“Nyadhi” – A Luo Philosophy of Self-love, Self-virtue, Achievement and Honour

A friend, defined the Luo concept of “Nyadhi” the amalgam of pride, style, and confidence. I found the definition a little light, not meaty enough. I also remembered the definition of nyadhi and its translation into English, which in most cases takes the form of a combination of pride, style, confidence, arrogance etc often left something out. It is a question we’ve struggled to tackle many times with another friend. The definition of nyadhi as pride + style + confidence, feels light. I differ with the idea that nyadhi was universal to the Luo Nation’s DNA and everybody, by virtue of being a Luo, had it. I argue that it was an ideal that was pursued and could be achieved. I attempt to bring broaden the understanding and illustrate its definitions among the Luo.

When we approach nyadhi philosophically, we find that it relates more to self-love and self-virtue. It is akin to what Aristotle called Philautia (in Nicomachean Ethics and Eudemian Ethics) – “to love yourself” or “regard for one’s own happiness or advantage”. Philautia, understood as self-love, can be positive or negative/ healthy or unhealthy.

Healthy self-love is closer to what grows from what the psychologists call high self-esteem, that is, a high cognitive and emotional appraisal of selfworth. It is a matrix through which one thinks, feels, acts and reflects on one’s relation to oneself and to the world. High self-esteem should not be used interchangeably with self-confidence, because self-esteem encompasses how one evaluates all the other emotional states such as triumph, adversity, despair, pride, shame and many others.

Unhealthy self-love is akin to hubris. This is the self-obsessed love. It is an inflated sense of one’s status, abilities, and accomplishments, accompanied by haughtiness or arrogance. While healthy self-love dedicates oneself to the search of truth, wisdom, justice and beauty; unhealthy self-love is not in accord with truth and promotes injustice, conflict and enmity. Unhealthy self-love, is what the Buddhists expressed as desires of the self, which is the root of all evil, unless it is balanced with karuṇā (self-compassion).

Healthy self-love must pair “the love of oneself” with self-virtue. This, I believe, is the same foundational philosophy of nyadhi among the Luo. It is for this reason that ‘Nyadhi’ as a philosophical concept is found alongside others like Pakruok, which is an incantation of one’s own or another person’s praises by members of the audience in turns between songs. Pakruok is not just about self-praise but an expression of social and personal relations through poetic talk or in storytelling (“gano” – tell a story, “sigana” – story). Pakruok is also referred to as “chamo nyadhi” which is a display of virtue or simply “virtue boasting” or “self-laudation.”

Professor Bethwel Ogot, in “Kenya: The Making of a Nation: A Hundred Years of Kenya’s History, 1895-1995″ refers to nyadhi as “virtue boastingbut also adds that “or just plain Luo arrogance.” I don’t agree with the second part, but it is understandable, in the context it was used, because he was describing Hezron Gumbe who used to emphasize to his youthful children that “odak ka ja nanga” to imply that he was a civilized being, putting on clothes, an elite who lived like a white man, complete with bicycles, table manners and serviettes, and mandatory piano lessons at the British Council Conservatoire of Music for the children of elites in the 1950s.

Nyathi was an ideal people aspired to and some achieved. It was not something you are born with simply because one was a Luo. Luoness was only a path one could travel to achieve nyadhi. Nyadhi is virtuous, and dressed in solid achievement. It is not over-confidence or vain boastfulness.

When David Parkin in The Cultural Definition of Political Response: Lineal Destiny Among the Luo” (1978) 
explained that “the recognition among the Luo that socioeconomic status is most easily observed and measured through the achievements of an individual rather than a group is expressed in the concept ‘sunga’ (a proud person)”, Dr.Benjamin M. O. Odhoji – who has written abundantly about the Luo – was quick to point out that “sunga” does not accurately translate to a “proud person” but simply pride aka “a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements.”

In Dholuo Grammar for Beginners, Peter Onyango Onyoyo uses nyadhi and pride interchangeably, but goes ahead and specifies that nyadhi is pride usually in a positive sense. This definition does not take into account the virtue component in nyadhi simply because of the lack of equivalent word in English. Niemeier-Dirven and René Dirven in “The Language of Emotions: Conceptualization, Expression, and Theoretical Foundation” clarify that while “sunga” and “nyadhi” are virtually some form of proud, nyandhi has positive while sunga has negative connotations.

Style in nyadhi should be understood in the context of how Odoch Pido defines it in “Jaber: Reflections on a Luo Aesthetic Expression” defines nyashi as befitting finesse. I’m tempted to believe he refers to high taste as it was understood before Kant’s publication of a Critique of Judgement severed the concept of taste from its moral sense and reduced it merely to an aesthetic one.

If you read Margaret Ogola’s “The River and the Source” you’ll see that the sentence “He rose beautifully to the occasion. After all style had to be met with style, nyadhi with nyadhi” shows a clear difference in meaning between the two concepts. In another section she defines Owuor Kembo, a young single chief, as a person of “great nyadhi, that is full of style and presence”, denoting that style is an important element, but only in the presence of honor and achievement (a young chief).

In the old days, a young man could become ja nyadhi when his father gave him a ceremonial shield (okumba), which was a source of pride and he could brag to his age-mates and peers, or showing his shield (kuot), an indication that his father loved him. Paul Mboya’s “Luo Kitgi gi Timbegi” (p. 157) explains that while okumba was made from buffalo skin, kuot was made from cow skin. Okumba was bigger and heavier in size and was carried by senior warriors in war, or was simply held as a ceremonial shield. I’m illustrating this so that the idea of honor and achievement becomes very clear. In those days, hundreds of years ago, elephants and buffalos and most of the big game used to roam Luoland.

If we borrow from the understanding thatPhilautiacan either be positive or negative, then we can understand why Peter Onyango Onyoyo stresses that pride in nyadhi must be of the positive sense, which when we add to the conceptualizations of Ogot and Odhoji which incorporate a virtue sense, then despite the lack of an equivalent in English, we can conclude that the Luo concept of nyadhi is healthy self-love and self-virtue, and since, as Aristotle taught that virtue is the highest good, so was nyadhi, self-love and self-virtue which manifested as high and positive levels of achievement, at the personal level, and at the societal level.

This is the definition that is captured in “African Philosophy as Cultural Inquiry”, which defines nyadhi as “the practice of displaying one’s worth, which can comprise of possessions, moral qualities, intellectual abilities, or some coveted social or professional role. What is displayed need not be actually possessed, for it is sometimes enough that a person only identifies with such publicly coveted qualities and achievements as a way of playfully enhancing and displaying one’s perception of publicly recognized values” (p. 97).

It is in the element of Pakruok that this display of perceived possession is allowed, that a person may make claims for him/herself which both the person and his/her audience know to be false in real life. In this sense, nyadhi and pakruok are close to each other as playful social norms. This Pakruok, in the sense of chamo nyadhi, can manifest, in meetings and discussions, when people’s socioeconomic status are expressed as initially lavish displays of prestige competition through cash donations.

Another central element of Pakruok is humour, which is used in nearly the same way Marcus Tullius Cicero argued for wit and humour in oratory. Cicero noted that knowledge of very many matters was important, “without which oratory is an empty and ridiculous swirl of verbiage (volubilitas inanis atque irridenda est)”, but “to this there should be added a certain humour, flashes of wit, the culture befitting a gentleman, and readiness and terseness alike in repelling and in delivering the attack, the whole being combined with a delicate charm and urbanity.”

Pakruok generously employs wit and humour.

On the whole, Nyadhi ought to be understood as part of the Luo philosophy of self-love, self-virtue, achievement and societal honour – all ingredients of a well-lived life.

Our cultures and languages are rich, and our philosophies are complex and beautiful. We should study them more and integrate the most beneficial elements in our daily lives.

Coronavirus Wakes Up PPE and Sanitizers Manufacturing in Kenya

Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI): Manufacturing rapid testing kits for Covid-19 to ramp up testing and begin population surveillance. KEMRI is also manufacturing the virus transport medium. The capacity is 20,000 litres are made per day.

Kitui County Textile Centre (KICOTEC): Manufacturing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), especially masks. Can produce 30,000 masks per day.

Rivatex East Africa (owned by Moi University): Manufacturing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), especially masks. Can produce 8,400 masks per day.

One of the 70 tailors hired by Rivatex East Africa making face masks to be used in the fight against coronavirus

Dedan Kimathi University of Technology (Nyeri): Manufacturing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 1,000 body suits for medical staff already distributed. 7000 face masks distributed to boda boda operators, community health volunteers and enforcement officers.

Technical University Mombasa (TUM): Manufacturing Automatic sprayer sanitizing systems.

Mount Kenya University: Manufacturing hand sanitizers and distributing for free to staff, entire university stakeholders in the offices, gates and other strategic locations. They have plans to extend production and distribute to the public.

Kenyatta University: Have developed a prototype for the much needed Ventilators, branded as “Tiba Vent”. The prototype was developed by 16 students. The University has capacity to make 50 ventilators every week. The manufacturing cost of each unit is approx Kshs 500,000.

A student conducts a demo during the launch of the locally assembled ventilator.

Government: Has reached an agreement with textile manufacturers to produce PPE. Ministry of Trade and Industry say that the material which is in stock among the manufacturers is sufficient to make 60 million masks with immediate effect. The masks will sell at not more than Kshs 20.

The East African Breweries Ltd Foundation: Partnered with two Nairobi-based industries (HACO Industries and Tropical Brands) to manufacture and distribute free hand sanitizers to vulnerable Kenyans across the country. The brewer committed Sh50 million to fund the production of 135,000 litres.

Vivo Energy Kenya, Total and Ola Energy (formerly OiLibya): Committed to produce at least 20,000 litres of sanitisers daily to support the government’s fight against the spread of coronavirus.

This is the attitude we need as a country. Exploiting existing technologies to create solutions for our problems. It is also a wake up call that we should not overly depend on global supply lines for essential medical equipment.

Toying with Data: Kenya Needs 100 Billion to Effectively Deal with Coronavirus

The Ministry of Health Director General, Patrick Amoth, postulated that with increased testing, the number of coronavirus cases may increase to 1000 cases by first week of April, 5000 by mid-April and 10,000 by end of April.

With thousands of cases, it is conceivable that Kenya may decide to implement a complete lockdown, for 14 days, for 21 days, or maybe a whole month. Anything to ‘starve off’ the virus from the population. But how much would the government need to avoid complete breakdown and deterioration to anarchy and political instability in the midst of a health and economic crisis?

Let us look at some figures. We’ll make assumptions and when we do, we’ll explain the roots of those assumptions. Take it easy and let us just have some fun and some thinking of possibilities.


People are broke in Kenya. Hatuna pesa. Around the world most countries offering a stimulus package are including a cash subsidy to households to insure families against lost income. In Canada, anyone who has lost income due to the Covid-19 pandemic qualifies for up to $2,000 a month for up to four months. The United States is working on a “Phase Three” stimulus package proposal that includes $500 billion in direct payments, including a $1000 payment to all adults, excluding millionaires and billionaires. Most of these would be available to anyone with a taxpayer identification number. See what Australia, China, Germany, France, Italy, UK, India, Brazil etc are doing here.

In the United States, the conversation is now changing to coronavirus checks aka direct deposits to citizens. How will it be sent, when, and who will get the money? Millions of Americans are about to receive help from Congress in the form of direct cash payments. An American that made less than $75,000 in 2009, will be eligible for the full payment of $1200. Couples that jointly made less than $150,000 will get $2,400 and “heads of household” who earned $112,500 or less will get $,1200. For every child in the household, you will receive an additional $500. These checks will be received in April.

So why not us? We need money to go directly into people’s pockets. The informal sector represents 83.1% of the country’s total labor force, that is 13.1 million. A majority of these jobs will be lost in a lockdown. This is also the sector that employs over 60% of the country’s youth.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), 74% of Kenyans in the formal sector earn less than Kshs 50,000, that 1.9 million at the end of 2017. Out of the 2.6 million salaried workers, 36% earn between Sh20,000 and Sh29,999 per month. The bottom wage bracket (earning below Sh20,000 a month), mainly made up of minimum wage workers such as house servants, drivers, secretaries and low-ranking teachers and police officers, that is according to Business Daily. The World Bank reported in 2018 that the proportion of Kenyans living on less than the international poverty line (US$1.90 per day in 2011 PPP) declined from 46.8% in 2005/06 to 36.1% in 2015/16. However, the Kenya National Food and Nutrition Security Policy Implementation Framework (2017-2022) estimated that “about 50% of the Kenyan population fall below the poverty line.” These are the people most affected by food and nutrition insecurity.

We can estimate that 50% of Kenyans will need some kind of financial support to buy food. However, identifying the poor and food insecure households will open all manner of corruption games. Kila mtu apewe yake. Opt-in upewe or you can voluntarily opt out of the scheme. Should this money be sent to individuals or households? The first volume of reports released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics on the 2019 Population and Housing Census reported that the country’s population was 47,564,296 people, or 12,195,973.33 households. The average household size was estimated at 3.9. If we use households, then:

Cash transfer to households (Kshs)                          5,000.00
Number of months (1 month)                                        1
Number of households                     12,195,973
Total budget             60,979,866,650

The government can set aside Kshs 61 billion to support households to access food for 1 month, as the country implements a 21-days to 1-month lockdown to ‘starve off’ the virus, flatten the curve, or eliminate it from circulation. The government can impose a rent freeze for the duration of the lockdown.

From the recently concluded National Census, we can assume KNBS has the details of each head of household.

This money can be distributed to household heads through mobile money transfer. During the FY 2019, Safaricom carried out over 11 billion transactions, averaging 500 transactions per second. This means that Safaricom has the capacity to transfer money to all the 12.2 million households in a single day. Safaricom also has a database of the identity of all persons registered on M-Pesa and can be used to carry out additional screening and authentication of recipients. The government can also work with Safaricom or any other appointed telecommunications provider, under a special law established by parliament, to create specific accounts for these kinds of transfers, and also include additional security such as the ability of a spouse to authenticate withdrawals pesa ikiingia.

Invest in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Intensive Care Units

We need goggles, faceshield, fluid resistant medical or surgical masks, gloves, disposable gowns, disposable overalls, surgical aprons, waterproof aprons, waterproof boots, head covers etc.

During the heart of the Ebola virus epidemic, the CDC created a PPE Calculator that health facilities can use to establish their PPE needs. For an ICU, these are the PPE the frontline health workers need:

Nurse with patient contact Doctor with patient contact Trained observer Env cleaning Lab staff Total PPEs/day Item cost Total Cost/ICU/day
Masks (N95 respirator + surgical hood and fullface shield) 10 10 5 5 5 35 1000 35000
Gown 2 1 2 2 2 9 1000 9000
Coverall 2 1 0 2 2 7 1500 10500
Glove, extended cuff 12 2 2 12 4 32 1000 32000
Glove exam 4 2 2 12 4 24 2000 48000
Boot/shoe cover 4 2 2 12 4 24 1000 24000
Fluid resistant apron 2 1 0 2 2 7 5000 35000
Number of persons per shift 3 1 2 2 1 9
Number of shifts per day 2 2 2 2 2 10
Number of staff per day 6 2 4 4 2 18

Note: While the estimations of recommended PPEs for nurses, doctors, observers, cleaners and lab staff, and shift planning are obtained from the CDC PPE Calculator, the prices are obtained from various online sources, including Nairobi Safety Shop, Alibaba, Chinese manufacturers pages, Amazon etc


These are the PPEs frontline healthcare workers need per day per ICU. If we estimate the costs, from various market price sources, we can estimate how much is needed to safely and efficiently run an ICU that can deal with Covid-19 patients.

We can deduce from these numbers, that healthcare workers will need PPEs worth 193,500 for each ICU each day.

But do we have adequate ICUs? No. Let us assume that we want 1000 ICUs build our capacity to a level where we can manage an upsurge in Covid-19 infection rates and disease severity.

How much does an ICU cost?

Some years back, the World Health Organization did a survey on what constitutes an ICU at district level hospitals and the cost of medical equipment that constitute what we can an ICU. I don’t know the extent to which these figures deviate from what can be sourced now from manufacturers, but here they are:

No of items Cost Total
ICU bed 4 150000 600000
baby cot 4 45000 180000
trolley, general purpose 1 25000 25000
Trolley, instrument 1 22080 22080
Trolley, dressing 1 15000 15000
Infusion stand 4 4800 19200
ECG Monitor 2 742277 1484554
Infant radiant warmer 1 118000 118000
Infusion pump 4 25000 100000
Syringe pump 4 15000 60000
Refrigerator, general 1 70000 70000
Patient monitor 2 500000 1000000
Spotlight 2 1900 3800
Mobile X-ray unit 1 4700000 4700000
Defibrillator 1 265118 265118
Sunction machine, electric 2 70000 140000
Ventilator, adult 1 1200000 1200000
Ventilator, infant 1 850000 850000
Patient trolley 1 26680 26680
TOTAL                                   10,879,432.00


From those WHO estimations, we’ll need Kshs 10,879,432 to establish 1 ICU. A thousand ICUs will cost Kshs 10,879,432,000.

We need PPEs worth 193,500 for ICU every day. For a three-months (90 days) intensive battle with Covid-19 across 1000 ICUs, we’ll need PPEs worth 193,500*90*1000 =  17,415,000,000

In terms of personnel, 18 frontline healthcare professionals (nurse – 6, doctor – 2, observer – 4, cleaner – 4, lab staff – 4) every day, covering all the shifts are needed. That translates to 18000 healthcare professionals to treat patients in the 1000 ICUs (6000 nurses, 2000 doctors, 4000 observers, 4000 cleaners, 4000 lab staff) and isolation centers.

I’m assuming the personnel will be drawn from the existing workforce and trained. However, since the healthcare capacity is already stressed, additional recruitment is necessary.


Coronavirus Testing

It is still not clear how much the coronavirus testing kits will cost. The values range from $1 to $20 to $350.  Researchers began validation trials on a Covis-19 diagnostic test that can be done at home and produce results in as little as 10 minutes – all for $1.The plan is to manufacture the tests in Senegal and the United Kingdom and, if the validation testing meets regulatory standards, they could be distributed across Africa as early as June.

The UK government has also bought 3.5 million finger-prick antibody tests to be used for testing Covid-19. Tests by SureScreen, a British company, cost £6.

The Northern Ireland-based firm Randox Laboratories is seelling home Covid-19 testing kits for £120.

Most of the tests sourced from China, including the ones returned by Spain and Turkey over quality issues, cost £15.

In the United States, Bloomberg estimated that commercial tests will cost between $50 and $100, according to physicians. The physicians provided those numbers based on conversations they had directly with commercial labs, like Quest Diagnostics Inc and Lab Corp.

Since Kenyan government procurement notoriously tends to be a little bit on the higher side, we can estimate that each kit will cost $100

For 10,000 kits to be deployed for random testing across the country, that would translate to Kshs 10,000*10,000 = 100, 000,000.

Isolation Centers

This week, photos hit us on social media about the Lagos Isolation Center, a 110-bed facility which is located within the Mobolaji Johnson Arena to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The isolation facility is divided into operational sections, including Intensive Care Unit (ICU), regular-bed wards, pharmacy department, doctors’ quarters and consulting rooms. The facility is also equipped with ventilators for the use of patients that may develop acute respiratory symptoms. They are marvelous!


It is not clear how much these cost to build but we definitely need something like that.

We’ve already budgeted for 1000 ICUs, which will have ventilators for those with acute respiratory symptoms, so we can estimate the cost of isolation centers with mostly regular-bed wards, pharmacy department, doctors’ quarters and consulting rooms. We can estimate the cost at Kshs 150,000 per bed, translating to 150,000*1000 = 150,000,000.


Patients in isolation centers as well as healthcare professionals working in the isolation centers also need PPEs. The government also needs to procure drugs as well as provide other essential services in medical settings. There is no easy way to estimate this, but according to the Kenyatta National Strategic Plan (2013-2018), the recurrent expenditure was projected to rise from Kshs 11.907 billion in 2013 to 15.643 billion in 2018 Kenyatta hospital has a capacity of 1800 beds with over 6000 staff members.

If we were to assume similar spending patterns, then annual expenditure for the 1000 bed isolation and treatment center will be Kshs 8.690 billion, and if the centers were only to operate for 3 months, the expenditure would be Kshs 2.172 billion.

So how much does the government need to respond effectively to coronavirus?

Cash transfers to citizens 60,979,866,650
PPEs 17,415,000,000
ICUs 10,879,432,000
Covid-19 testing 100,000,000
Isolation centers 150,000,000
Treatment costs 2,172,639,000
TOTAL 91,696,937,650


Kshs 92 billion. Let’s just say the government needs Kshs 100 billion in its pocket to be on the safe side.

In brief, if the government was to implement a complete lockdown for 1 month, support families to buy food, invest in PPEs that can last frontline staff for 3 months, add 1000 ICUs to the healthcare capacity, procure 10,000 Covid-19 testing kits, and establish 1000 isolation centers across the country, the government would need an estimated Kshs 100 billion.

The Economist, David Ndii, suggested a lifeline fund in the order of 0.5-1% of GDP or Ksh 50-100 billion as sufficient to save the situation.

I’m inviting people who are better than me to also try to crunch the numbers to see if the government has the money to back some of the things it is saying, and whether it is serious about implementing them.


Disclaimer: These approximations are based on the sources that have been linked throughout the document. This is just an exercise in critical thinking. I’m not the government.

How China Controls the Global #Christmas Market

China does not even recognize Christmas. Yet China controls the global Christmas market. The Christmas tree, is one of the most popular Chinese exports. The West and even the poor third world get their artificial trees from China. To put things in perspective 51.3% of Christmas trees come from China. China controls 60-70% of the global sales of the Christmas market, with China earning upwards of $3 billion every year.

Source: iContainers

There is a special production zone, the Yiwu area in the eastern Zhejiang Province. There you’ll find 600 factories and workshops. All of them produce Christmas products to be exported to the Christian world. China has built freight train lines that run from Yiwu directly to London, Madrid, Prague, and Tehran. The Yiwu-London rail runs a good 12,000 km and crosses France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia, and Kazakhstan. A journey from Yiwu to London takes two weeks.

Production is all year round, with breaks occurring only during the Chinese New Year in January or February. Production goes on even on Christmas day itself. Orders, however, begin arriving in the Summer, meaning that the busiest season for producing is in June and July.

Of course all Christmas trees and decorations littering African cities and middle-class homes in Africa travel all the way from Yiwu.

While we beat ourselves silly about nonsense ways of growing the economy, we should start thinking about product lines and how they fit in the consumerist culture, globally.

Every time you sing your twinkle twinkle little song around a twinking twinkling plastic pine tree at the corner, China’s economy expands a little.

They don’t care about Jesus or his birth though. That’s your business. They are smart. They see your Christian beliefs and symbols as a market. And they satisfy it, every year.


(Lessons? What if Kenya can have a special economic zone in each of the 47 counties specializing in a single product line, exploit economies of scale, and target African markets?)


Rethinking Tribe and Ethnicity in Relation to Political Mobilization in Africa

One of the most polarizing issues in our politics, as is the politics of most African countries, is how we think about tribe, about ethnicity. We think of ethnicity in an entirely negative way, and when it comes to politics, we do not know how to merge the idea of tribe, which is viewed as archaic, and the idea of democracy, in which politics should be contested based on ideas meant to shape policy. Despite this ethnic-mobilization, called by other names, has remained at the heart of political mobilization and competition in Africa.

So when we say our political parties lack ideological grounding and direction, we mean that they do not espouse certain ideas that would make their policy proposals to be different from other political parties. The reason why we do this is that we have been influenced by how Americans and Europeans talk about political ideology.

So you have conservatives on one side and liberals on the other, and sets of hybrids of varying degrees and formations in the middle. The American conception of political ideology often erases the contestations between ethnic groups: White Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans etc

Political parties certain ideologies or policy orientations and then try to appeal to the demands of each of these ethnic groups.

In essence, though indirectly, these ethnic groups are understood as political constituencies that may have demands that are unique to them.

The idea of ethnicity often presupposes certain ideas of supremacy. Every ethnic group pursues some kind of supremacy against others.

In the recent elections in Britain, we have seen how what each ethnic group perceives to be the effects of Brexit has influenced how they’ve voted. The people of Scotland, basically the home of the ethnic group – Scots, voted en mass against the Boris Johnson government and Brexit. The Scottish National Party (SNP) took 48 out of the 50 Scottish seats. In short, they want a different future from the one chosen by much of the rest of the UK. I’ll not be surprised if the push for Scottish independence becomes louder in the next months.

Northern Ireland, on the other hand, lost to Boris, with the Democratic Unionist’s Party’s poor performance, but there is still a push for the Irish Border and talks reminiscent of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

What I’m trying to say is that even in mature democracies like the UK, ethnic groups and their different demands continue to share national politics.

One can say there is no difference between the Scottish National Party and say Luo National Party or Kikuyu National Party.

Perhaps, what our intellectuals failed to achieve, is to educate us on what ethnicity means and how it is not always a negative connotation, but most importantly, perhaps we have never taken time to imagine that maybe just maybe the different regions and ethnic groups of Kenya may have a completely different imagination of what kind of a future nation they envision.

The politics in the UK always mirrors Kenya’s politics because of the English supremacy (Great Britain) over the Scots, Welsh, and Irish.  The histories of the English conquests of Scotland and Ireland are worth reading, up to the political integration through the Acts of Union 1707 (Wales, England, & Scotland), Acts of Union (Wales, England, Scotland, & Ireland), and Anglo-Irish Treaty (Wales, England, Scotland, & Northern Ireland).

These contests are still ongoing. The stability of Great Britain is no more different than the constituting nations of Nigeria or Kenya, the only difference is that in the former case, the constituent nations actively and directly negotiated their position in the Union, while in the Kenya and Nigeria cases – desperate nations were simply bundled together.

When one reads it this way, one can say there is really no opposition politics in Africa, what you have are nations/ethnic groups that are disenfranchised and alienated because did not have a chance to sit down and say what they wanted before they were bundled into a “country” during colonialism and so over the past 50 years after “independence” they are fighting against the ethnic group that currently holds the supremacy position.

What if we viewed tribe as a political constituency (devoid of negative connotations)? Is there anything inherently wrong with politically mobilizing on the basis of tribe/ethnicity?

So what if, instead of pushing what we are calling democracy, we accepted that different ethnic groups/peoples/nations have different aspirations, capabilities, uniqueness etc and that we should create a framework where each ethnic group, recognized as sovereign, can contest for their future at the table.

I’m thinking that would kill the structure of colonial states we currently have and bring into being a more natural, organic, and cooperating ethnic groups (within what we currently call “countries”) across the continent of Africa – or basically what would have happened if colonialism didn’t happen.

These are developing thoughts, I’d like to hear what you think, especially the criticisms and the danger of this kind of imagination.

This can be read together with this Is Majimboism the Answer to Kenya’s Political Problems


#WajingaNyinyi – King Kaka

For King Kaka, a highly successful purveyor of urban rap music, to release #WajingaNyinyi, a track that speaks truth to power, unsettles the government, is incredibly brave. This is an important addition to the classic protest culture of hip hop and spoken word, and an incredible and powerful fuel to political discourses attempting to imagine Kenya and Kenya’s politics differently. Great production, with pared down beats to allow the bite and power of his penmanship and voice to rule, and a full course of unvanished truth.

t is not that #WanjingaNyinyi by King Kaka tells us what we don’t know. That is not the point. What he serializes is what we talk about daily in Facebook posts and what is splashed on the front page of daily newspapers. What the music does, and this is the reason it can be tagged as revolutionary, is that he translates the dysfunctions of a nation – clothed daily in civil terms – into the raw, gritty, unadorned unpretentious language of the streets.

He does what great protest and revolutionary music does, to translate and transform the complex, into the simple and lucid, into the language of the street, the language of the common man, and in so doing educates the public in a form and medium that transcends the restrictions on public awareness placed by the tools the government has been using to manufacture public consent.

Mainstream mass media, the radios, news, and the TV, as we were taught by Noam Chomsky, can be co-opted by the state and government and deployed as effective and powerful ideological institutions whose job is to carry out system-supportive propaganda function. #WajingaNyinyi speaks to the street, to the common man, to the people who can rise against the government, and that is why the political system is afraid. That is where the power of #WajingaNyinyi lies. He is telling the people to stop being stupid and start holding the system accountable, and no one likes to be told they are wajinga. And you can only prove wewe si mjinga if you act. It is a direct call to action!


Are You Really Speaking For The People You Purport to Speak For?

To what extent are you truly speaking for the people you purport to speak for?

This is the question I encountered a decade ago when I stumbled on the philosopher feminist theorist Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?”

Can the voice of the subaltern be heard?

The “subaltern”, a term originated from Antonia Gramsci’s work on colonial hegemony, referred to “those colonial populations who were socially, politically, and geographically outside the hierarchy of power of a colony and the empire’s metropolitan homeland.”

The core of the argument was that the subaltern had to adopt western ways of knowing (thought, reasoning, language) and abandon their own ways of knowing the world (thought, reasoning, language) to be able to speak to their oppressors in a way they could hear and understand. This meant abandoning culturally customary ways of thinking, with their own knowledge systems being increasingly relegated to the domains of myth and folklore.

The colonized, the oppressed, the slaves had to speak to colonizer, oppressor, slavemaster in a language not their own. But to truly represent their case, academics and experts arose, to explain the oppressed to the oppressor. The oppressed, the subaltern, had to surrender knowledge to the western trained academic, in order for their true explanation to reach the oppressor.

Bell Hooks, in “Marginality as a Site of Resistance” (1990) described the relationship between the academic and subaltern as:

“[There is] no need to hear your voice, when I can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain, I want your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you, I rewrite myself anew. I am still author, authority, I am still (the) colonizer, the speaking subject, and you are now at the center of my talk.”

Disregarding Spivak’s warning of over-broad application of subalternity, and instead adopting Homi Bhabha’s assertion of the importance of social power relations in defining subaltern social groups as the oppressed whose social presence is crucial to the self-definition of the majority group, I have been grappling with these same questions over the past few years, in relation to the new contexts of struggle and activism.

The urban activism phenomenon offers pretty good lens to look at what Bell Hooks spoke about. As an activist (whether human rights, LGBTI, anti-FGM, gender-based violence, extrajudicial killings, democracy, youth empowerment etc), to what extent is the language you have chosen to speak about these issues aligned with the language the oppressed, marginalized, and disadvantaged are using? Are you communicating what they are telling you or you have just co-opted their stories for your own use?

Is it possible that most people who have gained fame and fortune fighting against these vices have become what Bell Hooks phrases as “I am still author, authority, I am still (the) colonizer, the speaking subject, and you are now at the center of my talk”?

Do they know you get millions to speak about their stories in conferences in the city?

It is easier to speak against tribalism and tribal superiority thoughts when you are living in a metropolitan urban area, but to what extent are these values you hold congruent with what is held down there in the villages and if not, why?

What is the distance between you and the people you fight for?