'Things that bug me about Kenya(ns)'

The first thing that comes to mind is our unquestioning admiration and obsession with wealthy people. Our newspapers and magazines are chock-full of personal interviews of rich people. In these interviews, people born with silver spoons in their mouths often offer the average Kenyan advice on how to work hard and make it to the upper echelons of our dynastic society. This advice is usually offered with astonishing sincerity and a complete lack of irony.

Another annoying habit Kenyans have is their aggressive Christianity. Christianity is truly the opium of the average Kenyan. Christianity is more like product placement when the average Kenyan is speaking: the more he mentions God, the better his profit margin. But it’s not just enough for Kenyans to mention God; they are ever exorcising the devil, thwarting his plans and rebuking him. When the average Kenyan goes to a government office and he is denied service by some petty bureaucrat hoping to obtain a bribe before delivering the service, the Kenyan does not ask to speak to the manager. He does not protest. This is not a governance issue; this is spiritual warfare, a machination of the devil. So he goes to church on Sunday and prays hard that the devil and corruption be defeated. And while he’s at it, he prays also for poor, starving Turkana people in the North of the Rift Valley and all those emaciated hordes of people in North Eastern province that he learned about in primary and secondary school. He prays that God, the U.S. or the United Nations may deliver food aid to them. In Jesus name, Amen.

Along with Christianity come our newfound phobias: homophobia and Islamophobia.

“Newfound” not because we don’t have a bigoted history, but because they are quickly becoming the litmus tests for who is and isn’t a true Kenyan. Battles have always been fought about who is included in or excluded from Project Kenya, but lately these battles are centered not just around ethnicity but also our U.S.-funded heterofascism and fear of Islam. People readily turn a blind eye when LGBTQ are beaten up, denied medical services and other rights or even murdered. I have heard people say it makes sense that the government is denying Kenyan Somalis (read: Muslims) identification cards because of the war on terror. But the same people won’t rout corrupt politicians off the dais at political rallies.

The other thing that shreds my nerves is our complete ignorance of Kenyan (his)tories, especially colonial history. In Kenya, we view British colonization as one does a common cold: slightly inconveniencing, but inconsequential to overall health. We view colonization as something ancient that happened only to those Mau Mau fighters we see on black and white footage on television every Jamhuri (Independence) Day. Besides, the British left* and Project Kenya has been running as smoothly as a well oiled machine going downhill. “Kenya hakuna matata,” we say.

Another annoying thing is that Project Kenya belongs to the Big 5: Kikuyu, Luhya, Luo, Kalenjin and the Kamba. Here’s a good one: challenge any Kenyan to name more than 15 ethnic communities found in the country. Chances are your test subject will start stammering after getting though the big five. The Ribe, Okiek, Jibana, Marama, Sengwer, Rendile, Elgeyo, Oromo and many other communities will be etc-ed. Shortly after independence, J.M. Kariuki said “Kenya has become a nation of ten millionaires and ten million beggars,” but now it might be more appropriate to say Project Kenya consists of the Big 5, etc.

* Kweli blogs as Bring Me The African Guy. Image Credit: Joan Bardeletti.


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