Elders Are Next To Ancestors And Ancestors Sit With The gods

You will recall the saying in Emanyulia that elders are next to the ancestors and the ancestors sit with the gods. Our people say therefore that you don’t mess about with the elders. If you do, you are rattling the ancestors and the gods. You surely will pay the price. The gods know how to sort out their grievances against you.

We don’t bother too much with those who challenge the gods to a duel, except by way of putting in a gentle word of caution and fearing for them.  For we are duty bound to fear for those whom the gods are about to destroy. And when the gods are about to smash your forehead with the moon, they first fill it up with the hubris. The hubris itself makes you ventilate like a burst sewer under intense pressure. Words leave your mouth out of their own effort.

The odoriferous discharge from your oral cavity travels with unknown power and speed. It neither knows nor cares whom it will encounter. The sewage messes up everyone and everything in the environment, including the sewer itself. Everyone who comes this way knows, “We have a burst sewer here.” Others say, “Behold, another burst sewer.” These thoughts increasingly come to me each time I see our political leaders on TV, ventilating. And Lee Iacocca would say once again, “Where have all the leaders gone?”

I am relieved though that Kiswahili and English challenge us from time to time. I did not therefore hear this one about circumcision in some meeting last week. That a man said another one had not taken the traditional cut. Those who understand the language say that the man did not stop at insulting the other man’s genitals. He roped in the other man’s father too, just to drive home his wrath. This man’s son is not cut,” he said, “The boy should therefore not bring his stupidity to us.”

Disdain for age. Our people say that when two youth fight, they do well to leave out the elders. For, they will need the elders to settle the matter. But there are those who arrived readymade with disdain. They have taught those who are younger to be glib with insolence against the elders. You would imagine that they were going to be frozen in youth. And yes, every so often one is frozen in youth – in the lateral manner. This is indeed the only way to remain young forever. Get them to freeze you in the horizontal position. Your life philosophy is to live dangerously, die young and look handsome in the casket.

In Emanyulia, a circumcising community, it is scandalous to keep on running your mouth in public about other people’s genitals. Even in private, a man has no business with another man’s genitals. Moreover, you don’t put these things in the same sentence with someone’s parents. You are rankling the gods. As Thomas Hardy would say, “Thy damnation slumbreth not.” It is just a matter of time before the gods smash the moon on your head.

It is unfortunate when some of these things happen high up in public office. The elders in Emanyulia are saying that this is what is happening in the House of Jubilee. Jubilee arrived readymade with spite for age. It is now paying the price. Not only do they despise the counsel of age, they actually insult age. The ancestors have been saying to me, “Dreamer of dreams, talk to the people in the House of Jubilee. Tell them to beware the hubris. Oracle from Emanyulia, tell them to beware the curse of Rehoboam, he who claimed that his little finger was fatter than his father’s waist. Tell them to seek the wisdom of age.”

What is happening to the House of Jubilee is no laughing matter. Not even their vilest adversary should laugh at this. We need to worry instead, for the destiny of a whole nation is in their hands. This week there has been supersonic spillage of sewage. People have thrown raw manure at one another in horrid style. Perhaps the gods intended that it should come out in this style. When they took office, they locked out everyone else. Ours has only been to guess what was going on in that house. Now we hear of hundreds of millions of stolen wealth and of billions of more stolen wealth. Everyone shouts that it was everyone else who stole. So why did you previously deny when we said someone was stealing? No matter, one thing is not in doubt. Someone has stolen. Soon we will know whom.

What is happening in Jubilee is worse than a house in trouble, however. We are witnessing a government at various stages of atrophy, disintegration and collapse. The government is in free fall. If any elders are still left in that camp, they need to talk to the youth in charge. When the youth reign, a regency of elders guides them behind the scenes. For, wisdom and power are not known to reside in the same chamber. Let wisdom therefore reach out to power and talk truth to power.

Power itself must find time to listen to wisdom. As the poet said, “For the sword outwears the sheath, and the soul wears out the breast. And the heart must pause to breathe. And love itself have a rest.” Power must find time to rest and the tail time to listen to the head. The dog must wag the tail, and not the tail the dog. And Kenya must look in the reservoir for her sons and daughters of milder passions and tame appetites, to dislodge her from the sewage.

Henry David Thoreau Remembered For His Cynicism About Government

Nineteenth century American philosopher and essayist Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862) is largely remembered for his firm belief that bad government must be resisted. He is remarkable for his skepticism about the institution of government generally, and distaste for bad governments in particular. Governments, he said, are typically more harmful than helpful. Accordingly, they cannot be trusted. And because of this dubitable character, governments should not be justified. Unfortunately they can always buy apologists who justify them, especially when they are wrong.

Thoreau, in the end, saw government as a necessary evil. It was the duty of every citizen to contribute towards realization of tolerable government. The best way to do this is to resist or disobey bad governments. Regrettably, even democracy was not a cure for the flaws of bad government. For being in the majority does not necessarily give you the virtues of wisdom and justice. It is no wonder that in Kenya, for example, we preach the gospel of tyranny of numbers when we should preach wisdom and justice.

The notions of tyranny and democracy should never travel together. As pure numbers, African majorities have been no more than ignorant crowds.  They are therefore dangerous crowds. Such majoritarian mobs should not be trusted with important issues like deciding who governs. The wisdom of a ballot paper in ignorant hands is questionable. Universal suffrage in an ignorant population is certainly one of the drivers of bad government. In situations such as ours ignoramuses who don’t know why governments are formed easily outnumber the few people who know better. Yet, provided that ignoramuses are the majority, they will install government anyway. In 1998 Ahmadou Kourouma of Ivory Coast wrote about the African electoral condition as a matter of waiting for the wild beasts to vote.

Kourouma painted the tragic but realistic of democracy driven social and political hopelessness. You have landscapes full of bad leaders put in place by what passes for democracy. If savages are in charge, it is because “the people” decided. Kourouma cannot see the difference between such “people” and wild beasts. Hence the Kenyan political class has today retreated into ethnic enclaves pleading with local wild beasts in their corner to begin preparing to vote. They are not talking about the virtues of government or the good that they purpose to deliver. Focus is squarely on capturing power, or remaining in power. After that, you stay away from the “beasts” until it is time to mobilize them again for your selfish ends. And they often have no capacity to recognize that they are only “voting beasts.” But even if they do, they cannot resist.

Deputy President William Ruto has this week apologized to the people of Kericho “for having forgotten them.” The loss of a by election in a county ward in Bomet has woken up the ruling Jubilee Alliance to the reality that democracy is not just about raking in the votes. It is about distribution of the good life. When government forgets this, at some point even a docile majority will revolt. Kericho is sending a warning signal to the Jubilee Government. They will have to ask themselves a few honest questions on the sharing of the good life across the country.

The Deputy President has attempted to tease the unhappy people of Kericho with the thought that he has given them a Cabinet Secretary in the person of Energy CS, Charles Keter. But he will need to do better than this. People soon come to realize that they cannot eat a Cabinet Secretary. They also get to realize that what a Cabinet Secretary eats goes into his own stomach. He cannot eat for them, despite the merits of the feel good factor of being part of the government. If the people of Kericho feel excluded, the tokenism of a Cabinet position may not quite do the magic that more honest proactive inclusion could have done.

From another point of reckoning, Thoreau was a vehement tax resister. He believed that taxes should only be paid to governments that are truly accountable. Thoreau would hardly understand why we pay taxes in Kenya. Our leaders seem to believe that our taxes are theirs to loot. It is sad that all we seem to have heard of this government these past three and a half years is theft and cover up of theft. Institutions charged with prefecture excel in obfuscating things. The comedy of errors by the Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission in this regard must fill us up with grief.  This is an irrelevant institution that should be abolished.

It is up to the citizens to decide whether this is how they want to live, waking up everyday to mind boggling narratives of stolen billions of shillings. The people stealing from us did not blast their way to power through the barrel of the gun. They are at once philosophers, custodians and products of the cherished notion of tyranny of numbers. Yet it is just this tyranny that we are whipping up today.

Registering as a voter is itself a good thing. It is even a better thing to vote. Yet what is the value of your vote if it only perpetuates the same old rot – under the old guards or new guards? Indeed, those who rape our country take comfort and courage from the fact that no matter how badly they mismanage public affairs, the beasts will always be there – waiting to vote for them. After that the beasts can begin another cycle of lamentation about thieves until it is time to vote again. As Albert Camus would say, Sisyphus must be happy rolling his rock up the mountain, only for the gods of mischief to send it hurtling down again.

If Thoreau thought that bad government must be resisted and removed, in Kenya do we seem to believe that bad government must be supported, protected and encouraged? Whatever wretchedness we wake up to every morning, we have got just the kind of government we deserve.

You Are Likely To Hear About Money Than About God And Jesus Christ In Church Today

Is the church in Kenya excelling in selling indulgences to a sick and sickening political class? Can freedom from God’s punishment be bought in the church as was done in the Medieval Age? Can Kenyans buy blessings? Is the church a modern spiritual shop?

Tomorrow Sunday 14 February you are likely to hear more about money than about God. You might also hear about love for sale. However, regardless that you go to the house of worship or that you are intruded at home by televangelists, you are likely to hear about the earthly kingdom thrice as much as you will hear about God. And when you hear about God, it is likely that He is only the highway to worldliness.

In the Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries AD), money was personified and worshipped as a god. They called money mammon, borrowing from ancient Hebrew and Greek civilizations. The worship of mammon was typically characterized by excessive materialism and gluttony. Greed and unjust worldly gain and glory were its middle names. Even before these dates, the drift towards mammon disturbed the Patristic fathers of the Christian faith. Cyprian of Carthage railed against it, as did Jerome the son of Eusabius. John Chrysostom described mammon as pure greed.

Much earlier, Clement of Rome foresaw it all. He cautioned against welcoming it to the church. In 69 AD, Clement wrote an epistle to Corinthians, after the fashion of St. Paul. He classified Christian alms into three – daily sacrifices, peace offerings and sin-offerings. They were to be presented in the prescribed manner, “at the altar in front of the temple; and then only after careful scrutiny of the offering by the high priest and other ministers .  . . Anything done otherwise than in conformity with God’s will is punishable by death,” he wrote.

But has mammon taken over the Christian church in Kenya – and I suspect everywhere else in Africa? Everyday you hear holy people screaming at God in hoarse voices. And they mostly scream about worldly wealth. Christian glory has come to mean getting rich overnight. And so the men and women of God impatiently scream at God to let glory descend speedily. They throw up tantrums at God, in the name of prayer. The god they worship must be  deaf. For s/he can only hear them when they scream.

Have we taken John Chrysostom so literally? Traditional Christian liturgy is incomplete if the Prayer of Chrysostom is not said. “ . . . You promised that when two or three are gathered in your name you will grant their requests. Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be most expedient to us  . . .” Accent on “desires and petitions” and on “as may be most expedient to us.” And what seems to be more expedient to us than to get rich too quickly? To drive the latest model of cars and to live in gargantuan abodes, these are our most expedient desires.

Because of the foregoing, you will hear more about money than God in church tomorrow, Sunday. Ninety percent of the notices will directly or otherwise be on money. Only ten percent will be about evangelism and salvation. The modern Christian church truly gives God His ten percent. The modern clergyman has not understood John Chrysostom. Some have not even bothered to try to know him. If they did, they would keep profane political classes far from the altar. Or, they would accept them in their midst like any other congregants.

Chrysostom, the archbishop of Constantinople in the 4th and 5th centuries, distinguished himself for his eloquent and forthright sermons. People called him “the man with the golden mouth” on account of the substance and style of his delivery. He riled against abuse of authority by both religious leaders and politicians. He was not the type to interrupt the Sunday service because some powerful politician had walked in. He would not admit them to sit at the altar, to give “sadaka maalum,” or to “greet the people.” He would not defile his church with dubious money of unknown origins. Likewise, he would not place his hand on the heads of defiant politicians who came to church on Sunday to affect piety and would soon afterwards be on rooftops, abusing their political enemies and performing ridiculous rude dances before crowds.

Africa qualifies for a society that has eaten its values and left the crumbs and droppings for the rats to eat, too. We have heard of some countries on the continent where the man of God accepts blood-drenched money with trembling hands. They tremble not out of fear, but because of excitement in the holy man’s heart saying, “Money! Money! Money!”

The eating of our values began the day the church went to bed with the political class. And so we rile against the corrupt and greedily eat with them. The Church runs with the rabbits and hunts with the foxes. From the start to the end of the year, therefore, we hear about nothing but corruption, about which nobody seems able to do anything.

The moral and ethical pillars of society are rotten at the base. In 2008 Paul Washer published his Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church. Among these (not in his sequence) were: pastors malnourished in the word of God, an unbiblical gospel, a lack of compassionate church discipline, failure to address man’s malady and a silence on separation. Is this where we have reached in Kenya?

The war against theft and corruption is not about to be won. It cannot be won without the essential moral rearmament. Provided that politicians buy Christian indulgences with stolen wealth and blood money, corruption will not end. We can rile at the Judiciary as much as our hoarse voices can allow us to. We may call judges names and ask them to resign. However, nothing will change. The Judiciary is only the last firewall. It is the ethical pillars that we must address.

Our spiritual superiors must restore in us the capacity to feel ashamed of some people. We must restore the capacity to refuse to share even a cup of tea with some character, or to sit next to him. We must stigmatize, ostracize and traumatize thieves and their families. Only this can bring victory. It will not be achieved if our spiritual superiors teach us to prostrate ourselves before mammon and Beelzebub, the lord of the flies.

Guest Piece

We were only at the end of our second week as freshmen at the University of Nairobi in October 1979 when they sent us home. The previous week had been spent on registration amidst the excitement of orientation activities. We had immensely enjoyed listening to Prof. Joseph Donders who walked us through the motions of a rewarding life at the university. The Christian Union organized a weeklong of coffee activities called ‘Nyam nyams.’ Freedom was in the air.

Donders taught us how to read a six hundred-page book in one hour and how to enjoy the nightspots of Nairobi. He told us about such hideouts as Sabina Joy Day and Night Club, Hallians, Club 1900, Grosvenor, Starlight, Inn on the Park, The Garden Square, The Pub, Eclipse, Fransae, Hole in the Wall, Imani Day and Night Club and other places.

It was imperative, he said, that every university student visits these places, at least once in his or her lifetime at the university. This was not however to say that you should partake of the things that went on there. Together with my roommate and a couple of other varsity lads, we visited half of these places within ten days. We were overwhelmed by the sale and stench of love at Imani. Yes, it was a place to be visited only once, and a shocking eye opener to the seamy side of the city.

But this Saturday was the big day we had been keenly waiting for. We would enjoy our first Kamkunji at the university and march gallantly through city streets. The Second Years and the rest had thronged back at the start of the week. A notice had swiftly gone up on virtually all open notice boards that there would be a Kamkunji at the quadrangle in the Box. This was the place where a majority of the women lived, with a few in Hall Twelve. Mary’s Hall would come later.
The choice of location was because the female students were beginning to get tired of the Kamkunji’s and were staying away. The saying goes that if the mountain will not come to Mohamed, Mohamed will go to the mountain. If the Boxers would not come to the Kamukunjis, the student leaders would take the Kamkunji to the Boxers. On the agenda were two items. First, the Kanu Government had determined that Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and all former Kenya African Union (KPU) Party members would not be allowed to run in the general election slated for December. Second was the question of academic freedom.

Thrown in the elections mix was George Anyona, at this time a former detainee, alongside other members of Kenya’s fiery and dignified Third Parliament like Martin Shikuku and Jean Marie Seroney. While Shikuku and Seroney, who had accused Kanu of being dead, were cleared for the elections Anyona was thought to be far too hot to be allowed a new lease of political life. And so the headline on the front page of a leading daily paper read, “Anyona and ex-KPU barred.” We said NO.

Rumba Kinuthia, Gerald Otieno Kajwang’, Mukhisa Kituyi and a couple of others led us into the streets to announce our protest. We agitated for democracy and for academic freedom. The Jomo Kenyatta Government had detained Ngugi wa Thiong’o two years earlier. Although the new President, Daniel arap Moi, had released him alongside all other detainees on Jamhuri Day in 1978, Ngugi was not allowed to take back his job at the university. He had gone in for organizing community theatre in his native Kamirithu Village in Limuru.

The government was concerned that Ngugi was opening up the eyes of ordinary folk in the countryside to the true anatomy of the origins of their misery. Some said he had been jailed for writing Petals of Blood and Ngahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I want). Whatever the case, he was now a free man. Yet he was not allowed back to teach. We wanted him back.

The government closed the university the following day. They said that we should go back home to participate in the elections – which were still two months away – and to enjoy an early Christmas. They even gave us money, saying it was a refund of our capitation fees for what remained of the term. Never mind that we did not pay fees and that the government gave us an allowance that we called ‘boom,’ after the illicit coffee boom of the 1970s.

We went home. We enjoyed the boom, the politics and the early Christmas. Some of us thronged to Mathare Constituency. We registered and voted for Dr. Munyua Waiyaki, a darling of the university student community. We loved his charisma and courage. Had he not told off the redoubtable Attorney General Charles Njonjo over the thought of Kenya establishing diplomatic ties with apartheid South Africa?

The protest of October 1979 marked the beginning of unending confrontation that would see us lose a cumulative full academic year. Numerous issues in the country and beyond called for our voice and action. Each time we acted, the government reacted.  The only solution in their bag was to close the university. And so we went home over the assassination of Prof. Walter Rodney in Georgetown Guyana. We paid for commemorating the Sharpeville Massacre of March 1960 in South Africa and for remembering the murder of Steve Biko and of our own J. M. Kariuki. We were punished for calling for peace in Angola and Mozambique and for the independence of Southwest Africa, now Namibia.

On other occasions, we were sent away for marking the fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty in Iran, the excesses of the Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania, the introduction of the one party regime in Kenya and detention of our teachers. They came for Willy Mutunga, Shadrack Gutto, Mukaru Ng’ang’a, Anyang’ Nyong’o, Micere Mugo, Kimani Gecau, Katama Mukangi and many others. In the end, they sent us away for between eight months and one year, because of the dark day that was 1 August 1982.

Regardless, in an age when Nyayo harassed everyone into submission, the University of Nairobi – the only university in Kenya at the time – became the conscience of the nation. Many a young man lost the opportunity to complete their studies for hailing human rights and freedoms. Odindo Opiata, George Rubik, Carnell Onyango, Onyango Paddy, Anyona Kanundu, David Murathe, Rumba Kinuthia, Saulo Busolo, Mukhisa Kituyi, Titus Adung’osi, Aoko Midiwo and a gentleman I now only remember as ‘Mr. Efficacity’ rank among the finest in my time. And there were other silent ones. They churned out liberation leaflets and other literatures.

These youth walked in the shoes of such other greats before them as Wafula Siakama, James Orengo, Chelagat Mutai and Awori wa Kataka. As we left the University of Nairobi, the conscience of the nation remained in the safe hands of Mwandawiro Mghanga and PLO Lumumba, newly arrived.

A generation later, I read in the daily press of university youth who protest about food. They set property on fire. They burn buses, laboratories and libraries because of food and student elections. I cannot understand. What went wrong? Is this university material? Really? Even the intermediate generation of Kabando wa Kabando, Wafula Buke and Kent Libiso never did this kind of thing. I catch myself marveling at the tumble of the academic community to common scavengers for food and wooly materialism. Whence cometh our redemption?

It Is Hard To Believe That When Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan is the person credited with introducing the notion of the global village. The Canadian scholar is recognized as the father of media studies as we know them today. In 1962 he wrote about a seamless futuristic global community.

Modern communication technology was in the labour ward. McLuhan looked into the seeds of time. He saw great wonders in this global village. He predicted the coming of the Internet, as we know it today, and its benefits. Earlier, George Orwell had in 1948 predicted the coming of closed circuit television, after the fashion of the telescreen in the surrealistic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. These great minds suggested that the complexity and speed of communications would create a universal human awareness. Something happening in one corner of the world would reach the rest of the world instantly. And are we not there today?

We are one huge global village. Embedded journalists bring us happenings on battlegrounds straight into our living rooms and bedrooms, even as the war is happening. The whole world will be glued to TV sets for ninety minutes to watch a football event in a stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, or Cape Town. In his time, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior marveled at the wonders of science. For, was not science already chaining time and shrinking space? You could leave Tokyo in the morning of Saturday 6 February and reach Washington DC in the evening of Friday 5 February. This is to say that you arrived before departing! If they asked you, “When did you leave Tokyo?” you could answer, “I left tomorrow.”

Such are the marvels of science and technology. And these miracles have redefined us and will continue to do so. It is increasingly foolish to look at foreigners as outsiders in the traditional sense. Indeed, science and technology is increasingly making the Westphalian notion of the nation-state meaningless. There are virtual borders that are crossed in cyberspace without the need for passports and visas. They make prefecture and restriction of space completely nonsensical.

But have the gains of science and technology restored us into Thomas Hobbes’s “state of nature” In 1651, Hobbes imagined society in its original stages. He understood that human beings once lived as free molecules in the wild. There were no laws, no regulations. Everyone depended on sheer might to survive to the next day. It was a mercilessly competitive world. Has science and technology redefined competition in the global community?

Human beings can no longer sensibly claim exclusive rights to physical space in this day and age of cyberspace. Commercial and political protectionism of yesteryear will not work today. Draconian regimes across the world have failed to lock out information they consider harmful to their dictatorial interests. And now inefficient and slovenly business communities are taking the beating. In open commercial environments, technology savvy entrants are ringing circles around unimaginative slowcoaches. This saying was never truer, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs.” That is the alphabet of competition.

The global village is a ruthless competitive jungle. Only the finest will survive. You must compete on world-class standards. Even the village carpenter in Emanyulia knows that imports are here. He must beat them on price, quality and service. If he cannot, he is cooked. He cannot blackmail people with emotions and sentimentality about “patriotism to the village” and that kind of claptrap. The coffin from Hong Kong is here to bury his business.

The African endogenous business community must wake up to these realities or perish. Taxi operators in Nairobi and in Accra must embrace this reality. In the emerged global village, you have to be an innovator. But if you lack the capacity for innovation, then adapt, adapt, adapt – or perish. In 1962 Everett Rogers, another communications scholar, popularized the notion of diffusion of innovations. Innovators sit at the top of society. They are risk takers, willing to discover new things. When the rewards come, early adapters jump on board. Such people are aware of the need for change and will benefit from innovation. Both categories are leaders.

Then there is the early majority. These are not leaders. They cannot lead. However, they adapt new things before the average person does. But they are slow. They must see evidence that something is working before they embrace it. Then you have the late majority, the doubting Thomas lot. They are humdrum doubters and disputers. By the time they embrace anything, it is actually no longer new. For, newer things have arrived – and they are busy doubting them. This is where Africa largely resides, in the gutters of later adoption.

Late adapters are lucky that there is still another class – a clueless category of laggards. They are tied down to tradition and extreme resistance to change. Some don’t even know that things are changing. They are the type that will not even read this column, for they don’t even know that it exists. They are tethered to non-productive old methods in a tired old world.

If Nairobi’s taxi operators are not laggards, then they are at the very best a late majority. You may have seen that Kenya’s taxi operators are up in arms against new entrants from the USA, called Uber. The newcomers have arrived fully loaded with modern cyber technology that is sending shivers down the spines of the competition. You call them online see them on GPRS maps as they come your way. They arrive within five minutes. They are clean, courteous, efficient and cost almost half of what the others charge. Because of this, the late majority and laggards in this industry are throwing up tantrums. Rather than shift their paradigm, they want the government to throw out Uber! Such is the psyche that has kept Africa chained to poverty in an affluent global village. The continent must wake up to the benefits of science. If we cannot be innovative, if we cannot adopt, can we at least adapt?