Brother Time

“Better to sleep in the cold than be killed”

Westerners look at a country like Kenya and see turmoil, violence, and poverty. Most could care less about what happens in Africa because it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of their lives. But watching a documentary like Wesley Shrum‘s Brother Time shows how universal humanity is along the large and varied spectrums of economics and sociology. Just because we see ourselves as civilized doesn’t make others not. Even amidst the horrific tribal wars that raged inside the Rift Valley after the 2007 Presidential election in Kenya there was hope. Hope to survive the chaos. Hope to find peace and reconciliation. Hope to see a neighbor as a friend instead of an ethnic inferior. I think all Americans can relate to such thinking.

What we don’t have here, however, is the open brutality seen during this infamous period of upheaval. Explained by a collection of Kenyans—citizens, pastors, businessmen, and intellectuals—we are given a rudimentary education on the area’s inhabitants. Formed by three distinct tribes, the Rift Valley houses each as neighbors who try to treat ethnicity as a broad generalization instead of the man. But while the business savvy Kikuyus say they bought land from the Luos and Kalenjins to live together and farm the earth in harmony, those two saw it as the result of a helpful hand from a past regime sympathetic to their tribe. Knowing change could only be brought by action, the warrior-like Kalenjins recruited the power-hungry Luos to band together and change the government democratically.

Young University students went around educating the public to vote by issue rather than people and early polls looked optimistic for ODM candidate Raila Odinga—a Luo. Ballots closed on December 27th and the next day saw evidence of a landslide victory, making it appear PNU’s Mwai Kibaki was all but defeated. But then came the blackout of the 29th to fan the fires of restless voters clamoring for answers. When the lights were turned back on, the Kikuyus had found victory and the Kalenjins readied for retribution. Signs went up saying “No Raila, No Peace” and it became bow and arrow against panga blade in the streets. Whether the election was rigged or not, the valley was always a powder keg about to explode. Kibaki’s coronation became the last straw.

An insanely volatile time pitting neighbors against each other to create a level of fear not easily dissolved when peace is established with the help of Kofi Annan, Shrum’s film is about more than the political ramifications. Included alongside the numerous talking heads describing the war is a personal tale of farmer W. Wainaina and his survival. Knowing homes were being burned nightly, he would take his family outside to sleep under the cover of his fortified fencing. Unsure of their safety, he believed there was nowhere to turn after seeing a neighbor he held as a brother with bow and arrow. Where once was love, only fear remained. Even after the fight ended, Wainaina couldn’t know whether Thomas Mutai aligned himself to the cause or not. Would he see his friend as a human being or just another Kikuyu needing eradication?

And Mutai was just doing the same thing in order to protect his own family. We cannot belittle the crippling fear they must have felt. The other interviewees speak on the horrors of the murders they witnessed first-hand: women stripped naked to watch husbands killed and old men attempting to flee being chopped at the waist halfway up a fence. Some of the footage shown in Brother Time is not for the faint of heart, but does show the level of malice at play for these tribes fighting for land, power, and money. We watch manipulated Kenyan youths wreaking havoc for hire and understand how such a lifestyle only escalates and evolves into a battle against their own once their enemy has been chased away. It’s no wonder Mutai and Wainaina lumped each other into the faceless tribal hoards warring for blood.

Containing a wealth of information from all sides of the struggle, it’s back and forth between historical account and Wainaina’s stories can get confusing with its overabundance of title cards and quick edits. Besides that, however, the use of subtitles throughout is a welcome help in comprehending the English spoken and the news footage accompanying the men and women speaking only shows they haven’t exaggerated. While I sadly wouldn’t be surprised if something similar were to happen here as a result of the incitingly polarized views shared by our media outlets, I do believe cool heads would prevail because we’re all Americans at the end of the day. With the film’s release coinciding with Kenya’s latest Presidential election, one can hope they’ll be able to find that same sense of solidarity to ensure the tragedy of early 2008 never occurs again.

Brother Time 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

courtesy of the film’s website:

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