Monthly Archives: October 2011

#ConversationWith The Real Bonoko

Bonoko originally a Sheng word for a fake gun has recently become part of Kenyan youth’s vocabulary and it is now used to refer to anything fake.

It all began with an eyewitness account of a police shooting at the Globe Roundabout being narrated to a TV news reporter by a street boy, James Kang’ethe ‘Tete’ Kimani.

A producer edited the interview, added beats and produced a hilarious song and suddenly everyone was jamming to Bonoko!

A look into YouTube reveals at least five videos of the Bonoko song all claiming to be original versions but which have not featured Tete. He has also not gotten any royalties from the use of his voice or from the massive airplay the song has attracted.

However the song has opened doors for Tete. He is currently a trainee presenter at Ghetto Radio, Kenya’s official Sheng station who goes by the stage name of ‘Bonoko’.

Mbusi and Bonoko

I caught up with him at Ghetto Radio where in between shows we were able to chat.

Moderate: Tell me about yourself

Bonoko: I am James Kang’ethe ‘Tete’ Kimani from Banana. My dad chased away my mum when I was 6 and I have lived on the streets for the last 14 years.

Moderate: How did the interview happen?

Bonoko: It was in June 2007. I was asleep then I was awakened by a commotion. A man who sold mutura and soup at the Ngara Market had been urinating at an alleyway near Fig Tree. When he saw City Council askaris he opted to run to evade arrest. Unfortunately he ran into cops who shot him, put a fake gun on him and accused him to be a thief. A KTN journalist interviewed me since I was the youngest (15years) of the street people on the scene.

Moderate: When did you first hear the song?

Bonoko: I first began hearing my voice on phone ringtones then I finally heard the Bonoko song on Ghetto Radio and I was overly excited! I could not believe I was on radio. Since I live on the streets and I have no radio I would time between 12-1pm daily and go to a place where Ghetto Radio was aired because they would always play the song and I would be so happy.

Moderate: After the song became popular what changed?

Bonoko: My boys started saying I was rich and I was just pretending to be a poor street boy. They started pressuring me to buy them tea and questioning why I was sleeping on the streets. Unfortunately I have never made money from the Bonoko song.

Moderate: Have you tried to get compensation?

Bonoko: Yes. Since I used to hear the song on Ghetto Radio I went to Ghetto Radio to ask to be connected with the producer of the song and at least get something. I was hosted in the mid-morning show ‘Niaje Niaje’ by Linda and Moha. They called the producer but he did not pick up his phone.

Moderate: What do you feel about the many Bonoko videos online?

Bonoko: When I see the videos I feel good because they are building my Bonoko name. However I would love to do an authentic video. It can be shot at the alleyway near Fig Tree and feature the market people who knew the slain man.

Moderate: How did you start with Ghetto Radio?

Bonoko: When I came in for the interview, the presenters were very friendly; they bought me lunch and made me feel at home. That night Ghetto Radio was having an event at Kenya Poly and they took me along and I even performed the Bonoko song at the gig. That was the beginning of my friendship with Ghetto Radio crew. They have given me clothes, food and most importantly accepted me. I feel at home at Ghetto Radio and I thank God.

Moderate: How did you become a trainee presenter?

Bonoko: The boss Maji Maji told me since I hang out at Ghetto Radio he will give me a chance to train as a presenter. I feature in all shows but mostly co-host with Mbusi on Goteana 3-7pm weekdays and on Madree 9-10am Saturday with Mbusi and Jackie.

Moderate: Your dream?

Bonoko: I would like to go to school. I would like to get myself and my family off the streets. I would like to grow as a radio presenter and voice artiste.

Moderate: Final words?

Bonoko: Ghetto Radio has changed my life! It is a station for real people. It is impacting people positively. The Madree show is tackling issues of drug abuse while Kenyan Tuesday theme is promoting patriotism. Ghetto Radio has good people with big hearts.

Moderate: Thank you for your time and all the best.



An eye for an eye?

Several weeks ago my pal lost her dad through a shooting during a robbery. In the same week, four alleged robbers were gunned down by cops in my hood. These incidents made me really think about police executions and my stand on them.

I was born, have grown up and still live in the hood. My views are tinged with my experiences from the hood. My thoughts were and still remain sho0t the armed robbers dead! If they carry a gun then why should they expect mercy? But I also agree the issue is NOT wholly black and white and there is plenty of grey areas.

Last Saturday an armed robber who was part of a gang that had earlier murdered a policeman tried to evade capture and barricaded himself in a house next to a police station. He then had the nerve to call media houses and beg for amnesty. After a five hour standoff he was gunned down and he became another statistic but this was not before many Kenyans castigated the police for executing him and talking about human rights.

What about the rights of the policeman gunned down? My sources tell me he had only drawn a salary for three months before his death. Did anyone take time to mourn him? Or has it become fashionable to bash the men in blue? And no this is no defence of the police but just an alternative view for you to consider.

Let me digress and tell you about M and V.

M and I are age mates and we grew up together, playing bano, shake, one touch etc. We were boys until after high school when I went to college and he became a thief. He started off pick pocketing (pinji), moved on to snatching phones, then to strangling guys (ngeta) and finally he graduated to armed robbery. He was lucky. He survived several shootouts and even a mob justice experience. He finally relocated to the States several years back after which we lost touch.

I went to primary school with V but he was three years my junior. He started pick pocketing while he was in class eight and took the same route as M and graduated as an armed robber by the time he was in form two. His gang terrorised Mombasa Road users with vicious carjackings for several months until they were horribly gunned down. Those who saw his body say he was like a sieve due to the many bullets he received.

Why did these boys turn to crime? They were driven by a greed for power and money for drinking and women. I have never seen a robber better his life and retire. Why did we not report them to the cops? We had desire to live, perhaps? When they are armed and have killed, then they are not your boys anymore plus Kenya has no witness protection so you snitch, someone is arrested and in a day they are out and your life is in danger. What do the cops know? Cops and robber have a relationship. Word on the street is that cops take a cut out of the robber’s earnings until the robbers became a nuisance and they have to be gunned down. It is very rare for cops to execute the wrong people. They do know each other. (Rumour has it that cops went to where V grew up and told his mum to start fundraising for his funeral. Less than a month later he was dead). Does the family know they children are robbers? Yes, they are recipients’ of the ill gotten wealth and they turn a blind eye. Where are guns gotten? In the street getting a gun is as easy as ABC and there are even rent a gun for a job syndicates for the robbers starting out before they can afford to buy their own guns.

Executions happen almost weekly but they rarely make the press. However the jury is still out as to whether the executions reduce crime or even act as a deterrent to aspiring robbers. There is a fatalism that hopelessness breeds plus the robbers live very flashy lives and have beautiful women around them and they are the role models for children growing up in the hood. Ten years ago, robbers were at least twenty and above. Now there are stories of kids as young as fourteen packing guns and that is scary since these kids are ‘damu moto’ and will not hesitate to use the guns at slightest provocation.

That is the unfortunate reality on the ground and it leads to the following uncomfortable questions: If you carry a gun as a robber should you be considered to have signed your death sentence? Should cops have carte blanche to execute armed robbers? Are there killings which are for the greater good of peace in the society?

This is not an easy dilemma and I have no easy answers.

For starters, methinks to solve it will require for Kenya to sort out its judicial system and re-instil confidence in it, it will also require the widening economic inequality to be addressed and it will also require a re-look at the plight of the boy child.

Quite an uphill battle and for now all we can do is say a prayer for safety.

PS: Disclaimer for legal purposes: the characters mentioned therein are entirely fictional and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.


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