'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.

Comments

comments

21 Comments
  1. Dude! This is precisely the problem with some guys who leave Kenya several years and think they have the authority to describe Kenyans as they are. This sure doesn't sound like the Kenya I live in! Please get your facts straight before lying to the world about Kenyans, heck, I am not even sure if you are a real Kenyan! Sean Jacobs? Please pick another African country to analyze, coz clearly you have missed the point by a long shot by Kenya

    1. @Maxwell,
      I wrote this piece. Mimi ni Mkenya damu. Certainly there is no one way of looking at this thing Kenya, but we must leave room for people to rant about it; room for people to guide Project Kenya back to track when it loses it's trajectory, no?

  2. *putting hand over face* at MS's comment above. Kweli aptly hits several nails on the head in his post.

  3. Im going to side with MS im not for this whole what i hate about?sorry..Because the facts are always a bit shady…

  4. @ Kweli, while I agree with Kabinti that you have hit several nails on the head, I realy don't think your criticism is very fair, maybe too one sided even. In fact, "project Kenya" is not a uniquely Kenyan problem. Lets look at the UK….they have been trying for a very long time to decide who is British and who isn't and end up discriminating exactly like we do the muslims and gays in Kenya (I have to add that we also discriminate against the north eastern Kenyans by calling them wolalos). America's war on terror in some ways is also about who is American and who isn't. Kenyans are just human beings at the end of the day! Human beings are always looking to feel better about themselves by putting other people down. And if your average Nairobian can feel better by putting a north easterner or Muslim down….they will!

    Having said that, it is important to point these things out and make people aware that even the Muslim from Somalia is still a human being who has as much right to be in Kenya as a Kenyan born here. That just as we have the right to be christian and straight, so does the next guy have the right to be Muslim or gay or lesbian…..and we have absolutely no right to impose our beliefs on other people! We need to learn to be more courteous and people of integrity in order to fight corruption (God helps those who help themselves – God will not strike down that clerk at city hall, its up to us to report him to the manager and refuse to pay the bribe).

    Oh….and by the way Mr Kweli….the people in the "big five"….did not ask to be born into the "big five". And also….if you have been following the Kenyan news, you will realise that Kenyans elected Dr Willy Mutunga despite the church and christian organisations going on about how he supports gays!

    1. @proudlykenyan,
      I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis of the situation in the UK and US and elsewhere. The WE the people is always a strategic fiction perpetrated by hegemonic sections of society.

      About the Big 5: I come from two communities in the Big 5, but for years now I have been saddened by how other communities are marginalized.

      I'm glad Mutunga got it. Our legislators are so petty: why interrogate a grown man about wearing an earring instead of asking him about juridical matters?

  5. @maxwell sitati – Kweli, Kiingereza is a foreign language. "By Kweli,
    Guest Blogger"

    Kweli – Kenya has been independent since 1963. Blaming colonialism for most of today's ills is disingenuous. Look at the Singapore that has embraced its colonial history & makes money of it! [Raffles Hotel]

    Most Kenyans were born after 1963. In fact, way after 1963. Let me use myself as an example. By the time I knew what was going on, the moi administration had adopted the worst habits & attitudes of kenyatta's government. Nyayo.

    In 2011, blaming colonialism make even less sense than it did in the 80s & 90s. From the 90s onwards we have had the Goldenberg, Anglo-leasing, Maize, Fertilizer, Fuel, Education, etc scams. All local. If anything, the Brits are pissed at the level of these scams!

    Or maybe its just convenient to have a bogeyman for our failings?

    1. @coldtusker,
      True, I am not calling on us to blame colonialism and the West for our problems. I'm saying we need to know our past a little better so we understand how the world works (or doesn't work) today. And so we don't repeat the same mistakes.

  6. Interesting post here. While you make a few valid points, this comes of as a bit one sided.
    My question to you is are you oneof the "complainers" as you have described our fellow countrymen or are you actively seeking to solve the local problems that you encounter in your community.
    I will not jump into the whole debate about discrimination etc it is a whole post in itself, but I do want to say that it seems to me that those being discriminated against are at times willing to play that part a bit too willingly; Possibly to attract the support of well financed NGO's. Again this is my opinion.

    My two cents worth

  7. Very important point you raise about newspaper and TV profiles of "successful" people. Some of them the only thing they had to do is multiply family wealth while others all they had to do is mention their family name. It can get annoying because its like we have to look up to them and when you look at it, they havent done much :)

    I agree with the writer on that….

  8. I agree with you on the last part, but atleast i know around 7 tribes. And i like that Mboya quote, true reflection of the Kenyan society.

  9. sean, nice one, but too short… which makes it easy to misconstrue & feel like its a cross-breed between a critical text and that usual stereotype mzungu or mzungu-wannabe yarra yarra… like reading a page of philip ochieng / binyavanga (binyavanga ochieng) then a page of (that-silly-lady-what's-her-name) karen blixen. i also think that you are talking about a certain breed calling itself 'middle-class' nairobi/nairobians, not kenya/kenyans. enjoyable though… keep it coming.

    1. @jimmy o,
      I think you're dead on: the symptoms I describe may be more particular to the Nairobian middle class than to the general populace. Point taken.

  10. I hate other things about Kenyans – we still adore foreigners, we protect criminals if they are in our family or tribe, and we change our values and principles when we go abroad. How many faithful men become dogs when they get home? How many of us drink and drive in Nairobi but wouldn't think of it in UK or USA? How many of us wouldn't think twice about bribing a policeman in Kenya but wouldn't even consider it abroad? How many of us talk about human rights and then treat others like shit? Have you ever seen how badly Nakumatt, Tusky's and Chandarana treat poor people in the queue? How many of us have spoken out? How do you treat your house staff? We hate matatu's until we're in them screaming down the sidewalk … need I go on?

    1. @paula kahumbu,
      I just checked your website (Baraza). I have to read it and enlighten myself a little more about pressing issues facing the environment in Kenya.

      The home and away divide (between Kenyan behavior in the US, UK, etc and Kenyan behavior nyumbani) is something I have noticed. You know, we only adore the right kind of foreigners. We have so many Nigerians, Congolese and Sudanese in Kenya, but you don't see us adoring them. Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps are full of foreigners.

      If our treatment of house helps/staff is anything to go by, Kenya is far from the shores of civilization. They are one of the many lower castes. We all know the word "madharau," but I don't think wabara (people from the mainland) use the word with the same weight as wapwani (people from the Coastal area). Our treatment of them is summed up by that one word: madharau.

  11. Well there is a difference between fact and truth. Then there is an opinion. What you have here is an opinion. Dude is just trying to express his opinion based on his observation, thus his conclusion. Kenyans abroad and Kenyans in Kenya, their lives are dictated by the following, choice, upbringing , religion, social status and most importantly choice. My emphasis is choice. There are many wealth individuals that made it from the Slums of Mathare to being one of the richest immigrants in the US and UK. There are those born with a silver spoon and have nothing to show for it. People it is up to each individual to make a choice on the life they want, things they want to know and also people the want to care about. Choice has two sides, a good choice or a bad choice.The sole foundation of the decision you make is enlightenment ( insert synonyms here). You need fact or truth to make your decisions. Are you going to be a panzi influenced by the crowd mentality or are going to make decisions as an individual. Truth, not all silver spoon kids inherit a kingdom, they build their own. Truth, not all slum residents die poor! Some make it out of the poor mentality and make a beautiful life. So, you say these things irritate you about Kenya and Kenyans. Well, start with you my fellow Kenya become the change and the voice you wish to see and quit complaining.
    Son of the Big Five and some others
    Josephat Omondi Kip Mbithi Leshan arap Waruimbo

  12. I must have been heated and tired…English came to Shags in a Pujo Kweli…..repost with grammatical corrections….

    Well there is a difference between fact and truth. Then there is an opinion. What you have here is an opinion. Dude is just trying to express his opinion based on his observation, thus his conclusion. Kenyans abroad and Kenyans in Kenya, their lives are dictated by the following, choice, upbringing , religion, social status and most importantly choice( I said it twice. Here is why!). My emphasis is choice. There are many wealthy individuals that made it from the Slums of Mathare to being one of the richest immigrants in the US and UK. There are those born with a silver spoon and have nothing to show for it. People, it is up to each individual to make a choice on the life they want, things they want to know, and also people they want to care about. Choice has two sides, a good choice or a bad choice.The sole foundation of the decision you make is enlightenment ( insert synonyms here! Knowledge, Understanding, etc). You need fact or truth to make your decisions. Are you going to be a panzi influenced by the crowd mentality or are you going to make decisions as an individual.

    Truth, not all silver spoon kids inherit a kingdom, they build their own. Truth, not all slum residents die poor! Some make it out of the poor mentality and make a beautiful life. So, you say these things irritate you about Kenya and Kenyans. Well, start with you my fellow Kenyan become the change and the voice you wish to see and quit complaining.

    On a different note, I heard a politician telling his constituents that forests do not generate rain. God alone sends the rain. He then went ahead and told them to cut down as main trees as they wish for firewood. People, faith and science have co-existed from the beginning. That's right co-existed. Ignorance is a result of lack of curiosity. How do things work, Why does this happen. Some will blindly say God is the answer. They are absolutely right. But what was the question?

    About religion was created by man to maintain some sort of order in the church or mosque or temple. The relationship with your maker is your salvation. Your understanding of your makers intentions for you will be your nugget of wisdom. So how many believe the earth was created in 7 days…? No seriously, most think of this Literally. Ati God started on Monday and finished on Saturday and rested on Sunday( if you are SDA he rested Saturday…Muslim Friday).

    Closing point of this rant! You are either the change or problem of what you see in our society. Dont like it…do something about it. But start with you!
    Son of the Big Five and some others
    Josephat Omondi Kip Mbithi Leshan arap Waruimbo

  13. Its a little late for my comment but this piece is on point… homophobia, christian fundamentalism, islamophobia and yes obsession with wealth. Thanks Kweli Jaoko for saying it.

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