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From facing Mount Kenya to sitting in the dock of the bay

By Peter Kimani | November 12th 2021

Warm, breezy greetings from the city of Sharjah. For those seeking to locate it on the world map, it’s the third-largest city in the United Arab Emirates and its de-facto cultural custodian. Sharjah’s more famous sibling, of course, is Dubai, and where multiple Kenyan politicians have been spotted in recent weeks and days.

I know Baba was here recently, for rest and recuperation, and Machakos Governor Alfie Mutua and the self-styled “People’s Watchman” Bonnie Mwangi, were reportedly passing through this week.

I doubt the two are here for rest and recuperation; although they could do with some rest, after the duels that they have been waging on and off the Press, with one accusing the other of “bombing” his house, and the other of wrecking his marriage. Apparently, there was no marriage to start with.

But this is a digression, which affirms the crippling, infectious nature of our politics. I wanted to state how refreshing it is to be away from the political din back home, and I have ended up just drilling down on the self-same nonsense!

I guess all I wanted to state was that my tour of the UAE has nothing to do with our politics and politicians and that I am enjoying an enormous reprieve from what Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi used to call makerere ya saa yote (incessant political din).

Rather, I want to share about my voyage in the Gulf. I landed here at dawn, to the haunting voice of the great African-American singer Sam Cooke. It was 6am local time and I blinked against the rising, iridescent sunrays bouncing off the sea, unable to comprehend what I was hearing.

Sam Cooke in Dubai, I wondered, lifting the headphones to confirm if somehow Cooke’s voice had fused with the film I was watching. Nope, Cooke was playing on the Emirates flight at touch down! I couldn’t think of a better treat to welcome me to Dubai.

Sam Cooke, for the uninitiated, is one of the musical icons of 20th century America. Killed at the height of the civil rights movement over what the police claimed was a crime of passion—new evidence has fuelled claims of an assassination— he’s been resurrected in recent months, during the Black Lives Matter campaigns.

Besides Cooke’s evocative singing, his short and impactful life, I have been absorbed by constant questions about the economic models that have been employed to transform these deserts into modern, mega cities.

The answer is simple. They took charge of their natural resources, right from the start. We don’t control any of our resources. Even the prices of the crops that undergird our economy are determined at the London auctions—in spite of decades of warnings from our prophets—like Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

Such dubiously deep thoughts are only possible from the lofty perch on the 19th floor of a cushy hotel facing the sea, with the political din of wheelbarrows and mountain-climbing muted in the distance.

And, of course, I’m absorbed by Sharjah’s efforts in the promotion of arts, culture and heritage. The city now hosts the biggest book fair in the world. We are the cradle of mankind, but even those ruins, like the decadence in our politics, have been left to ruin.

 Alright, don’t get me started! I better focus on rest and recuperation...

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