I feel like a sell-out. I feel like I am not being true to myself when I use a language foreign to me in my daily deliberations. And if ever there was a time I needed to figure myself out it is now. Yet in commercial spectrums I stand to lose if I do not apply the foreign language.
This is the dilemma of the African. If language carries culture (Ngugi, 1986) then what happens to mine? Is it to be tossed in the sea forever to be forgotten? Was all toil, knowledge, expression and expertise accumulated by my forefathers for centuries of no use after all? If all are equal under God, what do I bring to the table? And how do I ensure that it is not only preserved and passed on, but that it is also advanced, improved and used for the benefit of mankind?
I realize there is authenticity when I apply the common tongue, whether it is Kiswahili, Sheng or Swanglish, and I am struggling in shaking it off – in pretending that I do not enjoy the authenticity. The sense of self-validation holds me captive. What more would anyone want or ask for than to thoroughly communicate and to be thoroughly understood, and not get lost in the futility of trying to be someone else? It means expeditious solutions to my problems. It means annihilation of diseases and accurate treatments when I visit the doctor because I am able to comprehensively communicate what ails me. It means better grades in school and more innovation because of improved comprehension of lessons taught. It means better marriages and relationships because of effective dialogue. It means better leadership through accountability – no more masquerading behind pompous jargon – and better understanding of individual’s rights. It means improved quality of life through the enjoyment of a robust art culture, which includes media, music and theatre, both for the artist and the patron. It means health and wealth and a sense of wellbeing.
How do I even sort my personal issues if I cannot find my bearing: who I am, where I am from, my gifts, strengths and opportunities, my purpose?
Once again, we can only harness our best once we are truly ourselves, accepting ourselves, and able to wrap our minds around who we really are and what we possess.
But how to marry the two is the quagmire: to be me and at the same time to strive for the foreign as in secular definitions of success and achievements. Why, for instance, should I specialise in the English language when my aim is to major in Literature? Why can’t I major in Music AND Literature? Are the philosophies and perspectives unravelled in Literature only kin to the English language? How about Colonialism through the eyes of my grandmother – a fresh perspective from first hand experience, in Kiswahili – as opposed to a foreigner tucked away in some library abroad, ‘researching’ and typing second and third person narrations of what happened right at my homestead? What, for example, are the equivalents of Existentialism and Romantic Tragedy in Nairobi, Kampala and Bongo (Dar-es-Salaam) cultures? What lessons can we apply to improve our lives today, here and now? What lessons can we teach the world?
The time for assuming the position of one who merely receives and has nothing to offer is long gone. Nairobi, for example, has been voted the most intelligent African city (CNN, 2015). Infiltration of IT and telecommunication services was a major consideration in their nominations. I am not sure if the filters placed in the contest were sufficient but neither can I call it all baseless. It therefore means we possess speedy flow of information, that we are better able to connect with and to affect the world. That means we should be able to lift our head up a little higher and not drag our feet in foreign-aid enslavement mannerism.
I still believe we have a lot to offer in all industry, including medicine, art, jewellery, beauty, sports, textile, tea, coffee, information technology and engineering, with resources and machinery from right here in Africa, first for Africa and then the world.
Let’s bring it home. No reasonable person denies herself treasures that are already hers. And a huge part of that wealth lies in the stories told around the evening bonfire.