I am an African. I am interested in the total emancipation of African peoples.
I am a conservation professional with interest in many areas, but quite embedded in ideas & practices related in community-driven conservation.
At independence, the new flag independence government wanted to fight poverty, disease and Ignorance. Dr. Wandia Njoya argues that we should problematize the use of ignorance. This got me thinking…Who was ignorant? What is ignorance? The way you define a problem determines on whether you can resolve it or not. Was Mekatilili wa Menza ignorant? How about Mary Nanjiru?Were those who fought the British colonial murderous gang in the forests, in the cities, in the concentration camps, etc ignorant? This conceptualization of ignorance as an attribute of anybody who has not come into contact with the western forms of knowledge is Primitive. Some of the most brilliant people I have ever met have never stepped into anyone’s classroom. But they can theorize, philosophize and so on – of course they can, because there is knowledge beyond what is taught in classrooms. It is called Indigenous Knowledge – and it is in this knowledge system that you arrive at the very pinnacle of intellectual sophistication.
2. During colonial occupation the goal of education was to equip the natives with skills to do low-level clerical jobs – mainly to serve the European morally bankrupt occupying force. The goal was not to get Africans to think. It was believed that the brain of an African stops growing at 9 years old. So, why should you engage the African in anything more than just counting and learning how to write. On writing – this is one thing that has been used to make Africans feel inferior. The truth of the matter is that there were many forms of writing in African cultures, but since it was not writing using a pen, or pencil, or chalk, and it does not involve writing using this alphabet that I am using to type this, then it is not writing. That kind of thinking is PRIMITIVE.
3. One of the troubles with the new curriculum, according to Dr. Wandia Njoya is that children from poor families will end up being directed to the “talent stream”, because of amongst others, the carryover of some of the colonial attitudes discussed above.
4. Education has been so tied to exams that there is no joy in learning. Students are only interested in learning about what will be in the exam. The result – no room from critical thinking at all. Speaking of exams, it is exams that were used to destroy what I consider the first attempt to decolonize education in Kenya. That is the independent school movement. The colonial government introduced exams forcing teachers to tailor their curriculum(s) to that. That is why education remains A for Apple education and Ludwig Krapf (Crap?) and other discoverers education.
5. Everybody should seek to educate themselves. If you rely on the school and formal education system to educate you, you will remain very uneducated indeed. Read, read, read. Listen, listen, listen. Now information is much more easily available than the past. I have learnt more about African history and conservation, from facebook that I have learnt from the formal education system.
6. Wandia Njoya suggests that we should be more imaginative in the utilization of resources. Why should every school have its own sports infrastructure& its own library, for example? Can’t these resources be shared, including with community members? Some people who are stewing in colonial juices will find this idea repugnant.
7. Finally, you will not find these kinds of conversations in Githeri media. Thank you, the Elephant, thank you Wandia Njoya, and thank you, Gathara!
This is a Nairobi phenomenon. I call these circular congregations ‘Nairobi talking circles’. I was curious about the discussions that go on in these circles, because they always draw quite some good audience. I have stood in two of these circles. What issues are discussed there?
This one was a group of acrobats. They began by showcasing various stunts. This is how they attract people. The circle starts to build up. Then they throw in some humour. More people join! They continue with the acrobatic stunts. Then they get into what must be their core business. The transition is so seamless, you really do not notice how they move from performing stunts to saying that they are selling some kind of medicine. One of them launches into an explanation about how this medicine is good for indigestion. They say the price is 100 bob. Other members move around the circle to sell to their new found customers. I turn to the guy standing next to me.
Me: What is this medicine made from?
Guy: It is from a root of a tree
Now I am intrigued!
Me: Which tree?
Guy: I do not know.
Me: Have you tried it?
Guy: Oh yes!
Me: Did it work?
Guy: Yes! Nakwambia/I am telling you, it works!
The first round of selling comes to an end. More acrobatic stunts, more jokes. The circle is bursting into huge laughter after every few moments.
Then the guy standing next to me says: Just watch, they are going to reduce the price to 50 bob.
And sure enough, after a short while, the lead guy says Kwa sababu umenunua yako na 100 bob, nunulia rafiki na 50 bob/buy for a friend at 50 shillings! More people buy the medicine.
Talking Circle no 2
This one was discussing politics and governance. The guy who was the centre of attraction had chalk which he would use to write on the ground to emphasize the points he was making. This is what I recall.
He pointed to the monument of Tom Mboya and said: “Do you see this man? This is one of the greatest Kenyans that ever lived.” He then spoke about how Tom Mboya was so intelligent, how he was once on the cover of Times Magazine, and so on and so forth. He then spoke about JM Kariuki, Pio Gama Pinto, Robert Ouko et al., and argued that Kenya kills its best and brightest. He said that if Tom Mboya was running for president today, he would not win. Even Obama would not win if he ran for elections here, he thundered through the microphone! Why? Because Kenyans are stuck in the ethnic paradigm.
He then spoke about economic injustice. He talked about how a Kenyan will be paid KES 200 per day, and that person has to eat, travel, raise a family, etc. This same Kenyan will completely ignore candidates who have an economic recovery strategy, and politics that is anchored on social justice, and vote for their respective ethnic lords.
Then he said something that I cannot ever forget: That in the colonial period Kenyans thought that the white man was a God. He said that if a white man defecated, Kenyans would go to see what colour it was! Then somebody in the circle yelled! Hata siku hizi/even today!! And the crowd roared in laughter!
What a great illustration of white supremacy and coloniality in Kenya?
These two talking circles were located near or around the Tom Mboya monument area. There is another talking circle that happens opposite City Hall or outside former Nakumatt City Hall area. This one happens very early in the morning. It is always a group of men huddled close together. It is a much smaller circle than the one in this picture. I think the person in the middle has a newspaper? I am not sure. Anybody knows what this one is about?
Now I am really interested in these circles. These are a good way to read and understand the issues affecting society. For those who are looking for research topics, there is plenty of angles to look at this from:
Urban planning/Use of public spaces
Health and public health –access, Indigenous Knowledge Systems & health
Gender dynamics of talking circles
Theatre and performance
Governance, access to information, the people’s politics
The Kiondo is a basket that is native to Kenya. Embedded in the Kiondo are teachings and philosophies about life, environmental consciousness, social organization, and so much more. What is the philosophy of the Kiondo?
The Kiondo teaches us that to understand anything you have to go to the very beginning, or to the root of the matter. A kiondo is woven by joining several strands of sisal and thread to form the navel, followed by the base, which then supports the cylindrical section. Nobody makes a Kiondo starting from the rim. The Kiondo teaches us that history is important, because history is about going back to the beginning. And the beginning has a bearing on the present.
2. The Kiondo encapsulates wholeness/completeness. The Kiondo is essentially a circle, and circles are very important in African cosmology. They represent continuity and connectedness.
3. The Kiondo is woven by interdependent threads and sisal strings. Nobody weaves a Kiondo using a single thread or sisal rope. Hence, the Kiondo teaches us about interdependence, as expressed in the African philosophy of Ubuntu, which is the belief that you become human in the midst of others, and also that all of nature (including humans as part of nature) is interconnected. In that sense, it teaches us respect, responsibility, and the need to cultivate peaceful co-existence.
4. The Kiondo is a good representation of reciprocity. In many cultures the Kiondo or equivalent is what you use to carry a gift/offering when visiting someone. The person you are visiting also puts something for you in the Kiondo before you leave. That is reciprocity. NB: Some of these practices have been watered down by capitalistic ideologies that encourage exploitative relationships.
5. The Kiondo is about nourishment. It is the carrier of food. When you go to the farm, you carry a Kiondo and use it to carry food. When you go to the market, you use the Kiondo to carry food. Food production and associated practices are arenas of knowledge production.
6. The Kiondo is about environmental consciousness. The Kiondo is about African environmentalism. It is made from elements of the land: sisal (or other fibres), wool, and leather. So, it is about plants and animals – all products of the Land. So, the Kiondo is Land, and Land is the Kiondo.
That is the philosophy of the Kiondo. The Kiondo has been largely relegated to the graveyard of primitive objects, and since we are now ‘civilized’, only elders carry Kiondo’s nowadays. We would rather use plastic bags. What is the philosophy of the plastic bag? The philosophy of the plastic bag is environmental catastrophe. And environmental catastrophe=death. Hence, the philosophy of the plastic bag is DEATH, both for human beings and other living beings. Now, livestock and even the fish in the seas are swallowing plastic bags. Is it not time to return to the philosophy of the Kiondo or other forms of baskets?
Big international NGOs (BINGOs) spend increasing amounts of money on conservation initiatives that often do not have a direct effect on forest and species conservation or, in other cases, create antagonism and even retaliation from the local population. They present to the public varying narratives, some being doom-and-gloom situations focusing on mass extinctions and others are phenomenal conservation successes led by these same NGOs. Both of these narratives ignore the contradictions and challenges of conservation interventions and avoid any type of explanation as to why so many phenomenal successes add up to such devastating results.
Smaller, national NGOs inevitably engage in perpetual competitions over branding and minimal, sporadic funds that trickle down from international organizations. Petty rivalries and the need to constantly produce rapid success stories for their funders make them unable to cooperate or to create real, long term positive conservation change.
“Conservation is compassion.” Absolutely. I would add that conservation is about livelihoods. It is about survival. It is a matter of life and death. Who can live without water? That is a conservation issue.
There are myriad definitions of the term “environmental conservation” and hundreds of ideologies and methods being utilised worldwide in an attempt to conserve habitats and biodiversity. At present, what is clear is that conservation efforts as a whole are failing. While large-scale financial investments in worldwide conservation efforts is increasing, positive results from these investments remains to be seen. Indeed, the species extinction crisis, destruction of habitat and climate change continue unabated and pose increasingly severe threats to the natural world.
Mainstream conservation institutions (large, international non-governmental organizations – NGOs) are increasingly modelling themselves and relying upon commercial businesses. Being part of the dominant economic establishment positions these NGOs as conflicted in their ability and desire to take effective action against the root cause of environmental degradation which unarguably stems from uncontrolled capitalist exploitation, corruption, broken nation states and a burgeoning world leadership crisis. These large NGOs cannot challenge the…
In this piece, Dr Janaka Jayawickrama and Bushra Rehman argue that the localisation of aid agenda is shaped by a discourse of global humanitarianism that is characterised by a particular, cultural relationship to power. This suggests that current discourses on localisation have largely been North-centric, often overlooking the Southern contexts and histories that shape ‘the local’ in the first place. This article, therefore, calls into question the hegemonic framing of humanitarian discourse, particularly in relation to the localisation agenda, something the Refugee Hosts project aims to do through our research in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. For more on this theme, visit our Contextualising the Localisation of Aid Agenda Series, or visit the suggested pieces listed at the end of this article.
Before defining what is local, let’s build the capacities of humanitarian agencies.
By Dr Janaka Jayawickrama (Senior Lecturer at University of York and Academic Fellow of Humanitarian Academy…
I wanted to read this book as soon as it was published in 2017. I did not get to it until recently. I was nudged by Timothy Njoya’s absolutely brilliant and thought-provoking tweets. I wanted to understand more of what fires his thinking and philosophy. There was never a dull moment in reading this book. At some points, I found myself laughing out loud, other times realizing how painful it is to be a Kenyan, other times infuriated by the follies of the Kenyan State, and yet other times filled with immense joy about the spirit of Kenyan peoples. This blog post is a reflection on some of the main ideas/issues Njoya engages with.
The Lancaster Constitution, the church, Mashujaa heroes and heroines
According to Njoya, the above were the major stumbling blocks to the transformation of Kenya. Independence or Uhuru has led Kenyans from one pitfall to the other, to the extent that it feels that they are locked in a permanent struggle for social justice. Kenya was/is (depending on how you see it), colonised by the British. It transitioned from Arab slave trade, to the property of the Imperial British East African Company, to the Kenya government and finally, to the post-independence government(s). At independence, the British rounded up Kenyan elites to London to allegedly, craft a new constitution for Kenya. In reality the constitution was crafted by a British academic. The delagates were there to rubber stamp. The one group that walked out of the sham was the Maasai delegates after they realized that this constitution would not revoke the Anglo-Maasai agreements in which they lost huge amounts of land, livestock, and lives. The Lancaster constitution conceptualized the people as property. According to Njoya:
This blatant treatment of people as property, moving them from the hands of slave masters into the hands of colonial masters and then into the hands of a totalitarian state, contravened the doctrine of self-determination as defined by the Treaty of Versailles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that everyone has the right to be treated as a person and not as a thing.
The church supported colonialism, slavery, and totalitarian regimes. The church also vehemently opposed the 2010 constitution. As for the Mashujaa heroes and heroines, they believed that independence was an end in itself but as Franz Fanon has shown, independence plunged Africans into “independence depression”.
2. Kenya as a racially segregated society
Kenya was and is a settler colony. The defining element of colonialism was the entrenchment of racial hierarchy as a tool for facilitating land grabs, subjugation of indigenous peoples, and legitimizing white authority in conquered lands. Njoya argues that from the beginning of British occupation, Kenya was structured and established as a market where everything and everyone had a price. The racial market was/is structured thusly:
White males ranked first and white females second; Indian males third and Indian females fourth; Arab males fifth and Arab females sixth; Somali males seventh and Somali females eighth; and finally, African males ninth and African females tenth. This legalized ranking of people according to their market value—which also determined how much each race was entitled to eat and mate—has been dubbed “racism” or “negative ethnicity.” This skewed piling of people into a pyramid based on their monetary value portrays the whole of Kenya like our snowcapped Mount Kenya; like a mountain capped with white people standing erect at the summit; like a glans stiffened by sucking blood from the races standing below.
What has changed since the acquisition of Uhuru? I think the only change, if it can be referred as such, is the following: The top remains white, followed closely by the political elite (honorary whites), then wildlife (especially the so-called big five), the Indian males…the rest remains unchanged. The whites remain at the top. This is manifested best through land, which was one of the central pillars of the struggle for independence. The remnants of white settlers and other kind of settlers are some of the biggest land owners in the Kenyan colony. White settlers are to be found in places such as Nanyuki, Naivasha, and Timau.
One o the most depressing places to drive through in Kenya, is Timau. You look to theft of the road, you see farms that stretch to the horizon – your eyes cannot see the end. You look to the right, you see the same thing. And your heart sinks because you know those farms are not owned by indigenous Kenyans. When you look to the left, you see white privilege. When you look to the right, you see white privilege. You are engulfed. What do you do? Go ask for a job to harvest wheat? Is it really ethical, morally right, normal, just, etc, for anyone to own hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Kenya? A country where some of those who survived the war in the forest did not get any of the land they sacrificed their lives for? A country in which landlessness is rife? A country in which landlessness was worsened by ethnic tensions in places like the Rift Valley, where communities who had been dislocated by the colonials in their territories ended up? The morally bankrupt willing seller willing buyer argument does not quite help us address the question above.
I ranked wildlife as no 3 in the present day racial hierarchy, because it is associated with those who occupy the apex of the race pyramid. Ownership of large tracts of land is tied to the establishment of conservancies. The name conservancy brings to mind the saga centred around Delamare’s Soysambu Conservancy and the murder of Robert Njoya, for trying to hunt an antelope. In this case alone, you can understand the history of land dispossession, white privilege, racial hierarchy, the romanticization of wildlife conservation, and structural poverty.
3. A society defined by cascading oppression
In Kenya, you find a society where extreme wealth and poverty are juxtaposed dramatically. The masses at the bottom of the mountain are poor, and the wealthy at the summit have used every tactic in the book to keep the poor at the bottom of the mountain. One of the other evil ideas of the colonial state is the creation of ethnicity, which is just the same as racism. The idea that some people are better than others. This has openly gotten entangled with and into politics – the politics of death and destruction. And you have communities fighting each other because their respective ethnic lords have told them other communities are their enemies. According to Njoya, this is a good manifestation of the market and property ideology because:
In a market where everybody is property and the culture dictates that everyone own someone else, the slaves and the poor find it easier to own each other than to liberate themselves from their owners. Freire acknowledged that the struggle of slaves, tribes, the colonized, and the poor is actually the struggle to share their oppression.
As poor and oppressed spend all their time and energy hating and fighting each other, the rich and the oppressors get richer and consolidate power. Then they throw crumbs your way and tell you that you are their “people” or they are “helping you”. They poor and oppressed will not find time to understand the cause of their misery? Where is the time? If you try and point this out, you will be probably called a traitor or a hater.
4. Miseducation of the people
This book is one of the best critiques of the Kenyan education system there is. Njoya demonstrates how education has been used to entrench oppression through concrete examples. Since the colonial occupation, the African is reduced to a non-thinking being. Remember, white supremacists believed that African brains stopped growing at 9 years old. Therefore, there was no need to get them to think of complex ideas, to engage in philosophy, or theory. Those were reserved for the white brain, which was or is more developed -allegedly. After independence, the state carries on the with the same system of education. There is no fundamental change. I call it A for Apple education.
Education helps create a divide in society where : “the top class of the privileged, totalitarian, and parasitical few who owned and consumed everything, and the bottom majority that produced everything and ate nothing.” Nyayo torture chambers were constructed by Kenyan city planners, engineers, architects, and surveyors, Njoya argues. Thus, their education had not helped them to question anything, but rather to be obedient. Trust and obey! The Nyayo torture chambers were used to brutalize thinkers. They were in the group those that Moi referred to as “radicals, dissidents, Marxists, atheists, malcontents, and disgruntled.” Njoya further points out that the school system was a pre-Nyayo chamber where critical thinking was discouraged, where brutalization of the mind was celebrated. Infact, most people leave school totally traumatized and do not want to see a book ever again. Has anybody ever conducted a study about why students burn books after completing high school? Education entrenches the colonial idea of a person as property in the form of “laborers, taxpayers, or voters, rather than their intrinsic worth as human beings.”
What is the point of education? Is education not supposed to make us the very best version of ourselves, to make us into responsible members of society who care about justice and equality for all? In school I learnt that Mt. Kenya was discovered by Ludwig Krapf! Utter nonsense. In history, homeguards and collaborators were presented as freedom fighters. Has anything changed? In the Moi years (1978-2002), the best thinkers were killed or exiled, while others joined politics. Professors became some of the most shocking Moi psychophants of all time. Others joined politics essentially turning parliament into the “graveyard of intellectualism.”
5. Religion as a tool for oppression
I must say it was quite refreshing to read a critique of the church from a reverend. He speaks honestly and courageously about the failings of thee church- all of which I agree with. I have three blogs on my misgivings with colonial Christianity: here, here, and here. Njoya argues that the church and state coalesed to oppress the masses by stupefying them into devotion to their oppression. He confesses: ” Knowing that religion can be a stupefier and yet making religion my career was the greatest of all the conflicts within me.” One is tempted to ask – just how Christian are Kenyan Christians, when you have cases of Christians butchering each other in churches (as happened in Kiambaa). He also acknowledges the role of Christianity in the slave trade, colonial conquest, and of course, post-independence oppression.
6. The laugh out loud moments
As I said at the beginning, there are many laughter-inducing sections of this book. I often found myself giggling or laughing out loud. This is derived from the a participatory sermon he conducted. A druken man walks into the church. Njoya asks him: Why did you come to church?
The drunken man said, “I came to ask you to christen our nameless rivers and lakes! The city council has allowed its broken sewer system to form rivers and lakes on our roads and in shops, schools, and homes!” “With what names would you like me to baptize them?” I asked the drunken man.
Someone else in the congregation shouted, “Baptize them with big names!” Furious, the drunken man retorted, “Why are you afraid to say they should be christened River Moi and the Lake Kenyatta?”
8. Kenyan politicians as merchants of death
During one of his interactive sermons Njoya asks the congregation this: Who is an MP? A woman provides a swift answer:
“The MP is the man who digs potholes on tarmac roads so that his sons’ construction companies can secure state contracts to fill the potholes with mud.”
The politicians who are close to top of the pyramid truly the merchants of death – both metaphorically and in reality. The answer by this woman illustrates a death of trust for politicians who are elected to represent the interests of the people. Digging potholes on the tarmac can also be understood as other forms of economic plunder that are designed to enrich the rich and impoverish the impoverished. No other career is more lucrative than being a politician in Kenyan today. Politicians fly around in choppers…actually, I would extend the quote of this woman and say – …potholes with mud, and then not use the road, and instead, use helicopters to fly around. If they use the road, then they use huge 4wd Germany-made or Japan-made vehicles which do not feel the mud-filled potholes! The contempt with which politicians treat Kenyans is astonishing and deeply hurtful. Njoya brings it home when he writes that: “In Kenya, those who are not victims of physical violence have their psyches hurt by the theft of public resources. ”
They are also the merchants of death through instigating communities to kill each other so that they can gain political mileage. The 2007/08 post-election case is instructive:
In order for Kibaki, the Trojan horse, to retain power, and for Raila, the most promising, to gain power, they used the elections to incite the people to kill each other. These were the very same people who had never rioted for food, even when hundreds died of hunger.
Njoya describes politicians as “roundworms” and “tapeworms”. They are joined in sucking the blood of the host (Kenyans), by western donors who he refers to as “ringworms”. What shall we refer the Chinese as? Hookworms? This is a book that should be read by all. If I was teaching, I would make this a required text.