What is the artist, the scholar, the journalist to do?

I am no artist. Not in any sense of the word. I am an architect. I modify space or rather create living or livable and sometimes unlivable environments. I am not a writer either, but I do write. But I wouldn’t for the life of me keep quiet at a time like this. Silence would mean a tacit approval and acceptance of things as they are. I am a cynic. A thorough-going pessimist and a realist. The world is as is. Things are and they exist in different layers. Nothing is black or white and truth, to the postmodernist, varies or depends on who is telling it.

What is it I will not be quiet about?

Women being violated in their homes.

Children being shot by police.

Men being killed by police.

Homes and business being destroyed.

Nurses, doctors and other professionals being taken for granted.

Attempts to grab power from the people.

Arithmetic being insulted.

Lies being told as truth.

Ethnic profiling by the state.

State sponsored violence.

Our constitution being seen as a book of suggestions.

But as I told my friends when we started this conversation, that I am conflicted and have many thoughts on this. Hope, in a way is the greatest of all evils. It prolongs human misery. The hope that things will be better, especially when there is much against this hope, is to prolong our misery. Herein is my first conflict. I am agitating for change. I hope change is possible. But I also believe such a hope prolongs my misery. The cycle of violence seem to me to have no end in sight. On the country, it does look like it will only get worse. The state has, by convincing the populace of Al Shabaab and other external enemies, militarized the population. And the most unfortunate thing is this has happened at the level where critical thinking is a luxury. In the police, the army cadre, the National Youth Service, guards and so on. They search you at a local mini-supermarket and as you get into a church (the irony- even those who pray for god’s protection are not sure they can depend entirely on god).

In my brief study of history, I have come to the conclusion that historical events do not have a single cause, but that their causes go back decades in an unbroken continuum of cause-effect. What are we to do in such a scenario? What can each of us do to affect the cause of history or rather to improve the present? Are we to watch helplessly as history unfolds before us? How do we become participants in changing the course of history, to write a different history? These and many more questions are what we are called to reflect upon.

In his book, If the War goes on, Hermann Hesse, writes

At the same time we scholars and artists joining in the outcry against certain belligerent powers. As though today, when the world is on fire, such utterances could be of any value. As though an artist or a man of letters, even the best and most famous of us, had any say in matters of war.

He continues his lament,

Others participate in the great events by carrying the war into their studies and writing bloodthirsty war songs or rabid articles fomenting hatred among nations. That perhaps is the worst of all. The men who are risking their lives every day at the front maybe entitled to bitterness, to momentary anger and hatred; the same maybe true of active politicians. But we writers, artists and journalists- can it be our function to make things worse than they are? Is the situation not already ugly and deplorable enough?

Here then, is first a question of what our effect will be and a secondly a challenge to not make an already ugly situation ugly and deplorable.

As I have said elsewhere, and some have disagreed, the real battle is that with the self. That is the first battleground of history, of fate and if each of us can win the battle against hate, greed, we may as well be on course to writing a new history for mankind.


As I conclude my ramblings, I live you with this poem by John Bell for reflection.

If the war goes on

If the war goes on and the children die of hunger,

and the old men weep, for the young men are no more,

and the women learn how to dance without a partner,

who will keep the score?


If the war goes on and the truth is taken hostage,

and new terrors lead to the need to euphemize;

when the calls for peace are declared unpatriotic

who’ll expose the lies?


If the war goes on and the daily bread is terror,

and the voiceless poor take the road as refugees;

when a nation’s pride destines millions to be homeless,

who will heed their pleas?


If the war goes on and the rich increase their fortunes,

and the arms sales soar as new weapons are displayed;

when a fertile field turns to no-man’s land tomorrow,

who’ll approve such trade?


If the war goes on, will we close the doors to heaven?

If the war goes on, will we breach the gates of hell?

If the war goes on, will we ever be forgotten? If the war goes on…


About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

17 thoughts on “What is the artist, the scholar, the journalist to do?

  1. persedeplume says:

    Hi Mak~
    I’m sorry your people have to endure the struggle with no seeming end in sight. Sadly, it seems to be a global trend as well. Stay strong, and be safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. john zande says:

    our effect must always be to have held the line, and where possible, pushed it forward. To cede ground, and by doing so reducing the human condition, is a crime.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. renudepride says:

    What are the artist, the scholar, the journalist to do? Be a catalyst for change. Be an agent for progress. I wish you well, my Kenyan brother!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Tish Farrell says:

    Thinking of you.


  5. Violet says:

    It is a difficult state of affairs to be sure. I have pondered these same questions many times myself, and feel helpless in the face of the tides.

    What can be done, especially when hope is only a torment? Live life, the best you can, second by second, minute by minute. Control what you can, try to spread knowledge and light where you can, but don’t look too hard at the big picture. Dwelling on the immensity of the problem will only paralyze you. Life is done moment by moment, friend. Many hugs.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. It is SO hard not to be overcome by pessimism and despair. Like you, I want to hope but fear it is but a futile gesture that only prolongs suffering. Yet, I stand defiant of the idiocies in our world today and will shout about them til I can shout no more. These are sad days, my friend. But let’s go out shouting against them if we must go out. $Amen$

    Liked by 2 people

  7. We don’t want to fight, but sometimes we must. We fight not for victory, as all glory is fleeting. We do fight to defend what must be defended – the very hope that keeps us from falling into a bottomless pit of misery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      We must fight because keeping quiet would translate to consent. I don’t consent to being a slave. If I have said yet up to this point, now I say a resounding NO

      Liked by 2 people

      • Violet says:

        “I don’t consent to being a slave. If I have said yes up to this point, now I say a resounding NO”

        I’ve given much thought to this comment of yours. While I have been fortunate in this life to have never had my body enslaved, I have certainly had my mind enslaved. I believe most people are enslaved to their minds and opinions in some way, as it is a part of human condition to not be able to see all sides of an argument clearly.

        This means sometimes we say yes to a certain thing (religion, politics, personal opinion, etc) not even knowing exactly what we’re saying yes to…we do it unwittingly and without understanding the full impact of what it entails.

        You comment was a powerful reminder that we can *change* our minds. Making a well-considered change doesn’t make anyone is an inconsistent idiot, it means they’ve come into new knowledge and are utilizing it in new ways. Such a thing should be seen as a great gift. We need to reevaluate our positions, daily if needed, and be sure we’re saying yes to the right things. It’s something I plan to be more conscious about going forward. ❤


  8. gumersindo says:

    What can be done, especially when promise is only a dun?
    This means sometimes we enounce yes to a sure affair (religion, politics, personal ruling, etc) not even knowing exactly what we’re enounceing yes to…we do it unwittingly and without understanding the wide-cut impingement of what it entails.


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