I thought I would take comments from Binyavanga’s open letter to his father and post them as a debate. Between Binyavanga and ‘Uncle Joe’ on the issue of Gikuyu tribal chauvanism as reflected in the actions of the Kibaki government. This argument really cuts to the heart of a debate that Gikuyus of the younger generation should be having right now. For more on this take a look at the section to the right on Home and Nation…
I am sorry that at the age of 35 we have to talk about this issue. But it seems you have a few things mixed up .First let me correct you. You are a kikuyu first and a Kenyan second. Long before the colonial government formed Kenya you were a kikuyu and long after the united states of Africa forms you will still be a kikuyu.
Son we have brought you up to be a sceptical ,thinking person like you have indicated ,believing in solid institution and building them but my dear son let me remind you that when you build a house you have to begin with the foundation, a strong tree can not grow without strong roots. You foundation as a strong African begin by being a strong Kenyan, and your being a strong Kenyan begins with being a strong mgikuyu.
My dear son do not be an apologetic for who you are. Do not be ashamed of your blood and your heritage. Son sometimes in life people will blame for their own laziness and inability to adopt to the modern world .Do not think that because you are able to cope and survive that you should take the blame for their failures.
My son! Sometimes member of our own community will act foolishly but that should not worry you .after all every market has its mad man. It doesn’t mean that the whole village is mad .so dear Wainaina do not over react to the situation at hand .like every other cloud it too shall come to pass. Long before it was Kenya vs. us we defeated the British, before that countless others. So don’t worry .Only remember it is said Nyumba ya Gikuyu and Mumbi igikajeta—nigeteka!
Your loving uncle
Dear Uncle Joe,
Ah. Thank you for your wise words! For, honestly, until you told me, I had no idea what I was first or second.
I am enlightened and positively provoked by your contribution: it is wonderful to discover that I was a Kikuyu even before I was born; it is even more useful to discover from you that I am a Kikuyu because other people are lazy; and I am a Kikuyu first because you say so – and because you know me so well.
Now I know!
Some people may view your statement as xenophobic – but, wink, wink, we all know better don’t we -you have spoken deep truths and I am not confused at all.
By the way, Uncle Joe, by name is Binyavanga. A Gikuyu name too, uncle, as it came to me through our naming system.
It would be good if you would use it.
I will do as you ask and say nothing about all the madmen in the village who are robbing Kenya and Kikuyus blind. For we must close ranks and protect them – madmen are our people too!
Can you help me join the new government to contribute positively to my FirstKikuyuness?
Do I need to take an oath?
And I insist on calling you Wainaina. I am glad you received my letter in good faith. I am also glad that your letter provoked the commentary it has.
Son yes it is in did true that the village mad man is our mad man and when a choice has to be made between our village mad man and the other villages mad men, I think I would rather support our mad man. Until other constructive villagers in our village or the other village come up. I am sorry to say I trust our mad man. You see my son that is the very problem we face a lark of choice. Given two bad choices then we have no other option but to choose the one we can relate to at some level.
As pointed out in one of the comments I am glad that you respect my choice to be a kikuyu first and a Kenyan second. They are both who I am and that does not mean I devalue the number two. I take great pride in both and I am sure you will find it in your heart to do the same .My son you can be a proud kikuyu and a proud Kenyan, the two are not mutually exclusive as some would like to insist .
Now my son since you last reply I too have been doing a lot of thinking your letter spoke volumes and I hope this correspondence can continue. On the issue of the oath. You don’t need to worry about that. When you were born you were automatically oathed remember I said ‘Nyumba ya Gikuyu and Mumbi igikajeta—nigeteka!’ maybe your raising this issue is your call to that oath
Your loving uncle
Dear Joe, well, by using the name Wainaina, you are actually referring to my elder brother; and my grandfather – if you want to talk to them, feel free. Wainaina is a name associated with my family, but not a name used to address me: culturally or in any other way. If you want to know – it would have been great if you had the courtesy to ask first – for people often have good reasons for their names – now and a thousand years ago – I am Binyavanga wa Muigai.
Brittle things crack and break, they crack and break. Maybe this is why there are so many wa Wanjirus these days – the failure by the uncles to give dynamic answers to what are becoming complex issues.
Who froze things to make them so rigid – where did this mobile and flexible force – fast growing dynamic and welcoming go – for this pure blood so spoken about by some these days, welcomed, in those very old days so many other bloods, and ideas and dynamism.
And we inherited brittle men – unable to cope with the times and stewing in dissatisfaction and drink – and repeating mantras, refusing to participate in family, and leaving the dynamism to the women who filled the shoes.
But a man need not explain himself. And a generation who failed us need not account.
But we must listen?
Why can the uncles and fathers see they have lost their sons?
Uncle Joe said…
Binyavanga Wainaina, I am glad you true colours have come out. ODM Supporter. Clearly your loyalty is to ODM and not Kenya. If it was you would explain to us what a clean and none tribal Narc did for three years when the rest of your gang was in power. Is it only after they were kicked out of Government that the government became tribal. I am sorry to say you are fighting a battle you will not win. I suggest you get used to this program and get used to it well. Trying to demonize leaders wont help sure you want a change in Kenya we all want a change but what are you suggesting that we replace Kibaki, Karume and Michuki for Raila, Ojode and Otieno Kajwang. Come on get serious.
In fact there is no need to continuing arguing or discussing this issue now that your true colours have come out. Let the people decide. you continue your propaganda, but come December 2007 we shall settle this mess once and for all.
Hi all. I am quite surprised at how strongly I feel about all this. Actually, for the past few weeks, I have been going around telling people we need to “normalize” the conversation around issues in Kenya, saying that I can’t listen to shrillness any more
So please forgive my shrill entry.
Certainly there are many identity and power issues in Kenya – and yes, I agree with Anonymous that these become ominous when allied to National politics – and what are, in effect, National Warlords – whose relationship with their “constituencies” is one where they are the biggest threat to violence and the potential providers of government violence when necessary to “save” their constituents from the “others”.
Their motive is not “patriotism” – Kibaki and Michuki are not interested in the “upliftment of all Gikuyus” – nor is Koigi any more, or all that clique.
It is Koigi who has led the takeover of KBC by a group of Gikuyu xenophobes.
Their fundamental objective is to create an environment where they, their families their class (composed of all the relatives of all the warlords who are in business together, and their suppliers, contacts, tender- (isers) and so on) keep feeding the Nation with bones while they are eating the nice meat and flesh, exporting the skin, hooves and head.
They care for us, certainly, they are human you know – just like you may care a lot for the fat dog you hug, brush, and feed your leftovers.
This political culture, invented by the Kenyatta clique is at war with a new generation who find it harder and harder to believe that “our man in the house” will feed us all.
And surrounding and threatening all civil order is a generation so cynical, so removed from hope – they either take what they find rummaging around Kenya’s dustbins of possibilities, or create little mafias to strong-arm in places where the long arm of Michuki types don’t care to control.
So all attempts to clear hawkers and plant flowers simply sends crime underground. The biggest joke is: Westlands market has never been expanded – or new markets built. Gikomba, which turns over tens of millions everyday is still as it was. Wakulima market which handles all of Nairobi’s fresh produce – and also turns over tens of millions everyday. All these cannot be expanded. But flowers are planted. So – no room is made for the informal sector to “formalize its business – but it is this in formal economy that has provided most of the jobs in Kimunya’s budget- and it is this economy that is by faaaaar the largest investor and growth machine in Kenya.
The best signifier of the cynicism of this government is Dandora. More young men have been killed by the police in Dandora during Kibaki’s govt than through all of Moi’s years. A young man who looks “cool” and is “confident” is a “suspect”.
Further, the dumpsite is has grown fourfold since 2002 – as Ukoo Flani put it: Safisha Nairobi, Chafua Dandora. There is no policy to deal with it, now it is spilling into a primary school. So the cleaning of Nairobi has nothing to do with creating a well-run city. It is to do with moving the dirt to the people who a guy like Michuki has utter contempt for…
Hawkers have never been given any useful facilities – though they pay millions in fees to City Council – so real “trade” and “investment” – according to Kibaki’s government is Multinationals and titanium and export processing zones – these, we are told will make us rich.
To me it seems that wealth will come to us if that guy who has managed, with no loan, no premises, no toilet – to build world class furniture on the side of the road – the giving room and credit and encouragement to that guy – that is where we industrialize.
That is where all the toy makers from Taiwan came from.
Joe Wanjui – the most comical character of all the comic characters of the Kenyatta mafia generation has been running around saying he is a multi-millionaire because he worked hard and has ambitions (this he tells Nairobi University students). He told a friend who interviewed him that all he (my friend) needs to do is go to a bank and ask for money and build an empire.
Kibaki went to Nyeri to tell his people that they need to work hard like him. Men should stop being lazy, he said. (Even Lucy contradicted him when she heard this)
That he and Wanjui were simply recipients of spectacular success due the connections and power they held – has passed them completely.
These guys are supposed to guide us forward?
That everybody else kills themselves to make a profit but now City Council charges a Stall Owner 8000 bob for their “sign” – to keep the political class creating fat jobs for their buddies escapes them.
As Parselelo Kantai put it: Kenya is a vampire state.
As our wonderful Minister of Justice said “Baringo and Gatundu are the poorest constituencies in Kenya” – she failed to articulate clearly that they are poor because they will be arrested for stealing a mango – but she wants those who steal the taxpayer’s money given amnesty for “returning the money.
There is no way. No way at all.
That Kibaki’s thieves will be arrested by a Kibaki government – because the thieves are part of The REAL Constituency of this government.
All the rest is spin-doctoring.
Another five years of these guys and we will have a war – South Africa style – where the flowery sides of town (5 percent) will use state resources to keep away the 95 percent – South Africa style – where beautiful roads exists where you can be car-jacked 24 hours a day, raped and disembowelled.
Of late most rape cases at Nairobi Women’s hospital are men – who, sometimes have been raped by gangs of men. Crime is starting to show these kind of revenge violence where money ceases to be the primary objective. Meanwhile we are being told about mad villagers. By Uncle Joe.
Over the past three years, a cadre of fat and rich wazees have been financing a “Gikuyu revival” – this looks nice and happy on the surface – but most of its substance is the spreading of hate speech against all other tribes – the idea being that “we” are somehow special and godchosen to lead Kenya – because the rest are crazy or lazy. The “barbarians” need to be kept to their “areas” – while ‘we’ move around with impunity.
There has been an aggressive Gikuyuisation of the Kenya Institute of Education, much of Kenya’s media (KBC, the radio stations of SK Macharia (who have bigger reach in Kenya than KBC) and the Receiver of Revenue: one of these departments decides everything our children will read, the other is breaking tax collection records.
But – There have been massive pressures from the Kenyan public over the past 16 years – in many ways to have a leadership that is accountable to issues.
The implications of all of this are obvious.
Remember also: NARC Kenya does not have money to run next years campaigns. Anglo Leasing was stopped before they could manufacture slush fund – so for the referendum, they used tax payers money. So these billions being collected will be used, and abused, and the bigger threat there is to Kibaki, the more they will abuse this. To keep themselves in power, they will spend it all. But – this will of course means that they will lose the credibility of their support base.
Yes? Maybe: the gamble is: to make the Gikuyu so paranoid about the “beasts from the west” they will believe that this abuse was necessary to prevent foaming tribals descending on the properties of “hard-working and god-fearing Gikuyus” – this is the campaign strategy to keep the Gikuyu masses in the fold – and have a substantial base to build on for the election – for with this, all is needed is kidogo -kidogo from the rest of Kenya.
But – there is a problem. Though the older generations of Gikuyus still have post-Emergency fears for their well being and post-Moi fears and so on. The younger are not quite so “disciplined” – they have no stake in Coffee, or Tea or Milk – no title deeds, and not much fondness for the wazee.
But – the well-travelled, better educated class of young Gikuyus have their heads in the sand. the Kibaki government is good for them: it understands pavement cleaning and flower gardens in roundabouts – and making life good if you work for a bank. That these benefits are every short-lived is not a question. Tukule sasa.
No coalition of visible younger Gikuyus has made their position clear on issues. None is saying anything about the rising xenophobia.
There are some people talking to young people all over the country, to be aggressive about their political demands – but many Kenyan abroad keep fanning the idea of this new uGikuyu – and ignore the fact that is will benefit no ordinary Kenyan, and may lead to blood on the streets.
I believe Kenya has changed more in the past 4 years than in the past 40. For the first time there is powerful public pressure on an antiquated system. In fact, I think that we are nearer getting a reasonably accountable government than we imagine – the acts of this government have the flavour of desperation – they know their time is up and are trying to grab what they can. So the journey is not too long.
I urge all thinking Gikuyus to completely ignore any attempts to fan your tribal pride – this is the single biggest hurdle facing us in building a meaningful government. The purpose of this is to continue to fuck you, and your children and their children, as you have been fucked since 1952.
If Kibaki’s people come back to power, the gloves will be off. Like Moi, they will have so embedded themselves in our national bloodstream – it will be 27 years before their clique will cede power.
Believe the nonsense at your peril.
Uncle Joe said…
Binyavanga a leopard can hide but it can’t hide its spots. I don’t live in an idealistic world. I used to, when I was younger. I now live in a practical world. if you are not the ODM youthwinger that I think you are, why haven’t you criticized the thieves in ODM, the looters and those who made others lie low like envelopes in the past?
Are you blind to some evil or are you blind to all evil. The notion you keep repeating that I am defending my thief is a big joke. So you want me to support another community’s thug… is that what you call justice and progress.
Will Kenya only progress if old people retire and hand over power to younger looters and killers? Is that what you are saying?
You disappoint me wa Mwangi. You disappoint me wa Mwangi. Why don’t you just come with it and tell us what it is you want instead of hiding behind being progressive. If it is indeed true that you are not an ODM youth winger and say Kenya is much bigger than the two. Tell the young people what the options are. Tell them what party you are supporting, who you want them to vote for against the flowerplanters.
I have been labelled as one of those who call people beasts, where is the dynamic thinking you were talking about cant I be a kyuk who loves my tribe. Why does my love for my roots have to mean that I hate others for theirs? Does loving my tribe automatically refer to others as beasts? What dynamic reasoning is this, from what era does this dynamic thinking come from?
it make come as a shock wa Mwangi I am actually younger than you. I grew up in an urban metropolis and attended a national school. I have travelled and seen other societies both within Africa and without and I must say I have never seen anything like this.
You see the truth is you want to see the glass half empty and I see a glass half full. I am being realistic believing we can change things from within as young people but you being the railamaniac I think you are want a revolution with a lynching of all kyuks to go with it .is this what we call progress.
What is wrong with Kibaki planting flowers on roundabouts are you against the beautification of our cities, is it a sin or misnomer? what about the growing economy have you forgotten about that, and the jobs that have been created since?
Why is it you rush to attack and drag people you have never met in the mad (and why are they only from Narc?) Why don’t you tell us of the Kojwanga’s and the stolen clients money, the Ntimamas and the kikuyu blood that flows from his pangas? Have you developed selective memory?
Has the Rwanda experience taught you nothing? Was it only Tutsis who died or did Hutus suffer also? Revolutions don’t work in Africa their results are only bloodshed. So stop being a kyuk apologetic. We have done nothing wrong and don’t need you to speak up or apologize for us. if this is an issues of ideas lets talk about ideas all this talk about tribes is making me sick.
When kibaki was planting flowers was he planting them for Kikuyus only or was he planting them for the nation that is the question I want you to think about?
Nice one, Uncle Joe, Dear Dear uncle Joe: are you so limited in options and faith for our beautiful country that all you can dream is that one is either ODM or NARC KENYA…?
Love it. ‘Reveal One’s true colours’ – proper Kenya politicospeak – my subject is specific: Gikuyu xenophobia which makes one quite able to choose a genuine thieving devil for the sorts of reasons the Rwandese learned were not taking them anywhere; and the Ugandans learned, painfully, were never going anywhere – the idea that one chooses a thief of one’s tribe over sensible person of another is insane – and scary when ordinary educated people start talking like this – the tone and intensity of the dislike and propaganda is worse than it was in 69, and threatens good order in Kenya.
I am not hiding anything bro – the world is much more complex than ODM – a new and somewhat fishy organisation not that different from NARC Kenya, NARC and the rest…same sort.
There is a lot more in Kenya. ODM and NARC are now what we deserve because we are refusing to dream better.
The space is open – but we have inherited habits from the old political system where we imagine the basic options thrust at us are all that can be on offer – the space is wide open. The space is wide open.
The space is WIDE open.
The People I Have Loved
I do not know if I would pick arms for this country; I do not know even whether the flag really means that much to me. All I can commit to: for my life and death – is the people and landscapes (real and metaphorical) that I have loved; those who took journeys and time with me; those who survived hard times; taught me – those who speak my language – by this I mean those who I need not say anything with grammar for them to understand what I mean. Now love cannot arrange itself in clean lines – I have loved from places that do not account for my background or tribe.
These fragile and powerful places can be the beginning of a nation – by consensus.
But hate is mathematical: for when people come under the slogan of hate: such and such people are like such and such – all relationships that derive from this shall be symmetrical. It becomes easy to cut away, end friendships, and kill wives when the symmetry of hate is clear within you.
Maybe this is why it is said by the philosophers of war and nation that nationhood and patriotism is built by blood – against a common enemy: that people of forty languages will quickly become “one” after a bruising ten year war with a foreign “outsider” who threatens everybody’s well-being.
A Nation by blood
Maybe the way our Uncle Joes flirt with this rhetoric is simply because we have never been at war. We have seen, over the past century, time and time again, whole groupings butchered based on words that sound exactly like Uncle Joe’s. The Rwanda rhetoric was about “clearing” or “cleaning” – a distant future dream of a symmetrical time where all over Kenya, atiriri will be sang, and messy other things shall not intervene.
There are positions that can be taken: with trust good faith – and build bridges even when they do not lead to clear progress – because we have only one other option: put a fence around yourself and arm.
Brussels, the city – for five hundred years, spent most of its surplus on the building of fortifications; one after another each collapsing after some conquest or other and rebuilding beginning immediately and more ambitiously. It was the city’s most ambitious project – generations of progress and wealth were sucked up into war and fortifications – and only the late entry of massive Congo money made Brussels rich.
Armed relationships escalate.
The question about ODM right now is meaningless. The government in power in NARC Kenya, and they are asking YOU – to assume that they are valid and viable because the ONLY other thing in Kenya is the Beast from the West.
The idea behind this, of course (Kenyan politics is very crude – it is us who try to put in pethos) – to suck you into the Soap Opera of two players – and escalate the shit, till we are all standing behind walls with machetes and voting cards saying ai even if I went to a National school, those Luos, those Luos, those Luos…and at some point the Luo ceases to become a person.
Anybody questioning NARC Kenya becomes an “ODM Youth Winger”
…and that is a declaration of war. What Uncle Joe said was he is at war. Rwanda is not an example, to him, of how not to do it – it is a territory of “similar examples” to justify his war-like stance.
What is actually being said is: there is no room for other – and we all know, there is no conversation or debate to be had with a youth winger. You either flee or fight. And that Youth Winger you see may be a doctor, a teacher, the guy who saved you from bullies when you were a kid, it may even be a Gikuyu who happens to have a gap he got in a bar-fight. And of course, we are not yet in 2007. In 2007, what would Uncle Joe be invoking to show his fears: for if the Youth Winger is the lowest, most violent of Kenyans, the rung below that is bestial, no longer human. And once people are persuaded that a whole group of such are a-comin’ they are a comin’ to getcha……
Now Uncle Joe has made it clear he is not “fleeing from the beast” so I guess he is “fighting the beast”
So fight, bwana. Fight away. I have nothing more to say to you man. Do your thing.
Meanwhile – let us all remember, all these warlords, ODM, NARC – when the accounting is done – they all own shit in each other’s backyards. You cannot separate the shares of Moi in this economy and the shares of Kibaki. Uhuru and his “uncle” Moi.
They are partners and need to make this temperature so we never realise who the real enemy is. Amazing how the only consensus in this government was when MPs wanted salary increments.
It is all about symmetry: if The Gikuyus can be made to hate; the Luos made to hate, the Kalenjins made to hate – they are easy to manage, and rob. They will defend their mdosi to the bitter end.
Haha. Uncle Joe! I had a good laugh with that one!
What is wrong with planting flowers in roundabouts? It is beautifying the city!
I am stuck everyday in the stupidest jam this side of the Sahara – as the most illogical and beautiful roundabout in Kileleshwa (actually shaped in a kind of wobbly oval) is manned by a very prettily dressed man who knows nothing about flow of traffic and is making empty hand gestures inherited from the colonial era without thought.
And we hoot and bang our heads and forget to stop and smell the beautiful flowers in the beautiful roundabout.
The roundabout is very very beautiful, Uncle Joe – and utterly meaningless – it comes from the mentality of those who were taught in shiny Vaseline colonial missionary schools how to copy and how not to think for yourself. The roundabout has been removed from all urban plans of even stupider governments than ours. I am waiting for them to start whitewashing stones around pavements.
Or build a new matatu rank, like the one in Westlands – that completely forgot to think about the hundreds of thousands of people who would need to cross the busiest highway in Kenya to get to the matatu.
The rank is very very pretty indeed. And very very useless indeed.
And educated people will defend them – because a person of their tribe built them. Na hiyo, as Moi said, ni Maendeleo.
The most comical thing about all this is the children: you will see the children of warlords whose “tribes” are butchering each other, visit each other’s homes, date, marry, party together, go to the same schools and attend each other’s weddings. While you foam at the mouth for your leaders, their children are very happy having multi-tribal sex and fun and compassion even – they can afford it.
And each successive government will need to do exactly the same thing to finance this lifestyle. So long as their loyal defenders continue to carry their flag.
How many of us will stand up to be counted on what we DO not want, and what we DO not tolerate.