in poetry set, in quiet contemplation all that
I can channel. It is time to return to the struggle west. We are a tree’s sentient life.
I shake everyone’s hands and say goodbye from all my undergrounds.
Born in San Francisco, Tongo Eisen-Martin is a movement worker, educator and poet who has organized against mass incarceration and extra-judicial killing of Black people throughout the U.S. He has educated in detention centers from New York’s Rikers Island to California’s San Quentin Prison. Tongo Eisen-Martin can be found on IG @_tongogara_.