He was a man of the people whose fame outweighed Chief Nanga’s (only a few people will get this). He wasn’t just famous, he had a golden heart which endeared him to people from all walks of life. *Kip (not his real name) was a man crafted for every stratum of life. He comfortably sat on the high tables of this nation but he still freely mingled with cart pushers in town who knew him by name.

His depth of humanity was like an oasis refreshing humanity in the scorching sun of this life. If you found yourself stuck in a desert and Kip was your friend, he would be the one to rescue you.

He was the life of the party. When he didn’t show up at parties his friends organized, it wasn’t considered like ‘it happened’. Kip carried extra bags of energy whenever he went and he generously shared it with the group. He was a witty, humorous man who had a knack for hilarious stories. Around Kip, people dropped off masks they wore and leaned on his broad shoulders.

Like a canopy, Kip was a loyal friend there for everyone at their lowest moments. People remembered incidences where he battled insurmountable challenges to be there for them.

Many people who got married in the group effortlessly chose him as the chair of their wedding committees. A born natural leader, Kip fundraised effortlessly because of the gift of the garb.

If he wasn’t making people laugh, he lived on the fast lane. A life punctuated with road trips, booze and safari rallies, he was always on the move decorating his Instagram page with images of a man who was living his best life now. When it came to women, Kip was spoilt for choice. He never married any of them but deposited seeds in five different wombs and they conceived mini Kips’ looking exactly like him.

He hated rules confining people to societal expectations. “Why should I settle down when I have options? Who can leave this good life to be confined to one woman?” he joked when asked about his passion for changing ladies. In meeting Kip, you interacted with the embodiment of the lifestyle and the true definition of YOLO (You only live once).

If he wasn’t chasing sunsets as a petrol head across the country, he was the life of the party in wild parties in the bundus.

Kip was a shining star who started a business while on campus. Gifted with street smartness, he knew the path long been cut out for him. While his friends tarmacked, he got seed capital from his family to expand his business. By all standards, Kip was ahead of his peers. He cut a niche as a man who had his act together.

Dark clouds

I’m sited on a wooden bench with my pen and notebook outside a shop on Luthuli Avenue in Nairobi where I’m chasing Kip’s story. It’s 6 PM and the ever busy street is slowing down. Human traffic is low. Some shops are closing for the day as last minute customers bargain. The weather is chilly. I walk into a hotel directly opposite the shop to order a cup of tea to be delivered on my bench.

I’m trying to piece together the life Kip from the perspective of one of his inner circle of friends. This is the story of a man who seemingly lived the life and had many friends yet he couldn’t open up to any of them at the hour of need. He chose the hanging lines on the roof of his apartment to end his life instead of reaching out.

Even though Kip painted a life of grandeur and a man in charge, deep down, trouble was brewing in paradise. He was drowning in the sea of the persona he painstakingly crafted. The masks the world demanded of him were peeling off one by one. His life was falling apart in a spectacular manner but nobody noticed, not even his close friends. Perhaps he may have been good at the job of wearing a mask.

Even though this friend knew him for 15 years, she didn’t doubt even once that he wasn’t okay. “His death shocked all of us. He never showed signs of depression or a man who was not okay,” she told me adding that, “when we discovered he had six months rent arrears, we pieced that he may have been struggling financially yet he never told any of us,” she told me.

It’s been weeks since Kip was laid to rest in a colourful ceremony and a show of solidarity. Petrol heads lined up along the route to his rural home in Kivaa. Around 800 people (excluding relatives & other friends from the village) – friends from Nairobi – turned up to bid him farewell. His burial was like that of a prominent man. During burial arrangements, it didn’t take them 30 minutes to raise Sh2 million to offset the expenses and leave some to support the family.

It was 2:35 AM in the morning as captured in the CCTV footage in Kip’s apartment block when he walked to the rooftop to end his life. Nobody knows what was going on through his mind. As far as everyone is concerned, he had just turned 31 and his life seemed set. He lived in an upmarket apartment where rent can buy a honeymoon holiday package in the Mara. As the cold morning wind swept across Thindigua on Kiambu road, Kip breathed his last.

Why he decided to take off from the world in the most dramatic and painful way baffles many people who knew him. “He was always happy and energetic. You couldn’t tell when he was troubled,” she tells me.

Just like he had lived his life without letting people into his troubled world, he left no suicide note to offer closure to his family and friends who now had the difficult task of not only mourning him but also questioning whether they were good friends to him. Nobody knows why he chose the rooftop but as if he wanted to publicize his exit from the world, he chose the most exposed place to die in the most painful way.

“Maybe he suspected that if he died in his house, his decomposing body would have been found days later. He visited many people but he had no visitors but we still loved him,” one of his friends told me. 

His death opened the lid to a life full of struggles he rarely shared with the world. Kip who had friends from all walks of life never shared his financial troubles. “Why did he struggle in secret yet we are all capable?” she asked while battling balancing tears. “Why did he borrow to keep up with life on the fast lane? Did we push him to perhaps keep up because of how we perceived him?” she asked while scrolling through his Instagram account to show me the life he lived. “We need to tell young men it’s okay not to have your sh*t together at a certain age.”

Kip’s friend wonders whether society has put too much expectation on men. “When was the last time your dad called to ask how you are doing,” she asks catching me off guard. “Men do not look after the boys. Society assumes men are okay but they forget that they too hurt, cry and breakdown just like women.”

“Apart from some retrogressive views of masculinity where men are supposed to fit into a certain role, society assumes men are okay. Nobody asks deeper questions about the well being of men. In fact, they are often demonised mostly in relationships even when they were the ones offended,” she told me.

She bemoans the superficial world we live in where people don’t dig deeper to find out how one is doing. “I wish I was keener. I wish I asked the tough questions,” she lamented while complaining about the fake world we live in. “It’s okay to meet over tea but what do we talk about? Your latest wins? How about we become more genuine to talk about our fears, depression, battles we are fighting and the real ugliness of life?” she asked. “But even when someone asks you how you are doing, we are wired to just say we are okay even when we are not.”

In May, the BBC Africa Eye carried a story about Nyandarua County where 70 people – mostly made up of men – killed themselves in 2018. The story went viral hours after it was uploaded. Just hours after it was uploaded, it had garnered 1800 likes, 624 comments and over 2500 shares.

“In retrospect, maybe we weren’t genuine friends. Kip surrounded himself with many acquaintances. He stayed on that treadmill of fast life to impress us even when he was chocking in debt,” she tells me.

As if life was a grand stage, Kip mastered the art of staying in character. He financed his extravagant life through unsustainable means. Even when he was breaking, he had to keep up the façade and none of his many friends noticed trouble in paradise.

He isn’t alone

The story of Kip is not unique to him alone. Recently, local news is filled with stories of depression, murder, etc. In 2017, government data shows that 421 people committed suicide in Kenya and 330 of them were men. Data by The World Population Review ranks Kenya at position 114 among 175 countries with the highest suicide rate. In 2017, Kenya was ranked sixth with the highest number of depression cases among African countries.

Even though women tend to have higher rates of depression diagnoses and try suicide three times more, men die three times more from suicide than women partly because of the violent methods they use.

According to WHO, suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 15-29 years. Globally, men are 3.5 times more to go through with suicide than women.

While many reasons including cultural expectations have been advanced to explain why men find it hard to talk about their issues leading to fatal consequences, research shows the state of mental wellness has a direct correlation to one’s well being. Research shows that men are less likely to talk about their feelings and seek help in the time leading to catastrophic outcomes.

Neglecting mental health amongst men is a tragedy we may not have fully grasped. For example, there’s a correlation between the state of mental health and the rise of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). A 2016 report by the National Gender and Equality Commission estimated that the cost of GBV stood at KES 46 billion, which translated to about 1.1 per cent of Kenya’s GDP due to medical related expenses, litigation costs, productivity losses among others.

The 2018 Kenya National Bureau of Statistic’s economic survey noted that cases of suicide, violent and fatal GBV can be attributed to deteriorating state of mental health.

Data from Counting Dead Women Kenya shows horrific figures: Between January 1, 2019, and April 13, 2019, 40 women were murdered in Kenya.  Shockingly, the gruesome murders of the women were allegedly committed by their husbands or lovers & the worrying trend prompted female MPs to launch a ‘Her Life Matters’ campaign to educate the public on the value of lives.

Kenya’s penal code states that “any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanour”. Apart from the criminalization of suicide in Kenya, the way data is collected leaves a lot to be desired.

In March 2019, Africa check reported the layman’s approach of collecting suicide data in Kenya. For example, Samuel Cheburet, the head of the civil registration and vital statist unit at Kenya’s health ministry told the organisation that a bulk of Kenya’s data of suicide comes from “lay reporting” and there is little coded data. “Most of the medical certification of deaths doesn’t say it is suicide, because the intention is not recorded,” he said.

It means that as long as the intention of death is not recorded, suicide data currently used to make policy decisions could be utterly inaccurate. For example, if a person kills themselves in a traffic accident, or in homicide and the intention is not recorded, how will it be known whether it was suicide?

Dear men, if you don’t get anything else from this article, remember the of Kendrick Lamar’s song Duckworth from the album Damn. There he says, “It was always me versus the world until I found it’s me versus me.”

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Author: Dannish Odongo

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