“He who has knowledge, has the whole world on his arms”
-Governor Joel Evans to me
I first fell in love with his Facebook profile picture. It looked like a cartoon distortion of his face, something similar to his facial features. It had a yellow background, which made it warm and welcoming. There was a subtly cheeky thing about the profile picture. Yet it had that sunny disposition, sober mien and a youthful optimism of the world that lay ahead of him. An optimism that reflected his Facebook posts. At some point, I ever wanted to ask him, how can make a facial cartoon of myself for my Facebook profile. But I never had the courage, or the time to ask.
I imagined him as an averagely tall, light-skinned Luo boy, intelligent and sober. But I have since seen his photo, he was young, not quite tall-or the pictures are misleading me. But he was incredibly handsome, had an infectious smile and from all the tributes that poured on his wall, you can tell he was a man of the people.
Since he was political, I knew his type. I could picture his academic and career trajectory. He would dabble with student politics, get suspended once or twice, go back to and win a political post or become a busy body.But wait. Joel had the intellect and the smarts to be be better. To do better than a busy body. So he will try and finish school, use the political connections garnered from student leadership to land a job that will propel him further into politics or diplomacy.
What I know he was set for a public career, which I have no doubt, he would have been the sober and the diligent type that both political divides would have loved to have. For while CORDED, he was a moderate. His views were never extreme.
I don’t know who sent the other a Facebook friend request.But we were Facebook friends. He was the type of a virtual friend you grow to like, read their posts, occasionally like, sometimes comment. It goes on and on until you get accustomed to each other. At some point, you will inbox each other. Share notes on current and political issues that you can’t dare share in the public domain.
About three months ago, I saw on Facebook that he had been diagnosed with cancer. At the time, the country was in a fundraising frenzy for Jadudi and other cancer patients. I thought I saw him call for one and there was some mobilization to that effect.
Tucked away in New York, as a broke student, there was little I could do, but I did say prayer that may he break through it all. Since then, I have occasionally checked his Facebook posts, reading his political analyses from time to time, while watching his recovery. At times, there was hope that he would survive. He would go a whole week without mentioning his medical condition.
Joel was a unique young man. You know he was unique, since he numbered his posts. And he stopped at post number 1178. I have tried numbering my posts, and I have failed. And signed off his posts as #GJE. Governor Joel Evans. He called himself governor, not in the cocky, arrogant sense, for there was no arrogance in his posts. It was more an aspiration, and harmless at best.
It takes so much dedication, discipline to keep up with numbering your posts all the way to 1178. But such was Joel. He updated his status regularly, feeding us with political observation, some casual, some pedestrian, some evocative, some wise, some intelligent. All in all, a tireless crusader. Always insightful, and where he erred, we can only forgive him for being young and naive. At 21, we all are. But he was going to be one of the sharpest knives. That we can be sure.
Ironically, in his last post, he had invited friends to visit him and see how he had recovered from the cancer.
There was a day he posted on how unaffordable cancer treatment is.
There was a day he told us that his body was tired and he could no longer withstand it. That was a month ago. A month to his death. 11 more posts to go.
Post 1167-“I am suffering, and frankly, am tired. Am worn out. The physical body can’t have it anymore. Nimechoka.”
That day, my heart skipped a bit. I almost cried. For it was a premonition. More than 100 people urged him to hang in there. We hoped that he will hang in and emerge stronger. He did. But for a very short while.
All along, we had never corresponded. Until December 9th. He must have updated his post, and I liked or commented when he started a chat.
“The Retrosexual…” he started.
I was happy that I was talking to him finally. We chatted briefly and he assured me, that he will overcome; he said he was young and influential and he had so much hope that God is on his side, as you can see from the screenshot below. Only, sometimes, God has different plans for us.
On Saturday, I woke up at around 11 a.m, which makes it 7 p.m in Kenya. As checked on Facebook, digging through the Facebook posts, everything seemed normal. After like 40 minutes, I saw some post in the lines of, “Governor Joel Evans called on us to go visit him today, what is this I am reading…could it be true?”
I immediately went to his Facebook post, and my heart sunk immediately. How could death be so cruel? Hundreds of tributes pouring in. Poems, messages, notes, everything, were all flooding his wall thick and fast. So many people who wanted to show up at his home in Embakasi, felt cheated by Joel. It was sad and heartbreaking.
Everyone was talking about the Ubuntu philosophy that Joel preached and people had come to identify him with. I cried despite the fact that we have never met. Or maybe we have, but ever since I quit student politics in 2011, I have never done any bit of it, so quite unlikely. I felt so bad and cancelled an appointment just to reflect on the fickleness of life and why we toil so much, if in the end death comes in such a distasteful fashion.
From the posts I gathered that Joel touched the lives of all those he interacted with. Everyone remembered the moments he shared with them. I realized from his student activism that he had been suspended from Moi University and had spent a night or two in a jail cell. He was still under suspension, and was hoping to join the University of Nairobi.
Allow me to detour a bit and talk about student politics.
At times when students leaders have become overblown with their own importance, it is easier to dismiss student leadership that it has gone to the dogs. When people look at Babu Owino they see him as a lost person, misguided and annoying. When students stone cars every time they strike, or go on rampage, there is the usual cheap talk that they should not be employed, they should style up,and the usual bla bla bla middle-class nonsense that the likes Carol Mutoko spew from the comfort of their offices.
What most people don’t know is that by the time students take to the streets, they have tried every possible channel to air their grievances, and most administrations rarely listen to the plight of students. It is when cars have been stoned and students caused some untold damage, that they usually come to their senses. Students like Kenyans sometimes are left with no option. Think of our frustration with corruption, don’t you think that violence is justified because no institution is capable of fighting the vice anymore?
Most student leaders do a thankless job. Not many people will ever understand. Not the least, parallel student who pay dearly and would rather not question anything at the fear of delaying their graduation. Yet their appalling silence is what morphs into the annoying silence, apathy and conformity in their adult life even as corruption makes life impossible for the ordinary Kenyan.
Student leaders often put their lives in line to question authorities who only see money from the self-sponsored students, often forgetting and ignoring the poor students sponsored by HELB.
Now that education minister, Fred Matiang’i wants to increase the university fees, which is wrong, it will take a Babu Owino to stop the nonsense. Both parallel students and regular can benefit from the protest. But sometimes it is the student leaders who are suspended, sometimes their lives that are ruined so that the Silas Nyanchwanis of the poor widows can afford higher education.
At 21, Governor Joel Evans had been suspended for fighting for a worthy cause. His posts were illuminating and we all learnt something every day he put up something different. He infected us with his optimism. Made us all believe in something. He fought a good fight. But lost in the end. Now he is gone, to the land where no one comes back. Taken down by cancer.
May be if he afforded to go India, he would have bought more days on earth. May be if our systems worked, he would have find treatment in Kenya, in time and lived to see another day.
What his death means, is that for us young people, we need to think of how we can elect a good government that is constantly in tune with the needs of the people. Where money for Cancer does not have to be played with, or a minister of health, bribed so that a cancer center can be built.
A top radiologist in Kenya told me that with one billion, we can build a cancer center from scratch, train the necessary personnel and buy medicine that can run the center, up from scratch. With 5 billion, we can have five centres within three years and even send our brightest kids to learn about cancer abroad and come back to help the thousands cancer patients.
But with so much theft going on the government, with all the greed, they are too blind to see many families losing their loved ones because of the cost. Many families impoverished by the sick family members.
My wish is that our generation will change things for the better. We will manage our greed, so that it will never get the better of us. That one day we can all afford quality education and medical care without calling the entire clan to fundraise, stripping ourselves off any dignity. That one day, another young man, or young woman does not have to die because of something that is preventable.