Monday, December 1, 2008

Till Death Do Us Part: Machismo Still Rule the World

Two months ago, Wambũi Mbũgua (formerly Wambũi Otieno) and her husband Mbũgua celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary. The article (“Till death do us part…” published by Daily Nation on Thursday October 9, 2008) published to commemorate their wedding must have caught many by surprise as its author intended to rekindle a controversial issue which refuses to leave national scene. I still wonder why it is that we as a community cannot let the couple quietly enjoy their life together without the plying eyes of hyper-curious public. Remember the media-hype that produced a torrent of condemnation for the young man opting to take a woman the age of his grandmother? The “out-of the norm” marriage did not only shock members of the family but it also left the whole nation reeling. Some in an attempt to explain or make sense of the “unusual” event, interpreted it from a materialistic point of view; the young man was acting blind because of material wealth he would inherit once Wambũi passes on (but with the uncertainties in Kenya, none can guarantee that between the two, Mbũgua would be the last one to “kick the bucket” because of his age.) Nonetheless, it is the misogynists who had their field day. With virulent and sexist condemnation this group dismissed Wambũi as an opinionated radical who has no respect for culture or morality. The group, which was overwhelming male-dominated, laughed-off the event and predicted that the young man would soon find out that the marriage was a set-up, and once he came to his epiphany, he would sprint out of the marriage as fast as he came in.

Despite previous brouhaha, the couple is now five years in marriage, happy and going on with their lives. Yet still, even with the wedding now behind us and the sensational media having nothing else to report about the couple, it is no denying that the decision to marry must have been tough on both Wambũi and Mbũgua. Understandably, we can as well see why Wambũi’s children were so upset with her that they could not show up for the wedding. Notwithstanding, several questions still remain unresolved. What is the true definition of marriage? Is marriage a public affair or private one? What happens when societal or cultural expectations are disregarded? What brings ultimate happiness? What is the place of women in our modern society? Are women entitled to same privileges that men have when it comes to death of a spouse and choice of who to marry? It is with the first and last questions that I am interested in, at least for this post.

The traditional definition of marriage is a union of two human beings, female and male joined in holy matrimony. Some Christians would add that the union’s primary importance is procreation and that true love is the single most important ingredient for marriage to happen. Marriage is a gift and a mandate, at least from a Christian perspective. Consequently, family becomes the foundation on which to build a strong society. Some also argue that morality cannot be seen in any other way apart from family. Wambũi and Mbũgua say they have found true love. As a matter of facts, Wambũi confesses that she cannot imagine how life would have been like if Mbũgua did not come into her life. When the question of children is posed to Mbũgua, he stoically says that one does not need children to enjoy marriage. In Mbũgua’s perspective marriage is not just about procreation, it is relational. In essence, their marriage perfectly fits the definition of marriage. But one may be forgiven to ask, in cultures where the dominant force is male-oriented and patriarchy shapes morality, what is the place of women when it comes to making marital decision? Does a wife have the same right as the husband on whether to marry or not marry, should one of the two die? Is a woman entitled, in the event of such a scenario, to decide whom to marry irrespective of age? Further, what is the place of single mothers who have been left to raise their children without the father-figure due to social as well as economic conditionings of the world today?

When it comes to the issues of marriage and place of women in society, most African societies leave a lot to be desired. We continue to stubbornly impose decisions on women regarding such important matters as marriage and family. Perhaps this may explain why some in our societies act so violently whether verbally or physically any time a woman (or women) decides to go against culturally scripted expectations of whatever kind. In many of our societies we have men who use untold violence against women because they are intricately trapped in the false sense of machismo. They dread the thought of having women taking their rightful place in society. Let us call it what it is - fear of losing power and control. Acclaimed writer Toni Morrison says that violence has two sides; one of its sides is physical and the other is mental. She asserts that violence indicates a laziness of the mind. This is where people who do not want to use their brain resort to force and violence in order to cow their victims to submission. I want to relate an episode as an example of what in my opinion is indicative of the fact that most of our societies are still controlled and dominated by misogynists.

I was about thirteen years old when this happened. In those days my mother used to send my brother and I for errands. The errands that I liked most were those that required me to go to Ndũnyũ ya Karatina. One morning, mum sent me to buy paraffin. Paraffin was a precious commodity: we used it for almost everything; cooking, for our lantern, sending the Safari Ants packing and other pests controls, helping kindle our jiko among others. Poverty did not afford us the luxury of “misusing” such a precious commodity. There were nights we would use gĩchinga to light the house in order to conserve the little that we had - a real way to conserve energy but not without the risk of reducing the house to ashes if the gĩchinga was carelessly handled.
Anyway, this particular morning, as I approached the market, I saw a crowd of people, mainly men congregated and sheering someone on. The few women that were there were either crying or pleading for mercy. Out of a boy’s curiosity, and of course with desire to be ahead of my siblings on latest “news”, I squeezed myself through the crowd. What I saw shocked me. Lying on the ground was a woman crying and begging for mercy from her male assailant. She was evidently drunk. From the shouts and condemnation of the assailant, I gathered that she was supposedly a malaya who had robbed her ferocious accomplice his hard-won quid. The man was asking for his money back, albeit through a beastly attack on an unarmed drunken woman. The scene of a half naked woman bleeding and begging for mercy, made me very sick. I did not like the scene, particularly the crowd of men who were sheering the man on, telling him to teach the woman a lesson that she will never forget. I felt sick and sneaked my way out. After a short while, I was so sick that I started vomiting. At the time, I cannot say I was mature enough to comprehend or concretise all that was going on, but it was an appalling sight. I never shared the episode with my siblings for I could not bring myself to. After a week, the impacted of the event subsided but not without leaving an indelible mark in my mind.

I do not pretend to understand fully the experiences women undergo in our societies, but neither do I need to be a feminist do identify with the pain and sufferings our sisters have to bear, mostly in muted silence. The episode narrated above is an example of what many women go through whether as individual women or on a national scale as in Zaire Congo, or internationally. Obviously, I am not ignorant of the progress that we have made as societies in empowering women, but as I write women and girls continue to be raped indiscriminately in Congo Zaire, in Internally Displaced Peoples’ camps in rural Kenya and in other places of the world. Even as we demand for more stringent laws to curb violence against women, we equally need to relentlessly challenge some of the culturally scripted views on women. As men we need to realise that machismo, is another way of saying that we are daft. We ought to learn to be quick in using our brain more than our hands or mouths when it comes to dealing with women who have every right to live without fear or violence. Is anybody listening or reading?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

America Re-invents Herself:

History has shown America as a nation that re-invents herself with the changing times. It is in American where possibilities can and do become reality. In each of her passing generations there has been a defining moment for the nation and the world, for better or worse. This characteristic was witnessed after the September 11th when the wounded nation rallied together for a common cause. Their strength could not be found in the American military might and wealth, but in the willingness to believe in the true greatness of a nation, its own people. The world rallied behind the Americans until the out-going president started acting unilaterally and trashing the goodwill offered by the rest of the world. Yet even at such a time, the resolve and will of the American people never abated.

It is from this group of people joined together by a common destiny that four years ago a young man emerged. Coming from the shadows, he described himself as a “skinny” man with a “funny” name. He audaciously declared a daring hope and a belief in the Americans’ power to recreate and reinvent. Under the towering statue of Abraham Lincoln, this man with a middle name “Hussein” declared his candidacy for the president of the United States. It was a long shot, to say the least, but he dared to believe America could and would reinvent herself. He refused to be defined by the black community from which he was coming and rejected isolationism as well. Nativism and provincialism have no place in the modern world. Therefore, he was not bringing to the table a black agenda. Neither was he willing to be cowed by the overwhelming power of the white majority. From the start he pointed towards the direction he was to follow for the next twenty one months and beyond; building bridges along the way.

With a clarion call to change and a slogan “Yes, We Can!” Barack Obama began his journey that would lead him to the ultimate prize. He had observed, experienced and studied the American politics. He had as well looked at his people and saw the same thing that the founding fathers of this great nation saw, resolve and will to reinvent. He believed in the American dream because he had lived it. He as well believed in the American people. He knew that America was not a nation of “whiners” neither was it a place where people stuck to “guns and religion”. There was something deeper and greater about the American people. Though the beginnings were rough, the American people listened to him, they started connecting with his beliefs and values, and they started re-membering.

So, last night as I eagerly waited for the release of the US presidential election results, my emotions ran high, with anxiety and expectation building up. In bated breath I waited to watch the one who has inspired millions across the world make history. I shuddered at the thought that I was to be part of those witnessing such a momentous hour in history. To imagine that the “skinny” guy with his charming smile and a “funny” name would be sitting on the most powerful seat on earth, was in itself overwhelming - almost unbelievable. I prayed and tossed in bed unable to catch sleep. For a moment, a gloomy cloud of doubt hanged precariously in my mind. What if I was just about to witness the greatest disappointment in modern history? What if Barack the son of Obama loses? I tried to push the thought away as much as I could. I rejected the possibility with all of my might. Cold sweat of anxiety broke at the very moment. If something like that happened, I told myself, it would be the cruelest reality of modern history. I even fancied with the idea of rebuking God (why not? St. Peter did it) if God was to let it happen. But I still knew within myself that the possibility lay hidden somewhere in my sub-conscience like a leopard patiently lying waiting to pounce on its victim. I could only pray and hope for the best.

As I restlessly tossed and ranted within my inner being, something else reminded me that Barack Hussein Obama is the son of modern Kenyan elite Obama Senior. I hated the idea of associating Barack with the elites for he has proven to be a true son of the ghetto. Years, ago he let a career slip away so that he could organize folks from one of the many poor neighborhoods of affluent American society, Southside Chicago. But even as I thanked the almighty for such a noble young fellow who dared to hope, the thought of his origins still nagged me. In Kenya, the elite class is wrecking havoc to many millions like Barack Obama who dare hope. Poor folks in rural Kenya have found their dreams crashed and casted into the bottomless pit of fate. That class believes that nothing rules but itself. That class tramps the barefooted sons of the soil and march on over the empty stomachs of daughters of the soil. That class declares that Kenya has no hope or future unless it stays in power. So as I waited and watched results trickle in, I was anxious that Kenya (my country), while it may share the joy of an Obama’s presidency, it still had to grapple with the problems of destitution and poverty that the current class of the elite oversees. I felt really sad, and this almost stole my joy until the first news house predicted an Obama’s victory. I forgot my worries, as I witnessed, in elation and hope history unfolding.

After voting the Americans quietly gathered at their social places, homes, churches, mosques, and Public Square to await the outcome of their votes. They had exercised their democratic and God-given right. Their choice changed history. They reminded the world that there is something American worthy emulating; something noble and honorable, something loftier than a thousand bulls that Kibaki or Raila can offer for an Obama’s victory. In the world finest moment in history the Americans declared that the world had not heard nor had it seen the last of America. They elected Barack Obama; one raised by a single mother and his white grandparents; one who had lived a part of his life in Asia; a son of a Kenyan father; and one whose middle name is Hussein. Nothing can be more representative and inspiring than Barack Obama. He dared to hope and the Americans dared to believe in this man. I believe Barack Obama will make a great president and the Americans will never regret their resilience and power to reinvent. God bless America.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

In loving memory: A tribute to Maitũ Milkah Wanjirũ Kĩnyua

Mwendwo nĩ-irĩ Maitũ Wanjirũ mwarĩ wa Kĩriakũ na Wairimũ Aanjirũ a mbarĩ ya Karũe. Mũtumia wa mũtiga-irĩ Kĩnyua mũrũ wa Mũhoro na Wanjikũ Aagathigia a mbarĩ ya Gakuũ.

Twenty four odd years have passed since you crossed over to the land where they say people never grow old, eternity. Dear mother your sudden departure caught us so unprepared, so young yet not so innocent. Flashes of uncertainty and destitution blurred the horizon. Everything lost meaning, but only for a moment.

Maitũ, in life you lived like a candle in the wind but your strength and resilience surpassed the Mũgumo tree. Nothing could take away your beauty, your wisdom and integrity. You remained steadfast till death. Even as your health deteriorated, you never let your children go hungry. One day in the market and another spent in our small acre. It was small, infertile yet invaluable. The Acre’s worth could not be measured. It fed us. In it you grew pumpkins, bananas, maize, sweet potatoes, sukuma wiki, yams, and sugarcanes. The macadamia and avocadoes trees graced the small acre, God’s acre - a true inheritance. With your never ending energy, you prodded us to take care of the coffee trees, though not a lovable chore.

Through sheer hard work and entrepreneurship you made sure that we remained in school. When dismissed from school due to lack of fees, you walked us back to plead for our case with a promise that money owed would be paid, somehow. Though you never had the opportunity to pursue a career, you made our success your single most desire. You reminded us of our responsibilities in life and in the world. In words and action you taught us the value of hard work, honesty and kindness. You wanted us to excel. When we seemed to forget our purpose in life, your mũtathi whip was ready to remind everyone that none of us was going to become a brat or a vagabond under your watch. Many are the days we disappointed you but you never casted us aside.

Your wealth did not go beyond the small acre, a few pigs and our adorable Kanini (the cow that gave us milk and manure for gardening), yet your hospitality knew no bounds. You made our home a refugee for the poor and hungry. Unemployed men, single mothers, orphans, old women, even the outcasts of the village found a good neighbour in you. You always had a comforting word for them and a meal to sheer them up.

Your radiance and peace came from the joy of knowing a saviour, Jesus Christ. You talked about him to anyone willing to lend an ear to you. You sung about his love and his providence. With the vigour of a true revivalist you shed his love abroad. Even when the Church rejected you because of the abounding joy of meeting this saviour, you loved them anyhow. As I watched you laid in the casket that took you away, the disarming smile was still there. I could not help smiling back, even though in tears and sorrow.

Standing together in our small Acre and joined together by your love we sung “In the Sweet By and By” as we bade you kwaheri. In that solemn moment, I saw you smile - again. I have carried this smile with me dear maitũ to this day. The smile is always there to comfort and to remind me of your love for us and for humanity. Your unforgettable smile reminds me also to count my days for they are numbered just as yours were. I must make haste to love, to serve, to honour, and to respect humanity. I miss you so much maitũ witũ.

Rest in Peace Mwendwo nĩ-irĩ na irĩri Maitũ Wanjirũ.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Forgive, in whose name?

After the Waki report laid the buck right at the desks of Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Raila, the next thing we hear is that Kenyans, need to pray and forgive murderers in the name of God, national unity and security. I mean, who is fooling who? This is nothing else but an elitist class struggle for survival against hapless and helpless mwanchi. It has nothing to do with national cohesion or peace. It is trickery of the worst kind that makes mockery of justice, peace, love and unity. It is a cover-up!

People burned their midnight candles scheming and planning evil. Before we invoke the name of God, we must ask ourselves whether, we invited him in the first place at our cabinet meetings, churches, mosques or at political rallies to bear witness as we ignited fire of fear, anger and hatred. It is mere short-sightedness and lack of human feelings to call for blanket amnesty. Who is qualified to ask for forgiveness? Where are the victims of such orgy and murder in this equation? Who should speak on behalf of those blessed ones who perished in infernos of hell while others helplessly watched and mourned as their loved ones begged for mercy from hideous marauders ran amok? Who shall defend the cause of the young women and men who were shot at, maimed and killed in the streets of our cities? I mean the government and politicians cannot run away from their responsibility. It is a moral obligation to bring to justice all those responsible of the atrocities suffered in the land of Kenya.

If history is the mother of all lessons, then we need to pick up some ABC lessons from the dusty shelves of our existence as a nation. Ugly lessons of history mock the very word “forgiveness”. What a déjà vu! Remember the old adage that meaningless “sorry” led to the loss of entire Whiteman’s chinaware? We have seen it before; heard it repeated over the years of our existence. It started with the “founding father” of the nation. After colluding with imperialists, he declared that we must “forgive” and “not forget”. This was right after millions of Kenyans had been utterly dehumanised through villaginisation, mass detention and mass murder. Yes, we heard it said “forgive” when Kungu Karumba disappeared, When Tom Mboya, J. M Kariũki, Robert Ouko, and Bishop Alexander Muge were all brutally murdered. Then came the 1992 massacre and now, forgive? To use an uncouth analogy, one does not sit and watch his feet get pulped by jiggers that keep multiply and sucking the very blood he survives on. It takes courage to sit with all known tools of trade to deal with the menace once and for all. Painful? Sure! But singular attention and resolve bring the nasty blood-suckers to an end. We must not be blind to the facts of history. Once people learn, sharpen and perfect the art of murder, the beast grows. It even mutates to an uncontrollable monster. I am talking about real, pure Evil – ugly and nasty, that is what it is. The only solution is to stand up and face it. It will be a painful and even scary process. When we resolve to face the beast, the animal will summon all of its bestial powers of evil. As it seeks to survive, the beast will retaliate with vengeance. But we must be relentless in our resolve and be not intimidated.

Sentimentalism, which is only an emotional bash in the name of love cannot and must not replace redemptive and creative goodwill. Real people got killed and others lost their livelihood. Mothers, fathers, youth and children were equally affected. Our own flesh and blood, not abstract amorphous beings out there, bore the blunt power of evil. Victims of violence need no pity, no forgiveness but justice. Lives lost, property destroyed, livelihood dashed against hard walls of anarchy, and grand scale land grabbing, economic inequalities will not be resolved by mere sentimentalism. We must squarely look in the face of our wounded personhood and reclaim it through the rule of law. Yes, there are some ignorant unemployed young men who blindly followed schemers, perhaps those we can forgive but not the perpetrators of violence.

If the Kenyan legal system is too compromised to handle this, then international jurisprudence must take over. Justice must not be assumed to happen, it must be done. I write in the strongest terms to protest and denounce all those who are calling for blanket amnesty.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Debunking Cultural Myths:

Something very interesting happened two weeks ago. It all started with Raila Odinga – a true man of the people and a true son of the soil (one who has proven beyond any shadow of doubt that he is ready to take the mantle of leadership come 2012 and unless something very dramatic happens – he is the man to watch). Anyway, this gentleman, decided to take the bull by its horns. He traveled to the Lakeside country and dropped a cultural bomb declaring that "research has now proved circumcised men are safer from the scourge compared to those who are not." Raila continued, "I am taking the challenge of calling upon elders in the Teso, Luo and Turkana communities to ensure people embrace circumcision of boys, although it has not been part of their culture."[1]

For obvious reasons, Raila’s challenge was heavily condemned while others openly commended him for his courage. Some questioned the validity of the claim that male circumcision reduces the risk of infection with AIDS. I am not proposing to debate with any of these sides. We all know, and I am sure Raila is not ignorant of the fact that, circumcision is not the panacea for HIV/AIDS. However, underlying Raila’s bold stand is the fact that culture is not static and there is no such thing as “no-go” area in matters cultural. Ironically, as we argue about whether men of the lake should get the cut or not, men in Kenya are still sending their daughters to bush doctors to make them real “women” and “fit ins”.

What then do we mean by culture? When men declare that Raila is wrong on this since it is “my culture” and nobody should mess with it, what do they exactly mean? Culture ought to be understood in three levels. First, it refers to the systems or frameworks of meaning within which interpretation of the world is carried out as well as guidance on how to live in such a world. Culture embodies beliefs, values, attitudes and rules of behaviour. Secondly, culture can be understood in terms of rituals in which the community embodies and re-enacts their history and values. Finally, culture is understood to include the artefacts and symbolisation that become sources of identity.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o one of our best interpreters of culture summarises culture as an embodiment of a people’s “values, those aesthetic and moral qualities that people consider basic and important in their contact and interaction with one another and the universe.”[2] This means that culture includes completely the social realities (present and past) of a community such as economic relations, political structures, and language among others. Through culture, a community develops education, law, religion, literature and art, moral and ideological forces in which the social relations operate. In essence, culture conditions people’s understanding of reality at a particular time and place in history.

What this entails is that culture is not static. In Kenya, for example, culture has changed tremendously within the last forty years. Through globalisation and the development of new emphases and sensibilities, cultural changes have evolved so that old ways of looking at and explaining the significance of the world have become extinct and are no longer credible. Bishop Okullu having seen the potential of misrepresentation of culture cautioned that interpretation of culture does not mean engaging in cultural excavation to resuscitate the Africa of years past. African culture is what we are today and tomorrow.[3] Ngũgĩ amplifies this further when he writes that the past is only useful to us “only as a living lesson to the present… not preserved as a museum: rather we must study it critically without illusions, and see what lesson we can draw from it in today’s battlefield of the future and present.” We must not worship it. It is not possible, as Ngũgĩ asserts, to return to the previous state of innocence but we can do something about our present circumstances.

As such we use culture as a tool with which to understand and interpret one’s reality. In doing so we have to take seriously our experiences and connect them with other realities – that is exactly what Raila did in his recent take on male circumcision in Luo land in light of the HIV/AIDS scourge. We can as well appropriate culture as a tool of liberation, in which we identify positive aspects of culture and promote them while discarding those that are not helpful to human progress and experience. By putting these two aspects of culture in practise, we safeguard ourselves against any form of cultural relativism or/and provincialism. The aforementioned cultural parameters remind us of our commitment to wholeness and enhancement of life.

As such we should commend Raila for empowering us to think and talk about cultural things that for long have been considered “no-go” area. Talk about Cultural Revolution! Kudos Amolo!

[1] The East African Standard, August 18 2008.
[2] Ngugi wa Thiongo, Writers in Politics, 6.
[3] Henry Okullu, Quest for Justice (Kisumu: Shalom, 1997), 54.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Questions of Meaning and Existence

For centuries, humanity has wrestled with the questions of meaning and existence. The need to answer these questions is acute today than it was a century ago. With technological evolution of our time, news of death of a young child brutally murdered travel fast and wide. We receive instantaneous news through television and the internet of calamities such as the Tsunami in Asia, Katrina or Ike in America or Famine in parts of Africa leaving families and nations totally devastated. Our confidence in capitalism is put into question when we watch as years of hard work and savings disappear before our very eyes because of individual or corporate greed such as recently witnessed on Wall Street. Faith in protection of basic human rights is as well shaken when we witness such atrocities happening as in Rwanda and Darfur without any meaningful intervention. Such events do not only reveal our vulnerability but have also left many to live in anguish and hopelessness. "What for? what is it worth?", so we ask. Are some people destined to flourish while others perennially suffer? Or is the “graph” already drawn, as one of the gifted Gĩkũyũ writers of Gĩchandĩ and Marebeta once sung? Are there such things as blessings and curses, so that some will forever journey on the highway of blessings and happiness, while others trod on the hard and stony foot path of curses and drudgery?

These questions are not idle or empty. The disciples of Jesus struggled with the same kind of questions. In John 9 we have an example of the disciples raising a similar question when they came across a man who had been born blind. They asked Jesus “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’ answer satisfies, at least for a spiritual moment. But why would God delight in someone’s suffering in order to make a pedagogical point? Preachers of the so-called prosperity gospel are quick (of course quoting from scriptures, and I cannot argue with that – I mean, who can argue with God’s Book) to show that there is a way of life that can either lead to blessings and happiness or to curses and suffering. According to this group of preachers, we can make God bless us through some magical manipulations. My pragmatic Presbyterian on the other side will scrap his intellect to gather some philosophical sayings that God calls us to faithfulness and not to success or blessings. Whether my Pentecostal or Presbyterian friend is right, I cannot tell. Perhaps I should not even be raising any of these questions? May be I should resign to Fate as the Greeks or Africans did. Pretend that all is well and that experience of suffering and death is nothing else but the conditioning of the mind. As a matter of fact, who is even qualified to talk about these issues, the victim, the pastor, the “objective” philosopher, or the religious? Or is it the triumphalist, the positivists, the defeatists, the cynic or the centrists? Some days to come, I might have a revelation and adequately give an answer. But as of now, I will keep seeking.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Self-doubt:

Self-doubt - what in the world is this? Why do we doubt? What would make us not falter in our faith? Are there people who live a fine life minus doubt? I do not know and I would not pretend to give an answer to any of these questions. All I can say is that there are moments when I experience great hope in God and faith in a great future abound. But times come when all seem like mirages in a desert. You look over to the horizon and see evidence of a greener pasture. “Yes, I see it,” you say to yourself. But as you move closer the mirage moves further and further into the endless horizon. Instead of giving up the quest, you open your heart and believe that things will be better. “May be I faltered too soon,” you comfort your disturbed soul. So, you move on. You pray, you wait, in hope and in silence like a lion lying in wait for its catch. Not a grass moves. All is deadly silent - eyes and ears straining to see and hear. This time you cannot miss it. You hear it - the whisper. Yes, the voice is there, someone is talking to you saying “I am with you.” Press on! Stealthily and quietly you stand arms stressed out towards the mountains like the holy fathers blessing the laity. Did I say the mountains? No, I mean, the heavens. Yes, the heavens. At that time, the heavens bust open bringing with it torrents of doubts, self-doubt - you doubt everything. You want to give up. You grope, you stumble but somehow you keep your balance. “Is it worth trying?” so you shout. You wait, nothing but your echo resounding into nothingness. All is void, but if you do not hold on you will loose your balance. Many have let loose. Whoosh! Like a wisp of smoke, they are gone. Hold on! Do not give up too soon, “for the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3, N.I.V.)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bwana Júmbe Kimamé:

Reputed man of Kilwa,
High Priest ordaining Human Sacrifice;
Briskly march with his retinue of splendid porters.
Up, up to the niggers land, the Kaffirs of Kikuyu;
Encamped at Kĩambirũirũ, the Mountain of blackness.
Strapping girls, battering milk and vegetables with his potters;
Old, old women selling tobacco.
An offer of assured profits and prestige;
Forty dollars each to an Arab trader
Barter and Banter!

A fiasco awaits –
We leave on the day of the full-moon, Bwana commands.
A joyful mass of noisy humanity, in the glorious Kikuyu sunshine;
The boma is full;
girls, old women
young men, old grey-woolled men.
Poof – a ripple of musket-fire; out comes clubs and machetes
A sustained yell of terrified Kikuyu rises.
Swords dripping, clubbing, butchering grimly;
A crescendo of horror,
Bloody massacre!

With sheaves of harvest,
Bartered goods collected and packed;
Women, girls and lads roped, whip at hand.
Off goes Júmbe’s caravan for journey to the East is long.
On the Western coast, the Master waits penning,
“How sweet the name of Jesus sounds”;
As the three-masted horror casts its dark shadow over the horizon,
Bringing with it, the savages, uprooted from the land of their birth.
A herd of miserable blacker mass
What a bounty! Wealth for all!
- Kinyua.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Justice be our Shield and Defender

Recently a friend of mine while responding to some photos posted on the Web about Zimbabwean President Mugabe’s opulence concluded that, “the oppressed many a times turn out to be the greatest oppressors when they ascend to power!” He posited that many of those who are known to have in the past championed the cause of justice radically change once they ascend to power or join the wealthy club. In deed there is wisdom in this argument since we have examples of turncoats in the struggle for justice, particularly in the Motherland. However, I had real problem with my friend’s general conclusion that “justice is a form in the mind and a dictate of the stronger!” While I cannot say for sure whether my colleague was serious when he posted his comments, it bothers me that he chose to write these particular words. The statement that "justice is a form in the mind and a dictate of the stronger”, (which I strongly disagree with) cannot go unchallenged and deserves some comments. In the first place, I think it is unfair to use an African dictator as the standard for which to define justice. Secondly, justice is not a figment of our imagination. I believe in JUSTICE. JUSTICE is REAL.

Christ walked on this earth and died because of doing what was just. Martin Luther King Jr., lost his life in order to awaken the conscience of men and women to the reality of injustices suffered by millions of human beings. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison because he believed that white supremacists would come to their senses and recognise that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. If justice was just but a figment of our imagination, then Mau Mau freedom fighters in Kenya died in vain! To say to a refugee in Darfur or the internally displaced in Kenya who have lost their livelihood and all that they had worked for that what they suffered is just but a piece of their illusory mind, is in actual fact putting the last nail on their coffin. For the women and children who were burnt alive in a local church in Kenya just because they exercised their right to vote, their deaths were not in vain because JUSTICE will eventually prevail. Prophet Micah declared that God delights in those who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God. In Luke, Jesus demanded that we follow him in a radical, self-sacrificial love of neighbour. Paul as well wrote of the beauty and goodness of love.

What then are Christians supposed to say or do when they witness the likes of Mugabe turn justice in Africa into a mockery? How do we respond when we hear politicians in Kenya go to the defence of those who engaged in wanton of destruction and murder arguing that those criminals did so because they were demanding what was rightfully theirs? Which crudely interpreted means that if your neighbour steals your chicken or cow, the best and appropriate way to act is to go out and chop off your neighbour’s hands, gouge out his eyes, rape his wife and maim his children and finally burn all his properties before making a claim to his piece of land as compensation of the stolen cow. This is sheer madness and nothing but a recipe to chaos and non-existence! If justice is real, where should our stand be as Christians pertaining to injustices and suffering experienced in our world today, more so in answering the cry of many who have been disenfranchised and suffered untold pain in modern Africa? I wish to contend that Christians ought to be articulate and bold in their quest for truth and justice. In deed the Christian Church represents the people of God living in the world. Through our concrete experience together, we strive to be faithful to our call towards the liberation of the world from all forms of injustice and suffering. The purpose of Christian life is to love God and serve God; to love humanity and serve it. Therefore, as we acknowledge the reality of justice, we need to understand that the idea of justice does not exist out there apart from history and human experience. In order to address the question of suffering, conflict and power, Christians should be able to relate the past, present realities and the future. The implication of this is that social change does not arise from moralising principles and models imposed on passive Christians from above by a moral dictator (call him God if you want). Instead, social transformation occurs from active involvement of Christians themselves. As Christians we believe that moral action is the result of the creative urgings of the Holy Spirit on Christian person striving to overcome injustices and alleviate suffering.

In my estimation then, justice should be the ultimate desire for every Christian in order to fulfil what ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr referred to in his seminal work on love and justice as “the radical demand of sacrificial love exemplified in the life and death of Jesus.” In this case justice points us towards accepting responsibility for all human life. As Christians we are obligated to organise our life together in a way that the neighbour has equal opportunities to maintain life. In this way, we fulfil the command “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. It is now common knowledge that politicians in Africa have failed (in a big measure) to guarantee equal distribution of wealth and resources leave alone protecting the little that the citizenry has acquired. A good case in point is the Kenyan parliamentarians who have continued to award themselves with healthy financial perks with impunity and in total disregard of the masses. Such a class of political elite as presented will be quick to embrace the so called distributive justice. This form of justice leads justice beyond equality to a consideration of the special needs of the life of others in order to render support to special advantages for the particularly gifted or privileged in society. Kenyan politicians consider themselves privileged that the idea of levying taxes on their “hard” won money is considered anathema. It is no wonder that they can vote unanimously against their colleague who threatens to take away such privileges but they cannot agree on the way forward for the thousands who have been displaced from their rightfully owned land. In like manner, you will bear witness with me that even in countries, mostly in Europe, who claim to be among the most rigorous equalitarian societies, protection against abuses of socially sanctioned privileges is not guaranteed. This is because those who possess power, however socially restrained, almost always decide that their position in society is entitled to more privileges.

In Africa, governments and political community seem to forget that they owe their existence to the very people who elect them to office and to God the creator. States/ governments and the political community are not supreme in themselves. They are limited in that they cannot exist without the governed. Any government or political community cannot continue to act arbitrary as is the case in Kenya or Zimbabwe without being held accountable by those who elected them to office. God as the creator of all things living, demands that those in positions of responsibility seek justice and love mercy. The role of both the government and political community is to direct people to the common good of the society. Both cannot do so if they fail to recognise the dignity of the human person who is created in the image of God. This means that the starting point of governance is the recognition of the right to freedom, equality, and participation of persons. When a government or the political community allows a group of people to kill and maim in the name of justice, such a government loses its credibility to uphold justice. In the same manner, Christians ought to reject any politician who favours his kith and kin at the expense of other communities in the same republic.

In light of this, I believe that it is the duty of every Christian to demand for structures and institutions that bring about a just society. Since as I have already suggested, most governments and political communities in African have refused or failed to honour the dignity of the human person, the Church must take a stand and redefine justice in light of human dignity and mutuality. The emphasis ought to be on human freedom, equality and participation. The starting point then is the recognition of human being as defined first by one’s responsibilities to one’s brothers, sisters and to history itself. This recognition becomes meaningful when the Church chooses to be in solidarity with the poor and the suffering. The idea of solidarity also bears on the wealth and material goods. In fact, solidarity is the best grounding for justice. It is premised on the theological truth that recognises human being as involved in a multiple relationships with God, neighbour, world, and self. The basic reality of solidarity is to serve and protect the needs of all, more so the poor and victims of marginalisation. The Old Testament is clear on which side God is. God is not neutral – God is prejudiced in favour of the poor. God hears the cry of the poor. God also protects poor people even when no one else would protect them. In like manner, Jesus identifies with all victims of marginalisation, poverty and injustice.

What all this means is that the principle of justice can no longer be seen as “giving to each what is due”. Rather its beginning point is in the correction of injustices suffered. What is “due” is not due in the abstract but in the concrete and the concrete is determined by history. It is in history and concrete places that contacts are made or forced, covenants are broken, exploitation and disrespect take place. It is in actual history where violation by fellow human of fundamental covenant of life with life takes place as is the case in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Darfur. These concrete realities of history must inform our quest for justice. But how do we correct injustices if we do not know what the injustices are? This brings me to my second point. Injustices are not random events. They involve real people and form patterns in concrete times and places. Realities of injustices come in form of ethnic cleansing, racism, rape and murder, economic oppression, political repression, sexism among others. We may not understand the truth of pain suffered unless the victims first tell their stories. Those who have suffered great lose must share their pain. Victims of ethnic or gender hatred must broadcast their agonies. For this reason the most important tool for understanding justice becomes the stories of injustice as experienced by people. We must be willing to offer a forum for the victims to tell their stories. From this perspective justice takes a narrative form because it is the stories of injustices as experienced by the victims that count. After listening to the stories of injustices as told by victims, we must demand from the government and politicians including ourselves for commitment to concrete social change which as well validates self-help and empowerment of the victims. In this manner, justice from a Christian point of view begins with the perspective and experience of those who suffer injustices and suffering. It demands active role of the Christian community to develop tools of social and historical analysis that help to illumine what those historical injustices are, their meaning in the lives of victims and make concrete corrections to such injustices. Yes, the words of Amos still ring true to us today just as it was in the days of the Prophet, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24, NRSV.) Let justice be our shield and defender.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Everlasting:

On a hill
Lonely, casting eyes to the endless horizon
In thoughts, in tears
Longing for her
I missed
I saw her face
She smiled
I reached out
Touched her formless form
Did she say she is?
- Kinyua.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Come now, let US reason together

In my last post I attempted to answer some fundamental questions that ought to be addressed by all of us and more so those of us who believe in the beauty of multi-ethnicity. I proposed that we cannot afford to sweep our differences under the carpet or entrust our destiny to anybody else but us. Several questions still remain unanswered. Isn’t leadership a public and a sacred trust? What happens if that trust is betrayed? What future do we have as a multi-ethnic Republic? Does the Christian Church have a role to play in this future? I will try to answer some of these questions at a later time. For now I want draw attention to dialogue as a tool that is yet to be tried in the Kenyan socio-ethnic scene. But before I can offer some of my thoughts in regard to dialogue, let me first do a reality check on our progress as a nation.

In the last few weeks, we have witnessed politicians in a rare show of unity crisscrossing the country in an attempt to rally communities to embrace tolerance and forgiveness. Ironically, these same politicians now championing for peace and good neighborliness spent most of the past five years traversing the country fanning unnecessary ethnic tension and hatred for political expediency. Curiously none among the political elite appears to be willing to face the tougher choice of addressing causes of the recent ethnic mayhem. Considering all that is happening in Kenya, politicians want us to believe that our problems evaporated into thin air the moment a coalition government was formed. It is scandalous to assume that Kenyans have miraculously learned the art of living together as brothers and sisters with the formation of a “grand coalition”. Recent experiences should serve as a clarion call. Kenyans cannot afford to continue disregarding problems that arise out of our ethnic diversity. We must as well acknowledge that ethnicity is here to stay and no amount of denial or self-negation will erase this reality.

While the politicians continue to misread and misrepresent this diversity, Church leaders as well seem to have abdicated their responsibility as the moral voice and conscience of the nation. Rather than become actively engaged in the process of finding a lasting solution, we hear them plead (or should I say beg?) with the politicians to hasten the healing and reconciliation process. To sooth our disappointment and helplessness the Church anesthetizes our wounded souls with the “shauri ya mungu” doctrine. We rationalize that God must be working through our pain and suffering in order to do something greater and eternal. In some other circles the blame is squarely laid at the feet of the devil. But must we always blame God or the devil for our self-inflicted predicaments? I have found myself wondering if the Kenyan Church has in any one time in history involved itself in seeking long-term solution(s) to the problem of ethnicity. The Church is called to the world as a prophetic voice that awakens the moral conscience of a nation. When the church fails in its prophetic role, then it loses its moral voice. The Church in Kenya seems to have lost its moral voice.

We know that the Church down history lane has not always lived up to this prophetic call. In the Medieval period, a slight deviation from the given dogmas was reason enough to send one to the gallows or to the furnace. Great men of the cloth such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Knox and others are known to have at one time or another sided with the ruling class in order to crush and silence religious dissenters. It is no secret also that Western Christendom sanctioned colonialism and imperialism as divinely instituted establishments for the benefit of the “uncivilized” other. Closer home, Christians supported and even financed genocide in Rwanda. Ministers of religion and priests are known to have harbored perpetrators of one of the most heinous acts of genocide in modern Africa. We recently also witnessed in Kenya men of the cloth coming out in public to endorse their preferred presidential candidates based not on reason or policy but purely on ethnicity. Religious leaders are known to have taken side with their “own” and never quick to condemn politicians who are known to have preached hatred and warmongering. In my opinion, the church, having lost its moral and prophetic voices can only watch from the periphery as politicians take charge. Can the Church redeem itself? Absolutely! What the Church in Kenya needs is to be more intentional and be a little imaginative in order to construct conducive environment that promotes dialogue and constructive engagement.

I wish now to suggest some concrete ways in which the Church may adopt in order to address issues affecting us as a multi-ethnic republic. In the first place, our diversity and the complexities thereof, demand that we begin putting in place a system that values openness and dialogue in a country where opinions are diverse. Practice of dialogue is foundational in quest for a meaningful existence as a diverse community. As a matter of fact, the importance of dialogue in meaning making cannot be underestimated when we bear in mind that as humans we respond dialogically to our environment. Yes, dialogue is an art that is learned and nurtured. Psychologists tell us that the family into which we are born is the rudimentary learning center where we learn to practice dialogue. Through body communication mostly between mother and the baby, the child picks up initial dialogical response to the other. Over time this response evolves into actual conversation. A child who grows in an environment where genuine love is expressed tends to respond positively to every other human being who comes into her life. More so, if the child experience lively conversations around the fire place or at the dinner table where people speak passionately but without animosity about differing opinions, the child is definitely going to develop the art of differentiating between arguing and discussing. On the other hand, a child who thrives in a violent environment, particularly where the father is always absent and when at home never speaks to anybody, most likely that child will never learn to hold conflict well or talk things out. Apart from psychologists, we may as well learn a lesson from our ancestors. Whenever, the Africans of old held a baraza, it was a general rule that whoever took the floor to argue a point was not to suffer any interruption. Even when he stopped speaking, the “muthamaki” would say to him “Have you finished speaking?” Only after this question would the “muthamaki” give the floor to the next speaker.

The examples given help us to appreciate the importance of learning and nurturing dialogue. When this lesson is rightly applied people learn to genuinely allow themselves to understand the position held by other. They learn to see and feel the world from the point of view of their “enemies”. Therefore, it is important for the Kenyan Church to develop a plan of action that can bring this to fruition. It can happen through organizing intercultural, interethnic, and interreligious conversations. The best place to begin, however, is at the school and churches. Religion, culture and appropriate education system are of utmost importance in the process of learning to practice dialogue. But the Church must be instrumental in revising pedagogical approach already in use. Most Kenyans have been schooled in a system where knowledge is mystified and learning centers including churches become galleries where pastors, teachers, tutors, politicians and administrators play superstars. As students we learn to passively receive and only expected to parrot back what has been given to us by the ever-knowing teachers and college tutors. Students are never expected to question knowledge as imparted. The cliché of our time was “if I tell you to jump, first jump and while up in the air ask how high.” We must accept that this is not a healthy way of developing individuals who would be willing to respond to others dialogically. The pedagogical approach must change and allow the student, the parishioner, the constituent or the mwananchi to play an active role in the learning process. Right pedagogical approach is fundamental in order to enhance art of sensing and responding to the concerns of the other and learning to see things through the eyes of the other. Educational system should not just train students to take up their place in the job market but must also prepare us to be citizens of the world. Education must help us appreciate the human person and the person’s unique value. This last point brings me to my next suggestion.

It is Aristotle who first described human beings as political animal designed by nature to live in an ordered community. When perfected, according to Aristotle, the human “is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all. Injustice is most dangerous when armed with intelligence, and without virtue man becomes the most unholy and most savage of all animals” (Politics, i. 2.) We can draw two lessons from Aristotle. The first lesson we can learn from him is that a person is not an isolated monad. We exist in multiple relationships. As humans we are called to live and work with others in the family, church, political community and other broader human social communities such as ethnic as well as multi-ethnic groups. As social beings we live in relationship with all other human beings and with everything that God has made. This social aspect of human existence is an essential part of the human reality and for our proper human development. Translated into our discussion on dialogue, this means that as human beings we are called to be open to differences of culture, language, education, and viewpoints. As Kenyans, we can no longer afford to see each other in such non-personal terms as “Kikuyu hii” or “Njaluo hii” but instead we must begin to see each other as human beings. The sacredness of the human in Kalenjin, Giriama, Kikuyu, Luo, among others is received from graciousness which God has abundantly outpoured onto us. Let me be a little dogmatic here. As Kenyans we must bear in mind that God given dignity has been given to each of us in the person of Jesus Christ and received through the Holy Spirit to renewal and redeem. Each of us whether Luhya, Kisii, Meru, Turkana or Taveta is a gift from God. If we can grasp this understanding that our human relation is a reality actualized in the world through Christ we would appreciate the deeper conception and reality of our ethnic diversity. It calls for a conversion of the individual human mind to take up “the mind of Christ” as Apostle Paul required of the Philippians. Habitual communion with Christ’s words and spirit would serve to increase our interethnic relations and service to God through fair-mindedness, goodwill and friendliness. While dialogue, fair-mindedness and friendship are important, the converted mind must also be zealous for justice. This brings us to my second lesson that the Church can learn from Aristotle.

Aristotle helps us appreciate the distinguishing characteristic of the human being from that of the animal world. By nature the human is “a political animal”, so Aristotle argued. This is to say that, human being has the capacity to develop an ordered social life, in which justice is administered and the competition of the jungle has restraint put upon it by practice of law. Violence and use of force as recently witnessed in Kenya must be substituted for the appeal to justice. Injustices done to communities from colonial days and perpetuated by succeeding governments must as well be addressed in order to avoid anarchy and ruin. The land issues and ethnic differences must not be settled by the callous pursuit of material, murder and violence but by reasoned appeal to justice and equity. Dialogue would only be functional if applied to the rule law and justice. The internally displaced must be resettled immediately and unconditionally; Murderers and arsonists must face the full force of the law; land laws must be reformed and be brought to the modern standards among other things. But most importantly, “Come, let US reason together.” There is no shortcut to bringing healing and reconciliation to our wounded nation.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Great One

The wind blew,
From the northern carrying with it deathly spell,
Howling and wailing as the gust passed,
Taking with it roof tops and leaving the sheep
Naked, uncovered and shaky;

The chimney was gone taken into the heavenly
Like Elijah, clouds of darkness swallowed it.
Gushing rain and wind dampened the hearth;
All silence, deathly silence
In a distant, a dog howled
An owl hooted;
The great one had fallen.

The hearth reassembled,
Fire of eternity burnt
Bringing with it warmth untold.
The joy of knowing her rekindled
Beauty, laughter, tears filled the room
No longer to depart
Forever yours
She muttered…
- Kinyua.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tribe: Friend or Foe

I recently had a conversation with a good American who happens to be a close friend of mine. The conversation dealt mainly with tribalism and problems associated with it. She wondered aloud why loyalties in Kenya continue to be very much divided along tribal lines. She very much appreciated Kenya's complicated history both during the colonial period and before. What she could not really understand was why, to use her own words, the naming of long-time tribal enmity is so objectionable to me. My friend could not help concluding that “the very term 'tribe' is heinous” to me. I am not sure if this is a correct representation of why in my opinion the term “tribe” is not acceptable.
However, our discussion was at a crucial time when “tribal” mayhem reigned supreme in Kenya after the much disputed presidential election. Since then looting and murder have ceased. Kenyans now have in place a coalition government which in actual sense is an amalgamation of “tribal” chiefs and their cronies. But even as the country celebrates this achievement, it must be noted that none of the megalomaniacs who instigated “tribal” violence has been brought to justice. More distressing, the internally displaced continue to languish in poverty and humiliation. Now, compare events in Kenya and the Zimbabwean situation. It seems to me that the only difference is that Zimbabweans handle their political situation more “maturely” than Kenyans. Instead of resorting to rungus and machetes, they coil at the roar of the everlasting Mugabe. But the bottom-line remains the same, that is, “tribal” politics hang precariously over Africans’ very survival. With the media both in Africa and West reminding us of Rwanda, it would be futile trying to reject or oppose any notion of tribalism. But can Africans draw anything positive from “tribe” and “tribalism” without being accused of perpetuating or resurrecting its “savage” past?
I believe that “tribe” is not a helpful term and should be drop in all our conversational and intellectual discourses. In the modern world (or is it postmodern?) the term tribe has been positively defined to refer to any social group comprising numerous families, clans, or generations; and/or a group of people having a common character, occupation, or interest.[1] However, in the minds of many journalists and most Westerners the anthropological construction takes precedence more so in reference to Africa. Generally, the aboriginal meaning is intented. In this case the term tribe is viewed through historical or evolutionary prisms to refer to “a social group existing before the development of, or outside of, states”. It covers most non-Western societies which are seen by anthropologists as largely organized on the basis of kinship.[2] Following this anthropological construct, all conflicts in African societies are always described as atavistic and barbaric in nature.
Personally, I attribute the sociohistorical transformation in Africa to colonialism and capitalism. In Kenya, for example, the anthropological understanding of the tribe as enumerated above, was effectively used by Sir Charles Eliot (the first colonial governor) who in 1905 categorically proclaimed Kenya as a “Whiteman Country.” But it was not until 1919 (under governorship of Sir Edward Northey) when “tribe” became part of the colonial system and a policy was adopted and used to segregate all Kenyan “tribes” into “Native Reserves” leaving the economic productive land in the hands of European settlers. The “purely Native areas” were divided into provinces or districts separated from other communities with the post of Chief Commissioner of the Native Affairs Department created to oversee implementation of the policy. European Settlements fell under Resident Magistrates. The “natives”, particularly in Kikuyuland were forced to live near or in the settled areas in order to supply cheap labour to the white farmers. Therefore, by sheer accident of history some of the communities in Kenya (e.g. Kikuyu) benefited from this colonial set-up either because of their close proximity to the European farms and city of Nairobi or through forced dislocation to the settled areas (mainly in the expansive Rift Valley.) Post-colonial government under Kenyatta perpetuated these social-economic advantages of the favored communities at the disillusionment of other less advantaged communities. Nonetheless, President Moi spent a good part of his years to reverse or stall any progress that the favored communities had achieved. In order to succeed in his attempts Moi used the old colonial tactics which emphasized “tribal” differences as magnified by anthropologists of old. In actual fact President Moi succeeded in perfecting “tribal” divide as political device.
Consequently, “tribe”, as an anthropological construct, has been powerfully used to brainwash and make the African look pathetically at his God-given identity. The present situations in Kenya and Zimbabwe proof my thesis correct that the African elite and Christian leaders who have taken power from the colonial masters with the great support from the masses perpetuate the legacy of “tribalism” and colonialism. By rejecting our own value system as reflected in our social organisation (call it tribal if you may), the elite class has adopted the Western middle class mode of living and behavior. The new political and economic arrangements impact negatively on the spirit and values governing human relationships. As a result, social and moral values have been distorted and reversed resulting to drastic historical change of the religious, political, economic, and cultural ethos. Capitalism and the competitive accumulation of private property and profit (as adopted by the ruling class and imposed on the ignorant masses) have encouraged the most reactionary, clannish, and regional feelings (as Ngugi wa Thiong’o would put it) which keep the Africans divided.
Nonetheless, all is not lost. On December 27th, 2007 the Kenyan communities (and later Zimbabweans in March) waited patiently in voting queues and stood as witnesses to themselves that they understood very well that their destiny was in nobody else’s hands. Why then is Africa burning? One may ask. I am proposing that the answer lies in apathy and lack of appreciation of the richness and diversity derived in our social reality. We view “tribes” as aberration of the “ideal” human society. Left with nothing to admire of ourselves, we have turned West. In envy and adoration of the “ideal” humanity as represented in the Western world, the Africans desire that which is far removed from themselves. Unconscious of its implication, we have alienated ourselves from our natural and social environment. As a result, the location of our imagination is no longer in Africa but in Europe and America. This is evident in our quick embrace of multi-party democracy. A quarter of a century since introduction of multi-party politics in Kenya as borrowed from the West, African elites have pushed their constituents to withdrawn into “tribal” and religious enclaves. Democracy then is translated to mean voting for our own “tribal” gods. As such, anybody who refuses to vote for my “god” is an enemy and must be annihilated. Does this sound like a contradiction of what have been said so far? Not so! Can we then conclude that what we have witnessed so far in Kenya and Zimbabwe symbolizes the demise of Xeroxed multi-party politics? Is it possible for Africans to evolve their own form of democracy that embraces and encourages our rich heritage and diversity? Africans will have to gather together at the Well of Reason and communally draw from It water that gives meaning and hope. We cannot allow the political elite to shape our destiny. We must take charge and map our way ahead. This is the way I see it.
[1] http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/tribe
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribe

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Faceless

Elohim
God or gods…
They say that the Most High lives on High
He of Ages
Rock of our salvation
I accept

Jehovah
Omnipresent, Omniscient so they say
Silhouette
Like Amin, Moi, Mobutu,
Him I fear and tremble
Omnipotent and Mighty
Like Brits, Japs, and The Eagle
Sweeping through Falluja
Like an African Whirlwind
Marching, Singing, Crushing
Under their boots, enemies of freedom -
Him I loathe

But wait!
In the Book, I glean
Like the eagle broods over her young ones
So Emanuel spreads Her wings
She Who Is
Like a mother
She, I love and embrace
Melting in Her everlasting arms
Knowing too well that She Who Is
Is but a dream
For in his cassock he decrees
No human terms can help grasp Him
For God is Unknowable
She-He … Unfathomed
A Mystery…
- Kinyua.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

My Faith, My Call, My Vision:

This blog is a sacred place for me. It is here that I meet with myself, to dialogue, to rant, to fuss, to cry, and to have fun. The blog is to me a journey of faith, of reason, of emotions and pathos. I set sail to seek and wonder. Two fundamental issues define this journey i.e. my faith in God and fulfilling the mission, which I think I am called for in this world. So, a little talk about myself is appropriate.
All that I am and that I have, I owe it to a God who has proven faithful in my life. I was born and raised in a small town in Kenya located not far away from the majestic Mount Kenya(http://www.kws.org/mt-kenya.html). Having been born into a Presbyterian family, I was introduced into the basics of faith and religion. In my formative years, a strict Christian mother, who trained me to be an idealistic and moralistic, taught me to take the Bible literary as the Word of God, inerrant and written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I was also taught to think of sin in very personal ways and such sins were clearly defined. My mother as well as Sunday school teachers taught us that cultural practices were evil, immoral and against God’s will. In Sunday school, the understanding of God, purity and grace was emphasized. Curiously, salvation meant deliverance from spiritual sin as well as African traditional way of life. Therefore, as a Christian child, I was called to arm myself spiritually against the devil that masqueraded in cultural rituals, songs and dances. These cultural practices were condemned as evil, immoral and against God’s will.
From the days of my adolescence when I lost both of my parents to this day, the Lord has literally carried me on his shoulders. Though this has been a life where personal tragedy has sometimes overwhelmed, my confidence and courage to move on have come from faith in this God. At this tender age, we had to face rejection from paternal family (who according to African tradition were to take care of us). From then on, we had to depend on the good will of friends and strangers who happened to know our predicament. Struggling through high school and later on as young man trying to find my place in the society was never easy. Sometimes life seemed hopeless and we could have never dreamt of becoming anything that is worth of living - but somehow, we survived. As I struggled in those youthful years of my life, I also had to deal with the sudden death of my parents. Like many other high school students of our time, I joined the Rastafarian movement in rebellion against Christianity. It was not until June 1987 that I heard the gospel of Christ preached and I made a personal choice to give my life to Christ. I simply believed and surrendered my life to Jesus who has remained a true and faithful friend. I was able to grow spiritually with the help of the fellowships organized by ‘Tukutendereza’ brethren of the East Africa revival Team. In many occasions when I have to make life decisions such as marriage, ministry among others I have done so believing that the step I take is ordered in the steps of the Master. Most of these decisions I had to make alone for I was never able to develop any meaningful relationship with individuals with whom I could share my thoughts. Many are the times that I have faltered and failed but God has remained a true anchor.
It is during the time of spiritual renewal that I received basic theological training through Theological Education by Extension organized by the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. I received the call to ministry in 1991. In the same year, I resigned from my teaching profession to join the Presbyterian College under the auspice of St. Paul United Theological College, Limuru-Kenya for a three-year theological training program. For the first time, I was challenged to critically analyze what was going on in my life, the life of the Kenyan church and of the larger Kenyan community. I had never realized how much I had believed that the Christian gospel is a spiritual enterprise that is concerned only with individual repentance of sin and struggle for holiness. It came as a surprise to see how I had used Christianity as an escape to the land yonder away from the “sinful” world. Theological training opened me up to see new possibilities. Ministry as a Presbyterian minister began after a one-year internship followed by my ordination in 1997.
In September 1998 I received an invitation to attend and represent my Presbytery in a brainstorming “theology and research panel” attended by some of the best-trained theologians in Kenya. In the meeting, we looked into areas that were affecting our ministry as pastors and as theologians. This included such topics as poverty; war and insecurity; AIDS; globalization and economic underdevelopment as well as unstable markets. For a second time in my life, I was challenged to rethink and reformulate my understanding of Christian ministry. The realization of my insensitivity to the pains and struggles of the Kenyan people was profound. The inadequacy of theological propositions and meaningful biblical hermeneutics to deal with issues affecting us as a community of faith were expressed by many in the meeting. The forum left me wrestling with unanswered questions. How can the Church remain relevant in the midst of such great suffering and helplessness? How could we, as Christian leaders, have participated in perpetuation of these predicaments? Is there any hope of God’s promise in our lives’ situation? Behind the suffering, is God still at work and in full control? What is our response to God’s promise and love? What should be the focus of our hermeneutics? I left that meeting with a general feeling of inadequacy and an inner longing to be part of a journey that bring meaning to the suffering communities.
It is in this context and the belief that the Lord will order my step that I made the decision of seeking further education in the USA. Quest for intellectual relevance served as the driving force in my advanced theological training at Emory University (http://www.emory.edu/). Even though life in the USA was to prove difficulty, God stood by my side. I successfully completed my studies. In the same faith, I made the decision of moving on with my studies and surely, doors were opened for further education. This far I have come because of the belief that the Lord has been walking with me. The decision to attend my post-graduate studies at the University of Birmingham (http://www.bham.ac.uk/.) was an action taken simply in faith. In fact, it is a miracle that I have survived four years of studies in Britain and away from my family. My intellectual quest has been geared towards developing a hermeneutic that is both transforming and liberative.
I long for the day that I will be serving the Kenyan and African community not only as a priest but also as an academician. I have worked very hard sparing nothing and stopping at nothing in order to make this dream come true. In the USA, it has always been tempting to direct my attention elsewhere but I had made a covenant with my community of faith, God and myself that I was going to America to receive further training for the benefit of the faith community. Besides, I have asked hard questions about the future of theological studies in Kenya and Africa in general. I have dreamt of a time when I would be among those who are willing to take bold steps towards reshaping both theological and moral thinking of the African Christian communities both in the motherland and those in the Diaspora. One of the factors which, I believe may have contributed to theological deficiency in Africa is inadequate biblical hermeneutics.
My cultural background is one in which the Bible remains the most influential and the most widely translated text. It is cited by politicians and writers even when being critical of modern Christian enterprise. The Bible is also part of the education curriculum in high schools, colleges and universities. Though many people take it as a manual for life, the Bible has also been used by others to legitimized obvious social, economic and political injustices. In many occasions, the Bible has been used to discourage stirring of revolt against oppressive or discriminatory practices thus promoting attitudes of resignation and complacency. This may explain why most Christians never consider material deprivation, exploitation and violations of human rights as concerns for their Christian living and witness. Any community which fails to challenge such use of the Bible becomes responsible for its inability to become an empowering body to the disenfranchised and marginalized. This, I have believed, cannot happen unless we are willing to engage critically as well as intellectually with our Faith and Theology.
Further, my experience both in America and Britain has revealed to me that the struggle for relevance in Christian circles is universal. As such, as a PhD student at the University of Birmingham in England, I am focusing my research on biblical hermeneutics and how ideological vision feeds itself and its implementation not only through physical force and direct domination but also through persuasive means such as autonomous intellectual and aesthetic stories. I believe that biblical texts must have meaning that is not confined to a single ideologically driven interpretation. This is because interpretation and writing are tied to the question of interest evidently seen in aesthetic and historical discourses. I am of the opinion that there is no biblical interpretation which is ideologically, sociologically or linguistically neutral. Biblical interpretation is thoroughly social and a product of the imaginative and intellectual activity of a community. As I continue in my search for meaningful engagement with the Christian faith, I feel obligated to take a closer examination on ideologies and biases that form the basis of any interpretation and how such an interpretation affects our Christian witness.
In addition to my intellectual quest and formation, I also see my call as principally pastoral. While I may not be able to comment on the experiences of many Africans who come to America, I can attest from my own experience that life for the Africans is very difficult. In private conversations you can tell that people suffer from wounds untold through their interactions in America. It is possible that after such experiences some return to African very bitter and would use any available opportunity to retaliate. A friend of mine who is doing his PhD in intercultural studies concentrating on the experiences of African community living in the US says that many Africans interviewed express bitterness and resentment because of the treatment they have received as immigrants. Personally, I am looking in ways I can positively impact the lives of Africans in the Diaspora. I believe that we ought to build relationships with Americans of good will in order to build genuine relations beyond racial boundaries. I have, in the course my stay In USA found genuine love and warmth which attest to the fact that there are genuine people who seek the good of humanity and with whom I can join to celebrate our fellowship in diversity.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Maitu na Twana twake

Today brings in the best it has for humanity. Sometimes the unexpected happens, grief, anguish, pain and suffering all clouding today. Nevertheless, even as the sun casts its last ray before sinking into the horizon to usher in the unknowns of the night, it leaves behind a glow promising to return in the morning bringing in refreshing newness. As darkness approach, kids walking holding tightly to their mother’s pants, the mother walking with unsure steps yet confident that they will soon be home for dinner- in the stillness of the night, promise for a new day looms ahead. Dinner? Did I say dinner? Who is washing the dishes and prepare supper? The mother knows that the chores wait even as the little one begins crying for attention and the older kids start asking for something to eat, for long was the day - they all missed to be home. Did the mail carrier come? Any letter from the father of my children? Nothing but bills and collection threats. Anyway, tomorrow is not very far and perhaps the man of the family will soon be home. But, when is ‘soon’? God knows, damn it! As they retire to bed having gathered some junkies, too tired to cook, they thank God for the day. In the quietness of darkness tears freely flow, longing for tomorrow, thinking about the future…as she doses off into the wee hours of the morning. “Mummy”, sound comes from a dreamy distant. “Wake up! It is already morning.” Surely, the beautiful rays of the sun stream through edges of the curtains bringing with it hope; today might be a better day- perhaps. Does it matter now? May be, may be not but at least the new day is born for us to be of service to humanity. This is our hope that we are here for a purpose and today, TODAY confirms it. God bless. Be good, be cheerful, be sure, be faithful - Ngai Nyene.