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.