by Wangari Kibanya
Conversations around the word millennial make me wonder, why would we need to contextualize our social and economic shifts from a very US American lens yet our nation is only 53 years old and did not undergo some of the shifts that mark the demographic markers on that end? What happens when the word millennial is deployed in the larger Kenyan discussion? When we label young people and how they act or contribute to society?
When we discuss the different generations, we use the terms – Baby Boomer. Generation X, Generation Y or Millennials and Generation Z /iGen (yet to be crystallized.) This illustration shows what characteristics have been assigned to each of these demographic groups, and the language we currently use to describe people within our workspaces. It shows US American centric culture dynamics. What makes each generation unique? According to US Americans, it is differences in technology use, work ethic, values, intelligence, among others.
The thinking behind all the demographic labels we use to define our workforce dynamics are informed by the United States. Maybe it is time to localize these labels and develop the language and apply a different context for the Kenyan workspace (which may also hold true for a lot of African countries).
The recent history of Africa can be defined as pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial. How has the Kenyan workforce morphed from independence to post-independence? What are the demographic characteristics that we can use to shift the conversation around how we develop strategies for understanding context and the role it plays?
Kenya gained independence from Great Britain’s colonial rule in 1963, and this ushered in the Africanisation policy. Pre-independence dynamics saw colonial Kenya define and demarcate drastic social shifts in systems of production, culture, religion and economies. Different communities that were merged to make the Kenyan project moved from agricultural, pastoral and gatherer means of sustenance to a money economy – new crops, language, religion and vocations.
This is the starting point of a change that brought Kenya into the world. The different markers for each generation also determine expression, how ideas spread, their conversations and world views. A person born in a certain time period may have more privilege that one born in another time. This privilege is rarely acknowledged. Maybe this is why talk of younger generations having it easy crops up in conversations about the good old times. According to many, younger generations are “spoilt”.
How can we think about the Kenyan workforce in a new way? What are the educational, political, and social markers of each generation? Within each of these broad categories, you can also map and expand different sub- groups and cultures to get more nuances on each demographic label. The main consideration for the social, cultural and political characteristics what happened around them as they made the leap from childhood to adulthood.
1963 – 1978: Uhuru generation
This generation came up during the Africanisation of labor market, and took up jobs in the civil service, leading to rapid expansion of formal economy. Africanisation ensured that new jobs were created in Kenya’s post-independence economy. They had (and still have) jobs for life in the civil service, and there were limited education opportunities. This led to the wide availability of jobs. Public services were functional in their time.
First and second generation Kenyans were able to get through formal education system, from 3R (reading, writing, arithmetic) to university education. There were airlifts to the United States and Soviet bloc countries to train a professional class, as well as expansion of education facilities in Kenya, and Kenyan music (Benga especially) dominated the airwaves with influences from the Congo – they even had global recording studios such as Polygram set up shop here.
1978 -1982: Early Generation
This generation was born into a constitutionally embedded one party state, and witnessed succession from the first president of Kenya as well as a coup attempt, which radically shifted Kenya’s character.
1982 – 2002: Nyayo Generation
This generation experienced a change of education system from 7-4-2-3 to 8-4-4. We have experienced state repression, currency controls and price controls. Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) have had a great impact on our experiences of public services such as education, health and infrastructure. We saw the liberalization of the Kenyan economy, including the free market, privatization of public services, and a public service hire freeze.
We have witnessed the rise of Information Technology as an industry, boosted by computerization and dial up internet access. There was increased uptake of opportunities abroad by Kenyan students and professionals (which led to “brain drain”) due to political and economic conditions. We experienced news from a monopoly broadcaster (KBC), and Congolese and vernacular Kenyan music defined our audio experience.
2002 – 2010: Children of democracy
This generation has witnessed the expansion of democratic space. Freedom of expression and creativity in the film industry, art and music was burgeoning at this time. The Kenyan Hip Hop scene grew due to the presence of labels such as Ogopa DJs and Calif Records, and there was an increase in literary output from collectives such as Kwani? TV and radio frequencies were liberalized, leading to a rise in independent/commercial media houses.
There was a geopolitical shift to engage more with the East, leading to the entry of China in megaproject infrastructure funding. This generation has experienced the enhanced use of technology for everyday life, as well as increased global connections due to internet use (due to the landing of fiber optic cable on Kenyan coast.) This led to better connectedness of Kenya to the outside world – more Kenyans got online as the cost of internet significantly reduced. Mobile telephony grew rapidly with the entry of KenCell Safaricom.
There were many diaspora returnees at this time, and new constitution was promulgated at this time. There were also curriculum changes in primary and secondary schools, with a reduction of examinable subjects.
2010 – Current: Digital natives (Generation Z/iGen)
This generation is experiencing an even greater merge of Kenya with the global space on the digital frontier. They have grown up using mobile devices, high speed internet and broadband. There is an immediacy in the adoption of global trends, making it to almost every part of the country. There has been a screen shift to mobile rather than legacy media, and a change in news dissemination and cultural trends in the age of viral news and trends on Kenyan Facebook and Twitter (#KOT.)
This generation is coming up in a time of unemployment and underemployment, leading to a growing gig economy and the emergence of the “hustler.” There has been a demographic shift in the makeup of our population, and an expansion in the creative economy (we have photographers, videographers, writers, actors, poets, fashion influencers, Instagram and Facebook popup shops.) This generation has seen a rise in self-publishing on platforms like WordPress, and self-promoting created content on platforms like YouTube. There has been more privatization of services, and the rollout of a new curriculum in 2017.
With this basic frame of the different slices of the demographic shifts and labels, perhaps we can reimagine and develop strategies that blend both global thinking and local dynamics that underpin our interactions with Kenyan youth, and understand why it is important to contextualize demographic labels.
We refuse to be what you wanted us to be
We are what we are
That’s the way it’s going to be.
You don’t know
You can’t educate I for no equal opportunity:
Talking ’bout my freedom, people freedom and liberty
Yeah, we’ve been trodding on the winepress much too long
Yes, we’ve been trodding on the winepress much too long:
Babylon system is the vampire,
Sucking’ the children day by day,
Me say de Babylon system is the vampire, falling empire,
Sucking’ the blood of the sufferers,
Building church and university,
Deceiving the people continually,
Me say them graduating thieves and murderers;
Look out now: they sucking the blood of the sufferers
Tell the children the truth/ Tell the children the truth;
Tell the children the truth right now!
Come on and tell the children the truth;
Cause – ’cause we’ve been trodding on ya winepress much too long/ Rebel, rebel!
And we’ve been taken for granted much too long/ Rebel, rebel now!
Trodding on the winepress/ Got to rebel, y’all!
We’ve been trodding on the winepress much too long
From the very day we left the shores of our Father’s land, we’ve been trampled on.
Bob Marley and The Wailers – Babylon System
Babylon features heavily in reggae music, and it is usual to hear Rastas blame things on the Babylon System, as did Bob Marley and The Wailers. In my years of listening to reggae music, the only other words that feature as heavily are “Jah Rastafari” and “Haile Selassie.”
To understand the origin of this reference, we need to look at scripture – the Bible mentions Babylon 260 times, second only to Jerusalem. Babylon was a city of great wealth, located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It grew through agriculture and trade, and developed a bureaucratic system to manage this growth, making the people even more materialistic. In many ways, Babylonians originated capitalism. This led to much of the behaviour the book decries, including slavery. While Jerusalem is viewed as a holy city, Babylon is seen to be a place of depravity. Seemingly everything bad that can happen according to the people who wrote the book happens in Babylon. It is not just a place, it is a system of evil.
Babylon, according to the Bible, seeks to take away the promised land from God’s chosen people, the Israelites. This land was their right. Marcus Garvey made this reference when he likened the presence of Afro-Caribbean people in the West to the exile of the Israelites in Babylon. Just like the Jews were captured and enslaved in Babylon, so were Afro-Caribbean people captured from Africa and enslaved in the West (the subject of yet another Bob Marley and The Wailers song, Buffalo Soldier.) Rastas rightfully recognize the similarity between this biblical story and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Remember, similar tactics were used during slavery and colonialism – the same way we were stripped of our culture, identity, and rights, and allowed to read mostly the Bible was the same way Afro-Caribbean people were – hence the biblical references in reggae music.
The Transatlantic Slave Trade may officially be over, but black people in the Caribbean still suffer from racism and poverty, which went hand in hand with slavery. Likewise, colonialism may officially be over, but black people on the African continent also continue to suffer from racism and poverty. This Babylon System so well described by Bob Marley and The Wailers remains.
Our global economic system is built on the coerced and unpaid labour of slaves (most of them black due to the racialization of slavery) and Africans, and on the theft of resources from Africa and other colonies. It capitalizes turning a profit at whatever cost, be it human lives (the diamonds from Sierra Leone, for example), human rights, animal rights or the environment.
It reduces human beings, with all their rights and freedoms, to a factor of production – labour. Thus is becomes a priority to effectively and efficiently use this labour. To eke out as much as one can from it for as little as possible. This is why we create free content on Facebook and Twitter all day, every day, get paid nothing (we are “sharing” with our friends after all) while these services sell advertisements against our content and make millions of dollars. Even friendship, it turns out, can and will be commoditized.
This is why Uber and its driver partners are constantly at war. Kenyan Uber drivers even protested against being Uber slaves. The rise of the gig economy sees tech companies that act as platforms and not employers drive down the cost of professional services while attaining billion dollar valuations. What is this, if not wage slavery? Yet, as Karl Marx would say, labour is a fictitious commodity that should not be included in market exchange because it cannot be produced on market demand.
The Babylon System is alive and well. It co-opts all of us – the Nyabinghi, for example, say that both white and black people can be downpressors (oppressors). Anyone can be a part of the Babylon System, so how does one get out? As Bob Marley and The Wailers point out in the song, it begins with historical and identity awareness. Once we are aware of all the ways we remain oppressed by this system, we must resist its effort to re-shape us in its image. The global economic system is supposed to serve and create value for us, not the other way around. We make this system, and we must be careful not to allow it to make us instead. Human rights and dignity have to be centered if we are to see a better world.
Now and always, chant down Babylon!
by Ngala Chome
According to my national registration document, I ‘come’ from a sub-location called Murimani, in a location called Kayafungo, in a division called Kaloleni, which is in a district called Kilifi.
I have never lived in all these places.
However, in Kenya, home is not necessarily where one lives, where one learns how to speak, to walk, where one meets their earliest and closest friends, where one losses their virginity. This experiential idea of home is not featured in logics of power and administration that are employed by the Kenyan state.
Identity – and where you come from – is instead fixed by administrative percolates that have origins in the colonial state.
In terms of identity, you simply cannot be anything else other than what the state said your father (not your mother) – and his father before him – is or was. No matter where people have actually lived, we have seen their dead bodies being transported, say from Mombasa to Kisumu, together with their earthly belongings, so that unification with soil – in an ancestral meaning – can happen.
In this way, land in Kenya acquires a much more visceral meaning than as a simple economic good.
In Kenya, land proffers identity, and is fundamental to forming dominant ideas about origin and home. Through its materiality, land has over time managed to transform Kenya as a huge block of indigenous homelands.
Where people belong because of ethnicity.
Where ethnicity belongs because it is attached to soil.
It is therefore not only central to people’s strategies of survival, land also forms a blueprint for action and belief. It consists of a mix of material resources and systems of meaning.
Broadly, land in Kenya is part of myths and symbols that help explain people’s place in the world and how they can survive and perhaps prosper within it.
The result is that land has always been central to our country’s politics.
One of the earliest tasks that British colonialists engaged with was to define, so as to rule. Faced by multiple, often shifting and malleable identities, colonial administrators working with Christian missionaries and social anthropologists sought to study, classify, and thus administer, what they understood to be ‘tribes’.
This idea implied that all black Africans were members of one tribe or the other, and that these tribes were ruled by this or by that chief. This, of course, wasn’t the case, but the idea itself became so powerful. More than twenty years before we achieved independence, this idea had impacted on the design and nature of our administrative boundaries, the details of the kipande, and the form of our politics.
An un-homing process, to create a new home for incoming white settlers, fixed hitherto multiple, often shifting, and notoriously malleable identities. This was achieved through the kipande system and by administrative cartography. Thus, each fixed identity was allocated a home district.
Additionally, for the colonialists, tribe signified Africanness, and Africanness symbolised traditionalism – that which is opposed to modernity and progress.
Swiftly, black Africans, or those who were thought to be black, were un-homed from certain spaces of modernity and civilisation – Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu – and homed in spaces of nativism and culture – the native reserve/district.
Following from this process of purification and un-homing, we have been made to believe, at least since the 1969 census was conducted, that we consist of 42 tribes – pristine, pure and timeless.
These have centrally driven our re-distributive politics, and have fundamentally determined our relationship with the patrimonial state.
Your rights as a citizen are activated by them.
They have since determined recruitment and access to schools, universities, security agencies, parliament, cabinet, harambee and ‘development’, including access to hospitals and medical care.
Hence we have been persistent in vigorously defending these things, including fighting and killing in their name.
Enter the Guest Metaphor
In early 2008, after post-election violence mostly targeted against Kikuyu residents in various parts of the Rift Valley, the government launched Operation rudi nyumbani [return home]. While more than 1,300 had been killed, more than half a million people had been displaced. This state-led exercise, to return people to their homes after either forced eviction or self-imposed exile, failed in considerable proportions.
Most displaced people, who had taken refuge in make-shift satellite camps, were reluctant to return to their homes for fear of attacks from their neighbours. Some had been warned never to return, while others returned only to find that there was nothing left to call home.
On two separate occasions, Maasai leaders, residents and university students had rejected two government plans for re-settling some of these displaced persons in plots of land in Narok.
During the run-up to the 2013 elections, Major (Rtd.) Joseph Nkaisserry, a senior Maasai politician, even warned Kikuyus against fielding their names as candidates for political office in the newly established counties of Narok and Kajiado. These, according to him, were Maasai, not Kikuyu homelands.
On the Rift Valley, Kikuyus were being urged to lie low like envelops, yet again.
Denied politics, citizenship and land, these un-homed people have found themselves inhabiting a similar experience inhabited almost forty-years earlier by their grandparents. In Ol-Kalou, and most settler farms on the Rift Valley, these had come in search for land after their customary lands – in central province districts – had been appropriated by senior government officials and members of the Home Guard, a vigilante force that aided in the defeat of the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s.
Always seen as guests, their status on the Rift Valley has at the very least, consistently been tenuous.
The guest metaphor and the tenuousness it invites, is in Kenya all too pervasive and familiar.
On April 2, 2014, it struck again. More than 6,000 security officers – from the Administration Police, General Service Unit, and the Kenya Air Force, swooped on Eastleigh.
On that day alone, the police arrested 657 people. This did not only follow three blasts in the area, but a state-led narrative that Kenya was facing threats of terrorism from those who had not been invited within our landscape, and given a home – and this quickly became any Somali-looking individual.
People, including the Somali ambassador to Kenya, were randomly arrested, on the streets, in shopping malls, from moving matatus, from their beds, and it didn’t matter what type of identification document one had.
As this progressed, the numbers of the arrested increased, the archetype of the neighbourhoods targeted expanded. The operation, initially dubbed ‘sanitize’ Eastleigh, rapidly graduated into the ‘sanitization’ of Nairobi.
Soon enough, South C, Lang’ata, Kawangware, and Kasarani were raided by the state in search of ‘illegal immigrants’. Police raided houses without search warrants, asking for bribes, looting cell-phones, laptops and jewellery. Heavily pregnant women, as well as women with new-born and very young babies were also arrested – some violently assaulted.
Over the next few weeks after April 2, about 4, 000 people, most of them with ‘ethnic’ Somali origin, had been arrested. About 1, 1136 were screened at a concentration camp set up at the same place (Kasarani Stadium) where the current president whom Kenyan Somalis had overwhelmingly voted for was inaugurated a year earlier. Hundreds were deported to Mogadishu and to Kakuma and Dadaad refugee camps.
Before, Other Kenyans of secure indigenous status had collaborated in general contempt toward Somalis, feeling threatened by their capital and inhabitation of a neighbourhood in Nairobi most cared less about.
And so there was tacit acceptance of the operation from the general public, as if by silent approval, thinking it as necessary, for “peace”, for “securing” our supposedly ‘modern’ and ‘civilized’ space – Nairobi.
It is instructive to note that a similar operation was not carried out in the Somali ‘ethnic homelands’ of Kenya: Wajir, Garissa, and Mandera. Similarly, it is important to note that these zones have had the worst kind of terror attacks before and after the Operation that was conducted in Nairobi.
The irony is in the details.
We shall never be a place of “law and order” (whatever that means) so long as we continue to celebrate an idea of ‘home’ constructed to alienate, to un-belong, to un-home. This idea, that we have managed to include in the quotidian, the everyday experience, has always been intimate in most episodes of violence in Kenya’s history, and of making disposable subjects. Otherness is its main framework.
The familiarity of this idea in the everyday is re-worked, for example, whenever I tell someone that I am from Nairobi and the almost immediate, always predictable response is that “no one comes from Nairobi”.
In this way, we have become good students of the colonial experience.
And Kenya, after all, has become one huge block of indigenous homelands, native reserves of blood and culture, where you only belong after you have been boxed into one of them, a rural county, gicagi.
These are the spaces that possess our identities. These are the spaces that activate our Kenyan citizenship.
These are the spaces we have all been trained to call home, without feeling out of place.
Ngala Chome has been published academically and otherwise. He was the 2013-2014 Commonwealth Shared Scholar at the Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, where he received an MSc in African Studies with distinction. He currently lives in Nairobi where he is experimenting with creative writing, whisky and small-time activism. Follow him on his twitter handle @ngalachome.
by Otieno Sumba
The newly beatified Sister Irene Nyaatha Stefani may hold a Gikuyu name dearly given to her by the community she lived and worked in, but she is not Gikuyu, Kenyan, African or Black. This holds true for many of the other Catholic saints, blesseds, and venerables that earned their halos by the historical receptiveness of Africans for charity, mercy, healing or saving. Indeed, as Edward Andrews puts it, they might as well have been “visible saints, exemplars of ideal piety in a sea of persistent savagery” in any colonialist ideal.
Daniel Comboni, one such specimen, is quoted to have selflessly said “Either Africa or Death” (in Italian O Nigrizia, o morte– notice Africa’s Name). According to Wikipedia, he went ahead to develop a “plan for the rebirth of Africa” after a vision in 1864 in Rome, which echoed his mantra, “save Africa through Africa.” Still very coincidental that the saint planned to save Africa in 1864 and the colonial conquest came so quickly, at least according to that story. So, following coincidence (and not trusting Wikipedia), I go ahead and Google who the patron saint of Kenya is.
I am curious.
The first place I find myself is answers.com. I stumble upon William Howe, rated “expert answerer” by the website’s users. His credentials:
“Born a Catholic and have never wavered in my faith in over 70 years. I had 12 years of Catholic education in my youth – both primary and secondary schools. I went on to teach science and theology in a local Catholic school for 13 years and, although retired, I continue with ministries in the Church. I have a large personal collection of genuine relics of Jesus Christ and many saints and use them to teach younger generations about the lives of the saints. My ministry has a website about relics and how to detect fake relics.”
William Howe´s answer: “I can find no patron saint for the country of Kenya.”
However, I disagree. I think Kenya has a patron saint. His name is St. Coloniality. I took the liberty of writing a short biography:
There are many contested accounts about the life of St. Global Coloniality. One such account postulates that St. Global Coloniality (named colonialism at birth) was born on the 26th February 1885 to a German father; Otto Von Bismarck and an unnamed Portuguese mother. It was a complicated pregnancy and the saint´s parents had been in an out of a hospital since November 1884. At the early age of 6 years, Coloniality was brought to Africa by his parents who were interested in mission and explorative work alongside other activities in Tanzania, Namibia, Cameroon, Mozambique and Angola because of their lifelong desire to evangelize distant lands. He grew up into his parents cause, and continued their work in many other African countries. Due to a tropical sickness, Coloniality is said to have fallen into a coma in early 1957 in Ghana. His helpers however continued his work on the continent, carrying him along. He died in Kenya in 1963. Many other countries claim he died in their countries, naming different years such as 1968 (Mauritius), 1975(Angola) and 1976 (Seychelles) and have produced certificates to confirm their claims. The name Coloniality stuck after his death, he is said to have commonly signed off with this name instead of his true name colonialism.
Coloniality was instantly venerated by faithful in many countries, which to this day have huge congregations swearing allegiance to colonialist religions. Many children have been named after colonialist Saints and a few convert Africans have even been canonized for readily dying for religion.
Coloniality easily translates into what the Swahili would refer to as ukoloni mamboleo. It is the persistent power of a bygone era of colonialism that continues to transcend our lives, it is:
“…one of the specific and constitutive elements of [a] global model of capitalist power. It is based on the imposition of a racial/ethnic classification of the global population as the cornerstone of that model of power, and it operates on every level, in every arena and dimension (both material and subjective) of everyday social existence, and does so on a societal scale
Anibal Quijano 2000
Colonialities of power exist in the worship of white people at airports, coffee chains and at your favorite beach hotel in Diani. It is the security personnel at various locations who – seemingly hypnotized – let the white person in front of you glide through security and then go ahead to churn out the contents of your bag and basically polish their dysfunctional metal detectors on your clothes. It is the ease of access to various hotels in Nairobi when one has a white person in tow, the sudden busybody-ness of receptionists when a white person walks in.
Colonialities of being happen when we proudly wear Coloniality on and in our heads, either as magistrates with a white horsehair-wig of unmatched awful flagrance in a court of law or when we would rather bear the brunt of the Nairobi sun under a straight hair weave or a wig than leave the house with our hair “undone”. We consider time honoured Maasai garb backward and traditional, yet run to Maasai market when our white friends visit to show them “our culture”. We watch, unbothered as Kikoi was almost turned into a British trademark, and LaLesso appropriates our dear Leso into unrecognizable pieces of patterned cloth. We resign to Coloniality, play into the roles created for us by the colonialists; Karen-Blixen-Country, Safari-Country, Kibera-Slum-Tours-Country, good-athletes-country.
Colonialities of knowledge include being taught that Mt. Kenya was “discovered” by Johann Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Rebmann in a public, government financed school. That the history of Kenya began in 1900 and that there is little else before that, that the Mau Mau were thugs and brutes who killed indiscriminately, and that wearing locked hair links you to similarly shifty underground groups. That the british “granted” us independence out of the goodness of their hearts. Coloniality is the fact that no british official, military or civilian, has ever been investigated or prosecuted for the massive atrocities that happened in the suppression of Mau Mau; including the use of concentration camps and in their best days, the imprisonment of upto 71,046 Kenyans (without trial, in what would have been an illegal court anyway) in December of 1954.
Kenya and Britain have done brilliant job at covering up colonialism, throwing a blanket of collective insomnia over millions of people a mere 50 years after the biggest atrocity in Kenyan history was committed. At independence the reconciling “father of the nation” referred to the Mau Mau as “a disease which has been eradicated and must never be remembered.” In 2006 we rebelled, we dared to remember Kimathi Waciuri (aka Dedan), erected a statue on Kimathi street and then instantly forgot again, our insomnia punctuated only by monotonous Mashujaa Day celebrations.
Religion continues to be a breeding ground for Coloniality in all its forms, particularly Christianity. Catholicism in Kenya remains under the tight grip of hegemonic structures straight out of the early centuries. The higher up the hierarchy you go, the less Africans you find. Nevertheless, the Kenyan Catholic church has managed to appropriate a few things here and there since 1970, prior to which holy mass had to be said in Latin all over the world. See:
“The Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular”.
Pope John XXIII, 1962
This cultural-imperialist practice of belittling languages marked unworthy of the ears of the Lord was accompanied by strictly set liturgical practices. Singing, drums or dancing in the Kenyan Catholic church were unheard of before the 1970s, where chants in Latin were the norm.
Religious imagery within Catholicism is another ready site for colonial reproduction and literal worship of everything white. I am yet to come across black religious relics, such as a black statue of Jesus on the cross or the Black Madonna in a Catholic church in Kenya, let alone a picture. Hardcore Catholics would consider it blasphemous to even think about a black Jesus or Mary.
Back on the real internet we find pictures of Sister Stefani in Kenyan news with the newspaper features hailing her selfless charity. One picture shows her posing piously, with the typical lonely acacia tree and orange African sunset combo that can be found on the covers of countless African and Africa-themed novels and movies in the background. The second shows her semi-ascending into heaven in flowing white robes, with a group of stunned black faithful looking up to her in awe.
My problem is not Sister Stefani, Christianity or religion per se, my problem is no longer even the white savior industrial (or religious) complex that is ubiquitous in the “development´\” discourse. My problem is the culture of silence and complacency, the lack of agency in the face of such brazen assaults to black consciousness, spirituality, intelligence and dignity. We are so hypnotized by religion that we will let a pastor touch a woman’s breasts in public and say amen! We will watch a pastor train people to give false testimonies and still “sow a seed” to finance his new Range Rover.
Colonialism was a form of imperialism based on a “divine mandate” and designed to bring “liberation” in all its forms – spiritual, cultural, economic and political – by sharing the blessings of the Christ-inspired civilization of the West with a people suffering under “satanic oppression, ignorance and disease.” The entire missionary enterprise was therefore part of the machinery of Western cultural imperialism. Today, Coloniality is based on a “divine mandate” to bring prosperity, it is the sharing of a gospel of Christ-inspired capitalism with a people suffering under poverty, ignorance and alienation. It is the beatification of a white saint in our country, and the subordinate status that black people/spirituality is accorded within in the Catholic Church. We cannot reverse history, and religion has since become a strong pillar for many of us, but I think that we need to own our spirituality, to claim ownership and take ownership, regardless of which religion we are in.
Otieno Sumba is a fledgling post-colonial Political Scientist who –as a former catholic- finds the little picture of a black Madonna hanging over his door highly empowering. Twitter: @_Otieno_
For as long as I can remember, there has always been conversation about development on the African continent, where the terms “African Development” and “Development in Africa” were used interchangeably, as though they mean the same thing. I believe that the two are completely different concepts, distinguished mainly by their drivers, and consequently, the depth and breadth of outreach and transformation.
African Development is an old, pre-colonial concept, one characterized by economy with a conscious: its politics are ideological and consultative, not selective and purely exploitative. It is void of pure self-interest and uncontrolled greed, where destitution is a cause for shame, not another money-making venture. Its basic ethos are founded on community and the common good.
This concept ensures that the family, as the basic unit of a society, is founded on service and responsibility. Selfishness is frowned upon and evil doers get ostracised, not celebrated. African Development is driven by the people, for the people – those who know where the shoe pinches and exactly how adjustments should be made to ease the pain. Its success lies in home-grown solutions, not third-party prescriptions with a high risk of misdiagnosis.
Times change and adaptability is key, but so is the sense of responsibility especially if one holds a position of authority. With great power comes great responsibility, but in the world today, Sub-Saharan Africa especially, this has been turned into a hard task of ensuring that a minority continue to prosper as the powerless majority wallows in poverty and an unnecessarily difficult life. It is therefore important that as Africans, we revisit our sense of responsibility; to understand that one lives not for themselves, but for others. We need to revive our sense of collective action – community. We are certainly vocal on social media, but clicktivism without dedicated action plans does nothing to change the status quo and effect change.
We are so caught up in making our life better that we forget that one can only be great if the environment they are in supports greatness. How is one supposed to pursue greatness in an environment where insecurity continues to be a concern? An environment where the oppressed have no option but to disrupt the peace, for example by committing robbery, just to fend for themselves. An environment where they often resort to violence as a way of highlighting their plight, for example the constant protests by hawkers in Nairobi. We choose to overlook these disruptions as a cry for help – a cry for visibility.
Development in Africa, on the other hand, is a colonial concept. One characterized by re-written narratives that will continue to plague us even after we have cut down all our forests and replaced them with malls and skyscrapers. It is the birthright of capitalism: borderless economies, and modernity without progress in humanity.
A foreign construct of the politics of progress, Development in Africa is a comparative disorder of Africa versus the others – those at the core of the current world order – whether you prefer to call them the West or the Global North, and the new world order.
It is a phenomenon driven by a tyranny of experts and their warped sense of solidarity with us. This is why the Bretton Woods institutions will not acknowledge the failure of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), but are instead quick to provide alternative development policy frameworks. Frameworks that our leaders will, thanks to their short-sightedness and having greed-bones where their backbones should be, agree to. Frameworks that work hard to ensure that even our nth descendants will be born into massive debt.
Development in Africa has introduced an “otherness” to relationships between economies, the “Global North” vs the “Global South”, that only worsens our situation. Its warped sense of solidarity and responsibility is founded on the premise that we can only be of help to others if our realities are absolutely contrasted. This responsibility continuously seeks validation for existence, and is deeply founded on inequality as the path to seeking equality – it stems from the realization of just how different we are from the “others”. Development in Africa basically institutionalizes our failures, and we do little to change the narrative. If anything, we have become co-authors of our failure, both in action and words. We distance ourselves from the institutions we have created, the leaders we have elected, and the shame they have become – the shame that is in all ways our shame.
Yes, we are working to re-write our stories: we call out foreign media houses when they misrepresent us, and headlines/stories are changed. This happens a little too often, though. Why is that so? Perhaps they don’t particularly take us seriously, however, we don’t take ourselves too seriously either. We continue to consume their political propaganda and their expression of reality, and that is why we continue to see each other as different. This leads to our children growing up without a shred of responsibility to others, and to a great extent, over themselves.
African Development is about celebrating our strengths and doing our best to reverse the shameful narratives. We have lost this in the wave of Development in Africa, where shame forms the epicentre of intervention, and our strengths as a people are conveniently ignored most of the time. Development has in itself become a business unit, this is why the development sector continues to expand, yet there is an apparent lack of sincerity to actually meet the development needs.
If we are to be truly honest with ourselves, the only development needs the world should be faced with today are emergency responses to natural disasters and outbreaks, such as the current Ebola one. We should be past children dying of malnutrition, maternal mortality and recurrent droughts – routine problems if I may term them such.
This can happen, and it has happened not only in certain European countries, but in an African country as well – Libya (with Rwanda hot on its heels). The case of Libya however presents a classic example of the difference between the two development discourses, and the effect of buying into foreign definitions of what it means to be truly developed. Libyans enjoyed free education and healthcare, and regardless of what others might argue, human development.
However, Libya today is a testament to what happens when democracy as a key factor in Development in Africa, is used to thwart all efforts towards achieving African Development. I have nothing against democracy but as in all things, the difference lies in how the “purpose” is pursued.
Until we as citizens take the reins back, until our leaders selfishly guard our interests and realise that to truly be a ‘life president/leader’, you must have the common good at heart, Africa will continue to be plagued by routine problems such as drought and high mortality rates, regardless of our vast resources – both natural and human. It is all about what and who drives us.