I don’t know the Swahili word for drone. I’d like to imagine there isn’t a word for it. On occasion I have wondered what it might mean to refuse to translate “drone” into Swahili. There are, of course, military drones flying all over East Africa.

& though it’s naïve to think the lacuna opened as a result of this failure to translate might shift power, I don’t know how to finish this sentence.


My sister & I are speaking on phone about my brother’s medical emergency. I’m struggling with what I perceive as her lack of urgency. I’ve been away long enough that most waiting strikes me as non-movement, as not moving forward. She’s struggling with my frequent need for updates, even & especially when nothing has changed.

Yes, they took him in again—they’ve been to the hospital several times now. Yes, the doctor said—yet again—that he has cerebral malaria. Yes, he’s taking his prescriptions. No, there are no signs of improvement. Yes, he’s still hallucinating. No, every time they’ve gone to the hospital they haven’t been allowed to see a psychiatrist.

& so we’re waiting. Waiting on a friend of a friend to make some calls then call us back. We’re trying to find either a psychiatrist with an independent practice, or trying to navigate the hospital’s admission protocol so we’ll be allowed access to a resident psychiatrist. Neither has happened yet.

We’re waiting. For non-arrival, it seems.

Looking for Keguro

One might be gay in Pittsburgh, gay in Seattle, but queer in Nairobi. One might refuse being Area Studied—the map is not the territory. One might wonder if Pride’s rainbow (V-I-B-G-Y-O-R) might understand the geopolitics of #JacarandaPropaganda.

I’m mixing geography with colors, wondering how V-I-B-G-Y-O-R’s lesson that subject formation requires geographic possibility (occupying the street) relates to #JacarandaPropaganda’s lay of the land—as purple tenderness, as a map of only no man’s lands, as turn-left-at-the-big-tree-and-walk-thirty-seven-paces-till-you-see-a-house-with-a-mbwa-kali-sign, then call me.

Call me.

The problem of what you should call me is bound up with the problem of translation, which is given as articulated recombinations, which is also the problem of interanimation, which is related to the problem of interpellation, which asks what is it that is there before one is hailed by the other? “Who are you when you masturbate?”—Keguro once asked, setting hand motion into sequence, modeling clay into a new body, one whose skin mitigates—militates?—the harshness of Nairobi water.

If a name is how you situate a subject in place in time, you can call me John. Call me that man at the corner, on the corner, in the corner. Call me the penumbra of events whose denouement never goes beyond its own imminence. Call me Inspekta Sikujua. Call me when a body’s in trouble, when a body is troubled. Call me the irritation which precedes theory. Call me many men.

I’ve been wondering how a refusal to translate the subject might reboot the protocols of legibility. Or, I don’t know what I’ll say next time a white person presses, “Where are you from? No—where are you really from?” Who am I when I am pressed this way? Remember most world maps render the African continent proportionally smaller in relation to other land masses, but what is Africa to me? I have said time and again that one must never speak of Africa without being interrupted. A better question might be: what are you?

One might be queer in Nairobi. One might dance alone in Seattle. One might survive illegibility in Pittsburgh. One might be touched at four airports. One might fight “the soft bigotry of low expectations”. One might move in a baroque manner. One might find frottage generative. One might find queerness in a hole in the ground—Wanyahunyu. One might not know what to do with the aftershocks of irritation. One might re-quit something in a kind of exhaustion that exhausts language even as it exhausts itself. One might refuse the horror that this exhaustion might “enable” something (Cavell).

Four Theses on Mteja

Yuko Mteja1: The Unfound, Extrajudicial Subject

Samahani, mteja wa nambari uliyopiga hapatikani kwa sasa2. The idea of the unfound person comes into sharp relief precisely because Kenyans answer their phones regardless of time, place, or situation. That there will almost always be someone at the end of the line: this is one way we appear to and for each other, one way we are reliable to one another. So much so the very idea that one cannot be found becomes unfounded. It exists either beside or outside the unwritten laws that govern how we relate with one another. It is extrajudicial—or even alegal—to our social. How does the yuko mteja, the one who is unfound, who resides outside our social injunctions to always be present, sit alongside or come up against all the others who have been reported missing, those who have been extrajudicially killed? What is the temporal continuum between one who is yuko mteja temporarily and another who has entered that contact zone of no return where the state unpersons us, disappears us, tells us those who can’t be found cannot be declared dead because they have not been issued death certificates, which cannot be issued precisely because they remain unfound?

Ukishakuwa M|teja3: Don’t Say No To Drugs

In the midst of a moral panic, an object occupies the penumbra of its social field more fully. The object (its meaning, really, but let’s stick with the object) becomes supervalent—proximal to other objects, imbricated, implicated even, conjoined. For instance, our moral panic renders drug use at the Coast as indistiguishable from sex work; sex work inseparable from queerness; and queerness inextricable from terrorism. All these objects and their domains have becomes sticky, bound together at the molecular level by the adhesive force of slippery slope logic. One thing leads to another. One thing is another. Their borders run over one another.

It is worth talking about borders in so far as our moral panic—which both nods and shakes its head at Pwani si Kenya4, the map that is no longer the territory—manifests as a conflict over embodied sovereignty. The fear here is that “the” drug will disorganize us, render our borders moot, or that we will become all too organized around “the” drug, which is another cartography altogether, one more attendant to non-sovereignty and aware of its own ideological investments. It is precisely this border-policing work that the prefect imaginary does. The prefect (insert: John Mututho wearing the face mask of Ezekiel Mutua5) wants us to say no to drugs when all we really want is to say yes to insurgence. What we want is wildness.

Mungu naye akusaidie alete wateja [waje] wakupanue”6

We who never failed to notice that President Moi always said the words “World Bank” in a North American accent, even when he was taking a slight break from Swahili to sound out those two words in English, know we’ve always been cornered not only by the market, but also by the police. We’ve been hemmed in and shut out. Our labor is indespensable even as we are disposable. We have flesh but not bodies.

We who are organs without bodies desire to be open, to be opened. We refuse the securitization that renders our houses, indeed our very lives, open to surveillance by the state. We refuse the nyumba kumi7 machinery that believes kila mtu ni serikali8, even as it unsees how shoddily built housing structures keep collapsing by the hour, or by the news headline—that which we are surveilling each other to keep safe is already collapsing under its own weight.

We know we are already out in the open, transient with no homes to surveil or take cover in, cornered by the openness, fugitive, without permanent addresses, running from landlords seeking rent for collapsed housing built illegally on the riparian reserve. Tuko kwenye kona, kwenye base mtaani, pale maskani makuu9. We are already—as Sandi Hilal would say—both on and in the corner. It is where we work, where we hustle. Our market work—we in the corner, we the corner, the mama nitilies10 of this world, the youth whose corner-work is mistaken for and as kubangaiza11—already instantiates what Fred Moten would call “another mode of social support”, away from the neoliberalism, in it but not of it. We who are deprofessionalized want to stay this way and that’s fine and lovely.

We traffic in the maganda12 of economic justice; our nightly travels evade msako wa wapigaji doria13. Our mali kwa mali14 calls echo as we cirlce to bring down the walls of Jericho, the walls of Buru Buru, the walls of Lavington that right now stand between you and I, between you and a vast set of yous. We are neither waiting for kazi kwa vijana15 nor are we a part of kazi iendelee16, for we have seen the sweat-work and sweat-pay those who believe we cannot imagine better for ourselves have lined up for us. We are here challenging the appropriative and expropriative systems of accumulation in which women do not inherit, in which they get paid less or not at all. We are here, now, open.

Coda: From Mteja to Blackness, & Back?

Once you go mteja…

Is this about black time? About returns? About the redouble? About the interval between “hello hello” (one Mississippi, two—) and “nataka kuongea na Mariko17? Can you be mteja:black and free (a demand)? Can you be mteja:black and carefree (a risk)? Can you be mteja:black “here”, without national anxiety, or is it already too late, a foregone conclusion (postcolonial)? Can you love mteja:black and be loved by mteja:black (diasporic intimacy)? Can you go mteja:black and come mteja:black (not sexual, but spatio-temporal)? Can you occupy mteja:black (sociogenic) and unown mteja:black (fugitive)? Or is mteja:blackness “the preoccupied breath of those who have been taken, those who have been made to leave”? Is mteja masquerading as blackness?


1. Yuko mteja: slang for can’t be reached or found (on phone), remains unfound.

2. Samahani, mteja wa nambari uliyopiga hapatikani kwa sasa: Sorry, the person you have called can’t be reached at this moment. (This is the voice prompt for missed calls.)

3. Mteja: customer; also caller or cellphone owner. Teja and mteja are also slang for hard-drug user, hence ukishakuwa m|teja means if, which is to say when, you have become a drug user.

4. Pwani si Kenya: (Transliteration: the Coast is not a part of Kenya) rallying motto for a secessionist, land rights movement at the Coast led by the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC).

5. John Mututho, chair of the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse, has whipped up a moral panic by willfully conflating all kinds of drinking with alcoholism; Ezekiel Mutua is the CEO of the Kenya Film Classification Board. He routinely oversteps his mandate and bans films deemed too sexual or queer, highly publicized parties for youths, and even condom ads that portray women as fully agential sexual partners.

6. Mungu naye akusaidie alete wateja [waje] wakupanue: may God bless you with customers whose business will open up your ventures.

7. Nyumba Kumi: (Transliteration: ten households) a government program that encourages people to surveil one another “for national security”; the idea is that people living in proximity to each other— as in ten closely knit households—can keep tabs on one another.

8. Kila mtu ni serikali: everyone is the government—that is, everyone is responsible for the surveillance necessary for national security.

9. Tuko kwenye corner, kwenye base mtaani, pale maskani makuu: We are at the corner, at our base or hangout spot, at our main hideout.

10. Mama nitilie: a food vendor with a foodcart or an outdoor kiosk.

11. Kubangaiza: loafing, idling, blowing the breeze—seen as done kwenye kona (on the corner).

12. Maganda: illicit trade or illegal goods.

13. Msako wa wapigaji doria: the security dragnet of officers on patrol.

14. Mali kwa mali: goods for goods (barter traders use this call to attract customers).

15. Kazi kwa vijana is a corruption-ridden government program tasked with creating jobs for the youth.

16. Kazi iendelee is one of the governing party’s mottos: may the work—i.e. development—continue.

17. (phone-caller speaking) Hello hello, nataka kuongea na Mariko: Hello hello, I’d like to speak to Mariko; (this is a refrain from a song).

Re-membering Those Trapped At The Bottom Of Collapsed Buildings

If it is not that the poor have nothing, what do they have, & how does this having operate in relation to poverty?—Fred Moten channeling Antonio Negri & Michael Hardt

I came to explore the wreck—Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck”

I’d like to say—without getting too much into it—that when my mother sought a detailed explanation from her incompetent lawyer regarding his actions which made her lose her mortgage court case—& very nearly her house—he came back with “something happened”. That phrase has stuck with me ever since.

Perhaps one can say—without getting too much into it—that “something happened” is right up there with “this is Kenya”, that map-making which cannot stabilize the territory that is temporary & already shifting due to mudslides, tectonic movement & also the evil eye.

In fact, “something happened” & “this is Kenya” are all bound up with “mashetani” (the devil did it) as the ineffable obviousness of obviousness that returns as a kind of anomic aphasia.

To say—without getting too much into it—that harm occurs because “something happened”, because “this is Kenya” or because “mashetani”, is to say black life at the bottom—in the subprime—continues to be dispossessed by the strange, compounding calculus of enforced poverty that produces deathworlds where the quasi-event of waiting is tied to non-arrival in a neoliberal imaginary in which killing or marking time is a criminal activity punishable by death.

Consider—which is to say feel—the many collapsed buildings this year, which is to say also last year, as far back as the bird’s eye view can see from the vantage of six or ten shoddily-built storeys or more, where the notion of self-containment is another passage to another bottom near but not under water, at the riparian reserve, under the phonic materiality of the collapse whose noise signals not as language but as Babel, as the incommensurable garble whose untranslatability resides, again, in that impossible phrase from my mother’s lawyer & which I can never really finish looking at: something happened.

How does one speak of blackness in a time of water damage? A time of leaking & incontinence, a time of elusive weather systems & a center that does not hold?

And what remains of “us” now, at the riparian reserve where “these are the materials” collapsed under the weight of a loss beyond the actuarial, where “we” get swept downriver into the kind of closure that is only possible as regret or remains unfinished as mourning? “We” who cannot be accounted for even as we underwrite, undergird & balance the well-wrought, overwrought accounts of those who exchange us as collateral.

Elizabeth Angell has taught me that buildings will always collapse during earthquakes. The idea is not so much designing structures that are quake-proof—that takes exorbitant amounts of money, making it all the more difficult to replicate en masse—so much as building those that will collapse gracefully i.e. those whose structural breakdown will best save lives.

What is the relation between gracefulness & the kind of structural failure that best saves lives? How are both graceful falling & structural collapse bound up with kwenye kona mtaani (the corner in the neighborhood) as a geography whose condition of possibility is incidental to gathering? And what if the gathering imagined here is subjects coming together at the jobless corner to do the kind of waiting the system mistranslates as kubangaiza (loafing)? What is the difference between being on the corner & being in the corner? What if sambaza (mobile money transfer), that rhizomatic mode of social support at the corner, is a critical transcendence not only of private property but of the very idea of sovereignty?

This architectonics of the corner is oppositional to the plot-for-sale as a colonization of space that contains “an entire history of the emergence of Kenya—of stolen lands, unfair contracts, the minutia of colonial bureaucracy, the acquisitive hunger of the newly independent, the many lives of dispossession in the name of progress, development, settlement, [&] resettlement.

As a tool for the democratization of sovereignty, the plot is a spatial imagination in which women do not matter, occupy space or even have weight. It’s a spatial imagination in which women must live without leaving a trace of their habitation. Furthermore, it is a form of expropriation in which women do not inherit—indeed, from which women have been evacuated.

What remains of “us” now, at the bottom, under the collapsing weight of mjengo (unfinished structures) where we haribu jina ujenge mwili (ruin our name to build our body)? What remains of “us” who are down but not out “at the rendezvous of victory”?