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


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?

Race, Ethnicity, and Political Activism in Kenya

I have always found it interesting to watch, and sometimes to engage with, woke or we can say anti-government Kikuyu activist friends, complaining how all the plumb government appointments are going to Kikuyus. I have always thought this ranks incredibly high on the privilege meter. Complaining that a government is appointing a disproportionately high number of people from your community is a privilege other Kenyan communities can only dream of. So I ask:

If you were the dominant tribe in power and a tribalism-influenced government appointment came your way, would you take it? Or if you knew your tribe was statistically over-represented in government jobs, would you turn down an opportunity to work in government? Or you just make that argument because the political appointments at the top are more visible, and that the persistence of discrimination of other communities makes you, rather uncomfortable?

The big question: Is this activism based on altruism or solidarity with oppressed groups?

(You can replace the Kikuyu in this post, with Kalenjin, Luo, Kamba or any other community that may in the future, due to Kenya’s tribe-based political mobilization, ascend to power)

I hope this question is not very annoying: Does being a Kikuyu anti-government activist feel like being a white anti-racism activist?

Sociologist Cystal Fleming, in response to many whites admonishing Donald Trump’s racist remarks about Africa and Haiti, once remarked that “the main lesson most whites absorbed from the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t that they have a personal responsibility to fight systemic racism but rather, that they have a responsibility to maintain a public appearance of being ‘non-racist’ even as racism pervades their lives.”

Jesse A. Myerson wrote that “in this formulation, racism is not a system but an inherent quality within an individual, proof of which comes when they publicly espouse racist views or use racist language. By formally classifying Trump “a racist” (“calling him out”), well-to-do liberals are able to implicitly deem themselves “non-racists” while keeping the pervasiveness of the attitude that Africa and Haiti are shitholes where it belongs: swept well under the rug. In Trump’s case, “the problem, for many whites, isn’t white racism or dominance —the problem is a failed public performance of being ‘non-racist.’”

The problem with the public performance is that racism is not an individual quality; it is a hierarchical system of distributed power that gets mediated through people’s acts. The dominant liberal conception of white anti-racism emphasizes altruism. In this mode, white people must set aside their own self-interest in order to extend kindness to those less fortunate. Humanitarian assistance is rewarded, and those who practice it are hailed for their self-sacrifice and generosity.

“White people are encouraged to defer, shrink, and assist. It is not our fight, the white-altruism mode says, so we must strive to decenter ourselves and support black people’s “advancement” as peripheral allies, doing what kindnesses we can to compensate them for the privileges we enjoy. We must reliably articulate non-racist positions using suitably non-racist terminology, correct white people who fail to do these, and under no circumstances use racist language out in the open.”

Just like racism, tribalism is also not an individual quality, but a hierarchical system of distributed power that is mediated through people’s acts. This is the same way ethnicity works in Kenya. Kindness is extended to those ethnically oppressed. Altruism NOT solidarity. Solidarity demands collective action toward redistributing power. Altruism does not address unequal power relations, it entrenches dominance.

Is your anti-tribalism activism against the tribeX-dominated regime anchored in the goal of redistributing power or it is just to make you feel good -altruistic?

A Summary of the #PunguzaMzigo (Constitution Amendment) Bill – For Busy Kenyans

Oh, come on. Don’t be embarrassed about it. I understand. We are busy. It is difficult to get time away from our busy social media lives to read the new constitutional amendment hullabaloo. You are not alone. Perhaps you have stumbled on a Facebook post by a friend responding to the bill and maybe threw one or two comments in passing. Fair play. Or that tweet that clipped its wings even before it hatched. You know, the general stuff. How if Raila has not talked about it, or Uhuru, then it is going nowhere. You know. Deep state and stuff. How we comment on things we have not read. How we avoid specificity for the beauty of generalization. Or how Ekuro Aukot is I don’t know what. You know how we are. Don’t lie. Plus most of us are allergic to reading. Except for those who will read this. This service is brought to you free of charge.

It is all about kupunguza mzigo. Reducing the burden on Kenyan taxpayers.

THING ONE: Strengthen Senate and National Assembly and reduce cost of running National Parliament


  • Abolishing the 290 constituencies;
  • Adopting and using each of the 47 counties as a single constituency for purposes of parliamentary election to Senate and National Assembly;
  • Electing one man and one woman to the national assembly and to nominate only six members of parliament from special interest groups (SIGs). This will also consider gender equality so that of the sic (6) SIGs, there must be one man and one woman for each category. This, in fact, cures the elusive a third gender rule in Parliament.
  • Electing 47 Senators using the County as a single constituency.


THING TWO: Strengthen Devolution & Taking Services To Peoples Doorsteps

  • Increasing Counties revenue share allocation to, at least, 35% from the current 15%. The people of Kenya are in the counties, wards and villages.
  • Use each of the 1450 Wards of Kenya as the primary unit of accelerated development replacing CDF hence taking development to the people’s doorsteps.

THING THREE: End Gender Imbalance, Inequality and Address The Elusive 1/3 Gender Rule In Elective Positions



  • End historical gender inequality and ensure that Kenyans elect one man and one woman from each of the 47 Counties to the National Assembly. This abolishes the women representative position.

THING FOUR: Demystify The Presidency & End A Culture Of Electoral Violence Associated With Power Of Incumbency



  • Introduce a one 7-year term presidency


  • To end the “do or die” culture of re-election that is responsible for the history of violence, ethnic and political tensions
  • With two terms, the focus has always been on re-election rather than service delivery
  • One-term presidency will be ending theft of public money
  • stop the cyclical economic meltdown caused by incumbents clinging to power
  • Reduce wage bill.


THING FIVE: Reduce Public Wage Bill And Recurrent Expediture.

  • Reduce cost of running parliament from current KES 36.8 billion to less than
    KES 5 billion per year. This saves tax payers KES 31.8 billion.
  • Abolish nominations in the National Assembly (except for 6 SIGs), County
    Assemblies and Senate.
  • Stop wastage of public funds and cap salaries of elected leaders to a maximum and consolidated pay of KES 500,000 for the President and KES 300,000 for the MP per month. All elected leaders will not be paid any other allowances (sitting allowance, car grant and Mortgage allowance). SRC to determine salaries of other elected leaders.
  • Abolish the position of Deputy Governor. The Governor to nominate from among the duly vetted and appointed County Executive Officers, one of them to be his principal Assistant for purposes of administration. In the unlikely event of the position of Governor falling vacant, the Governor to be elected in a fresh by election.
  • Constitutional commissions to comprise of not more than 5-part time members who will be sitting on a necessity basis and shall be paid a sitting allowance per sitting as will be set by the SRC


THING SIX: Enforce Integrity, End Corruption & Theft of Public Money


  • Amend Chapter 6 of the Constitution to automatically adopt recommendations of public inquiry and audit reports and bar all adversely mentioned individuals from holding any public or state office. This will end both impunity and corruption and instill a culture of accountability for those serving in the public service.
  • Corruption and theft of public resources cases to be tried within 30 days and all appeals to be exhaustively concluded within 15 days.
  • Impose a life sentence for suspects convicted of corruption and theft of public funds. No presidential pardon and amnesty will be applicable in those cases.

THING SEVEN: Reduce Cost of Running Elections & Registration of Voters


  • Every Kenyan at the age of 18 and who acquires a national identity card shall be deemed to be a fully registered voter for purposes of elections and referenda.


  • To save Kenyans and IEBC billions of shillings for the continuous registration of voters.


That is it. Not too long, right? Now have quality discussions about the bill that actually talk about the contents of the bill itself and what it hopes to achieve and not those general statements we all make just because we are too lazy to critique the specific aspects.

Click here to read the entire Punguza Mzigo (Constitution of Kenya Amendment) Bill, 2019

The (Un)Broken Promises to Youth and Women in Kenya


A recent study, The Kenya Youth Survey Report, at the Aga Khan University found that today’s youth do not consider being corrupt a big deal. They do not consider how one makes their money important so long as one does not go to jail. Young people are optimistic about the future materially, but expect that the levels of corruption is going to increase.

Even though Article 10 of the Constitution of Kenya espouses national values and principles such as good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability, and Article 3(2) provides that “Every person has an obligation to respect, uphold and defend the constitution”, the study also found that the youth of today are afraid to stand up for what is right and may not be relied upon to defend the constitution. This dominant culture of apathy, indifference and tolerance to corruption threatens to erode the gains made since the promulgation of the new constitution in 2010.

The youth constitute the most economically disadvantaged segment of the population. An assessment by the World Bank reported that Kenya has one of the highest youth unemployment rates among developing countries. Kenya has the highest youth unemployment rates in East Africa despite having the biggest economy. Disadvantaged populations are economically and socially excluded and face may barriers to success that may have negative implications both today and in the future.

Article 10 of the Constitution of Kenya calls for equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality, non-discrimination, and protection of the marginalized groups. It is on this premise that the government created affirmative action funds to improve the economic engagement of youth, women and persons with disabilities (PWDs).

A recent study by The Institute of Social Accountability (TISA) used a social accountability approach in measuring the extent to which the youth are able to exercise accountability in youth funds. The study looked at three aspects: transparency, accountability, and public participation. Jipeshughuli is a youth participation in governance campaign which seeks to empower citizens as a means of combating widespread corruption.

There are four main funds that targeting the youth, women, and PWDs. The Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF) was established 2006 to create employment through the promotion of entrepreneurship by providing loans services to small and medium sized enterprises. In 2007, the Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) was established to provide accessible and affordable credit and/or expand business for wealth and employment creation. In 2013, as an initiative under Vision 2030, the government also created Uwezo Fund to expand access to finance and promote women, youth and persons living with disability led enterprises at the constituency level. To date, YEDF has disbursed Kshs 11.7 billion to 850,000 beneficiaries, WEF has disbursed Kshs 6.3 billion to 63,342 women groups, and Uwezo fund has disbursed Kshs 5.2 billion to poor people at the constituency level.

Transparent systems ensure that there is availability of information to the public and clarity about government rules, regulations and decisions. A transparent government empowers and supports the right of citizens to know, which enables them to monitor the implementation and performance of affirmative action programs. More than half of the target population for the funds do not have access to information due to limited publicity at the local level, according to the #Jipeshughuli study.

On the other hand, accountability means that government officials are able to account for or take responsibility for their actions. Citizens who are socially accountable have the capacity to hold the state to account. In the case of affirmative action programs, there must be clear and practical mechanisms for addressing grievances from fund officials, as well as space to appeal to higher level supervisory and oversight bodies to ensure that services are rendered efficiently. Issues of accountability persist. Corruption remains an unending sore in the administration of the funds. From the TISA study, 13 percent of applicants for YEDF were asked for bribes, 15 percent in WEF, and 14 percent in Uwezo fund.

Article 10 of the Constitution also demands rule of law and participation of the people in policy and legislative processes. Participation builds on individual and collective capacities to enhance the willingness and ability of citizens to engage with government officials, local leaders, and service providers. Active engagement of citizens with local governance fosters democracy. The degree of public participation remains worryingly low. Take for instance, in the TISA study, 73 percent of YEDF beneficiaries stated that the officials did not involve youth in the management of the fund, 63 percent of women were not involved, and up to 81 percent of Uwezo fund beneficiaries decried lack of involvement in the fund affairs.

There were various measures that should be put in place to reduce corruption such as inclusion of beneficiaries in management, regular monitoring, enhancing transparency, rotation of officials, and digitization of the process. Public participation remains minimal, and there is need for more involvement of beneficiaries in the design of these funds.

The efficiency of the YEDF can also be improved by simplifying the loan application process, rolling out a robust training and mentorship program, and expanding access to the fund through increased budgetary allocation. The conditions for collateral and guarantors continue to lock many women out. These prohibitory collateral requirements disempower the youth, women and PWDs and deny them access to affirmative action funds.

The Death of Europe




Her lyre rots unplayed by countrymen,
Sovereign Queen half-sleep, watches
the diseased sceptre of the Great Empire.
her enlightenment torches, clouded
by a miasma of complacency, die
as peasants and Cambridge elites
cheer on Thames bank.
The boat race has ended, the camera is dead
past glories run to the pod – to hibernate.

The devil’s tears beneath Arabian deserts
is angst and barters with long stifled ire,
cards crush under cheap Chinese shoes;
above the table a new rule is blessed.
Days of opium for sugar are long buried
and Africa: yesterday’s pot of hope,
bleeds gold and diamonds no more:
her ravenous striplings
guard her stores day and night.
She is pregnant with the world – again.

Europe’s holy sins butcher like graffiti
bathing on sighs of awaited tumult
the calabash is broken, the pot leaks
the past has risen to rob the present
of a glorious mat spread on mire.
With World War laurels dirty and torn
the Union eats the hands of democracy
jotted on fading sovereign titles and notes,
twenty seven bouncing boys yesterday – now
they close their eyes one by one – to everlasting rest.

Richard Oduor Oduku ©2013

On Tear Gas Monday: How to turn a section of the public into a virtual propaganda arm of the government

I woke up to find so many Facebook updates with the phrase ‘Tear Gas Monday’ or TGM. This is in response to CORD’s protests against IEBC in Kenya. The protests are scheduled for every Monday, probably, until IEBC commissioners are thrown out of office, as the opposition says. These protests have been characterized by police brutality and excessive use of banned and poisonous tear gas.

The phrase ‘Tear Gas Monday’ awoke the keyword INTERNALISATION in mind. In psychology, this word means ‘installing’ objects/ideas into the ego in such a way that it becomes integral to a person’s sense of self. When fully internalized, a person grows to fully own these concepts, even consider them normal. In sociology, it is how a person accepts a set of norms and values, and how they shape the person’s inner self. Both versions are drawn from Lev Vygotsky’s work. Now if we can jump to political science, propaganda does the job of ‘installing’. Propaganda usually starts from the government (and the political system) but after some time it grows to become a part of society.

In a country such as the United States, propaganda has grown past the government, it now happens without government censorship or coercion. The ‘truths’ in propaganda have become an internalized belief system, and this is what makes it possible for media personnel, or what we call ‘global media houses’, to be enthusiastic spokespersons in pushing US propaganda, and give it a naturalness that often lacks in crude propaganda that is created and pushed by the government. The ignorant masses of course do not recognize the media’s propaganda role and accepts the self-image of the media as an independent, adversary, truth-seeking entity that helps the public to exert meaningful control over politics. Noam Chomsky says that once propaganda is internalized by the public, deviations and dissent are derided as foolishness or pathology, and should be excised.

When writing about Yugoslavia, Raju Thomas says that in such situations, where propaganda has been internalized and institutionalized, “the media can be used to display a form of hysteria that helps mobilize the public in support of whatever forms of violence the government wishes to carry out”. In essence, the public and media becomes “a virtual propaganda arm of the government”. Now if I’m to map this onto the Kenyan scenario, it is exactly what it means when you hear the public use terms like ‘Tear Gas Monday’ etc.

If this internalisation continues, and things like extreme cases of brutality become more accepted as normal, the media and public would have created a perfect environment for the government to develop and implement structures of disinformation, right in front of the public’s eye and the public will not see.

In the end, you can gain who wins and who loses – the government, media, or public.

Corruption and the moral incentive to do right



The issue of corruption in Kenya, and in African countries generally, is that political leaders and public service employees lack the moral incentive to do right. When I talk of moral incentive, I mean what motivates individuals to do right. But refusing to eat is not considered ‘right’, ‘proper’ or even an ‘admirable’ thing to do in Kenya. In fact, refusing to dip your fingers into the pot is viewed with hostility and disdain, both by the government and the public. Until we transition towards a culture where clean hands is rewarded in public service, not even constitutional commissions and statutory bodies will help us.

In Kenya, people who are corrupt, or who fight corruption, are more likely to be hounded, not only by fellow employees, but also the ‘ogas at the top’ – if I’m to borrow a little from Nigerians. They are viewed as obstacles to a life nourishing river of corruption. Whistleblowers have been known to be sacked and thrown into oblivion to die in poverty. Our societies glory wealth irrespective of how it is acquired. A gun-toting thief who buys stuff for his villagers/watu wa mtaani will be lionised and protected, so is the most corrupt politician.The honest, hard working fellow, who has not an extra coin to throw away to frivolities, will be talked down upon, despised and placards of stinginess taped on his name. If you don’t bribe the electorate (euphemised as ‘gonyo jopiny’ in Luoland) you will not win any election in Kenya.

And if you are a honest guy, your professional expertise, whether you are an engineer, manager, doctor, community mobilizer, an artist or street sweeper will not be used as examples of success when parents are talking to their children. It is the drug dealers, the thieving politicians, and the known shady individuals who will be feted and their stories of ‘rags to riches’ told to children, in conversations, in motivational books. Corruption in Africa is a culture issue, not entirely a resource mismanagement issue. We, the public, in different ways, whether it’s buying jobs or lionising the evil among us, provide the manure for corruption, but evil is evil, and unfortunately, it grows fat and strong, sits on our bended backs, and whacks our asses like nobody’s business. Its madness.

The Politics of Dismissal & the Gay Debate

Reading helps us to think in ways that were initially foreign to us, and for some of us pursuing better and more advanced ways of thinking, reading is so much important. I was reading Sarah Ahmed’s essay, ‘Against Students’ on The New Inquiry, in which she talks about the politics of dismissal and how the ‘problem student’ is conceptualized in our societies.

She talks about how different student protests can be conveniently dismissed by posturing arguments such as “they are suffering from too much will”, they have “weaknesses of moral character”, they represent a “general decline in values and standards.” All these arguments help to dismiss, sometimes genuine student concerns, and sweep them under the carpet because the administration, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to deal with them.

Now that the gay debate is once again, all over, I was thinking about this argument, this politics of dismissal, to the gay debate, and whether I could see something. Most emotional arguments against gay persons lament the demise of humanity, ‘the end of the world’, ‘Jesus is coming’ or even those comments that implicitly voice ‘disgust’ and ‘anger’ at how other people, not related to them and not under their direct care, are living their lives.

Of course in all these cases, there is a certain assumption of purity or ‘righteousness’, of ‘living the right life’. But then we can as well ask ourselves a question: what then is the ideal life, and how many people are living it? How, in my mind, is other people’s sexual lives less ideal, and why should its less idealness make other people, not party, to the consensual act angry? But more importantly, I was thinking about what such dismissal justifies. Does a dismissal of their agitation for equal protection under the law justify the need for their persecution by law or by people, their being cut off from the face of humanity, a sort of ‘cleaning up’. I’m also interested in such kind of thinking because Africans, I think more than any other race, have suffered from this politics of dismissal.

And every single day you wake up “you sense the vigour of the sweep. How convenient.”

A Snake in the Gourd – #GarissaAttacks



When death is bounteous, and every flower is tattooed with the names of the dead, mourning is profound and prolonged. Sack clothes are worn and dirges clothe the air. The sheer immensity of death means it will not escape conscription into collective memory, into unwritten history books.  They become the fodder of national narratives. They become the eternal voices in oral narratives. Mother’s rocking their newborns remind them, for a thousandth time, how in the year XXXX, so and so happened and so and so was killed. And the children when they grow up, and marry, and birth – they too, when rocking their children to sleep will sing them a dirge-turned-to-lullaby about the year XXXX when so and so happened. And every day, old memories are etched on the minds of whimpering children suckling on mothers’ laps.

It is easy to talk about radicalization, while standing from a pedestal of self-righteousness, and wonder why him, why did he become that?

“He was a Kenyan Somali; a member of the Degodia Clan that was viciously attacked by the Kenyan military 31 years ago, and who have never received any justice since. He was 26 years old (I think) with a fine taste in suits. He graduated from University of Nairobi in 2013 with a Bachelors Degree in Law, scoring a coveted Second Class Honors, Upper Division. And his name was Abdirahim Mohamed Abdullahi,” Magunga says (2015).

“The City of Garissa in Kenya’s North Eastern Province (NEP) (Now Garissa County) has been on the top list of the most peaceful cities in East and Central Africa for over twenty years. It is the provincial headquarter of NEP as well as the administrative center for Garissa District. Named after a riverine local Pokomo elder or farmer called Karisa, Garissa became a recognized settlement in 1936.  Majority of the inhabitants of Garissa are ethnic Somalis.”

“For decades, Garissa had been under the radar of Kenya security and intelligence agencies primarily because the region was under martial law decreed immediately after Kenya’s proclamation of independence.”  Adan Makina says (2010).

It is easy to justify, using religion, because the argument is simple: A+B=C. Which may be true, but sometimes it is not that simple.

As we mourn with each and every family of the students massacred in Garissa, the question of why such a person can be radicalized, is as important as our exhortations of ‘no stone will be left unturned’.

In Luo, there is a proverb saying “thuol odonjo e ko”, literally translating that, “a snake has entered the gourd”. That is the situation we are in today, and Kenya is the gourd. Our own are radicalized. We know of histories of repression, disenfranchisement and the Kenyanness scale. We know how and why such histories can create people who have never nurtured any sense of belonging, who cannot be co-opted into our refrains of “justice be our shield and defender/may we dwell in unity, peace and liberty/plenty be found within our borders.”

What do you do when there is a snake in the gourd? Do you break the gourd? History can teach us something. We cannot rewrite history, but we can learn from it, even as we reflect on why anybody who is repressed or disenfranchised can be radicalized.

We can also begin looking at that other side of the coin.

My heart goes out to the innocent students caught up struggles they know little about, and the gallant officers who responded to a call of duty.

May you Rest In Peace.