We Have the Say!

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— By Cecil from Kenya

The 2007-2008 post-election violence that Kenya experienced was all due to ignorance, ignorance of the fact that we were, as citizens, just but pawns in the politicians’ game of chess. They manipulated our feelings, incited our animosity and fanned the flames of hatred that were drawn along ethnic lines.
In Kenya, there are around 43 tribes. What richness in diversity! However, with time, this diversity has morphed into negative tribalism where each tribe seeks to have the larger piece of the national cake.

In 2007, during our national elections, there was the resounding hope that the government would leave power. I remember that our entire extended family had camped at our house for three days as we awaited the results that we hoped would favor the opposition. Funnily enough, with the surety that those we supported would win, we bought a music system ready to welcome the results with celebration. When the results were contrary to our expectations, we were entirely gob-smacked. We felt like we needed to do something, but what?

As people went out on the streets to contest the results, an undesired president was sworn-in in the dark of the night as a ploy to ensure that the citizens would have to accept the outcome. Indeed it was justified that we as citizens, the people with the say, were angry and rather disappointed that in a ‘democratic’ nation, our views were still swept under the carpet in such a condescending manner. It was as if the elections were just a formality with a predetermined winner. It was as if we were automatons ordered to execute whatever our ‘owners’ instructed. However, the line was crossed when politicians who felt duped used their supporters to perpetrate crimes that bordered, or even were, crimes of madness.

Some politicians, from their podiums, were and are still heard echoing statements such as, “Use machetes on those who are against us”. Such statements fueled cruelties that range from the murder of over 50 unarmed Kikuyu women and children, some as young as a month old, by locking them in a church and burning them alive in Kiambaa village near Eldoret, to the cold blooded shooting of civilians who were protesting in the slums of Nairobi. Tribalism continued to peel off its mask and reveal itself in its rawest form when women were raped and their husbands killed in the Rift Valley regions, when looters broke into stores and made away with whatever valuables they found in deserted cities, and when the displacement of people occurred all throughout the country.

Schools were closed, workplaces shut-down, and most other Kenyans, including myself, were locked in their homes, in fear of stepping out to an embroiled and volatile environment. Life was indeed brought to a standstill! However, if we, as Kenyans, knew our worth, and realized that we could express ourselves in other ways apart from violence, we would not have caused the death, displacement, and heartbreak of many. We should realize that politicians could potentially use us as tools, but the line should be drawn when they want to use us as tools for evil.

The anticipation surrounding this year’s election is palpable. It seems to be a two horse race between, Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, who are the children of the founding fathers of the nation. Their rivalry dates back to when their fathers, Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga, had differences on how power would be shared right after independence in 1963. Thereafter, Jomo became president and Oginga the leader of opposition. Seeing that the two were from the different Dholuo and Agikuyu communities, the ‘vendetta’ seems to have transcended generations and is at full swing once again this year. The unease in the air can be felt by all, as each of these and other language groups prepare to take their place on the political table, and if possible, snatch the highest seat. There is also the fear that what happened in 2007 will happen again. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission promises a free and fair election with the incorporation of digital voting, which we really do want. However, this time, if rigging occurs once again, we shouldn’t be used by politicians to accomplish their own self-centered desires, but in a spirit love, we should draw together as a nation and speak up for what we believe in….WITHOUT VIOLENCE.

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What Can we Learn from Traditional Healers’ ads?

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— By James from Kenya

Walking in the streets and on the roads of Kenyan cities, towns and even small shopping centers, you are likely to find so many posters pasted everywhere advertising different things. This period of time, being an election season, the most common will be posters of different politicians promising heaven to the mwananchi, the citizen. But on a closer examination, you will discover a rather curious category of these posters. These are posters from waganga wa kienyeji, traditional healers. This is the gist of this article.

I can’t say for sure when these waganga wa kienyeji, traditional healers, started advertising their services publicly, but I am sure there is no city, town, or shopping center in Kenya that you will miss these posters. They seem to occupy any clearly visible point. Their major spots are the electric poles, street lamp poles (the few that are available), walls, pavements and on flower pots (particularly in Nairobi). Note that they don’t bear any official stamp of any respective administrative authority.

The content of the posters, mainly on cheaply designed black and white A4 papers, is the name of the healer, an introductory line saying, “Helps in:” followed by a list of burdens the healer lifts from people. Some healers write their messages on rectangular pieces of plywood, I guess for durability, then nail them especially on electric poles just above the danger warning from the electricity company.

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A poster in Nairobi CBD. The Healer can help in Love matters, business, men’s libido, lost items, and quick money.

The healers’ places of origin are all curiously superstitious and stereotypical. Every region (at least in Africa) has those places that are “respected” for witchcraft. In East Africa we have Sumbawanga (Tanzania) and Kitui (Kenya). The coastal cities of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) Mombasa (Kenya) are also mentioned highly maybe due to the belief that these regions are frequented by jinns. Therefore, most of these healers claim to come from one of these regions.

And what do they heal? An assortment of “ailments”.

Among the five healers that I sampled, their services are in the areas of love matters, business issues, identifying a thief, homestead protection (certainly against witchcraft), Men’s libido, court cases (to be ruled in your favuor), increasing riches, treating madness, providing magic rings (hope not from the land of Mordor), TB, epilepsy, impotence, promotion at work places, charms for body protection, and least of them, women’s libido.

One Dr Muhamed, whose posters are all over Nairobi CBD, can help you in the following areas: Love, Business, men libido, returning anything lost and quick money. Meanwhile, Dr. Eru, whose posters compete for same spaces with Dr. Muhamed’s, can help you in: Lost lover, lost items, family affairs, marriage, riches, business boosting and men’s libido. Dr. Rashid on the other hand advertises in Karen, Nairobi. If you need anything on love, business, identifying a thief and homestead protection, then he (or is it a she?), is the person to see.

Four hundred kilometers west of Nairobi, the towns of Rongo and Nyabohanse are not left behind. They receive these services. Although all traditional healers seem to read from the same script, the one in Rongo is a step further because he can help you get the coveted Green Card and Visa to the US. In Nyabohanse, though there are several advertisers, one deserves to be mentioned here. The healer is the only one I noted that helps in women’s libido.

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A traditional healer’s notice at Nyabohanse town, Migori County. Among other things, the healer can increase women’s libido.

These cases set me thinking. Where are the adverts prevalent? Among the poor or among the rich? A spot check in Nairobi’s upper middle/upper class residential areas of Lavington, Kileleshwa, Kyuna, Karen and Spring Valley as well as slum areas like Kibera and Kayole bear these adverts. Nairobi CBD that experiences people of all walks of life bears them too. So I am at difficulties to ascertain the main target of these services.

Another thought that passes my mind whenever I see these services advertised so aggressively is the gravity of the issues advertised. It pays to mention that cure for men’s libido is the most frequently mentioned followed by love and third comes business. Can this be used to draw a conclusion that libido is a serious concern in the Kenyan society than even the want for money?

Should the trend worry the nation?

Gender & Inheritance Among the Kuria People

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— By James from Kenya

The Kuria community is a Bantu tribe found at the border of Kenya and Tanzania, near Lake Victoria. Traditionally, Kurians were subsistence farmers and cattle keepers. But with the advent of modernity, they have greatly metamorphosed. They currently occupy every kind of profession such as finance, military, administration, medicine, engineering, business, etc.

Culturally, it’s men who inherit property among the Kurians. A woman’s position is with her husband, it was believed. And even this way, the inheritance of a woman who did not bear male children was a complicated issue. For such a woman, it meant that all her daughters would be married off and the woman would remain alone with no one to inherit her property or advance her lineage – for only a son could carry on someone’s lineage. So by extension, a mother without a son was generally deemed childless (which was not the case). Therefore, the Kuria community, just like many cultures in the world, values the boy. A sad thing according to me.

Due to these cultural complexities, there were some cultural practices allowed to compensate for the two issues: inheritance and lineage continuity. The “Nyumba mboke/nyumba ntobhu” was the savior. “Nyumba mboke” is a cultural arrangement where a barren woman (not necessarily that she was barren, for the problem could have been with the husband, but she remained faithful to him) or a sonless woman was permitted by the culture to take a younger woman and stay with her. This younger woman has the right to choose a man of her liking to sire children with her. The children of this union were assumed to belong to the older woman, thereby ensuring that the inheritance remained in this household and that the older woman’s lineage did not terminate.

Several points are worth noting here.

First, it should be noted that there is no sexual relationship between the two women as portrayed by some outsiders. It is not a lesbian relationship. Actually, the younger woman refers to the older woman as mother. A quick check on the internet yields articles that assume that a sexual relationship occurs between the women.

Second, this arrangement is only permitted under two circumstances – where there is no son, or where there is no child at all. Again, outsiders have erroneously come up with other circumstances under which the union can occur (e.g. where the husband is absent). *Read an article written by Gabriel Samuels of The Independent on July 29, 2016: http://www.independent.co.uk/…/straight-women-kurya-tanzani…

Third, the younger woman gets to choose the man of her liking to be her companion and whom she should make children with. It should be noted that the man has no claim whatsoever over the children born out of this relationship. *Read Marie Claire: http://www.marieclaire.com/cult…/a21668/the-tanzanian-wives/

Despite the fact that this cultural arrangement has given women some sort of peace of mind for a long time, it has several major challenges. Essentially, older women who take a younger women have usually reached menopause, meaning that they are advanced in age. Thus, a woman starts taking care of “her children” in her old age when she herself should be receiving care. This becomes a burden.

Meeting the daily demands (both social and economical) for such a household becomes a task. From my general observation, the young women who enter such arrangements are in most cases lacking in western education. Hence, making ends meet in a world that is dependent on western education becomes a challenge.

And, as Marie Claire notes in her article (above link), the biological fathers are not compelled in any way to take care of the children born from this arrangement. This breeds and cultivates irresponsible parenthood. And as it is, these households are more likely to lack a father figure. Thus, the development of the children is disadvantaged in some way.

The words “Nyumba mboke/nymba ntobhu” translate to “the weak house” or “the house of women”. These terms are derogatory in nature in a community that is predominantly patriarchal. The meaning attached to the words impacts how people view themselves or how they view others. So, this household is generally viewed as weak and incapable of supporting itself (which in some cases is wrong). Therefore, the children of this household may grow up thinking that they are inferior or that they are not as worthy as the other children in the community.

Although the “Nyumba mboke/nymba ntobhu” practice is decreasing (contrary to what outsiders have painted), property inheritance among women in Kuria culture still tends to cater to traditionally held views.

The Most Misunderstood Part of my Community

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— By James from Kenya

I am a Kenyan citizen with a keen interest in my country’s cultures. I come from the Kuria community which is found in both Nyanza province of Kenya and Mara province of Tanzania, thus falling within two countries. The Kuria community has many cultural practices; some commonly shared among African communities but some are uniquely Kurian.

For instance the way we give names to our children is quite unique. Our community has 6 distinct names reserved for first born. There are three names for the first born sons and three for the first born daughters. These six names happen to be our most common names. These names are Chacha, Marwa and Mwita for sons, and Boke, Gati and Robi for daughters. To this end you may think that anyone bearing any of these names is a first born. Hell no! The Kurians also have the practice of naming after their relatives. For instance I am called Marwa, an obviously first born name; which I am not. Actually I am named after my grandpa. My surname is Mwita because my father is my grandpa’s first born son.

Among the Kurians, it is also a normal thing for names to cross the gender boundary meaning you can find a boy bearing a traditionally female name such as Boke, Gati or Robi. Equally a girl may bear a traditionally male name such as Chacha, Marwa or Mwita. My younger brother is named after my grandma. Still following, Good so nominally, since I am named after my grandpa and my brother is named after my grandma; my brother is my wife! Yes. I know. It gave us a great deal of embarrassment during our childhood for older women would always refer to us using our grandparents’ relationship—husband and wife. Sorry I digressed. Back to our six names!

Due to our naming practices, the six names easily dominate other names. And as I move around the region, I always encounter a very curious question whenever I introduce myself to people: “Why is it that every Kurian name I know is either Chacha, Marwa or Mwita?” Should I be answering this question with the history of our naming practices? No! I always tell the askers that they should learn about the Kurian culture.
I tend to think that our naming practice is the most misunderstood part of my community—easily the most misunderstood until you encounter the Nyumba Ntobu.

PS: The Kuria community has thousands and thousands of other names 😉

Pawa 254 – Where Nairobi activism and art meet

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— By Millicent from Kenya

There is nowhere interesting like a place that brings out the giant in you. Pawa 254 is this place for me. A place that most Kenyans associate with human rights, activism, poetry and art. This is the office to one of Kenya’s renowned activist Boniface Mwangi. He is always on the forefront to fight oppression and through this place he has opened space for creative aspiring minds. This magnificent place shares the same road with where our president’s office is.

The main office which occupies the second floor is a work of art. The seats and the interior décor are creatively designed to give a warm welcome to visitors and work as a motivation to the people who work there daily. The office management has also invested in a nice conference facility. The rooms are vibrant and colorful and help spice up the meetings that are held there.

Pawa 254 is my favorite place but more specifically its rooftop has my heart. The rooftop is indeed a piece of artwork; graffiti on the walls will welcome you while, on the stairs before, the amazing view of Nairobi city steals your attention. On one of the walls, the graffiti is usually a picture of great people. The day I paid the rooftop a visit, the graffiti on the wall was for Mohamed Ali the great boxer.

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I felt that I was indeed connected to greatness and that I could do anything including flying from the rooftop. It felt good taking a picture next to it as how else would I document this moment? There is a small fish pond at a corner of the rooftop with a few fish in it. At the center of this pond, there is a fountain that supplies water to the fish. Looking at it while feeding the fish gives the feel of renewed strength. Sitting on this rooftop and marveling at the artwork is a great way to refresh one’s mind.

The view of Nairobi city is the highlight of this great place. Moving closer to one of the corners next to where Ali’s graffiti is, you perfectly see the city landscape. The architecture of the city buildings is clearly visible from this point with one being able to distinguish the tall ones from the short ones. The city skyline is also visible and beautiful from this point. Sunrise and sunsets are perfectly experienced from this place creating a perfect moment. Social environment in this place is so friendly that it is impossible to distinguish a visitor from the people who work here on a daily basis. People are ever happy and bubbly. On one corner you will see people cracking jokes and laughing hysterically while in another corner others will be discussing art and appreciating it.

Pawa 254 has a special place in my heart. I may not visit this place as often as I would like to but it is etched in my heart. It is my recommendation to anyone visiting Nairobi to pay the place a visit. It is open to everyone and without a doubt it is a second home.

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Was Christmas Part of the Change?

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— By Millicent from Kenya

A few days to Christmas and I can clearly say it is nothing close to the Christmas back in the day. Christmas used to be the in thing growing up. Shops and malls would have Christmas decorations from the first day of December, the radios would pay Christmas carols and in churches there would practice Christmas carols every day for the big day. If there was a voting process for the best holidays, it would shame the other holidays. Growing up in the city, I never had the chance to celebrate it in the rural areas like my other friends. A few days to Christmas, my other friends would pack and leave with their families for rural areas for Christmas celebration. Since I have never celebrated one in the rural area they would say it is crowned with feasting and slaughtering of animals. In most rural areas, farming and cattle rearing is the source of livelihood hence slaughtering animals is one of the ways to celebrate this day.

People like me who celebrated it in the city, it meant new clothes, shoes and a lot of eating. The clothes part is what many cannot forget especially with the memories from the photographs. Back in the day, our parents would buy similar clothes for all the siblings. Girls would look-alike and so would boys. Food was in plenty. Plenty meant that all the cuisines from our tribe and the country in general would be part of the menu. Chapatis would always be the highlight of this day. Chapati is a type of bread consisting of a dough that is made in round shapes and cooked on a pan with little oil. During the year, chapatis were often cooked on Sundays or when there were visitors. It is only during Christmas that it would come in plenty with no limitation. To top things up, Christmas would not be complete without the kids being taken for a day out at the amusement parks. Christmas was indeed a wonderful holiday. The whole family would unite on this day and the smiles on everyone’s face would indeed prove that it was worth the wait.

Since you have a clear picture on how Christmas used to be back in my days let me also describe to you the current Christmas to know why they are nothing close. Lately they have neglected it unlike before. Very few people are paying attention to it from corporate, businesses and individuals. Businesses that would paint and put up Christmas decorations no longer do that. Could they be so money minded that they think it is an expense? People who used to travel upcountry no longer do that and they have jumped into my family’s bandwagon of staying in the city during the festivities. If you listen carefully you will hear them blaming the high cost of transportation as their reason for staying behind. It is not bad to stay behind but what will the people in the rural areas think about them? That they have abandoned them? Anyway, it is not in my place to dig deep on this.

New clothes are no longer a mark for this great day. People are always buying them with the pop up of new fashion so there is no need to wait for Christmas to do it. On chapatis which used to be the landmark for this day, they are now available everywhere and anytime losing their uniqueness. Years have revolutionized what Christmas used to be. The touch of family, great meals, carols and decorations are no longer there. It is nearly being turned to a normal off day where you take a two days rest and get back to work. I wish more would be done to restore the happiness and memories that came with this day. The lost glory of Christmas to be returned. It would be a shame if future generations in my society will not get to experience Christmas the Kenyan way. Hearing them say “Kenyans used to celebrate Christmas like this” will be a heartbreaking statement. I know change is inevitable but it is best we preserve each and every little touch that we can.

I’m not my complexion

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— By Samantha from Kenya

Today I logged into a popular photo sharing app, as I was scrolling down my feed I came across a photo that I really liked. I proceeded to clicking on the persons’ page and the first thing my eyes met turned my amusement into disappointment; ‘Only light skins allowed, No dark skins.’ was written in the persons’ bio. My self-esteem dropped. I felt inferior and I was really angered by that sentence but, unfortunately, that was not the first time I had encountered such a ‘phrase’. I have watched movies and documentaries where the ‘darker tone’ was never the preferable choice, where a child is asked to choose between a good and bad, or ugly and beautiful tone. For many of their choices, the dark doll was bad and ugly… while the light/white one was the good and beautiful one.

You see I am a dark-skinned girl here in Kenya, my complexion has been downgraded and perceived as both dirty and ugly. Social media has tarnished my complexion and made ‘us’ seem as some sort of prey to be devoured by ugly memes through which we are compared to light-skinned girls. Polls are created where people are asked whom among the two, light versus dark skinned girl, is prettier, or who seems to be likely more successful than the other. Because of this, more dark-skinned women lighten/bleach their skin to ‘look prettier’. They use bleaching or ‘lightening’ products that will have a more repel effect on them in the future. Such products only worsen their natural beauty! With the fact that they disguise their true natural complexions with industrial bleaching agents, that make them ugly and plastic, they become industrial pawns to be laughed at and ridiculed by society. I personally know this because I have a relative who uses this kind of products.

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examples of memes and comments on social media

In a time where racism is ripe in the West, here in my country I feel racism is germinating before our eyes. It is a problem brought during the Colonial Era, and then it sparked after colonialism was over. The Westerners discriminated us for being black, now we discriminate our own race based on our complexion. The fact that someone from your own race passes judgment on you based on of your skin tone is dumbfounding. It utters the fact that some people…well we all need a re-evaluation on how far we have come as a race. Systematic racism is a plague.

I have made peace with that really awful ‘statement’ and realized that, only what we allow to hurt us can pierce our hearts and minds. As much as it is someone’s preference to like a certain complexion, some hurtful statements should be said indoors and not publicized. Complexion or skin color is just a feature and not the centerpiece of who we are as people. People should be judged by their morals and never ever by their skin color that they did not choose at birth.

For example, the fact that people are hired based on whether their complexion is no darker than a brown bag beat the purpose of why we keep going to school to study in the first place; does a brown bag determine my intellectual capability? Is IT worthy enough to determine whether I am well suited for the job? Does IT reflect how many hours I had spent reading and sacrificing time with family and friends to ensure I get that good job? The answer is NO!!! Hiring a person should be based on their leadership skills and work experience, not on complexion.

I am a being full of masses of intellect, so please don’t judge me before I speak, don’t be disgusted if I haven’t given you a chance to be and don’t refuse to serve me because of the sold out perception that all dark people are poor and dirty. Be civilized. Be human. This vice won’t end but, if you are being discriminated against because of that, blessing the almighty above has given you, learn to build a wall between you and them. Keep a high self-esteem. Don’t mask yourself with industrial creams that may ruin you, rejoice in that blessing. Don’t be ashamed. Be happy and glad as I am, because if I could change my skin color now, I know I would wish I would never have changed it. But guess what, it’s irreversible!! This complexion is our identity for sure and for sure it is not the ‘liked’ one but it is the one I like, and you should like yours too!

You can also find this story -and many others- on YaLa Press !