Imagine the Great Wall of China, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, or Sydney Opera House in Australia. Imagine the Eiffel Tower in France or Big Ben in London. Imagine the Statue of Liberty in the USA. Now imagine these countries plastering brands that are synonymous to another country’s mass influence onto these landmarks? Would that be typical of them? I’d yell no till I echoed for eons.
I asked several people recently how they felt about the new KICC look. One didn’t think it was right. Another agreed with the first but thought it could be permissible. The third didn’t think much of it, and suggested that it was because they didn’t feel patriotic anymore.
That is the shoe that fits many of us Kenyans. Can you blame us? Our indifference is quite possibly due to a lack of hope in the systems that we voted into place. We feel so duped by those we entrusted with power that the average Kenyan now cannot help but concentrate on looking out only for what is theirs and their loved ones’. Years of emotionally detaching ourselves from our country for fear of further disappointment has made us numb to the circus at Parliament and City Hall, and by extension, to all matters Kenyan. We are reduced to going to school, looking for an income, making money, getting married, renting a good home, buying a car, getting children, getting the children a good health cover, getting the children an education, buying a home, investing in a retirement plan, helping our children foot their wedding bills, retiring, and finally resting with our ancestors – mostly in that order. Ideologies like patriotism seem too obscure, and too unnecessary an expense, emotionally or financially, to invest in.
However, I’ll allow myself the risk of sounding like a broken record by arguing that it mostly boils down to the challenge of decolonizing the mind. Kenya bore the brunt of colonial rule to a large extent in contrast to some of the other African Common Wealth countries. The result is a distortion or deletion of who we are. Our self-identity is so warped, if not utterly wiped out, that we seem more comfortable borrowing proverbial thumb prints from other nations than discovering, accepting and utilizing our own. We look to others to tell us who we are and what our values should be. We vaguely realize when we are selling ourselves short. No wonder African Studies are barely taught in Africa, much less Kenya.
I recently found out that at some point Africa ruled nations beyond its current geopolitical disposition; that Africa claims a stake in the timeline of super power world rule. How empowering it would have been for me to grow up knowing that I, as an African, have been on the same level playing field with other leading civilizations; that I am not really mentally, or racially, or in any way fundamentally incapacitated to hold my place with the best in the world; that there is no race superior to mine, nor is there a natural existence of a racial food chain. I suggest that our self-esteem as Kenyans would have gained a significant boost, and would have consequently allowed for birthing of more ingenuity, resulting to a distinct growth in our economy, health and ultimately quality of life. There would have been a better chance for quicker and more stable advancements if we were taught from a young age that we are just as gifted and empowered as any other human race – and not just by baseless assertions, but by proof of fact that is, for starters, in factual historical accounts.
Because, let’s face it, our school text books give a retrogressive service, if any at all. How, for example, can we begin a History lesson in a school in Africa with a question like, “Who discovered Mount Kenya?”, proceed to respond with European man’s name, and then give credit to such an answer? Does it even make logical sense? Weren’t multitudes of Kenyans already thriving on the mountain when the foreigner set foot on it? If it is so necessary to single out a name, why aren’t we as keen to figure out that of the first Kenyan to make the discovery? Is it not obvious then that from the onset our self-consciousness has been deliberately conditioned by self-denial and self-repulsion subliminally being hammered in our psyches, with the intended outcome of making us believe that we are neither significant nor capable of reasoning, or of greatness? Observing ourselves today, wouldn’t you say that it was an over and above successful strategy that was employed by colonizers, so that decades after independence we are still, really, in chains that pull and tag, making us dance to their tune?
Does it not make sense then that we would not flinch at the sight of KICC being boldly overridden by an Asian household brand? Witnessing KICC as it is is equivalent to glancing at ourselves in the mirror. It betrays a hate and a sellout of self.
What if KICC as an organization needed to make money? To me, a Kenyan asking such a question is no different from the stereotypical university student debating whether dating a married sugar daddy/mummy offering to pay much needed school fees is acceptable, moral or justifiable.
Think about it. Would those who we are so diligent to ape accept to fix emblems that are significant representations of other regimes on their national landmarks? What should we learn from their defiance? Again, picture the Eiffel Tower. Picture Big Ben. And then picture the all-favorite and symbolic Statue of Liberty with “KIMBO’’ or “MUMIAS SUGAR” plastered all around its crown, or torch. The audacity of the suggestion!
Now picture KICC. Isn’t it laughable – yet sad?
KICC, as it is today, is the symbol of the persona of the sovereignty of Kenya standing on a broken leg; an emblematic flag of the pride of a people hoisted on a broken mast. Just like the statue of Dedan Kimathi in the CBD, attempting to be pompous, boasting of Kenyan dynasty based on the legacy of our freedom fighters, yet gathering green mould and dust in full view of all and sundry – a minute hint to our moral corrosion, our reluctance to make choices that make life better for Kenya, our loss of pride, and the injustices we have been inflicting on each other – vices that are malignantly festering beneath our pious façades. It is a superficiality that was meant to pull wool over keen eyes as we continue to sweep dust under our carpets. Both pieces of architecture are reminders of the inconsistencies we refuse to address as a nation.
A lack of patriotism is a lack of love for one’s own country; a lack of self-love. How can I love my neighbor if I do not love myself? How do I loathe myself yet smile at the image in my mirror? Similarly, how can I be a good citizen, a good steward of the perks that come with being a citizen of Kenya – land ownership, peace, or political leadership – if I do not have an appreciation of self as a Kenyan, or of the fruit of the land that has been bestowed under my care? Is it a wonder, then, that there are so many civil wars based on natural resources in Africa?
And is it not the reason why we so easily let in terrorist through our boarders, and for a small fee, accommodate them in our homes and neighborhoods? Because we hold no loyalty to our country, we betray it in a jiffy. I honestly do not see much reason for citizens in the marginalized north to hold much devotion for a far away country they have come to know as Nairobi. Shock. We have actually lived to see a community so severed from government services, for so long, that they are no longer aware of political demarcations, to the extent of forgetting their country’s name. They are not aware that that they are part of a citizenry. They have no clue where they should seek grievance from, and hold no affections for inconceivable administrations. Their bearing on the hierarchy of needs cannot afford them such a luxury. So they are easily susceptible to religious dogma contorted to propel the interests of the vile at the price of food rationing and a sense of belonging.
Solutions come from information. For me, the most able reservoir and channel of information is the educational institution.
Some time ago, a revolutionary team of lecturers in my school submitted a request to adopt African Studies as a minor in my institution. The affiliated faculties declined, claiming that the world is now a global village, and there was therefore no need to zero in on a smaller region, much less Africa. They also brushed the idea off saying that the revolutionary lecturers – and I guess also their students – were born in the city, and therefore had no clue about Africa. I guess they were implying that being born and raised in the country-side – as opposed to the city, as is the case with many students today – was a merit against city dwellers, and that being country-born or a country dweller automatically awards one a world-renowned knowledge of Africa. And so, they argue, adding African Studies to the curriculum is not warranted. But doesn’t their argument give more reason to teach ‘city-dwelling’ students about Africa? Congratulations on that logic, by the way! Ladies and Gentlemen, the learned class – the custodians of knowledge in Kenya!
Never mind that the nations we look up to, like the United Kingdom, teach their own history and culture in their schools. Never mind that we learn European history and culture in our schools in Africa. Moreover, Africans have needed to go abroad to learn about Africa – irony at its best!
To be fair, such universities like mine only function on quorum of students per class, finances being a major factor. How many parents do we know of in Kenya that would agree to pay for their child to take a course in African Studies? In a country that still looks at just up to four career fields as legitimate professions – namely medicine, law, engineering and accounting – it is very difficult to guess the number.
It comes down to sacrifice. We all have to be radical enough to stick our necks out for the greater good. But with the current passivity in pragmatic patriotism, we might be stuck in this vicious cycle a while longer.
I pray that change for the better starts now rather than later. That brand sign on KICC is taunting my sense of pride as a Kenyan. I would want to hide under a seat if I was to ride by the monument while sitting next to a Chinese or a Mzungu in a bus (no pun intended), and maybe roll up a tinted window if I happen to be stuck in a traffic jam in a car alongside theirs. I clearly cannot boldly be myself, much less hold face in such shame. And so, in the same way, only God knows what types of cutting edge works of progress we hinder from our young ones by turning a blind eye to such dissonances.
That building to a large extent represents who I am as a Kenyan. It is printed on our currency – another national symbol of our identity, sovereignty, economy, unity and patriotism – and is one of the first things that come to mind when I think of Kenya. It is now quite literally a laughing stock, and I’m quite done being laughed at.